Local artist/author shares stories for Indigenous Storytelling Month

Leah Dorion reads from her book 'Métis Camp Circle' at the Mann Art Gallery on Feb. 15, 2020. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The Mann Art Gallery and Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild celebrated Indigenous Storytelling Month Saturday with a visit from Prince Albert children’s book author and writer Leah Dorion.

Dorion did a reading from her latest book, Métis Camp Circle, and answered questions for about two dozen people for two hours Saturday afternoon.

Her book, released in September and featuring both English and Michif translations on each page, tells the story of the High Plains Métis and their historical relationship with the bison.

“The bison gave us so much for our development as a people, Doiron said.

“They are the foundation for the Métis High Plains Culture.”

Dorion said that while she’s seen books telling about the relationship between First Nations people and the bison, she hasn’t seen many depicting the relationship between bison and the Métis. So, she said, she decided to write one.

The story uses both its words and its artwork to tell of the lessons learned from the bison, such as forming a camp circle to protect the weakest in the middle of the herd, depicting the bison and the Métis experiences through their parallels.

She spoke about the bison’s importance, not just to the Indigenous people, but to smaller creatures living on the prairies. Bison wallows, she said, would collect water during the rainfall which other animals would then use.

“The bison are water keepers and share with other vulnerable creatures who just couldn’t make it,” Dorion said.

It was Dorion’s second reading last week. Earlier, she read the same book for a group of Spiritwood school children.

That reading was streamed across the province through the Live Arts Saskatchewan program. It reached about 11,000 Saskatchewan students, a record.

Dorion said she really likes the way she’s able to continue on the tradition of storytelling through literature.

“I take oral stories and make them into real, live books parents can read to their kids,” Dorion said. “I also do it with my art. It tells the story without me using any words.”

She also shared details of her process. It usually takes about a year to complete each of her books, and involves a large team, from the writing and editing of the words to the creation, capture and design of the images, and then putting it all together.

Hearing about that process from an established author such as Dorion can be helpful, said Shirley Fehr, publications coordinator with the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.

“We find a lot of people get inspired. They think they could become a writer after they hear other people talk about how they became writers,” she said.

“They seek out opportunities like the writers’ guild or other writers.”

Fehr said her organization represents, celebrates and encourages writers from across Saskatchewan. During Indigenous Storytelling Week, it’s no different.

“It’s great to hear stories from a cultural perspective,” she said.

“To hear stories from everyone is inspirational and quite uplifting.”

Dorion agreed.

“it’s so important (to celebrate Indigenous Storytelling Month),” she said.

“If we don’t communicate and share those things, life is not as rich.”

For more information on Dorion, visit leahdorion.ca. To order her newest book, published by Gabriel Dumont Institute, visit https://gdins.org/product/metis-camp-circle/.

Dorion is set to teach two workshops in the month of March. One is on Métis ribbon-skirt making and one is on moss bag making.

Spots are limited. Contact the Mann Art Gallery at 763-7080.