Musical storytelling at the library

Tyler Clarke
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Robert Gladue and Jason Chamakese, from left, will perform at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library on February 24 for two shows – one at 10 a.m. and the second at 1:30 p.m. 

Anticipating a packed crowd at this year’s Aboriginal Storytelling Month event on Feb. 24, Sharon Nelson is encouraging people to register early.


“I think people are just really interested in the tradition of oral storytelling,” the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library services co-ordinator said.

It also helps that guests Jason Chamakese and Robert Gladue have solid reputations in the community for their storytelling and musical skills she added.

The Daily Herald caught up with Chamakese earlier this week for insight on his upcoming performance -- an event he said will be steeped not only in his his own Cree culture, but also a tapestry of other cultures.

During the event, Chamakese and Gladue will splice oral stories with musical performances – Gladue on drum and vocals and Chamakese on flute.

“The flute is, to my knowledge and understanding, it’s not traditional to the plains Cree culture,” he Chamakese. “It’s an instrument that was given, or can be found, within the Lakota and Dakota tribes -- that’s their instrument.”

Borrowing the instrument from these other First Nations, Chamakese recalls travelling to South Dakota to learn more.

“It’s not found just within just one First Nation,” he said of the flute. “There are a lot of First Nations throughout North America who have it, and they have various uses for the flute and various meanings behind it.”

This, he explained, is how the flute connects with the oral tradition of storytelling.

“It adds another colour to the whole tapestry you’re trying to create with your words,” he said, adding that the oral component is front and centre to the whole thing.

“Our way of passing down culture and passing down knowledge wasn’t really ever written down but storytelling certainly plays a role as far as that goes,” he explained of First Nations culture and traditions.

It’s really important because that’s our main vehicle of passing down our history and our traditions and language, is through talking and listening, and storytelling certainly has its place in that. Jason Chamakese

“It’s really important because that’s our main vehicle of passing down our history and our traditions and language, is through talking and listening, and storytelling certainly has its place in that.”

Chamakese and Gladue have been performing together since July, 2010, at which time Chamakese said that was drawn to Gladue’s “great talent for singing” as well as his potential to become “a good role model for young people, as many of our youth are drawn towards culture by the singing and the sound of the drum.”

“He adds a great dimension to the overall presentation with his singing and complements some of the stories and themes that we are through the songs he sings.”

The duo’s key message is the importance of treating people with respect, Chamekese said -- “To look at one another in a healthy and positive way, and on top of that not just our interactions with other people, but with everything out there. To have respect for this land and everything that we’ve been given.”

This year’s Aboriginal Storytelling Month event will take place on Feb. 24, with Chamakese and Gladue performing twice -- at 10 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m.

So far, about 130 people have registered for both sessions. With each session limited to a capacity of 180 and registration having opened only a few days ago, Nelson encourages those interested in attending to register at 763-8496 as soon as possible. 

Organizations: First Nations, John M. Cuelenaere Public Library, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Dakota, South Dakota, North America

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