It took a five-year-old boy and a mother’s courage to crack the shell that encased Roberta Kennedy, the newest writer/storyteller-in-residence at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture (CCWOC).
Kennedy, whose Haida name Kwii-Ge-Ii-Wans means "Big Precious Loved Cloud", grew up in Haida Gawaii – "The Land of the Good People", (formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia.
She and her cousin were the only two Haida in her kindergarten class at a nearby Armed Forces School and they endured years of cruel teasing and taunting from fellow students.
"I believed what they said…all the stereotypes that exist of my people. To save myself from further shame I climbed into a shell of shame and silence where I stayed my whole life – that is until my son started school," she said.
To spare him the same plight, Kennedy took her son in one hand and her button robe, a traditional ceremonial robe, in the other and walked into the boy’s classroom. Shyly she gathered the other youngsters around her and told them how long it took her great-grandmother to make the robe and how honoured she was to receive it at her high school graduation.
"All the students in the class looked at him and told him ‘You are so lucky!’ I noticed my son sitting a little taller."
It was at that moment that Kennedy became determined to debunk stereotypes that had shattered her own self-image. She decided to share her history, her culture, her stories, songs and dances with the world.
For the past 16 years she has traveled across Canada performing traditional Haida stories. She is a storyteller, a drummer, a singer, a writer and an educator who has performed in over 300 locations.
Now she is at CCWOC. She will visit classes, mentor writers and storytellers and give several public presentations. In addition she will continue writing. The project she is currently completing is called "Raven Before the Beginning of Time to the Present Day".
CCWOC was created to provide a space for scholars, students and visiting artists to collaborate, create works of verbal art and study the relationship between oral and written culture.
You are invited to join CCWOC in welcoming Roberta Kennedy at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 21, in the Student Lounge of Aboriginal House, 45 Curry Place on the U of M’s Fort Garry Campus. The event will include an exclusive performance by Roberta Kennedy, as well as a reading by Visiting Fellow Niigonwedom James Sinclair.
This event and the reception to follow are free and open to the public - all are welcome! For further information, please contact Jess Woolford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-1065.