Wampum Weaving Stories workshop| Image credit: Matt McGregor
Winter marks the storytelling season and this past January MUSKRAT Magazine and Rez 91.3 FM co-presented the 2nd annual Gchi Dewin Indigenous Storytellers Festival: Under the Spirit Moon in Wasauksing First Nation and Parry Sound, ON. Gchi Dewin is an Anishinabe reference to people with
‘big hearts’ those traditional and contemporary storytellers who share their knowledge with the community. The storytellers shared knowledge and wisdom about reconciliation, wampum belts and the grandfather drum. Through out the day over 500 audience members that included families, youth, community representatives and friends made their way to the Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts to hear from Master Indigenous storytellers, artists and teachers from across Anishinaabe Akiing.
On the chilly Friday morning, ReZ 91 Radio Manager, Vince Chechok (Wasauksing) welcomed Ken Maracle (Cayuga) and Maurice Switzer (Mississauga) as they led a special Wampum Weaving Stories workshop in which representatives of 15 like-minded Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations and institutions were invited to weave their own 4”x 9” mini replica wampum belts (historical treaties). Maurice Switzer is Rez 91’s Nimki Tales host and a newly appointed Ontario Human Rights Commissioner. Ken Maracle is a traditional knowledge keeper and one of the last remaining artisans who make wampum beads from the Quahog shell.
Participants each received a loom and using glass beads and braided sinew wove their own belts as they listened to the storytellers share historical and traditional knowledge about the meaning of wampum belts and their many designs. The purpose of the workshop was to generate cultural awareness, build relationships and to make sure that the words of our ancestors, that were put into the original belts many years ago, will never be forgotten.
Following the workshop- Rez 91.3 FM Co-Manager, Anita Chechock and MUSKRAT Magazine Publisher, Rebeka Tabobondung opened the Gchi Dewin Festival to the public and esteemed Indigenous leaders and storytellers John Beaucage and John Rice joined Switzer by and leading a passionate talking circle about the cultural and treaty history of Wasauksing First Nation and the Parry Sound region.
It was a beautiful day to see fellow community members learning and sharing while enjoying a feast of Nish Tacos and fresh berries by local Indigenous caterer Nishin Taco Bell.
Brooklyn based performance artist Maria Hupfield of Wasauksing First Nation was joined on stage by members of her family: Johna, John and Deanne Hupfield, where together they invoked the spirit of intergenerational artistic expression with a beautiful tribute to their late mother, Peggy Hupfield. The performance resonated deeply with the audience where at the end- Maria revealed a significant and seemingly timely painting by Peggy, which depicts the waters of Georgian Bay.
The Winter Storytelling Show marked the evening portion of the Festival with Anishinaabe Elder, John Rice sharing the origin story of the drum and a beautiful traditional hand drum song.
John’s story was followed by the screening of the award winning short film; The Grandfather Drum, written and directed by Michelle Derosier. Based on a true story the unique animation depicts the impacts of colonization on the Anishinabek Peoples and the story of Naamowin’s drum; a drum revered for it’s healing powers.
Each year the Festival honours the life and contributions of a significant Indigenous storyteller- and this year the work of filmmaker, folk musician, playwright and politician, William “Willie” Dunn (1942 – 2013) was brought to the fore. Born in Montreal, Willie was of mixed Mi’kmaq and Scottish/Irish ancestry.
Dunn wrote the song “The Ballad of Crowfoot” and directed a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) film of the same name in 1968, which was screened as part of the Show. Notable for being one of the first films produced by the NFB’s Indian Film Crew and Canadian music video; this short, haunting film examines the situation of Aboriginal people in North America through the figure of Crowfoot, the legendary 19th-century Blackfoot leader of the Plains.
Dunn also wrote Charlie (Chanie) Wenjack from his 1978 album Akwesasne Notes. Also haunted and inspired by Chanie’s story, last year musician Gord Downie released, Secret Path; “I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him,” wrote Downie. “Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were.”
Chanie Wenjack was forced from his home and sent to Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School some 600 kilometers from his family. Wenjack and two of his friends decided to run away from the school and
Chanie died one week after fleeing the school.
Walk on, little Charlie, Walk on through the snow. Moving down the railway line, Try to make it home. And he’s made it forty miles, Six hundred left to go. It’s a long old lonesome journey, Shufflin’ through the snow. Lyric excerpt, Willie Dunn
Musical guests Glen Gould and David Deleary (Donna’s Boy) performed a number of soulful uplifting songs and got the people moving in their seats. Donna’s Boy is a Country-Rock Band fronted by Actor Glen Gould. Gould’s music reflects his life growing up in his home community on M’ikmaq territory.
Festival guests were then treated to a live Ojibway language session that got everybody talking led by Rez 91’s, Anishnaabembda Noongo host, Mskwankwad Rice.
Anishinabe comedian and creator of the Red Man Laughing Podcast from Couchiching First Nation, Ryan McMahon had the crowd laughing up a storm with a hilarious series of self-deprecating stories about growing up being ‘light-skinned’ on the Rez with a Nokomis who engaged in the ‘traditional’ era of corporal punishment. His relatable and well-executed set kept all ages busting a gut!
Wasauksing Kinomaugewgamik Dewegan is the name for the big drum that is used by students at Wasauksing’s school. The drum was sounded and the boys drum group sang the travel song as a send off for audience members to mark the end another successful Festival. Their performance was powerful and the significance of a new generation of young people sharing the healing powers of the drum was not lost on the audience.
Check out more photos from Gchi Dewin “BIG HEARTS” Indigenous Storytellers Festival on our Facebook page and Flickr
Chii Miigwetch/Big Thanks to the Ontario Arts Council, Wasauksing First Nation, and to all of our Festival sponsors and supporters.