Unique Literary Festival Focuses Only on Storytelling, Haudenosaunee Edition

A rare literary festival focused solely on Haudenosaunee storytelling will take place in the coming days.

The Ogwehoweh Storytelling Festival takes place August 25-26 at the Six Nations Polytechnic Campus at Six Nations on the Grand River, approximately 30 km southwest of Hamilton. It will also be streamed online for everyone to see.

Janet Rogers, who co-produces the festival, says it’s the first festival in Canada to focus on Haudenosaunee storytelling.

Rogers had written and traveled across the country, including British Columbia and Alberta, before moving to his Six Nations hometown two years ago. “It’s definitely the first one that has a large majority of presenters and writers who are Haudenosaunee,” she said.

The festival includes spoken word poetry and music, as well as panels for children’s authors, memoir writers and filmmakers.

Its name is inspired by the word Ogwehoweh, which means “the original people,” said Rogers. Haudenosaunee refers to the “people of the longhouse,” or members of the Six Nations that make up the Haudenosaunee confederacy: the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk and Tuscarora nations.

Kristi White is one of the authors of the Jay and Gizmo children’s book series. (Kristi Blanche)

Artists can talk to their peers, share their work and lessons

Kristi White, a children’s author from the Oneida Nation of the Thames in southwestern Ontario, will be part of the panel at the event. She is one of the authors of The Adventures of Jay and Gizmo series about an indigenous boy, Jay, and his friend Gizmo the cat.

“Everything in my books is about indigenous. Even when you see adult feet or children’s feet, there are moccasins,” she said.

In the first volume of the series, Jay and Gizmo become best friends. In the latest books, they meet a native hoop dancer and learn about boys, braids, and powwows.

She has published four books herself so far, which means she has had to do her own promotion and marketing. She is currently working on translating books into the Ojibway and Oneida languages.

The festival will be an opportunity for authors like her to share their knowledge and learn more about the publishing industry, she said. It is important to her that children’s literature includes Indigenous culture and context so that children can recognize themselves and their world in the books they read – and imagine themselves as writers as well.

“All of these things are not things that children are exposed to on a regular basis,” she said. “For the little aboriginal girls, I’m an aboriginal woman who grew up on a reserve and does this. “

Poet of the Word Kahsenniyo

A performance by Hamilton Kahsenniyo’s spoken word poet. It will be part of the first literary festival to focus on Haudenosaunee storytelling in Canada. 3:01

For the poet of spoken creation, “art is medicine”

Six Nations of the Grand River Speech Poet Kahsenniyo performs both at the festival and is part of a Poets and Speech panel.

“It’s an extension of the tradition of oral storytelling,” she said. “This is how we share knowledge, this is how we share lessons, this is how you laugh together.”

She started writing poetry at age 18 as part of her activism. Over time, she became more drawn to oral poetry and the emotional connections she could make with audiences. Her work focuses on decolonization and working through intergenerational trauma.

“For me, art is medicine. And I use my art to treat the things that I go through. And what I’ve kind of discovered over the years is that a lot of aboriginals live with it. same thing, ”she said. noted. “It can be really empowering to hear other people say what you think and feel. And so being able to share this drug with the public is part of my own healing as well.”

She said the festival will be an opportunity to share the brilliance of Haudenosaunee storytelling, who are a distinct people with unique voices and experiences.

“Colonization and assimilation has affected us all very differently. And there is this idea that there is the Aboriginal experience, but in reality, like, there are so many different experiences, so many different ways that we’ve been touched. And so there are so many different kinds of stories to tell. ”

One of the books in The Adventures of Jay and Gizmo series. (Kristi Blanche)

New avenues appear for Indigenous writers

Previously, there were few ways to access Indigenous writers outside of major Canadian literature festivals and publishing houses, Rogers said. It could be a challenge for these writers to reach large audiences without changing their unique voices and styles, she added.

“Indigenous writers have to write the way they need to write,” she said. “[That includes] language that may not be accessible to non-native readers, but acceptable and familiar to native readers, and we have to do that, without apologizing. “

Rogers also started his own publishing house, Ojistoh Publishing. Dawn Cheryl Hill’s News Collection Keeper of memory, which comes out this fall, making Hill the first author published by the non-Rogers publishing house.

She hopes the festival will become an annual event showcasing Haudenosaunee writers and helping members of this literary community support each other. Next time, she hopes to include a youth panel.

“The interest and popularity of Indigenous stories is at its peak right now,” she said. “As we have the ears of new readers and new viewers for our stories, it helps the new Aboriginal writer feel confident to produce their own stories and possibly publish them in books. “

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