By Rick Garrick
TORONTO—Whitefish River’s Esther Osche enjoyed sharing Nanabush stories with children and adults at the Toronto Storytelling Festival’s Nanabush meets Weesakachak storytelling session on April 2.
“They were wonderful — they were all laying around and so attentive,” Osche says about the children. “You could see their attention was just mesmerized on the stories. They were all listening.”
Osche shared the storytelling session with Métis storyteller Ron Evans, who told the Weesakachak stories.
“It’s just so much fun to listen to another storyteller,” Osche says. “I like to hear their stories as well.”
Osche began the storytelling session with a story about the “Legend of the Great White Pine.” She learned stories from her grandparents and began telling them when she was about four or five years old. She now shares her stories at schools and libraries.
“A long time ago, in our people’s legends, a woman came down from the sky,” Osche says. “She had two children, twin boys. One boy was called Nanabush and one boy was called Windigo. Nanabush and Windigo grew up with their grandmother, for their mother died in childbirth. Their father was the west wind.”
Evans says Weesakachak is similar to Nanabush, but not quite as nice.
“Some of you may have heard the Canada Jay bird being called a Whiskeyjack — that’s the English attempt to pronounce Weesakachak,” Evans says. “He’s not quite as nice as Nanabush. He’s very similar but he’s a little bit nasty and he’s extremely selfish and greedy and rude to people sometimes. So a lot of bad things happen to him that are his own fault.”
Evans says he usually tells whatever stories come out. He first shared his stories at the Toronto Storytelling Festival in 1979 and has since shared his stories periodically over the years, including each of the last four years.
“I tell histories, both tribally and Métis,” Evans says. “Yesterday I told sacred mythology; it’s a variety of things.”
“I was a little nervous the first few times about some of the stories — would they respect it?” Evans says. “And I have been really touched by the respect that they have received.”
Evans loves sharing his stories with the children at the festival.
“I’m going to be working in the schools this week with the children,” Evans says. “But I have to be so careful because stories we grew up with as children, in this culture, you’re not supposed to say those things to children.”
Evans grew up with one of the last nomadic Métis groups on the prairies, in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Montana. He has performed his stories at festivals throughout Canada and Europe.
Evans and Osche both encourage youth who are interested in storytelling to seek out a storyteller.
“Follow them around in the community, learn the stories by hearing them over and over again and then practice,” Osche says. “These little children here this morning were practicing stories in front of everyone, and I think our youth should be able to do that as well, as well as go around to events like this and participate that way.”
“Do [your] best to learn what you can from the Elders, but feel free to fit it to the modern world,” Evans says. “There is a wonderful dance program going on right now where a young man took a teaching I gave and turned it into a modern dance routine.”
The festival was held from March 24-April 2.