Water an inspiration for budding Sheguiandah Summer Stories artists

Keiran Aguonia tells the tale of a bully wolf—until Nanbush intervenes.

SHEGUIANDAH—The participants of Sheguiandah Niibini Aasookaanan (Sheguiandah Summer Stories) wrapped up their two-week journey into arts and culture with two delightful performances at the Sheguiandah Seniors’ Hall earlier this month.

The program, led by Lisa Hamalainen, artistic director and Shelba Deer, cultural director, sought to combine creative pursuits with Anishinaabe cultural practices by engaging the youth in activities such as storytelling, drama games, creative writing and theatre practice. The young charges also learned about Anishinaabe culture and the importance of connecting with the land and the spirit.

Much of the programming took place at Myengenuk Gizhekeking Endaat in Sheguiandah, one of the community partners for the program.

Ms. Deer began the performance by sharing the vision she and Ms. Hamalainen had for the program three years ago, just before the pandemic struck and even before that with Ms. Hamalainen’s touring show, ‘There is no Word for Wilderness,’ which premiered in Kagawong and from there went to Wiikwemkoong, then Toronto.

“Lisa got the idea to bring arts and culture to youth—all youth,” Ms. Deer shared. “She approached me with her idea and I said ‘yes!’ We began writing a grant application, which was not approved the first time.”

The pair didn’t give up, though, and they offered ceremony, laid tobacco and prayed to the Creator “that it would come true to allow youth to speak their truth and speak from their hearts,” Ms. Deer continued. And that dream was realized by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and 4elements Living Arts, which were all thanked and recognized at the performance.

Ms. Deer also said chi-miigwetch to the children and youth for making the program what it was.

Hosted by Jamie Oshkabewisens, he called the youth up to give their performances to an intimate audience in the hall.

Bneshiish Chindemi and Amira Deer-Roy were first up and told the tale of a bunny and a hare that were the best of friends who only had one thing in common—their blue eyes.

On their daily wanderings, they met a turtle that told them blue eyes such as theirs held special powers, according to ancient stories from their ancestors, and that they were connected to the water. A water spirit then confirmed this to the friends and their powers were discovered and used for good and harmony in the forest.

Keiran Aguonia was next to the hall stage, and he told the story of a bully wolf that took great joy from terrorizing the other forest animals of Sheguiandah. One day the wolf crossed a young bear who didn’t take kindly to the torment and so gave the wolf a taste of his own medicine.

The two would go back and forth this way until Nanabush intervened, telling them off and warning them that they had better get along, or face the consequences.

The two listened, becoming the best of friends and the official protectors of the Sheguiandah bush.

Ashton Towegishig then told the story of the bear who wanted to give up.

Robert was a young bear who had no interest in leaving his home or learning bear-ly activities, choosing instead to let his mother do all the work for him. One day she gave him an ultimatum and when she left to forage for the day, she never came home.

After a few days Robert’s hunger got the best of him and he decided to try for some salmon, his favourite food, but he just couldn’t do it. He gave up and was going to let fate take its course when he happened upon a magical winged turtle who told Robert he would guide him to food.

The magical turtle brought him back to the river and said simply, “go get it!”

Just like that Robert caught two salmon. This gave him all the confidence he needed to fend for himself, survive and thrive.

Throughout the performances little salmon swam in circles around the hall, and Robert. They were played by the group’s youngest performers: Ethan McGraw Hill, Dream Aguonie, Conan Agoneh, Migizi Aguonie and Kobe Francis.

Ms. Deer and Amira then sang a water song.

“What brought a smile to my face is the little ones running around,” Ms. Deer said of the ‘salmon.’ “The water teachings gave them great inspiration in their art.”

The Expositor caught up with performers Keiran, 15, and Ashton, 18, following their performances.

Keiran said he had a lot of fun during the two-week program, which taught him more about his Anishinaabe culture while getting him out of his shell and encouraging his creative side.

“I learned how to present to an audience and add emotion,” Ashton shared. “We did a lot of activities, a medicine walk and heard teachings,” he added, noting one of those teachings gave him his inspiration for his story.

Following the event, the group and their adoring fans tucked into a Nish taco feast and offered tobacco at a sacred fire at the Sheguiandah First Nation powwow grounds.