Sharing stories during month-long storytelling event helps keep Dene language alive in Sask.

·2 min read
Noel McIntyre is a storyteller and knowledge keeper from English River First Nation in Saskatchewan.  (English River First Nation website - image credit)
Noel McIntyre is a storyteller and knowledge keeper from English River First Nation in Saskatchewan. (English River First Nation website - image credit)

Living in a remote northern community doesn't stop Noel McIntyre from helping to keep the Dene language alive in Saskatchewan.

The 77-year-old knowledge keeper and others have shared stories virtually in February through an Aboriginal Storytelling Month project organized by the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre.

February saw First Nations and Métis storytellers share tales online though schools and libraries around the province this year.

"It is very important for me," said McIntyre, who is from English River First Nation, around 320 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert, in Treaty 10 territory.

"When I tell a story, I tell my story in my first language, and then that way people that understand will be able to carry on that story. It will keep that story alive."

The Saskatchewan government listed Dene among the top five fastest-declining mother tongues in the province between 2011 and 2016. McIntyre says he notices the depletion of the language in his own community.

Storytelling helps to preserve knowledge

Besides the language, storytelling also plays an important role for cultural and treaty teachings.

"I'm quite familiar with that," said McIntyre. "I tell that story so people will know exactly what happened ... when we were signing the treaty."

McIntyre has survived both cancer and attending a residential school. After retiring as an RCMP member and working at an uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan, he now has the time to focus on sharing stories with others.

"Before I go, it'd be nice for me to [share] all the knowledge that I have," said McIntyre. "And the only way I can spread it out is by storytelling."

Winter is the traditional time of the year for storytelling in First Nations cultures. While SICC's Saskatoon Storytelling Week — part of the Indigenous cultural centre's storytelling month — has wrapped up, telling stories continues to play an important role in McIntyre's life.

"Storytelling is something that you learn, that's passed on from your elder," he said.

"My grandpa was really good at storytelling. So I listened to him and I picked up what he's saying, and I try to pass on what he told me about what he's seen and what he's done. And then his legacy will carry on."

Camelia Wolverine, also from English River First Nation, has been helping to connect elders from the community with the storytelling project since 2019. She agrees it's important to revitalize the Dene language.

"Then we can identify of who and what we are," said Wolverine.

"Language is the main component … [of] our life."