Saskatchewan Aboriginal Storytelling Month
For 20 years, February has been recognized as Saskatchewan Aboriginal Storytelling month. This year, the Southeast Regional Library arranged for special guests to visit many libraries and schools in the area.
Included in the itinerary were Lynn Cote from Cote First Nation and Louise BigEagle from Ocean Man First Nation. Cote visited libraries in Whitewood, Broadview, and Qu’Appelle; BigEagle spent last Saturday morning at Indian Head Library and is scheduled to be at Kipling Library on Saturday, Feb. 25. Their presentations celebrated the storytelling traditions of Indigenous people, as well as their language and culture.
Louise BigEagle’s presentation at the Indian Head Library focused on her efforts to tell stories through film. Her past work includes Sounds of the Sundance and I Am a Boy, both of which deal with themes relating to residential schools. In 2017, BigEagle produced another short film on the topic of Indigenous language.
She explained to the small group in Indian Head that there are very few fluent Nakoda speakers left in Saskatchewan. Her uncle Armand McArthur was one of them and, before he passed away, she was privileged to produce an observational documentary featuring him, called To Wake Up the Nakoda Language.
McArthur was from Pheasant Rump First Nation and attended residential school but escaped to live with his grandparents where he was able to retain his language so that later he could later share it with others. During the six-minute film, McArthur speaks about loneliness and the importance of teaching the Nakoda language to others.
“When you don’t know your language and your culture, you don’t know who you are,” he said. “Today, everybody speaks English. All the ones that knew the language passed on, they went to the sky. I am alone here. We have to get it back as much as we can; got to teach everybody, everybody will have it.”
Following the film’s screening at the library, BigEagle described language preservation efforts undertaken by her uncle and other groups. These include language classes and publication of a Nakoda dictionary.
BigEagle’s next major project will focus on another aspect of Indigenous culture, known as Flowers Day, that she feels is at risk of being lost. Each spring, First Nations people visit cemeteries to clean the graves of their loved ones and share food. The filmmaker observed that fewer people are participating in the ritual, so she wants to highlight its importance.
BigEagle recognizes that there are many stories that could be told through film and is eager to listen to any stories that people share with her.
“In what I do as a filmmaker, I want to focus on positive Indigenous stories,” BigEagle said. “I believe there are a lot of stories out there in Saskatchewan that haven’t been told and that need to be told.”