The art of storytelling: local artist aims to help residents tell their tale with Aboriginal Storytelling Month workshop

Storytelling runs in Harmony Johnson-Harder’s family, and with Aboriginal Storytelling Month kicking off on Feb. 1, she’s hoping it will soon run in other families too.

Johnson-Harder plans to host three Mini Art and Storytelling Workshops at the Prince Albert Public Library’s John M. Cuelenaere Branch on Tuesday. Registered school students were invited to daytime sessions at the library, and an evening session is available for the public at 7 p.m.

“It’ll be a good evening, and I hope that people are open to being interactive,” Johnson-Harder said. “It’s going to be relaxed…. Just come out and have fun and share a story and visit. Visiting is probably the most important part of storytelling.”

Johnson-Harder has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, although those stories didn’t always include words. She started sewing and beading with her grandmother, and remembers sitting on her father’s lap watching him draw.

At age 10, her mother bought her a water colour paint set, exposing her to another medium. As an adult, she prefers to tell stories with oil and acrylic paint, but has expanded into using fabric, mixed media, film, and writing.

Johnson-Harder said stories help people relate to others and feel like they belong. She hopes attendees will learn to appreciate those stories, regardless of whether they’re fictional tales or old family memories.

“I want people to feel empowered that they too are storytellers, and that they can be as creative as they want,” she explained. “Being artistic and creative is important and we can all do that. It’s a power that we all have that no one can take away.”

Artist Harmony Johnson-Harder poses for a photo with her father, writer Harold Johnson, and the painting she created as part of a collaboration between the two. — Photo courtesy of Harmony Johnson-Harder.

Helping others learn to appreciate storytelling isn’t the only reason Johnson-Harder is hosting these workshops. She’s also doing it as a tribute to her late father, Harold Johnson, a former writer and crown prosecutor who won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction in 2016, but passed away in February 2022 at the age of 64.

The duo began working on a collaborative writing and painting project where Harold wrote a story about his mother and great-grandmother called Kookum Magic, and Harmony painted her interpretation of it.

“We’ll be coming on two years of my dad’s passing and I just thought that this would be a nice way to remember him, and to carry on the legacy of storytelling in my family,” Johnson-Harder explained. “My great-great grandmother was a storyteller. My grandmother was a storyteller. My father, a storyteller, and I myself like stories … so for me it’s important to be able to pass this story on as it’s outlined in the story my dad wrote.”

The storytelling workshop is one of several Aboriginal Storytelling events available in Prince Albert during February.

Prince Albert Public Library program services coordinator Sharon Nelson said it’s a great opportunity for people to learn about Indigenous culture, and the library was happy to take part.

“It’s what we’ve been doing every year,” she said. “I think it’s a really important thing to participate in and just have the general public get to experience a different culture and have a better understanding with each other.”

The storytelling sessions for registered students will be held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6. The session for the general public starts at 7 p.m. the same day.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly used an image of a different painting which was not part of the collaboration between Harmony Johnson-Harder and her father. The article also incorrectly listed Harold Johnson’s age as 68 at the time of his death. He was 64. The article has been updated with the correct information. The Daily Herald apologizes for the mistakes.