Storytelling school

Richard Van Camp honors history through storytelling

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

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

The event took place at the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, and Van Camp’s greetings honored the Tłı̨chǫ Dene language. Throughout his speech, he was interactive with the children in the audience.

Van Camp said in his introduction that “kids really are the heart of…families,” giving the example of his son.

His presentation was focused on storytelling. These stories stem from his childhood and the lessons he learned from interacting with different people – something he says made him a good writer.

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

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

Speaking 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 because of the stories he would hear in his community. He pointed out that the heroes he had heard of were all indigenous and he was intrigued to learn more about them. This made him want to become a writer to “write stories [he] want to[s] to read” about his own experiences.

“I became a storyteller before becoming a writer.”

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

“[Today is the day] we celebrate the beauty and resilience of Indigenous peoples,” Van Camp said. “I’m really impressed by our beauty, our kindness, our generosity.”

“Reconciliation is listening, it is learning the history of the territory in which you live, it is acting and intervening, and it is expressing yourself in a beautiful way to help the people of the earth on which you live, even as an Aboriginal person.”

Throughout his speech, Van Camp did a wonderful job of acknowledging those he has met in the past and those around him now, from teachers and elders to children and event staff. He was able to create a personal connection with those around him by telling stories and making sure his ideas resonated with others.

Van Camp’s final request to the public was to be considerate of others and the land they stand 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 noticed how successful storytelling was in engaging his audience over literary readings. Storytelling is also something Van Camp enjoys more than literary readings. He concluded the event by reading his book, little you, and gift it to a lucky member of the public.

He is currently working on a book on miracles, mentioning that constant 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 has acquired since childhood.

“The reason I am on this planet is to record, honor and uplift our elders and knowledge keepers.”