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Richard Van Camp honours history through storytelling

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, Indigenous storyteller Richard Van Camp connected with audience members and honoured Indigenous history.

Richard Van Camp takes full pride in being Tłı̨chǫ Dene from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories; he now lives in Edmonton as a proud father. This speaker event on National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrated Van Camp’s heritage and Indigenous teachings.  

Van Camp is an internationally-recognized storyteller and bestselling author of 26 books in 26 years. He’s written five collections of short stories, six baby books, three children’s books, five comics, and more. In recent years he has been the storyteller-in-residence for Calgary Public Library, and writer-in-residence at the Metro Federation of Edmonton Libraries, Yellowhead Tribal College, MacEwan University, the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, and the University of Alberta.

The event was held at the U of A’s Augustana Campus, and Van Camp’s greeting honoured the language of the Tłı̨chǫ Dene. Throughout his talk, he was interactive with the children present in the audience. 

Van Camp stated in his introduction that “children are really the hearts of … families,” giving his son as an example. 

His presentation was centred storytelling. These stories stemmed from his childhood and lessons he learned when interacting with different people — something that he believes made him a good writer. 

To keep the presentation interactive and interesting, Van Camp used some stories as listening challenges for the children in the audience with rewards of notebooks, flashlights, and his own published books. One example of these listening challenges was listening to the medicine of the dragonfly, which focuses on honesty. 

“Dragonflies are revivers of snakes; they can sew the lips shut of any child who’s told their first lie,” Van Camp said. “If you know what to do with their wings, you can get anyone in the world to fall in love with you [and] you need dragonfly wings for love medicine.”  

When talking about himself Van Camp prioritized how he was able to grow up in the best of both worlds, both in the modern era but also in history due to the stories he’d hear in his community. He emphasized that the heroes he learned about were all Indigenous and how he was intrigued to learn more about them. This made him want to become a writer to “write stories [he] want[s] to read” about his own experiences.

“I became a storyteller before I became a writer.” 

Van Camp described National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, as a day of celebration, but also a reflection on responsibilities to reconciliation.

“[Today is the day] we celebrate the beauty and resilience of Indigenous people,” Van Camp said. “I just really stand in awe of how beautiful we are, how kind we are, how giving we are.”

“Reconciliation is about listening, it’s about learning the history of the territory you live on, it’s acting up and stepping up, and it’s speaking up in a beautiful way to help the people of the land you’re living on, even as an Indigenous person.”

Throughout his talk, Van Camp did a wonderful job of acknowledging those he’s met in the past and those currently around him, from teachers and elders to children and the event staff. He was able to create a personal connection with those around him through storytelling and making sure his ideas resonated with others. 

Van Camp’s final request to the audience was to be considerate of other people and the land they are on. 

“[Let’s] do our best to leave each person and place better than we found them.” 

Van Camp went on to say that at events like these he has noticed how successful telling stories was in engaging his audience compared to literary readings. Storytelling is also something Van Camp enjoys more than literary reads. He concluded the event by reading his book, Little You, and gifting it to a lucky audience member. 

He is currently working on a book about miracles, mentioning that consistent work is important to him because “a page a day is a book a year.” This book will be another example of his storytelling stemming from the knowledge he’s gained from his childhood.

“The reason I’m on this planet is to record and honour and uplift our elders and our knowledge keepers.”

Lale Fassone

Lale Fassone is a first-year Media studies major and Linguistics minor. When she isn’t procrastinating her mountain-high workload or when not trying to learn yet another language, she can be found potentially working, writing, reading, or eating strawberries while watching the same rom-com over again.

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