By Rick Garrick
WIKWEMIKONG – The Debajehmujig-Storytellers recently introduced Thunderbird and Mishipeshu during the On Common Ground storytelling project at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
“The storyline we developed was our Nokomis, our grandmother — played by Jeanette Corbiere-Lavell — had a vision over here on Turtle Island that the Thunderbird had left Turtle Island and was going off to a global gathering of many nations,” says Joseph Osawabine, Debajehmujig-Storyteller’s artistic director. “And we were directed to follow it. When we got into the heart of Glasgow in this neighbourhood called the Gorbals, the adult community there has heard rumours of this big bird that’s threatening in the area and everybody is scared of it.”
The seven Debajehmujig-Storytellers — Osawabine, Corbiere-Lavell, Bruce Naokwegijig, Jessica Wilde-Peltier, Josh Peltier, Curtis Kagige and Johanna Berti — collaborated with about 150 Citizens Theatre performers from Glasgow during the On Common Ground storytelling project, which was performed from July 25-31 during Festival 2014, the cultural component of the Commonwealth Games.
“After we calm the fears of the parents, the whole performance culminated in a dance piece between one of our dancers — Curtis Kagige — and one of their dancers from over there,” Osawabine says. “They depicted the battle between the Thunderbird and (Mishipeshu) the underwater serpent. It was all about restoring balance to nature.”
Osawabine says the audience was enthusiastic when they met the Debajehmujig-Storytellers.
“A lot of them never met a Native American before,” Osawabine says. “So they were quite interested in our culture and our history.”
The Debajehmujig-Storytellers travelled to Glasgow on June 31 to begin the On Common Ground collaboration with the Citizens Theatre performers.
“Since meeting Debajehmujig at the International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam in 2011, we knew that we wanted to work together,” says Elly Goodman, co-director with Citizens Theatre. “Our shared commitment to the power of stories that bond communities makes us ideal partners. Through Festival 2014, we had the opportunity to create a spectacular event that celebrates the best of both of our cultures and to connect as commonwealth countries.”
On Canada Day, the Debajehmujig-Storytellers walked across the Clyde River at sunrise with 35 Citizen Theatre performers to the Gorbals Rose Garden, where the On Common Ground storytelling project was performed.
“To everyone’s surprise, 35 Glaswegian community players, all associated with The Citizens Theatre, joined us in a beautiful silent walk to the Gorbals Rose Garden,” Osawabine says. “This was a magical start to our residency here in Glasgow.”
The On Common Ground performance began with a gathering of about 300 audience members in the Citizens Theatre foyer, where they learned about life on Manitoulin Island through exhibits, music and arts and crafts. The audience then proceeded through the Gorbals neighbourhood, where they witnessed live performances and music along the route to the Gorbals Rose Garden, where a live band and choir performed.
Debajehmujig-Storytellers is celebrating its 30th anniversary season this year after being founded in 1984 by Shirley Cheechoo as a vehicle for Aboriginal people to see their own lives and their own stories reflected on stage.