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Workshop, panel embrace Indigenous stories

An Indigenous storytelling roundtable with Cherie Dimaline, Tharonhianente Barnes and Jessica Deer during the Turtle Island Reads event at McGill University in Montreal. (Natalia Fedosieieva The Eastern Door)

Readers, Indigenous authors and advocates gathered Wednesday night for the third annual edition of Turtle Island Reads (TIR) at McGill as part of the university’s annual Indigenous Awareness Week celebrations.

Hosted by CBC Montreal’s Nantali Indongo, the initiative celebrates stories written by and about Indigenous people on Turtle Island. The objective of the event is to talk about Indigenous identity and history by drawing out topics from the books.

TIR 2018 included two events: an Indigenous storytelling roundtable and the launch of Turtle Island Reads.

In an hour-long presentation, a storytelling roundtable workshop focused on the art of storytelling and its importance, with invited participants including filmmaker Tharonhianente Barnes (Kahnawake), CBC Montreal journalist Jessica Deer (Kahnawake), author Cherie Dimaline (Métis), and Rosa Wah-Shee (T’licho Dene).

Wah-Shee said the stories play an important role to teach and to heal.

“It is about just very simply taking something that is difficult for people to handle, they didn’t know what to do with it, and putting it inside of a story. It is our history, it is our current situation, it is our strength, and just wrap it again in a story to bring it in a different way,” Dimaline said.

Deer, who formerly wrote for The Eastern Door, shared her perspective as a journalist.

“I feel like one of my roles as an Indigenous journalist is to raise awareness and provide context to a lot of those difficult situations based in our communities, both to Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers,” Deer said.

Barnes said despite learning about drama within Indigenous history, there is another important aspect in storytelling.

“I am working on my novel with the purpose of being able to tell our own stories, whatever that may be. Beyond the damage, I want people to know heroes with their great spirits, with their great adventures, trials and failures. I want people to know everything about us, the good and the bad,” said Barnes.

The Launch of TIR began with opening words of Kanien’kéha elder Amelia McGregor. Drumming group ODAYA performed traditional songs from their own cultures and their own traditionally inspired improvisational work.

The event also discussed three books: Will I See? By David Alexander Robertson, Those Who Run In The Sky by Aviaq Johnston, and The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.

Dayna Danger, Montreal-based Métis/Saulteaux/Polish visual artist, was the advocate for Will I See?

Artist and activist Danya Danger was an advocate for the book Will I See?, a graphic novel about a young girl traversing life in an urban environment finding keepsakes. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)

Kahnawake filmmaker Tracey Deer championed The Marrow Thieves.

Lucy Tulugarjuk, an Inuit Canadian actress, throat singer, and casting director from Igloolik, Nunavut, was the advocate for Those Who Run In The Sky.

“It’s about magic and human super naturals,” Lucy said.

The three books are also being donated to all English-language high schools in Quebec.

The Turtle Island Reads initiative is a partnership between CBC Montreal and such organizations as LEARN, Quebec Writers’ Federation, CODE NGO and McGill Faculty of Education.

CODE announced the three shortlisted titles for the 2018 CODE Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Young Adult Literature during the 2018 TIR launch event. ]The three titles, selected from a longlist are: Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones, The Journey Forward: Two Novellas on Reconciliation by Richard Van Camp and Monique Gray Smith, and The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.

The event ended with readings of some of the books.

Panelists Danya Danger, Tracey Deer, and Lucy Tulugarjuk for a trio of books in a variety of styles well worth checking out this fall. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)

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