Poetry and prose event returns for a night of powerful storytelling
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
Last Thursday evening, Douglas students and community members were treated to a free event of poetry and storytelling at Aboriginal Voices: An Evening of Poetry and Prose.
Held at the Aboriginal Gathering Place and hosted by EVENT Magazine and the Douglas Aboriginal Student Services, the event featured readings by four distinguished First Nations writers who shared deeply personal stories about their cultures, communities, and experiences.
The first reader was poet and playwright Joseph A. Dandurand, a member of the Kwantlen First Nation. He started off with a fable-like story about a magical sturgeon and the sacrifices required to capture it, followed by a poem about the traditional doctors of his people. Dandurand’s readings were interspersed with humorous, frank commentary and easygoing interactions with the audience, drawing readers personably and candidly into his compelling narratives.
Next was Louise Bernice Halfe, whose Cree name is Sky Dancer, and who has won numerous awards for her poetry. On Thursday she shared excerpts from her book about residential school and the impact of the exploitative, abusive system on her community. Through the readings, Halfe relayed deeply sobering and intimate accounts of drug addiction, sexual abuse, and the silence of her people. She reminded audiences that these experiences are a part of Canadian history, and that it’s past time they are discussed.
Wanda John-Kehewin was the third presenter of the night. She shared an assortment of poems that resonated powerfully with listeners, thanks to both her melodious, repetition-based poetic style and her heartfelt honesty. Some of her poems were quirky and wryly humorous, others more intensely solemn and raw, but all of them were underlaid with themes of self-acceptance of her culture and her place within it.
The final reader of the night, Jules Arita Koostachin, is a renowned film and TV director and a PhD candidate at UBC, as well as a poet. The pieces she shared were all evocatively metaphorical and full of imagery. To close off the evening, she shared with audiences an except from a novel she is working on about her mother’s experiences in residential school, demonstrating how consequences of this terrible institution are passed down through generations.
Aboriginal Voices was held for the first time last fall. Dave Seaweed, Douglas College’s Aboriginal Coordinator, told the Other Press after the show that the turnout for this year’s show was better than that of last year, and he’s happy to have the backing of the college and EVENT Magazine in putting this event together and helping it run smoothly.
Seaweed said he believes the biggest takeaway for the audience is cultural awareness and understanding. Hopefully, these deeply personal narratives of the atrocities against Aboriginal peoples will be taken to heart. “Those are stories that have to come out, and these writers and readers brought those stories out to share with people,” he said.
He hopes to run another Aboriginal Voices event in the winter semester and to hold this event regularly twice a year.