Gchi Dewin Indigenous Storytellers Festival Poster | Image source: Aimee Rochard
Marking winter and the onset of the storytelling season, on December 4 2015, MUSKRAT MAGAZINE and Rez 91 co-presented the 1st Annual Gchi Dewin Indigenous Storytellers Festival. The Festival was held to honour Indigenous storytellers and acknowledge stories rooted in and around Wasauksing First Nation located in Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. Festivities were held at the Parry Sound Friendship Centre during the day, and the Stockey Centre for Performing Arts in the evening. Since time immemorial, storytelling has been a tradition in Indigenous culture that is used to pass on cultural history, values, beliefs and a way of life. Gchi Dewin refers to the big hearts of individuals who learn, hold onto and pass on the knowledge and traditions of our ancestors.
Early in the morning, the festival opened with the Porcupine Bracelet Making Workshop led by Elder, Audrey Pawis and owner of G’zaggin Art Gallery, Tracey Pawis. The workshop was attended by students from Wasauksing Kinomaugewgamik School from grades 6,7,8.
Yummy build your own Indian tacos were fed to a full room of festival attendees during feasting time at the Parry Sound Friendship Centre.
Vince Chechock, founder of CHRZ Rez 91, who also has a keen interest in history and politics, presented a slideshow on historic people from Wasauksing First Nation midday. The presentation was delivered with a humorous tone which the crowd thoroughly enjoyed.
The crowd then gathered around in a circle to listen to stories told by Brian McInnes, Waubgeshig Rice and Amy Desjarlais. During this sharing circle Amy, founder of EarthTALKER Magazine, read from an excerpt from her newly released book Starblanket; McInnes shared a traditional story that incorporated Anishinaabemowin, Ojibway language for the youth; Rice told stories of his travels to Germany and how that impacted his career.
During the evening, the festival moved to the Stockey Centre for Performing Arts. Host, John Rice, (Ojibwa/Anishinabeninni) who is a 3rd Degree member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Society, opened the night with telling traditional Anishinaabe creation and migration stories.
Waubgeshig Rice, read an excerpt from his newly released novel, Legacy. Rice grew up in Wasauksing First Nation listening to stories from Elders in the community, which propelled him into a career in creative writing and journalism with CBC.
During intermission Zeegwon Shilling-Tabobondung and Ella Beaucage served helpings of freshly made strawberry juice to guests.
Brian McInnes read an excerpt from his soon to be released book, which honours his great grandfather’s legacy – The Untold Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow. McInnes is a professional educator and author who has dedicated his life to preserving the Indigenous culture and language. Francis Pegahmagabow was a World War 1 sniper from Wasauksing First Nation that was awarded two Military Medals for exemplifying bravery as a runner and a scout.
Musical father and daughter duo, Lisa McLaughlin and James Lewis livened up the crowd with a country music performance.
Musicians Nancy Pawis and Austin Guimond performed traditional drum songs during the festival.
My Story, a short film written and directed by local youth Shania Tabobondung, was screened during the festival. The film expressed the pain she endured being bullied growing up while also dealing with the suicide of someone close to her.
Gaa-ondinang Dakwaana Makwa (How The Bear Got A Short Tail), a hilarious animated short film based on an Anishinaabe traditional story screened entirely in Anishinaabemowin. The film was produced by Heid E. Erdrich, from Wiigwaas Press/ Birchbark House, written by Anna Gibbs and directed by Elizabeth Day and is available for anyone to download.
The festival honoured the life and achievements of one of Canada’s first First Nations authors, Basil H. Johnston. Born in Wasauksing First Nation, during his lifetime Johnston wrote over 18 books on Anishinaabe culture, traditions and modern life.
As the night ended the crowd cheered on as John Rice led the give-away that included donations from Parry Sound Books, G’zaagin Gallery, The Mystic Loon, and Bearly used Books with Zeegwon Shilling-Tabobondung and Ella Beaucage by his side. His little helpers then performed a choreographed routine before announcing the winner of the big prize, a limited print of Anishinaabe artist, Norval Morrisseau’s Tree of Life generously donated by G’zaagin Art Gallery. Amy Desjarlais closed out the festival performing a solo traditional drum song.
MUSKRAT Magazine and Rez 91 look forward to co-presenting the second annual festival in December 2016. We hope that you will join us!