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Heart of the Dene festival heals through storytelling

Maggie Mercredi, David Gon, Lynn Canney and Cassandra Blondin-Burt take a bow following the Heart of the Dene Storytelling festival in Inuvik, Jan. 19. The evening of storytelling is scheduled to resume March 6 in Fort Simpson. Eric Bowling/NNSL photo

Stories are central to Dene culture and well-being, and a trio of storytellers will soon bring their tales to the Deh Cho region.

Heart of the Dene Storytelling Festival stopped by Inuvik Jan. 19 and wrapped up the first half of its tour in Norman Wells the following night. and The travelling showcase of traditional knowledge will resume in March.

“It’s been an awesome experience,” said storyteller Maggie Mercredi. “Both the writing and the journey have been very healing.

“A lot of stories come from trauma, so by sharing them we share healing.”

Involving a mix of traditional and modern tales relevant to life in the North, the evening begins with Mercredi’s account of courting from the tulugaq (raven)’s perspective. The curious bird’s fascination with humans intensifies as the species’ lives intersect at various intervals, including learning about human sorrow and grief.

Proudly two-spirited, NNSL columnist Cassandra Blondin-Burt tells a story of her dreams accompanied by traditional drumming and singing — and even a little poetry. She recounts her dreams as a little boy, hunting with his grandfather and the life lessons learned on the land.

“If not for colonization, we wouldn’t have to reconstruct the compassion and passion we should naturally feel for one another,” she comments during her performance. “We, my children and I, should not have had to suffer to experience familiar love.”

Closing the show with both music and storytelling, David Gon, who said he was last in Inuvik in 1998, shared some of his contemporary guitar-backed songs while telling an ancient tale of the Tlicho — the story of Kaw Tay Whee and of people escaping attack from an enemy village, from a time before colonialism. The tale describes the application of traditional knowledge as a population navigates the rugged terrain of the North while avoiding their aggressors.

Hosted by Lynn Canney and organized by the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, the performers also told stories to kids at East Three School throughout the day.

Heart of the Dene Storytelling Festival is scheduled to resume March 6 in Fort Simpson, Hay River March 8, Fort Smith March 9 and wraps up at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife March 12.