Telling the untold stories of the Yukon

The first days in the creation of the play Map of the Land, Map of the Stars took place in the summer of 2015 along the banks of the Yukon River. A group of artists gathered with stories, images, objects, and songs – items that they were drawn to and that were rooted in the Yukon.

“We created this play differently, starting with our deep desire to create a new work celebrating untold and rarely told Yukon stories,” said Patti Flather, co-founder of Gwaandak Theatre. “We began by gathering and inviting indigenous and diverse artists and storytellers with the passion to explore these story-beads of our land.”

Guided by two of Canada’s visionary Indigenous theatre artists – Yukon based Yvette Nolan and British Columbia based Michelle Olson – the artists used the Story Weaving technique developed by Muriel Miguel of New York-based Spiderwoman Theatre. The technique creates a living tapestry built with layers upon layers of stories, images, movement and music.

When co-creator and Gwaandak Theatre co-founder Leonard Linklater shared his personal search for stories about indigenous people in the Yukon and Mackenzie River Delta where he grew up, director Olson created a dance from his gestures.

Director Nolan found the creation process challenging, rewarding, and one that uncovered the story in an organic way.

“Everyone brought their own stories and stories about the Yukon that they found compelling to the creation process,” Nolan says. One of the stories she brought to the piece was about the black soldiers who built the Alaska Highway. The story is a timely one as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the highway’s construction.

“There were so many things about that story that intrigued me, ever since I first heard it when I was living here in the ’90s,” Nolan says. “I wondered what it must have felt like to arrive here and find it so alien. Some of those soldiers had never even seen snow. And the land was still so wild. The Highway really preempted a bunch of other trails and maps and pathways that had already existed.”

While still a work-in-progress, the piece was shared last June during what would turn out to be the last Magnetic North Theatre Festival. After more rounds of collaborations and creations, the piece is now ready to be debuted in its completed state.

“Map of the Land, Map of the Stars began as a search for ‘snippets of stories,’ a desire to awaken and gather stories of our Yukon land and people,” Flather says.

Map of the Land, Map of the Stars contains numerous stories that explore the river and trails, and disruptions to First Nations ways of life due to the gold rush and colonization. Andrameda Hunter, a collaborator and performer in the piece, has many of her family’s stories intertwined in the production.

“The section about my matrilineal lineage is my personal story, but it really is a glimpse into the worldview of many people of First Nation ancestry,” Hunter says. “After seeing this piece, I hope audiences walk away with the understanding that we all have stories, and they are all interesting. Also that we have much more in common than we realize – that we are all connected.”

Map of the Land, Map of the Stars will be at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre May 10 to 13 with a special pay-what-you-decide preview on May 9. Show time is 7:30 p.m.

The production will be in Dawson City on May 16 and Carcross on May 18.

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