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Aboriginal artists share their gifts at literacy gala.

An amazing array of up-and-coming Aboriginal writers, as well as literary heavy weights such as Richard Wagamese, Morningstar Mercredi and Gregory Scofield and approximately 200 attendees converged at the Dakota Dunes in May, to share the gift of literacy at the 2009 Aboriginal Literacy and Literary Artists' Gala.

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"They all came to get to know and celebrate Aboriginal literary artists," said Carol Vandale, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Literacy Network (SALN). "It was a wonderful opportunity to network, and a very good event," Vandale said.

The evening gala, organized by the SALN, was jam-packed with readings from a wide spectrum of literary genres and artists from across Saskatchewan and Canada.

What stood out about the event was that each of the 10 authors shared dinner and a table with guests for the evening. Those guests could speak with the artists one-on-one and take the opportunity to ask them questions about their life and literary works.

Vandale said, "This event brought Aboriginal literary artists together with a multitude of people. We really wanted the authors to be able to network and share their work. Educators, librarians and administrators had the opportunity to learn what books by Aboriginal writers are available, and what publishing houses and book sellers they can get them from."

Four-time book author Harold Johnson entertained the crowd with modern day trickster tales. Johnson is originally from LaRonge, where he still does the traditional activities of trapping and fishing. He holds a Masters of Law degree from Harvard, teaches at the First Nations University of Canada, and is a senior crown prosecutor in his spare time. Meanwhile, Winnipeg-based writer and broadcaster, Rosanna Deerchild, had the audience in stitches of laughter with her fabulous sense of humour about growing up in a small northern town.

"Growing up Native, you all know where home is, it's right oba dere," she said, lips puckered in the traditional way, which roused a wave of deep-belly-laughter and roaring applause from the audience.

Besides sharing in some first-rate Indigenous humour, guests were also treated to the melodic Cree-English poetry of leading Aboriginal writer Gregory Scofield, and the moving memoirs of social activist, actor and storyteller Morningstar Mercredi.

Saskatchewan writers such as Margaret Reynolds, a Denesuline language educator from the English River First Nation, provided glimpses of their written works. She explained, "In my culture we make a distinction between simple stories and legends. Simple stories have a beginning and an end, but our legends continue to teach us for the rest of our lives."

In order for this Aboriginal culture to stay alive, the legends need to be passed on to the next generation, said Margaret Reynolds, and that has been her quiet, but lifelong, work.

This year's gala Coordinator Theresa Keshane explained, "One of our main focuses at the Aboriginal Literacy Network is to support our lesser known and emerging authors."

Newcomers Metis educator and poet Rita Bouvier, and teacher/children's book writer Leah Dorion, confidently shared pieces of their works alongside their seasoned cohorts.

"It's key that schools know about native authors, and that they use their materials in the classroom," said Keshane, adding that this is especially important now that teaching Treaties and Aboriginal curriculum content is mandatory in provincial schools.

To that end, organizers contacted all 54 Saskatoon Public Schools, and Vandale said many educators and administrators from all levels, including Saskatchewan Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, Darren McKee, were in attendance at the event.

Senator Lillian E. Dyck--also at the gala--congratulated SALN on its impressive work. "What really stands out for me," she said, "is the community involvement. They have put the heart and soul of our culture into the program; it's not just the standard English curriculum. It's designed for our people."

Besides all the literary delights, there was no shortage in musical entertainment during the evening.

Nineteen-year-old up-and-coming singer, Terri-Anne Strongarm, from Kawacatoose First Nation amazed the crowd with her booming voice, while Ahtakakoop jigger, Warren Isbister, made the audience tap along with his fancy footwork.

As the final speaker of the evening, Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese summed up the "incredible energy of the evening" with a powerful invocation of the spirits of the knowledge keepers.

"Listen," he said, "they are here with us tonight, celebrating; they are telling you to harness this magical horse called language; listen, they're telling you that each of us is a storyteller. Through our stories, we can carry our people forward to a bright and promising future."

Vandale said the event was a huge success, and attendance went far beyond expected numbers.

Guests from the FSIN, various tribal councils and bands throughout Saskatchewan, Elders, librarians and adult learners, and a whole range of people from sponsoring agencies and businesses came out.

CTV's Nelson Bird was the gala's MC, which also included a silent auction of hundreds of donated items, with all proceeds going to SALN initiatives.

The SALN was created in 2003 and since its inception, has strived to provide empowerment skills in various literacy programs, workshops, presentations, gathering events and community development work.

BERNADETTE FRIEDMANN-CONRAD

Sage Writer

SASKATOON
COPYRIGHT 2009 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:COMMUNITY
Author:Friedmann-Conrad, Bernadette
Publication:Saskatechewan Sage
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Words:850
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