Power of the story
Storyteller visits Hay River school

Terry Kruger
Northern News Services

Hay River ( May 29/00) - Aboriginal legends and the wisdom they teach come to life as George Blondin speaks.

An author and News/North columnist, Blondin has "70 years of stories" to tell. And, as a practised storyteller, he knows how to capture his audience, even a gathering of nine- to 12-year-old children.

Even stuck inside the Harry Camsell school library on a beautiful spring morning, the 50 or so Grade 4 and 6 students listen with rapt attention.

They are drawn into tales of Yamoria, of a man named Kenny from Fort Norman who used medicine power to call down heat from the sun, stories woven with words and gestures.

Blondin hopes his efforts to record Indian legends and pass along his stories will preserve ties to tradition in a world where change is the only constant.

"When they invented the Ski-Doo, we threw dogs away," Blondin told the students. "Every time they invent something, they change our life.

"I'm an old man and this change affects me."

For teachers at the Hay River elementary school, Blondin's visit last week was valuable, both in terms of helping students understand the North's First Nations, and the benefits from traditional knowledge and wisdom.

School librarian Nancy Makepeace said Blondin's visit was made possible thanks to a grant from the NWT Literacy Council.

She was particularly struck by the Dene elder's gentle reminder that learning is a lifelong journey.

Blondin only attended school until Grade 3, but has since written several books, including one of children's stories that he's trying to get published. He has also worked with the GNWT Department of Education to develop curriculum.

"He talked about having a Grade 3 education and that if you can read, you can have access to all the ideas," she said.

More than just telling stories and sharing wisdom, Blondin's visit to the school could form the basis for a computer database of traditional knowledge.

Tyler Hawkins' Grade 5 Information Technology program students are using a program called Knowledge Forum that teaches them how to use computers to find answers to their questions.

It's just part of his belief that students need to "learn about Dene traditions" and jumped at the chance to have Blondin visit his class to discuss how trees fit into Dene culture.

It's information that isn't readily available, but could be if Hawkins continues to use the Knowledge Forum program that's being piloted at Harry Camsell.

The program lets the students develop questions and guides them through the search for answers.

The answers are logged into the computer and form a database of information about the topic. That database can be shared with other classes, in the same school or around the world via the Internet.

Hawkins hopes the program will be a perfect way to document traditional knowledge in a way that can be shared with other students.

"It's just not documents. There are a lot of people like (Blondin) who are just begging to have someone publish it," he explained.

"This is a great way for him to do it and a great way for children to learn about culture."