Mermaids, serpents, ghosts, the Hairy Ones, tricksters and shamans all camped out in Rotary Park over the weekend. They came with storytellers from all over the world, in Whitehorse for the first Northern Storytelling Festival.
And “Festival” is a good way to describe the three days of events. The story tellers wandered among the six tents pitched on the lawn by the Yukon River. Each tent was a gateway into a different time and a different culture. You might find yourself trapping near Great Bear Lake, or walking along a fiord in Iceland.
There was a Trinidad parade for children, some over the age of 60. The Throat Singers from Cape Dorset there is captivated everyone with their singing and singing and sharing smiles. Tagish Elder Angela Sidney dressed in the beauty of her multi-colored robe and the furs, opened and closed the Festival with singing and prayers.
From the Yukon came Loucheaux, Tlinget, Tagish, Tutcone and Kaska elders, sharing their stories with everyone. And the y made a very bi impression on the story tellers from outside the Yukon. Louis Bird, a Cree story teller, listened to Annie Ned sing and tell stories and then said: “I only wish I could live, and speak and perform to you as Annie Ned does, from her heart. None of our elders do that”.
Louis Bird is a large powerful man with a thick shock of hair and a twinkle in his eyes when he smiles, which is often. “My children started to lose their culture. They told me 'why don't you tell us a story about our past?'”.
Then he realized that he really didn't know any of the stories of his people. So he began a journey into the past to rediscover the cultural heritage of the Cree Nation.
“I came to Whitehorse to see other communities, to see how much effort they make to get back their own past” said Louis Bird. “I gather all information about our culture, in written or any form. But I hope, with your help, I can restore the respect of our nationality. I tell legends. There are five major legends with 10 units in each series. I dig up, I travel across to talk to any elder to gather legends, how they were used. “Using the legends to teach is very effective. Anyone can listen. Five years old, teenagers, adults; each has a version. There is another for those with children. For entertainment among elders, they have another version. That's how they use the legends. Before you can appreciate them you have to hear them when you are young. To tell them you have to be a good performer and believe in what you are doing.”
“If we want to remain, be proud of being Indian, we have to tell our children."