Students from Teslin Community School will gather on Tuesday, March 7 at the Teslin Heritage Centre and on the 7th at the Teslin School for a celebration of storytelling honouring local story-teller and public figure Sam Johnston. Students from the Atlin School have also been invited to attend the event.
The event will be hosted by Yukon favourite “Grandma Susie” (aka Sharon Shorty) and will consist of art activities, lessons in First Nation dancing and stories from Johnston himself.
In the afternoon students will present a series of dramatizations based on traditional First nations stories. The students, ranging from kindergarten to Grade 6, are divided up based on their ages, with additional performances from the Teslin Drama Club and the Atlin School.
The event is a partnership between the Teslin Community School, the Teslin Heritage Centre and Yukon Art Ed-Ventures says organizer Rhoda Merkel. Merkel is herself a native storyteller of the Tahltan First Nation, as well as an artist, painter and educator.
“Teslin has really great kids… someone approached me and said let's do some drama,” Merkel says.
The stories the children will be performing are creation stories and myth cycles, she says. The performances, created by Merkel herself, are based on stories are pulled from First Nations cultures all over the Yukon and are not only specific to the Teslin region, she says, although there is one, Crow and the Tlingit Princess, which is.
Other titles on the docket for the afternoon include Salmon Boy/Girl, How Butterflies Came to Be, How Raven Brought Light to the World and How Summer Came to the Yukon.
“There is a lot of truth to (these myths) masked in a story… you can tell a story and the moment can have magic – a little kid's eyes light up and I can see what I've said makes sense to them,” Merkel says.
The event's honoured figure, Sam Johnston, is a venerated elder within the Teslin Community. He has been a politician, athlete and former chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, as well as a celebrated community figure.
“The goal of this day is to share some stories with (Johnston), make him feel special and thank him for the stories he has shared,” Merkel says.
“And of course,” she adds, “Sam will be spending some time with the kids as well.”
Project-based learning events like these are great for the kids, who really get into the act of storytelling and dramatizations, says Merkel.
“It really develops confidence in kids, in their skills and their presentation, when they put on a play like this,” she says.
Merkel says she hopes the event will continue on, and calls this year “a prototype year.”
“There used to be a great story telling festival in the Yukon which was very popular,” she says, “But people got burned out and it stopped… I'd love to see some of Sam Johnston's stories turned into plays.”
For more information on Teslin Heritage and future events, you can contact the Teslin Heritage Centre at (867)390-2526.