Tammy Lee Josie was literally pushed onto the stage at 14 years old. She was watching her grandmother, Edith Josie, perform her family’s Vuntut Gwitchin stories at the Yukon International Storytelling Festival in 1998 when festival coordinator Louise Profeit-Leblanc asked if Tammy Lee knew Edith’s tales.
“Then my grandmother pointed at me and said ‘Your turn!’ And began pushing me from behind onto the stage,” Josie says.
She stood blinking in front of the audience of nearly 100 people.
“Luckily the lights were bright enough that I couldn’t see anybody,” she says.
She performed “Beaver and Muskrats” that day, which is still her favourite out of the 17 stories she knows.
“(Beaver and Muskrats) is about greed and deceit,” Josie says. “It tells people, you need to be aware of these things. They’re not good – but it’s good to know about them.”
Audiences of all ages attend her performances. “Kids with balloons and painted faces come to listen, and young couples and lots of seniors,” she says. “The stories are PG-13, I tell people.”
Josie, 29, who now lives in Whitehorse, learned the stories while growing up in Old Crow. Her grandmother lived next door and would come over every night.
“Before bed, she would tell us a story, then we would say our prayers,” Josie says. “She never missed a night.
“My brother always fell asleep, so even though boys usually tell the family’s stories, it was me who got to carry them on – because I remembered them.”
She feels privileged to be carrying on the family tradition and shares her grandmother’s stories whenever she can.
“I go to schools to give workshops and teach kids,” she says. “I even went to France with an interpreter. Luckily I had a slide show going behind me with pictures, because they had no idea what an owl or muskrat was.”
She also tells stories at festivals around the territory.
“I enjoy meeting people and the other storytellers,” she says. “It’s cool to see that there are people still passionate about this.”
Josie will be sharing her stories, including “Beavers and Muskrats” at the upcoming Adäka Cultural Festival.
The festival, launched in 2011, showcases Yukon First Nations arts and culture, and welcomes artists from as far afield as Greenland. This year Adäka runs from June 21-27 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse.
For more information on the Adäka Cultural Festival go to Adaka Festival.ca. If you would like to get in touch with Tammy Lee Josie, you can contact her at 867-334-6551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.