STORYTELLING – A personal perspective

Someone asked me the other day – how long have you been a storyteller? I have to say, it is something I have always done.

I grew up on the bald, flat prairie just southeast of Regina, even though my biological roots are in Northern Saskatchewan. Too often, southern Saskatchewan is unjustifiably described as boring. I never see it that way. Not only does the Land provide the richest in food production, it is also where the spirit is able to breathe and the heart rejoice in living under a sky that dances.

My earliest memories of creating my stories happened when I was about five. It was a blessing that there were no safety concerns back in those days in letting your young daughter play outside. But so often, I didn’t listen to my Mom who’d say – stay in the yard. Instead, my dog and I would wander into the wheat field right at the edge of town. It was there I explored.

My Dad had a subscription to National Geographic magazine. It was in that publication that I first saw people of colour. To that point, I always thought I was the only brown person, having been scooped up in the 1960’s. I grew up in a non-Native community. But from the magazine, I absorbed all the colours, sights and sounds of far-away places. You see, at the age of five, no one sat me down to explain that Saskatchewan is rich in Aboriginal culture & heritage – so I would identify with anything and anyone diverse, like me.

Remembering the photos from National Geographic, my dog & I would head out toward the prairie. The mature fields were as tall as me, so it was easy to imagine that I was surrounded by forest or jungle; like the pictures in the magazine. Then, my dog & I would head out on safari. I have written a story about that dog. He was my constant companion, protector and best friend for all of my childhood. I will attach the story here. It is entitled; Wheatfield Portal to Africa.

When I would come home from safari – I would tell my family stories about the animals I had imagined in that magic wheat field. It became a regular occurrence for me to take these trips.

In the winter, I would stand out on the stark, flat plain and watch with wonder as beautiful diamonds, rubies and emeralds sparkled from the sunlight dancing on fresh snow. I can still feel the crisp, refreshing breeze as it coloured my cheeks from brown to crimson. I wrote poetry about the crunching of the snow under my boots and how refreshing it always felt to receive a snow face-wash or play snowballs. Oh, how I love Saskatchewan.

My love of writing and expressing my creativity in this way continued into my youth. Near the end of high school, I proudly announced that I wanted to be an artist after graduation. This is where my dream took a turn.

I have no idea why adults discourage young people from pursuing their dreams but that is what happened. I was encouraged to go into a field of work that – would bring in some money. It’s how I decided on embarking on a career in journalism, where I spent more than three decades. Journalism was interesting and I am grateful to have spent time in that profession, however, I am blessed to have now returned to my roots.

As in always the case, it is my children who have been my best teachers; and it is they who encouraged me to return to my love of writing and pursuing The Arts. They did it without even knowing. When they were little, I still remember how beautiful it was for us to all pile into my big bed each night before they were ready to go to sleep. We read a story every night. I love how they all tucked in under my arm and listened and smiled and just felt safe and loved. It was our routine – reading bedtime stories – from the time they were born until they grew into beautiful youth. Today they are teenagers and I don’t read them bedtime stories each night anymore, but we still create our own stories, when on a long road trip or just hanging out on the deck at the front of our home.

But, during our nighttime readings long ago, I would lament that all the stories I was reading to them, as part of their childhood, were not reflective of our own Aboriginal culture. However, I also strongly believe that there is no use in complaining about things. I figure, if you see something that needs changing, then fix it. So I did. Because of a lack of Aboriginal children’s literature, I made up my own stories. And, because I am also a visual artist, I painted the illustrations to accompany the storylines and characters. My children delighted in hearing about their own Kookum (Grandmother in Cree). They loved seeing familiar places; big clear lakes filled with fish. They loved hearing the rhythm of our own Cree language in the stories we created.

Childhood is so precious because it is magical and fleeting. Before I knew it, they were off to high school and going on sports trips and learning to drive and getting ready for graduation. They are so beautiful.

So, while they no longer tuck under my arm each night – I cannot stop my own tradition of creating stories. I began retelling my original compositions to elementary school classes; accompanying the presentation with drum songs because there is heartbeat in all that is beautiful. The response of the children I had just met was the same as my own children. That is why I continue to do it. It brings me such joy to watch that expression of wonder and interest and travelling to magical places. I especially love speaking to children in grade one because they have no teeth. Each time they smile, the empty spaces where their baby teeth have fallen out remind me of the preciousness of the moment.

Quite simply – I do it because I love it. It is my way of passing down a deep pride and respect for things familiar and kissed with love. God Bless.