Winnipeg's Story Studio draws on power of storytelling to encourage reconciliation, bridge building

Telling and listening to stories is one way of developing relationships, creating understanding and encouraging reconciliation. It's why a group working with under-privileged people in inner-city Winnipeg built a state-of-the-art recording studio and is inviting people to come in and tell their stories.

As some fear for future of reconciliation, project encourages telling, hearing stories

Kristin Hicks, left, explains how the Story Studio works to residential school survivor Katherine Thomas, who came to the studio to record her story. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

The resignation of prominent Indigenous cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has raised concerns the process of national reconciliation will stall — which might make a new storytelling project in Winnipeg even more relevant.

A group working with under-privileged people in inner-city Winnipeg has built a state-of-the-art recording studio and is inviting people to make connections by coming in and telling their stories.

Sharing stories matters for a range of reasons — including reconciliation, says the person who heads up the project.

"I think of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and all the Calls to Action," said Kristin Hicks, co-ordinator of the Story Studio project for Inner City Youth Alive — a faith-based non-profit that provides programming for kids in Winnipeg's North End.

"So much of it is about recognizing what's happened. Understanding what's happened. That comes from historical documents. That also comes from people's personal testimonies."

Residential school survivor Katherine Thomas, shares what's in her heart - with the hope that it will encourage reconciliation. 4:50

There's a lot of power in telling stories, Hicks says.

"For one, [there's] the personal healing that comes from having that voice and being able to put your story out there," she said, as well as a "deep connection and understanding" that comes from sharing stories.

"Your story, to you it might seem insignificant, but to someone else who might be struggling with similar things there might be empowerment in that and a new connection.

"Who's to say that your story won't impact other people?"

Stories shared through poetry, music

Hicks came up with the idea for the bright, cheerful recording studio when Inner City Youth Alive celebrated its 30th anniversary three years ago.

The project invites people to come in and share whatever they'd like — personal testimonies, their hopes and dreams, their family histories, or memorable experiences, for example — in a range of ways.

Dozens of young people, adults and elders have sat in the studio's chairs. Some of the recordings have been uploaded on ICYA's YouTube channel, but most never share their stories publicly.

We can look at tons of different people and say, 'Why are you like that?' But take the time to hear where they're at and hear people out. I think that stories can change so much.- Kristin Hicks, Story Studio co-ordinator

Some perform poetry.

Some, like residential school survivor Katherine Thomas, come just to talk and share what's on their minds or in their hearts — with the hope that it will encourage reconciliation.

Still others record music.

Among them is Kingston, Jamaica-born Winnipeg musician Scribe, an independent artist who started off as a soccer player but lost himself in a competitive and stressful lifestyle.

He always loved poetry and that led him to rap. He's recorded several songs in the story studio.

Scribe records a song in the Inner City Youth Alive Story Studio. 'The common ground of storytelling and art is ... really what's going to change our communities and ultimately to change our world,' he says. (ICYA Story Studio)

"For anyone watching this video, I just wanna encourage you share your story," he says in one.

"As I've done that, I've started to realize I'm not the only one who's gone through these things. I'm not the only one who's got struggles and challenges but I'm also not the only dreamer out there.

"So if you're a dreamer in the arts world, I want to seek only to inspire you to make that shift from being a dreamer to a visionary."

Stories build bridges

The recent resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould from cabinet has reignited debate over Canada's relationship with Indigenous people — one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's priorities. Some Indigenous leaders have said the controversy could derail progress on reconciliation.

At a time when society is fractured and there's so much mistrust and misunderstanding, Hicks says stories are an important bridge.

"We can look at tons of different people and say, 'Why are you like that?' But take the time to hear where they're at and hear people out. I think that stories can change so much."

With files from Brett Purdy

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