A new collection of stories, poems and interviews called Ndè Sı̀ı̀ Wet’aɂà is putting the spotlight on emerging and established Northern Indigenous storytelling about land, life and art.
The collection was first intended to expand on the course material for the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, but is now being published to a wider audience, said Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a faculty member with the Dechinta and an author herself.
“The pieces are written to be an invitation,” said Simpson. “This love of land, love of culture, love of family comes through.”
Simpson attributes some of that breadth of storytelling to workshops held by editor Thumlee Drybones Foliot, who encouraged those who hadn’t considered publishing before to put pen to paper.
“Not everybody is a writer and there are a lot of storytellers that don’t write,” said Simpson.
Simpson said they wanted to included visual artists as well, which is why many of the pieces come in an interview format.
They also sought out submissions by established authors like Siku Allooloo, T’áncháy Redvers, Antoine Mountain, Glen Coulthard and Katlįà Lafferty.
“They’re accessible, but some of them are talking about complex issues as well. It’s this first person narrative in this dialogue format that has made the book really engaging and inviting for people.”
From homelands to song
In the book, Juniper Redvers writes about a solo winter journey back to their ancestral homeland.
Kristen Tanche, from Łıı́d́lıı̨ ̨Kųę́ ́First Nation, speaks about the love and connection of tanning her first moosehide, and Leela Gilday writes about Dene music.
The Trailbreaker9:19Leanne Betasmosake Simpson on a new collection of stories called Nde Sii Wet’aa
In an interview published in the book, Randy Baillargeon speaks about becoming the lead singer for the Wıìlıìdeh Drummers.
Some passages even transport readers to overseas perspectives, like a piece on yoiking, a traditional form of song in Sámi culture.
Simpson sees the book as an intervention into Indigenous and Northern studies.
“Often those indigenous voices are not there,” she said. “I really am proud of those authors trusting us with that writing.”
Jumping into the publishing world
The project was a first foray into the publishing world for editor Kyla LeSage
LeSage is part Vuntut Gwitchin from Old Crow, Yukon, and part Anishinaabe from Garden River, Ont. She grew up on Chief Drygeese Territory in Yellowknife and was also a student at Dechinta.
Finding a publisher to take new or emerging writing can be difficult, she said, and even more so when a book is filled with diacritics and fonts.
LeSage said interpreter and Wiiliideh Yati speaker Mary Rose Sundberg from Dettah worked to copy edit the many Indigenous languages and encouraged writers to use as much of the language as possible.
“That was probably my favourite part,” said LeSage.
Reading the submissions from authors in the collection gave LeSage the courage to submit her own work, just as the book was ready to be sent off to the publishers.
She wrote a poem based on a teaching from Dettah Elder Paul Mackenzie while they were picking spruce. It’s called Consent: Learning with the Land.
“Our Elders always talk about [consent], but there’s never any writing about what that looks like,” said LeSage.
“I really wanted to get some writing down so that if other people are wondering how we pick and how we harvest and what consent looks like, that we would have something to go off of.”
‘Storytellers … build community’
Foliot submitted a piece that tells the story of a Dene, a wolverine, and spruce gum.
The story is about Bushman, “a malicious creature who is largely undetected but has great medicine power,” said Foliot.
“It’s a story about reciprocity, the value of being clever and not just … strong,” she said.
“I think in a lot of Dene stories, there’s a lot of emphasis on strength. The story has always been really near and dear to my heart.”
Foliot said this story about fearing the Bushman was a lesson for her about the changes and dangers that their Dechinta group might face with the changing seasons.
“I began to realize that our Elders are vigilant at assessing us as individuals and as a group. They look at our skills and needs, and know how to present stories to us that guide our activities and both safety and deeper understanding of the world around us,” said Foliot.
Foliot said she hopes that as young emerging writers like her begin to tell stories, that it might encourage others to do the same.
“I think it’s really important,” she said. “Storytellers, I really believe, build community.”