“A long, long, long time ago…”
That’s how Kenthen Thomas starts off How Coyote Made the Tree Fall In Love with Him, one of the traditional stories he likes to tell whenever he performs.
Thomas, a teacher by trade, is participating in B.C. Culture Days as one of its ambassadors, organizing an event and performing in it. Culture Days is an annual national celebration of arts and culture, where people from all over Canada can attend and participate in free events for four weeks.
Last year, the celebration looked a little different due to COVID-19 but 2021 is offering more in-person events both indoors and outdoors, as well as online.
Thomas’ event will be held outdoors among traditional pithouses, where he will be sharing Stspetkwll, which translates to “legends that teach.”
“The two main things that I’ve learned the legends teach us are how the world came to be and the second one that I think is the most important, especially for today,… is how not to behave,” he said.
He said these stories are important now because they have a lesson or a message for everyone.
“(A legend) isn’t preachy, it isn’t instruction, it isn’t prescribed lessons,” he said.
“You listen to the story, you watch the storyteller tell the story and you take away from it whatever it is, the lesson that you feel like you need to learn.”
Besides sharing traditional stories, Thomas is also working on an original piece that will have a similar style to a legend, but has a more modern spin to it. The piece will be co-written with his mentor Billy Cohen.
He said they’ve been working on it for more than two years and it will feature traditional characters.
“The piece will contain the animal people, like Coyote and Brother Bear. They’re going to see what we call the People Eaters. Long ago, they were creatures that devoured us humans,” he said.
“In our piece, we’re naming the People Eaters Greed, Money, Corporation, things like that, because those are the things that we see as the People Eaters now.”
But more than teaching and inspiring, he said that sharing these stories now shows the strength and the triumphs of First Nations.
“If you think about what’s been happening, especially here in Canada with all the children being found near the residential schools…, the whole concept of the residential schools was to kill the Indian to save the child.
“When I’m telling stories, I like to remind the students that these stories, the language that comes with these stories, and the connection to the land, all that was supposed to be annihilated,” he said.
“We weren’t supposed to have these stories but fortunately the stories persevered and they’re here today. We need to keep sharing these stories to say ‘these stories belong to me and to the land and I’m going to share it with you today.’”
Thomas’ performances are scheduled for Sept. 25, and Oct. 1 and 2, and will be held at the trail just off 800 First Nations Rd.
More information is available on B.C. Culture Days’ website.