Saskatchewan

Saskatoon Indigenous artists recount Elder memories in national audio series project

Indigenous Cities is meant to give people a new understanding of the land through Elders' memories

Indigenous Cities is meant to give people a new understanding of the land

The Indigenous Cities audio series is meant to give people an intimate look at some unlikely places in Saskatoon, Vancouver and the Ottawa area. The Indigenous Cities Saskatoon artwork was done by Mary Longman. (National Arts Centre/Facebook)

Sometimes important places don't seem important at first glance. A new audio storytelling experience called Indigenous Cities is hoping to give people an intimate look at some unlikely places. 

Saskatoon's Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre (GTNT) partnered with the National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre for the project commemorating National Indigenous Peoples Month. It features stories from Vancouver, Ottawa and Saskatoon. 

The audio series gathered memories from elders and Indigenous community members. Indigenous artists then created an audio story about the memory.

The Saskatoon stories were told by GTNT's artistic director, Jennifer Dawn Bishop, Shawn Cuthand, Daniel Hanover Knight, Lancelot Knight and Zoey Roy.

"It was just something that kind of brought us back to our original roots of oral storytelling," Bishop said. "There's just so much of our voices that should be heard."

GTNT's artistic director says there are many stories in Saskatoon, on Treaty 6 land, that aren't in the history books but are beautiful, important moments.

As well, Bishop says, so much of Indigenous peoples' lives have been taken out of context or skipped over.

"We have beautiful moments," she said. "We have beautiful memories. But although they are not all great, we're still here together."

One memory came from a woman named Elizabeth, the resident elder at GTNT. She recalled a time in the 1970s when she left an alcoholic partner with her two children, moved to Saskatchewan, graduated high school and then university. 

"Her memory really displays the strength of Indigenous women in the '70s," Knight said. "Those things were way more frowned upon than they were now. On top of that she was Native so she had to deal with a whole bunch of adversity. But to her, all that didn't matter."


Knight interpreted the memory, creating the audio piece for the project. It's special place is the Train Bridge in Saskatoon. Knight says he walked that bridge while in university but it took on a new, uplifting meaning. 

"I could just imagine this woman doing all this on her own. And doing this every day, waking up every day just to build a future for herself," he said.

Knight says he hopes people's understanding of the Indigenous city of Saskatoon is deepened by listening to the pieces at each place, Leading them to think about the land in a new way.

"And I hope when they listen to mine that they feel just as inspired from the memory that I felt," Knight said. 

A partnership between Saskatoon's Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre and the National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre shares audio stories connected to specific places. It's called 'Indigenous Cities'. Contributors Jennifer Dawn Bishop and Danny Knight join host Shauna Powers to explain. 10:47

Bishop wasn't originally going to create a piece, until reading a memory gifted from Gordon Tootoosis's adopted daughter, Irene.

Irene's memory was at the Tim Horton's on 33rd Street in Saskatoon, Bishop says. It was a simple meeting, but it was a turning point: In that meeting Irene decided to continue on with the theatre company and make sure the cultural component was ingrained in the company. 

Bishop says creating this oral history piece is good medicine, like finding a piece of her past. 

"I've never done this in a way where It was connecting with our original roots of love, of storytelling and sharing knowledge," Bishop said. "Creating this oral theater piece feels like it's finding a piece of my past that I was always meant to understand." 

The stories were published on June 10 and can be heard at indigenouscities.ca.

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend

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