Vancouver Public Library's new Indigenous storyteller in residence goes virtual

·3 min read

The Vancouver Public Library's new Indigenous storyteller in residence is re-imagining the role during the pandemic, but believes storytelling is as integral to connection as ever.

Kung Jaadee is traditional singer, drummer and storyteller who has performed for hundreds of audiences across Canada and the U.S. sharing stories and legends from her birthplace of Haida Gwaii.

Over the coming months, her role with VPL will be different than what she's used to. She's planning a series of workshops, performances, a film screening and virtual potluck, all online, facing challenges we've become well acquainted with as the pandemic carries on.

"Usually when I'm telling stories, there's an immediate connection because it's live. You can actually engage with an audience," Kung Jaadee said.

"I'm hoping, fingers are crossed, that I'll still be able to make those connections even though it is going to be virtual."

Kung Jaadee, which means Moon Woman in the Haida language Xaad Kil, believes storytelling can play an important role in helping us stay connected and in combating loneliness during the dark days of winter.

She shared the story of how she got her traditional name with CBC's On The Coast listeners.

In 2008, at a memorial potlatch honouring her great uncle, she performed one of her stories, Woman In The Moon — a story of a berry picker and the power of the moon, family and tradition.

Her cousin gave her the name afterward. Kung Jaadee said it's a name that grounds her and connects her to her ancestors.

"Our ancestors used to believe that we didn't fully become human beings until we were given our adult name," she said.

"The moon, every single time I see it, I have to stop and look at it … and remember the story of the berry picker in the moon, or moon woman story."

Storytelling a reminder of betters days to come

COVID-19 will shape her craft, she said. The loneliness and longing for better days is something she believes can connect us, even when we're apart.

Storytelling can act as a reminder that there have been better times, and that there will be better times ahead, she said.

"It's really a lonely time. We miss our family, we miss our friends. We know it's not forever, but it does feel like it is," she said.

The monotonous routine of daily life and the search for love, whether romantic or otherwise, are themes she's been thinking about.

Thinking of her ancestors is something that has helped Kung Jaadee throughout the pandemic, she said, helping her feel a connection during the lonelier times over the past year.

"I have tens of thousands of ancestors who love me no matter what, who will always love me, she said.

"They remind me, in little ways, that they're still there."

Kung Jaadee's first virtual event as Indigenous storyteller in residence will be on Feb. 18.