Virtual Indigenous Storytelling Month aims to keep oral culture, traditions alive
REGINA -- February is Indigenous Storytelling Month and, despite moving online due to the pandemic, many Saskatchewan storytellers are still committed to sharing their tales with the younger generation.
Rhonda Donais has been storytelling for decades. What started as puppet shows at age 12 has evolved into a variety of methods of sharing Indigenous culture years later. Her performances sometimes include puppets, songs and costumes to keep the audience entertained.
“Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I always wanted to be Mr. Dressup,” Donais said. “I like entertaining people and making them smile. If I can make you smile and take you away from whatever is worrying you or bothering you, even for a few moments to make you laugh, then I feel I’ve done my job as a storyteller.”
Through a class at the First Nations University of Canada, Donais was introduced to tricksters, which are supernatural figures often used in Indigenous teachings and oral histories.
“I learned all about the trickster Weesageechak and then I learned some of those stories and put them to memory, and from there there was really no stopping me. I really enjoyed telling Indigenous stories,” she said.
Donais said long ago, community storytellers would visit tipis to share tales during the winter months to help people stay entertained and keep warm. That is why this month takes place in one of the coldest months of the year.
“The time for storytelling was the winter months, because you were cold and you were in your tipi and you weren’t working hard like you would be in the spring, summer and fall,” Donais said.
Donais said she particularly likes telling stories to kids.
“I love telling stories to children because they are my most gullible audience,” she said. “They’ll believe anything you tell them.”
Donais often uses puppets to tell her stories. (Supplied: Rhonda Donais)
She also said it is important to pass storytelling down through generations.
“For me, I was kind of a little bit of lost sheep and I had to search for my culture by going to an Indigenous theatre school and learning about my history and background,” she said. “For me to tell stories about the tricksters is important. I feel that it’s a tradition that’s dying and we need to keep that storytelling alive and keep passing on those stories.”
She said she hopes her storytelling will inspire children to develop a passion for the craft as well.
Donais is one of several storytellers taking part in virtual events this month through the Regina Public Library (RPL).
Tanya Rogoschewsky, the lead for adult programming with RPL, said it is an opportunity for members of the community to connect with each other throughout the winter.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for the community to really see and celebrate the history and the cultural traditions of our Indigenous community,” Rogoschewsky said. “It’s a chance for people across the community to see how much oral storytelling means to the traditional knowledge of Indigenous people in our province.”
She said the library is working in partnership with Regina Public Schools and Regina Catholic Schools to share stories with about 10,000 students this month. There are also public virtual events in the evenings that are open for people of all ages.
Events include Indigenous storytelling through music and film, graphic novels and some storytellers will be using puppets and other methods.
Every event is free of charge to the public. Details can be found on the Regina Public Library website.