Elders share storytelling with STM community

A.J. Felix speaks to participants in the storytelling event for Indigenous Achievement Week in the Shannon Library. (Photo courtesy of St. Thomas More College)

By Paul Sinkewicz, St. Thomas More College, Saskatoon

St. Thomas More (STM) College hosted a special event on Monday, Feb. 3 to mark Indigenous Achievement Week at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Gotta Story! âchimo! (tell as story) brought four elders to the Shannon Library to tell stories in the Cree tradition. It was an opportunity to reflect on how knowledge is transmitted through story, while sharing fellowship and traditional food and drink.

The event was organized by Harry Lafond, STM Scholar in Indigenous Education, and co-hosted by the Leslie and Irene Dube Chair for Catholic Studies.

Sharing their stories were Maria Linklater and her son Lyndon Linklater, of the Thunderchild First Nation, A.J. Felix, of the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, and Gladys Wapas-Greyeyes, of the Thunderchild First Nation.

Marie Linklater has helped nurture more than 350 children in her life, and serves the spiritual needs of Indigenous people wherever she can. (Photo courtesy of St. Thomas More College)

“The four storytellers are very special people and we honoured their knowledge by listening to bits and pieces of their life experiences, some of which were told with good Cree humour,” Lafond said.

Lafond said the objectives of the event were to show that it is important to incorporate storytellers into the life of STM, and to make Indigenous knowledge keepers welcome and provide a venue for them to share their diverse voices.

“The human interaction between storyteller and listener is a fundamental expression of relationship building (wahkotowin),” Lafond said. “It really can’t be replaced just by media and technology.”

Participants split up into three groups and travelled to different stations to listen to each storyteller in turn, before uniting at the end of the evening to listen to Wapas-Greyeyes.

Elder A.J. Felix explained how fire represents a happy home, health and safety. (Photo courtesy of St. Thomas More College)

At his station beside the fireplace, elder A.J. Felix told the first group to visit him that his people didn’t have the written version of their past.

“So, stories were passed on from one generation to the next. And how we were able to keep them is not a mystery. Because some stories were sacredly and ceremoniously requested. You want that story to be remembered. And that story is a teaching tool. In our culture, this has been a scared exercise.”

As National Treaty Firekeeper, responsible for bringing fire from one treaty meeting to the next, it was very appropriate that Felix chose to share the story of the sacred place that fire has in the family home, what it means for health, comfort and a happy life.

“The way the old people use to say, that fireplace is the centre of your home, and if you keep to the rules of that fireplace, you will have a fireplace that will burn a long time. You will end up still sitting around that fireplace with grey hair; With your children coming to visit you, with grey hair and bringing your grandchildren and great grandchildren with them, around your fireplace. That’s how sacred it is.”

Rachel Harper and Emily Zwaan are both first-year student with an eye toward majoring in Indigenous Studies and Education.

Harper noted Felix was using fire to teach broader themes of how to live life and if you try to be a good person, good will come to you.

Both students have had experience powwows before, but this was their first exposure to Indigenous storytelling.

Zwaan said that she liked Elder A.J.’s fire story. “It showed there’s always hope. If your fire burns out, you can always light another one once you know what went wrong with the first one.”

Lyndon Linklater described connecting with his culture and assuming the role of a knowledge keeper, sharing traditional methods and ceremonies with a new generation. (Photo courtesy of St. Thomas More College)

Lafond received many positive comments about the evening and said there have been countless times information that is ordinary and normal for him, as a Cree person, gets someone hearing traditional storytelling for the first time excited about the new relationship they may be experiencing. He is hoping to organize another storytelling event before the end of this academic year.