The 12th Annual NorthWords Writers Festival was this past weekend in Yellowknife, Hay River and Ndilǫ. This year’s festival began in Ndilǫ with a family barbeque, prayers, songs, stories, and speeches. We were honored to have Education, Culture and Employment Minister, Alfred Moses, and Chief Ernest Betsina officially open the festival this year. The opening ceremonies were sponsored by our long-time partner, the NWT Literacy Council.
This event gave people from Yellowknife and Ndilǫ a chance to welcome our guests to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chief Drygeese Territory in true northern style. After the feasting and speeches, we headed to the Fat Fox, where more than 75 people listened to local writers share their stories. Jeremy Flett ended the evening with a brilliant reading of text messages that had everyone roaring with laughter. The Fat Fox continued to host other events throughout the weekend, including the Sunday Books and Brunch. We ate delicious food and were privileged to hear beautiful poetry from Rosanna Deerchild and Sam Bassam, as well as a story from Richard Van Camp.
Our authors visited community groups and schools in Yellowknife, Behchokǫ, Ndilǫ and Dettah, where they gave presentations, workshops, and shared stories. Our guest authors remarked that while the groups were small, those who attended were interested and engaged in the festival’s theme of reconciliation.
Friday was our first day of public panels and workshops. It also included a trip to Hay River for some authors. Melanie Florence and Laurie Sarkadi visited six classes, and a total of 100 students. Laurie Sarkadi also shared excerpts from her book, Voices in the Wild, and sang one of her songs during a Hay River Public Library brown bag lunch event.
After two long days, our authors rallied and gave dynamic, emotional, and heartfelt presentations during the festival Gala on Friday night. Laurie Sarkadi and Paul Andrew, our featured northern author and storyteller, kept us rooted in the North with their stories, songs, and reflections.
The Gala highlight was the awarding of prizes. This year, the NWT Power Corporation sponsored an award for children’s literature and we were delighted to give this award to How the Raven Returned the Sun, by Christal Doherty and illustrated by Carla Taylor. The NWT Power Corporation will sponsor a $1,000 children’s literature prize for the next five years. We hope this will encourage and support northern writers to create stories for young people. Richard Van Camp received the annual NorthWords Writers Prize for his 20 years of writing in many different genres.
For the first time during the festival, we held a workshop designed specifically for young people. Melanie provided a practical, fun, and inspiring session on Saturday afternoon.
Finally, we were honored to have Tracey Lindberg, our keynote speaker, give us context and many ways to think about the challenging topic of reconciliation. For four days, the readings, presentations, workshops, and panel discussions addressed the theme but Tracey’s keynote pulled all the threads together. She issued a call to action — what will we do, what action will we take, to play our part in the process of reconciliation?
NorthWords NWT is grateful to all the authors who participated in our festival, our audiences who engaged in meaningful conversations, and our sponsors and partners who continue to support this fantastic event.
See you all next year! Masi.
— Lynn O’Rourke, NorthWords NWT