Kiaralee Marchand uses finger paints at a craft station at Nanaimo’s third annual National Aboriginal Day Tuesday. The event took place at Bowen Park and featured a number of speakers including author Michael Kusugak.

Kiaralee Marchand uses finger paints at a craft station at Nanaimo’s third annual National Aboriginal Day Tuesday. The event took place at Bowen Park and featured a number of speakers including author Michael Kusugak.

Stories important to indigenous culture

NANAIMO – Hundreds gather to honour National Aboriginal Day at Bowen Park Tuesday.

For Michael Kusugak, storytelling has always been a big part of his life.

Growing up Inuit in the Northwest Territories in the 1950s, Kusugak loved hearing stories from his grandmother and mother.

“You listen to these stories and they are incredible,” Kusugak said. “I decided one day that I would like to write a book.”

More than three decades later, Kusugak is the author of numerous books including A Promise is A Promise, which he co-authored with Robert Munsch.

Kusugak was one of the handful of guest speakers at Nanaimo’s third annual National Aboriginal Day celebration, held at Bowen Park Tuesday and attracted hundreds of people. Lawrence Mitchell, who hosted the event, said it was “truly uplifting” to see so many people from all cultures show up.

“It lifts up my spirit to see the diversity of Canada coming forward and recognizing [National] Aboriginal Day and everyone coming together to share that good spirit,” he said.

As a kid, Kusugak was sent to various residential schools throughout the country. He graduated from high school in Saskatoon and later attended the University of Saskatchewan.

Speaking with the News Bulletin, Kusugak said moving to Saskatchewan was hard and that he felt ashamed having grown up in the north.

“I grew up living in igloos and traveling around by dogsleds,” he said. “For the longest time it was kind of embarrassing to have grown up in a place like that because you got to know all these people in high school who had separate bedrooms and TVs and knives and forks when we didn’t grow up with knives and forks.”

While progress has been made in terms of reconciliation and preserving First Nations culture, Kusugak said he is worried about what might happen to all the stories.

“The way the stories are carried on is they are passed down through generation to generation … and my job is to go around telling those stories and eventually they will be passed on to the next generation of storytellers,” he said. “They have to be kept going they can’t be just written down and put in books. They have to actually be told.”

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