Traditional storyteller and knowledge keeper Esther Osche on stage at The Stockey Centre for Performing Arts. | Image source: Meg Wallace
It was a packed house, even though the weather outside was frightful during the 3rd Annual Gchi-Dewin Indigenou Storytellers Festival, December 7-9 at The Stockey Centre for Performing Arts in Parry Sound, ON.
This year’s themes included acknowledging the water, children and creation with a very special guest, Nokomis/Grandmother Water Walker, Josephine Mandamin – who is known for her ceremonial journey walking around each of the Great Lakes and the St.Lawrence to pray for the water.
The atmosphere throughout the weekend was invigorating and energizing. The beautiful location along the water of Georgian Bay was a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life, while connecting with cultural traditional and contemporary storytelling. Here are some highlights from this year’s Gchi-Dewin Storytellers’ Festival:
Josephine Mandamin, The Water Walker & Autumn Peltier
Early Friday afternoon, Nokomis Josephine Mandamin (Wikwemikong First Nation), led a water ceremony with a packed room. We then feasted on Nish tacos before entering the main auditorium for a special reading of the Water Walker book with author, Joanne Robertson (Atikameksheng Anishnawbek), followed by insights from youth changemaker, Autumn Peltier (Wikwemikong FN). At the evening winter Storytelling Show Mandamin shared her journey as a water walker and imparted important knowledge encouraging everyone to take action to do what they can to save the water. “When you walk with the water you have to listen to what’s it’s trying to tell you,” she said followed by a standing ovation.
Thursday: Our Beautiful Land Film Festival
The Festival held its inaugural Our Beautiful Land Film Festival with screenings opened by a reading of Building Our Bridge an award winning book written by Parry Sound High School students on reconciliation. The film Striking Balance opened the day with the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve presenting an environmental protection award to Magnetewan First Nation Elder, Theodore Pitawanakwat. The program continued with Spirit of Birth and Colonization Road with Directors, Michelle St. John and Rebeka Tabobondung present. The Film day was capped off with a co-presentation with Film at the Stockey of RUMBLE: Indians Who Rocked The World. Even though there was blizzard like conditions, close to 200 people attended the screenings.
Iskwé Performs Her Latest
In the midst of her latest tour and right after the release of her album, The Fight Within, musical artist Iskwé (Cree/Dene) graced us with several acoustic performances throughout the evening. One of the songs that she performed was Soldier – a tribute to water and land defenders.
Esther Osche Shares Legends of the Ojibwe
Traditional storyteller and knowledge keeper, Esther Osche (Whitefish River FN), shared The Legend of Meeshubeeshu, the horned serpent that had grown fond of and helped the Ojibwa people when they were in conflict with another tribe. “They painted his picture on Agawa Rock up on Lake Superior to honour him and his actions to help them,” explained Osche. “The picture is still on the rock and has lasted for centuries.”
Rabbit and Bear Paws Endearing Interactive Performance
Chad Solomon (Henvy Inlet FN), creator of Rabbit and Bear Paws, hosted two interactive puppet shows on Friday where he encouraged the children to use their own dialogue. The children were endearing on stage as they performed a version of the Creation story. He ended both performances with a lighthearted game and a giveaway. “It is important to share stories in a way that everyone can connect with them – with an open heart and open mind,” he said.
The Little Spirit Singers
Traditional singing group, The Little Spirit Singers, treated us with their soothing and healing voices closer to the end of the evening. The group comprises of elementary and high school aged girls from Wasauksing First Nation who travel and perform around Ontario.
The Manoominii/Rice Family
Three members of the Manoominii/Rice family (Wasauksing FN) were a part of this year’s festival. Knowledge Keeper John Rice hosted Friday evening’s festivities, sharing the Ojibwe Creation story of the Muskrat and his wicked sense of humour- which had the crowd laughing. His son, journalist and author, Waubgeshig Rice read an excerpt from his soon to be published book, Moon of the Crusted Snow, a post-apocalyptic thriller set in an isolated First Nation community in northern Ontario. The book will be released later this year. Later in the evening, Waub’s brother, Miskwaanakwad Manoominii, host of Anishnaabembda Noongo on Rez 91.3FM gave a language lesson completely in Anishinaabemowin.
***We would also like to thank the Wasauksing First Nation, The Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve,The Ontario Arts Council and The Wasauksing Little NHL Committee for spending 16 hours cooking and preparing Nish Tacos for the feast!