Storytellers Conference in Yellowknife, NWT

It was my great privilege to represent the Victoria Storytellers Guild (VSG) at the recent 19th Storytellers Conference in Yellowknife, NWT called Story North. Here are a few of the highlights.

As the Air Canada flight began it’s decent into Yellowknife one could see large snow covered areas and it was apparent we had arrived in “the north”. VSG President, Al Fowler, and I were joined by a group of Alberta tellers and we all boarded the waiting bus to take us to the registration desk at the Explorer Hotel. Excitement was in the air as we were given our bags of conference materials. I was then picked up by Velma who had graciously offered to billet Melanie Ray and myself. The three of us had dinner together that night and talked long into the night, which almost doesn’t happen when there are 20 hours of sunlight in each day. It felt strange to watch beautiful sunsets at 10 and 11 o’clock at night. Velma’s house overlooked a lake from which we could access a paved path that took us downtown in about a 25-minute walk.

Thursday morning 20 of us attended a day long workshop called “How to Shine the Light on Storytelling” by Inga Petri of Strategic Moves, an Ottawa company that teaches marketing skills. The workshop was intended to raise awareness of how to promote storytelling in the community and elsewhere. The material was given to us to share with our groups at home and I am happy to do so. Questions such as “who is the target audience”, the clarity of the message and it’s consistency were addressed.

Later that evening we had the official welcome and introduction to this year’s Story Save. Lorne Brown from Toronto had been chosen as this year’s teller. He not only tells stories he also sings ballads and songs. He has been part of the Toronto storytelling scene for decades. His CD’s are now available in our libray, The Root Cellar. Following the Story Save launch 4 tellers were chosen from the 4 directions of Canada and told stories that highlighted the culture of their communities.

Friday, May 25th. began with a wonderful welcome story called “The Breaking of Bread” by Dawn Lacey. She must have stayed up all night baking as she stood before a long table filled with freshly baked breads, muffins, home made jams and butter, which we all shared at the end. Dawn was dressed in bakers costume and told stories of her mother and grandmother’s love of baking and sharing bread, the ingredients used, and importance in the community. There was always extra bread baked for those in need. This was followed by workshops planned by Storytellers of Candada – Conteurs du Canada (Sc-CC). I attended ”Partnership and Audience Diversification” facilitated by Ruth Stewart Verger on how to promote storytelling and attract larger audiences. Judging from the comments, Victoria is doing very well by comparison in this area.

Following the fabulous lunch buffet there was a concert to promote “Next Gen” tellers in the high school auditorium, which tended to be more performance than telling.

On each of the three days there were concerts called “Caribou Dropping” featuring tellers from the three territories, the Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut. It was through their stories that we learned of the history of the people, their amazing survival skills and resilience. I will share briefly some of these at our September Stories at Fern.

Michael Kusugak draws his stories from deep within his Inuit cultural roots in Nunavut. His interest lies in the healing properties of stories and how stories are the key to building healthy individuals and communities.

Scott McQueen from the Deni Nation of the Northwest Territories shared family stories of heroic adventures living in the north with only dogs and canoes to acquire your sustenance.

Ivan Coyote from the Yukon told her stories at 2 of the concerts as well as giving a workshop titled “Accessing Your Greatest Resource.” I loved her workshop and learned so much from her. She told us how she had recently been the “distinguished speaker” and delivered the Carol Shields Memorial lecture at the University of Winnipeg after which she received a long standing ovation. She is truly the master of personal reflections of her own space and the world that surrounds her.

One thing that needs to be mentioned is the fabulous food, which was presented daily in buffet style at the Explorer Hotel. Even when we arrived at various storytelling venues there were platters of fruits, cheeses and drinks. I had not expected such a feast as we often hear that there is a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables in the north. Apparently in Nunavut it is a different story however as the food subsidy originally given by the government of Canada has been rescinded and now a jug of milk costs $22.00.

The conference days flew by and it was soon time to say good-bye. During these days there were 43 storytellers from across Canada that met together and shared many stories, hopes and dreams. We gained a deeper understanding of what it means to live in “the north”. I certainly did not realize the impact mining has on the livelihood of the people. The gold mines in Yellowknife have closed and the diamond mines have taken their place. Interestingly, Australian companies, DeBeers and BHPBiliton, own them. Quite a change from the way our first nations people lived on the land for centuries.

I am very grateful that our guild gave me this opportunity to experience these tellers and a part of my country I did not really know. I hope I can be of some use in the future in passing on this awareness. Please do not ever hesitate to ask me questions you may have about “Story North” and my experience in Yellowknife.

Thank you so very much.

Patricia Houston

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