Lafond uses storytelling as vehicle to get her message across to audience

May 15, 2019

Mika Lafond is hopeful that cultural experience and pride that comes with being part of the Indigenous Ensemble can translate into the daily lives of the students as well.

As colourful and dynamic as ever, this year’s presentation by the Indigenous Ensemble also had moments of serenity for those in the audience to contemplate, which was just what writer Mika Lafond wanted to convey.

Entitled Otâcimow, Lafond said it was purposely portrayed in such a manner so as to bring a sense of balance in focusing on the history of treaties and the integral role of Mother Earth via storytelling.

Citing the importance of storytelling as an integral part of oral tradition in the Cree culture, Lafond said it brought her back to the teaching from her own personal experience growing up on the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and later attending school in Marcelin.

Another inspiration Lafond helped foster was a greater inclusion of Métis culture via fiddling and jigging, which was enthusiastically received by the students in the audience. More than 2,000 students from various schools within the Saskatoon Public Schools division plus their friends and family took in the five performances at Aden Bowman Collegiate.

Donald Speidel, the artistic director for the Indigenous Ensemble, said that while there is a conscious effort to incorporate something new each year, he said the inclusion of the fiddling and jigging portion was a key part of the sixth annual event.

“There was a lot of research and work by a lot of folks that went into this, and we had always wanted that fiddle component as a way to honour the various people. It was a great addition to be able to have. It has taken us a while, but it was a really nice addition and it’s an example of bringing people together,” he noted.

Lafond, who is a former high school teacher and now teaches at the University of Saskatchewan through the Indian Teacher Education Program, indicated that one of her aims was to further educate people about Cree culture. That was not only just for those in the audience, but also the performers, who did not all have the same opportunity to learn about their language and culture in the way she did as a youth growing up. She specifically alluded to how in the past the Cree dances, ceremonies and storytelling were actually illegal.

“I think being involved in this process from the start has given these students a better sense of who they are and hopefully they can feed off each other. A sense of belonging is so important,” she suggested.

Speidel indicated how having the opportunity to practise with Lafond since January has proven inspirational for the students who see her as a role model. He has also witnessed the strong rapport that was built up from the outset.

Lafond echoed those sentiments, indicating that it has given her great satisfaction to see the confidence and self-belief that has developed within the students.

“It doesn’t come easily for a lot of these kids to do something like this; for a lot of them this was the first time they have been on stage and to learn about their culture. During the first day of performances there were definitely some nerves. By the second day the kids were joking and laughing and it was a sign of their confidence. I loved to watch that growth.”

Lafond said the biggest challenge was to imbue the students with self-confidence and pride in their culture. She also said it was important to make that connection between First Nations and Métis students as part of the transition process.

“I think that my biggest goal was to see how important it is for all of us to have a sense of culture and understanding of self, and not just on stage. Hopefully that carries on into their everyday lives.”

Speidel concurred, noting that being involved in the Indigenous Ensemble has far greater impact than just the on-stage component.

“We try to supply them with that cultural experience and to build their pride and give them a sense of place and belonging. This is their football or basketball team.

“Ultimately, I hope people walk away from this with not only increased knowledge, but also a sense of peace and awareness across the spectrum. We want to foster good relations for everyone who shares this space,” he added. n