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Founded in the mid 1980s, Angela Sidney, one of the last speakers of the Tagish language, had to travel all the way to Toronto in order to tell her stories to a large audience. This prompted two Yukoners to organize the first Storytelling festival in the Yukon in 1988. For the first Festival, storytellers came from six countries on four continents and joined Yukon native elders to tell and sing stories in 23 different languages, 16 Native languages, Dutch, French, Danish, English, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Ukranian. All storytellers were encouraged to tell in their first language, with a summary or full translation in English.

Within two years, it had become an annual international festival, focusing on, but not restricted to, countries from the circumpolar world. Throughout the years, performers have come to join our Yukoners from Chuckotka, Magadan, Sakhalin, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Zimbabwe, Greenland, Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Japan, China, Australia, Bolivia, Alaska, and the Southern United States as well as every province and territory in Canada. Each year sees more and more storytellers gathering in Whitehorse to celebrate the NorthÕs rich storytelling tradition under the midnight sun. Incorporating costume, dance, theatre, drums, mime, and music, the festival transports visitors across miles of land, years of history, and lifetimes of experiences.

Now preparing for it's 15th year, the Yukon International Storytelling Festival began in 1988, and has taken place every single summer since then, usually on the first weekend of June. The Festival hosts performers from just about every variety of the performing arts. I myself have seen drummers from Japan, dancers from Kamchatka, a gut-bustingly funny storyteller from Wales, a Bolivian band reminiscent of the Gypsy Kings...the list goes on and on.

Taking advantage of Whitehorse's (usually) temperate (read: warm until it rains like God just drank 18 litres of iced tea and couldn't find a urinal) early-summer weather, the Festival takes place in a cluster of large canvas tents set up in a city part by the Yukon River, which runs right through downtown. It's a very scenic location (if you don't mind the chupacabra-sized mosquitoes) ands adds to the whole atmosphere of the Festival.

Three days long (Friday evening to Sunday morning/afternoon, usually) the Festival begins with speeches from the organizers, government officials, and a First Nations prayer from a local Elder. After that, the Storytelling begins. Each storyteller usually gets a half-hour to hour-and-a-half slot, either in one of the smaller tents, or the two large tents (for the dancers/theatre companies, Elders, etc). The Festival wraps up on Sunday afternoon with more speeches, prayers and, usually, an encore performance by one or two of the more popular groups. Then the proceedings are moved outside for a First Nations circle dance.

The Festival is organized using government funding (which is copious for many things in the Yukon), and private-sector sponsorships. It is run by a small group of dedicated people, with the support of a large crew of volunteers (which are also plentiful in the Yukon). Running the gamut from translators to drivers to security to the tent crew, people from all walks of life dedicate time and effort to helping the Festival, whether over the eight (or so) months it takes to organize, to the three five days of frenzied activity that encompasses, set-up, the Festival itself and tear-down.

Also, the Festival is an alchohol-free*, family-friendly event that caters to just about everyone. There is a tent dedicated entirely to children's activities and performers, and evening sessions that are more...adult, in nature.

For more information:
Yukon International Storytelling Festival
PO Box 31722, Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A-6L3
ph:(867) 633-7550 fax:(867) 633-3883

My own experience

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