February is Aboriginal Storytelling Month in Prince Albert

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Matt Gardner
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In a Prince Albert first, the city will join communities across the province to observe Saskatchewan Aboriginal Storytelling Month this February.

Dressed in traditional Métis attire, Prince Albert Writers Group president Marilyn Matice holds up a copy of The Loner by Dana Coates -- one of the storytellers invited to spin yarns as Prince Albert celebrates its first Aboriginal Storytelling Month with a special three-day event from Feb. 4-6.

Marking 10 years since the Library Services for Saskatchewan Aboriginal Peoples  started celebrating it in 2003, the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild has partnered with the Prince Albert Writers Group (PAWG) and Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) to co-ordinate a three-day P.A. celebration of Aboriginal storytellers.

“One of the points that we are trying to make is the fact that we are very proud of our roots, and this is something that has been around since the beginning of time,” PAWG president Marilyn Matice said.

“We want to not only share it with the indigenous people of Prince Albert and northern Saskatchewan, but with everybody.”

From Feb. 4-6, twelve regional storytellers from the Dene, Dakota, Cree and Métis communities will share tales with Prince Albert residents at a variety of venues.

Following opening ceremonies set to take place at Senator Allen Bird Memorial Gymnasium at 10 a.m., storytellers will spin yarns for students at local public and Catholic schools on Monday afternoon, all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday. The five storytellers who are published authors will also perform readings at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library on Monday evening from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

A youth evening event is scheduled for Tuesday evening at the PAGC from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Besides youth storytellers, the programme includes Métis dancers, the Queen Mary Dancers and Drummers, and Métis fiddler/musician William Nielsen.

“Then Wednesday, to kind of round everything up, we’re going to be having supper at (the) E.A. Rawlinson Centre followed by an evening program,” Matice said. “Our MC and singer is Donny Parenteau, and we’ll be having four of the storytellers on.”

Almost all of the invited storytellers come from Prince Albert or northern Saskatchewan. The majority of the narratives they will tell are traditional stories such as creation myths.

Matice, who is of Métis descent, noted that in traditional cultures such as the Cree where she traces her own roots, storytellers were held in the same high regard as elders.

Stories were rarely written down, and it was considered a great honour to learn the legends and pass them on to succeeding generation. Many of the tales had didactic purposes, going beyond entertainment to teach lessons tied to tradition or spirituality.

However, in today’s media-saturated world -- with film, TV, music, the Internet and video games competing for the attention of the young -- traditional Aboriginal storytelling risks becoming a lost art.

One of the points that we are trying to make is the fact that we are very proud of our roots. Marilyn Matice

“Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, this is where the problem’s coming in … They’re not getting interest in the young people to hear the stories and legends or even to learn them to pass them on to the next generation,” Matice said.

For that reason, Matice’s biggest hope for February is that organizers will manage to reach the children, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and teach them the hallowed traditions of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Along with highlighting the sheer variety of native cultures, one of the key goals is to remind children of languages, cultures and history that are all too often swept under the rug.

“Prince Albert is 30 per cent Aboriginal -- whether treaty, non-status or whatever -- and I have grandchildren who are treaty and they don’t know their history,” Matice said.

“My grandmother was Cree, and for the same reason, she went to residential school and lost the language … With losing the language, people lose a lot of things, because most of the native cultures believe that when you talk to the Creator in your own tongue, that’s like sending an email to somebody specific.

“It means more, and it gives you more pride, to be able to speak to the Creator in your language rather than English.”

In organizing Aboriginal Storytelling Month in Prince Albert, Matice received invaluable help from Joely Big Eagle, Aboriginal Programs Co-ordinator with the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild, and the PAGC Education Department.

Since becoming president of the PAWG last year, Matice has made a determined effort to help the group expand beyond its comfort zone and reach out to the public. Aboriginal Storytelling Month is only the beginning of their plans for 2013.

“We have Sask Culture Days in September, we have 100 Thousand Poets for Change, and these are things that now I’m getting comfortable enough being the president, we plan on getting involved in more,” she said.

“I already know that we have the backing of the mayor and he’s quite interested in anything that we can do to bring pride back to Prince Albert and area, so we can very proudly say that we are Prince Albert and these are some of the things that we can do here.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Prince Albert Grand Council, Library Services for Saskatchewan Aboriginal Peoples John M. Cuelenaere Public Library Education Department

Geographic location: Northern Saskatchewan, Canada, Saskatchewan

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