By Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald

This is the 20th Anniversary of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Storytelling Month and events in Prince Albert kicked off with artist and writer Leah Dorion and Elder Curtis Breaton giving a talk in the Prince Albert Saskatchewan Polytechnic library on Thursday morning

Dorion said the talk focused on how her art and Aboriginal storytelling are connected.

“(It was) how I use artwork to tell stories and give teachings so it was a really nice opportunity to share with this audience,” she said. “I don’t often get over to Polytech and it was really nice to way to celebrate.”

During the talk, Dorion and Breaton paid tribute to Elder Danny Musqua, who recently passed away. Musqua served in a number of roles, including elder in residence providing cultural teachings and traditional activities for the University of Saskatchewan ITEP program.

“We are so blessed because we got to share some of the things that have really influenced us from our Elder Danny Musqua,” Dorion said. “We just lost him. In some way, I think we really dedicated this whole talk to him. His teachings have been profound on us and we just happened to share a lot of his knowledge.”

Dorion explained that they did not prepare remarks but just made up the talk as they went along.

“That’s kind of the best way sometimes,” she said,

They tied the whole talk together by reading from Dorion’s children’s book Metis Christmas Mittens

“I had to share the old Metis Christmas Mittens book,” she said. “It was a classic still.”

Dorion explained that Aboriginal Storytelling Month is important because of the importance of oral tradition.

“It really makes us think about the stories we tell in our community and our families. Where do we come from? Where do we belong? What do we inherit” All of those kinds of things,” she explained.

Dorion is a Métis writer and artist currently living near Prince Albert. Her artwork celebrates the strength and resilience of Indigenous women and families.  She is also a published children’s book author and illustrator.

Several of her Métis cultural books are available through Gabriel Dumont Press in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Strong Nations Publishing in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

She related a story about her father not making eye contact because he was raised a Metis trapper in Northern Saskatchewan and how he had to adapt when he moved to Prince Albert.

Breaton further related the importance of oral history. He explained that the oral history was kept as the true history.

“When they would do storytelling in the winter because this is the slower time there, they have go their food, their harvest, they are staying together and things like that. From that historical part, the Kookum would watch other kids that heard these stories and sharing with other children in the group,” he said.

“They would watch these children and if this child was repeating that story verbatim then those elders would download the whole history of that band or those people.”

The story would then be passed from generation to generation.

“One of the things is they looked to make sure it wasn’t being changed, so that would carry on the history. That is why they had oral history over written history because then it was amongst the people.”

For 20 years, the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Storytelling Month project has been hosted by the Library Services for Saskatchewan Aboriginal Peoples committee. The goals of the month are to support and promote First Nations, Metis and Inuit oral storytelling traditions in Saskatchewan, to celebrate First Nations, Metis and Inuit history, language and culture, and to promote cross-cultural relationships and understanding by promoting storytelling as an important foundational cultural activity. They also want to facilitate and grow a living oral storytelling collection and to share the vision of the LSSAP Committee: Library Services for Saskatchewan Aboriginal Peoples collaborates through partnerships to enrich communities by promoting and improving library services for Aboriginal peoples.

The next event in Prince Albert for the month features Curtis Peeteetuce at the Prince Albert Public Library on Friday, Feb. 17 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. for registered school students. You can find a full schedule for the month on the LSSAP website