Storytelling is an art form, and oral storytelling traditions are a major, influential aspect in the development and maintaining of a culture — but sadly, once written down, storytelling often falls by the wayside.
Thankfully, UFV embraced this proud tradition by holding Sxwoxwiyam: Stories of Long Ago on February 3 at the CEP campus. The event saw professional storytellers from the Sto:lo Nation lead almost 70 students through story after story, some forgotten, some more well-known, all with significance.
UFV’s elder-in-residence, Eddie Gardner, started the event off with a traditional Sto:lo song before giving a short explanation of the importance of storytelling, as well as the definition of Sxwoxwiyam: a mythic era of the Sto:lo Nation, when the world was younger and a far more fantastical, magical place to live.
The first two storytellers, David Gutierrez and Mary Sandoval, took us into that world, and for a long moment I felt adrift, lost in their voices. With clarity and measured tones, the brother-and-sister duo took turns taking their audience into a world they’d spun with their words. I enjoy reading myths. I find the anecdotal nature of such stories and how they always have a meaningful purpose, some lesson to teach, to be fascinating. But what I found more fascinating was how easily Sandoval and Gutierrez were able to turn these Sto:lo stories, so similar in form and function, into something far more immersive than books.
The whole crowd of students was lost, paying close attention as they learned about why thunder and lightning came during storms, and why mosquitoes bother children. It was a unique experience, and they were only the first.
The second speaker of the day was Joseph Dandurand, a member of the Kwantlen First Nation. Dandurand is a published poet and playwright, known for plays such as Please Do Not Touch the Indians.
Dandurand — easygoing and self-deprecating — had a wry sense of humour, and he often took time between reading from his vast collection of poems to joke around with his assembled audience. His recitations examined life on the reserves and his grandmother’s experiences in the residential school system. While his stories weren’t part of Sxwoxwiyam, they resonated with purpose and meaning.
The afternoon’s final speaker, Glen Malloway — who started after Gutierrez and Sandoval had had a second round — continued on in a similar manner, being both purposeful and personable. Malloway, a UFV alumnus of the social services program, is a creative, intricate storyteller in word as well as images: it is Malloway’s drawing of Pesk’a (a hummingbird) that serves as the logo for Aboriginal Access Services here at UFV. His storytelling was beautifully crafted.
Between these four artists and the audience they drew, a lot of work was done to rebuke the idea that the oral tradition is in decline. The crowd that gathered to hear of Sto:lo tales from Sxwoxwiyam will remember those stories for a long time.