The small chapel in Mission Park’s historic church was packed Sept. 14 as Fort Smith locals took in the offerings from this year’s Ko K’e Storytelling Festival.
It was a rare opportunity for live performance in the small town as, for the first time, the Northern Art and Cultural Centre’s (NACC) annual autumn celebration of spoken word traveled to communities outside of Yellowknife.
Former CBC reporter Patti-Kay Hamilton opened the show, passionately telling stories passed down from her in-laws. Radiating an excited energy, she engaged the crowd, getting them to participate as she acted out packs of men running through the forest and broke taboos, asking her audience to smack their legs and whistle out to the northern lights.
Next was Reneltta Arluk, an actress who counts Fort Smith as one of her homes.
Arluk described her summer as months of listening to cassette tapes, curled up with a blanket and some tea. The tapes contained stories from her recently deceased grandfather, Archie Larocque, which she decided to share.
Loud applause and roars of laughter followed each of the tales from Larocque’s life as a trapper, prospector and guard for the RCMP. Between Larocque’s sense of humour and the petit Arluk’s gruff impressions, there was plenty of fodder for moments that were at once touching and comical.
She finished her set with an audible contribution from Larocque, a rendition of the country classic Green, Green Grass of Home over an old acoustic guitar. Arluk followed up with her own rendition.
Last but certainly not least was Quantum Tangle, made up of Yellowknife-based artists Greyson Gritt and Tiffany Ayalik, who closed out the show with a set that was truly a fusion of the traditional and the contemporary.
Together, the duo mixed Inuit throat singing and legends with looping pedals and harmonic riffs from Gritt’s electric guitar. Quantum Tangle managed to take the crowd on an emotional rollercoaster as they explored plights of the modern Indigenous person from substance abuse issues to shallow questions about living cultures, often using charm and comedy to bring the message home.
“It’s always important to empower the voices of people that don’t often get heard,” Gritt said in an interview with the Journal. “I think any time that we’re giving a megaphone or a platform to folks that normally don’t have a say or normally aren’t in the public eye or anything like that, it just leads to more diversity, it leads to understanding, it leads to more sharing, it means we’re taking steps towards equality and I always think that’s important.”
Following the Fort Smith show, performers headed to Norman Wells and Inuvik, while a separate contingent of artists brought their talents to Fort Simpson.