Myth, Medium & Meatballs

For 20 years, I have been travelling and doing gigs all over the North and Canada, and have done many international performances in the U.S., New Zealand, Wales and Switzerland.

For those who aren’t familiar with my work or have not seen me on stage, I am a Yukon First Nations storyteller and comedian, probably best known for my comic character, Gramma Susie.

This is my first column in What’s Up Yukon and I am honoured to be asked to share my “Road Stories”. I want to share a glimpse of my life on the road through stories and memories.

Sometimes after a gig, I leave feeling very tired and exhausted. Occasionally, I am refreshed, inspired and I don’t want to leave. This was the case for Myth and Medium, hosted by Tr’ondekHwech’in (TH), recently in Dawson City.

I was asked to share my Tlingit and Northern Tutchone stories along with renowned anthropologist Julie Cruikshank.

The TH heritage department hosted us for three days of storytelling, workshops, heritage talks, a movie night, a traditional feast and fiddling along with jigging. I loved it!

On the night I told stories, I recounted those taught to me by my late grandmothers, Mrs. Carrie Jackson and Mrs. Jessie Shorty.

The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre Cultural Centre was packed to standing-room-only with Dawson’s winter denizens. Cruikshank shared her experiences of working with the late Angela Sidney, an elder storyteller whom I admired.

It was a pleasure to listen to Cruikshank and her process with many of the high-profile female elders in the Yukon. We discussed the types of stories that I tell, and the reasons for varieties of tone and lessons.

It was Shrove Tuesday evening, so I missed out on a pancake supper in Whitehorse. When I mentioned this to a new friend, Lisa, she promptly invited me over to her worker accommodations the following morning, and we gorged on pancakes and kielbasa sausage—it was a treat.

When on the road, I am usually alone in a hotel room and eating all my meals in restaurants.

Afterward we walked on the crunchy snow to the TH Community Hall for the hands-on workshops. It was packed with all nations, coming together to celebrate traditional art forms.

By the time we arrived, the caribou dry meat was gone, but I got a few crumbs and silently willed that the demonstrated dry meat cutting for the workshop would dry in record time. It did not.

I had a Hän-a-licious spruce tip tea from Fran Morberg’s Hän-a-licious that was great. She had a table with samples of traditional Hän teas along with cultural values printed on cards. Morbergspoke on the properties of each tea and showed us samples of traditional herbs.

I took that tea and sat with three elders. We sipped until we heard that the moose teriyaki skewers were ready, and I quickly foraged some for us. Next we were served sweet and sour moose meatballs by Rachel.

My workshop theme emerged: tea and moose-meat eating with Hän elder, Victor Henry. He told stories while I ate my second plate of meatballs. He always has a sparkle in his eye and performed well the night before with the Hän singers.

On the final day, I was privileged to see a contemporary usage of Hän language. It was Hän rap with “E&G” (Georgette McLeod and Erika Scheffen, TH heritage assistant) and the Robert Service school kids in the “house”.

There was lots of enthusiasm for the integration of language in their raps: “Everything we do, we do Cho! (good)”. Then, the two school classes challenged with their own raps in the Hän language, from six to nine-year-olds. It left me with tears in my eyes.

For the first time, I drove across the famous Dawson ice bridge to the territorial campground for storytelling by the campfire. There were TH citizens who shared stories as well as myself.

I told the Northern Tutchone story of “Why Campfire Smoke Follows the Guilty One”. Cruikshank confessed that the campfire smoke usually follows her. I was happy to hear stories from other cultures, like Scottish and Chinese stories.

Then, I had to head to the Dawson airport, since I had to perform three times the following day for Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. But not until I got a parting gift that I had been admiring in the Cultural Centre store.

It was a beaded moosehide mouse pad by Delores Anderson. I love that store and always spend some money there. I was so humbled by the Tr’ondek Hwech’in hospitality, generosity and creativity. Mussi cho!

My favorite moment: sitting with elder Victor Henry during the workshop afternoon, listening to him talk about Moosehide, his nerves of performing for the first time at the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre’s Folklore Show, and river stories.

All the while, Victor and I ate our second plate of moose meatballs and people took our pictures. I will always treasure that moment.

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