• Jake

The First Northern Storytelling Festival: A Historic Article by Bernie Johnson

The first Northern Storytelling Festival held at Rotary Park in Whitehorse began Friday evening and lasted until Sunday evening June 24. It was the culmination of a year's planning by members of the Yukon Arts Council and their many volunteers. The three-day event hosted storytellers of some 23 languages.

These included the Yukon native languages of the Tagish, Tlingit Louchex, Northern Tutchone, Kaska and Southern Tutchone peoples. Also, there were storytellers from Greenland, Iceland, Guyana, Australia and various parts of North America like Alaska, NWT, Ontario Quebec, Labrador, and British Columbia.

On the grounds at Rotary Park the huge red-striped main tent was part of a circle that included other tents such as the Drum and Mask Tent, Wolf and Crow Tent, a hospitality and resting tent, and even a couple for the children. It was in the main tent that the opening ceremony took place on Friday evening.

“We will”, said Louise Profeit-LeBlanc, one of the Festival's organizers, “open this in the proper manner”. She then called on the venerable centenarian Angela Sidney, last of the Tagish language speakers in the world, for a prayer at the start of the Festival. From that point on the many storytellers told their tales from the stage of the main or, later on in one of other surrounding tents.

Angela Sidney opened the storytelling with how Raven made the world. Such gatherings are not new to Angela. She attended the Toronto Storytelling Festival in 1983 where she meant its founder Dan Yashinski, who was also in Whitehorse to tell stories.

There were many storytellers from various part of the world. In their numbers were Jen's Lybreth of Greenland, Suzie Igliorre of Labrador, Jim Green of NWT, Helen Sinskin of Alaska, Maureen Watson of Australia,, Sigurjon Sigurdsson of Iceland a name a few.

Inside the main tent the people sat on bleachers, lawn chairs and numerous floor mats that were laid out on the grassy interior, They came and listened with intent interest to stories and historical facts that were fascinating. They heard Annie Ned, a famous Southern Tutchone Elder, and of her young days spent at Dalton Post, Yukon, when she would listen carefully as the Elders prayed. They heard how Louis Bird's Cree Nation, of Northern Ontario, had guided adventurers all the way to the Pacific Ocean, And they heard of how Angela's people welcomed and accommodated a group of six lost travellers from the Copper River region of Alaska and later helped them return home.

Overall, the Festival exceeded everyone's expectations. When it came time to close the event it was Angela Sidney, Yukon's matriarch of storytelling, Who sang and drummed the “Good-bye Song”,wishing a safe journey home for all. Louise Profeit-LeBlanc and Anne Taylor discussed the possibility of staging a storytelling festival over a year ago. Now they are talking about making it an annual event. At the opening ceremony Louise said to the audience: “ I'll be brave and say it. Welcome to the First Annual Northern Storytelling Festival” A fitting start for many more memorable storytelling gatherings to come in future years.

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