The University of Saskatchewan (USask) is trying out an Indigenous storyteller-in-residence program for the first time.
Deborah Lee, librarian responsible for Indigenous studies collections and community initiatives has been organizing storyteller events for nearly 12 years.
Lee said last year the library hosted two storytelling sessions. She explained that the library wanted to make a commitment to feature Indigenous storytelling.
“They thought this would be the best way to go about it. To have somebody actually spend more time with people in the library and try to facilitate conversations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in a way that moves the conversation along towards indigenization and decolonization of the library.”
That somebody will be Lindsay Knight, a rapper and artist from Muskoday also known as “Eekwol.” She’s studying for her PhD in the Indigenous studies department.
Lee thinks that Knight is very good choice for the role. She described her as intelligent and vibrant, and someone who is respectful but “gets her point across.”
The program will kick off in January and last for six weeks leading up to Indigenous Achievement Week.
When first approached about the opportunity, Knight was confused why they wanted her to take on the role because she writes lyrics and spoken word poetry, not books.
“They just said no, no this is storytelling and when we talk about Indigeneity and oral traditions and oral culture, storytelling comes in various forms and rapping and hip hop is one of them,” Knight explained.
Although she doesn’t officially step into the role until next month, Knight said she hopes to engage students from all backgrounds and walks of life.
“(I’m hoping) to gather some ideas and get an overall sort of general feel of identity for the university’s community of students so I’m hoping to sort of reframe that…with this it gives me a chance to really focus on the U of S and what that looks like right now and hopefully come up with something.”
Knight said this may take the form of a few songs or a long poem, but she’s not sure yet.
She added she can’t imagine what it’s like for younger students right now taking classes during a pandemic. She says it’s a different experience from her undergrad and she’s hoping to capture that in her work and also wants to be a listening ear for students.
Knight says she’s “totally a nerd” so being a storyteller-in-residence is a dream come true for her. She says she’s always had a strong relationship with books.
“I don’t think being book smart or reading makes me any stronger or smarter or more successful but it’s one those things that’s in my identity or my wheelhouse that I’m really proud of because it’s gotten me through a lot of hard times,” Knight explained.
Charlene Sorensen, acting dean at the library said part of the program is recognizing that the university exists on Treaty 6 territory and the homeland of the Métis.
“That sense of place is something that we think is important and if we’re going to try to continue a dialogue between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people and we just thought that storytelling would be a way to open that dialogue,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen added that Knight will have creative freedom around her work.
“The library feels committed to helping uplift Indigenous voices and perspectives and if there’s anything we could do to create these opportunities to promote this kind of understanding and story-sharing this seemed like a good way to do that,” Sorensen said.
Lee hopes the program continues every year. She says it’s a great way to showcase talent in the province.
She highlighted the importance of not just promoting Indigenous art but also Indigenous knowledge and perspective.
“(It’s important) so that not just people in the library but across campus have a better understanding of what aboriginal people or Indigenous people can contribute to what’s going on in the world,” Lee said.
“So many authors for instance have written about ‘our past is the future’…it’s very much something that I want mainstream Saskatchewanians to really absorb so that it reduces racism in this province so that there’s better understanding.”
Lee added that with many different Indigenous nations in Saskatchewan, all perspectives needs to be taken into consideration.
“This is a very, very western institution and its foundation is western and colonial so it’s really cool to have something like hip hop come into and be a part of the library,” Knight added.