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Mavis Dumont shares Northwest Coast Indigenous Stories in Parksville Feb. 23

Storytelling event planned for 7 p.m. at McMillan Arts Centre
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Mavis Dumont will tell Northwest Coast Indigenous Stories in at the McMillan Arts Centre in Parksville on Feb. 23. (Contributed photo)

Mavis Dumont has been a storyteller for decades, carrying on an oral tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Her one-woman show Northwest Coast Indigenous Stories is set for Feb. 23 at the McMillan Arts Centre (MAC) in Parksville, presented as part of Mid Island Storytellers’s series ‘Tales for the Telling’.

Dumont has learned a wide range of stories over the years.

“It’s a lot of laughter, a lot of fun, a lot of spookiness and suspense,” she said.

“I like to put a twist on my stories, like I’ll elaborate, so people’s minds can just wander into the forest and just imagine the surprises that can jump out at you any moment.”

The evening will include two 45-minutes sets: the first is a brief history of the area — stories told among First Nations that lived along the coast and the inlets, Dumont said.

“For example, 10,000 years ago we had a tsunami here and it changed our land mass,” she said. “These stories are very ancient and they were handed down from generations to generations. And from some stories come songs, and the songs are still sung in the longhouses here on the northwest coast.”

The second 45-minute segment is called ‘Celestial Skies’.

“I’ve travelled around the world three times,” said Dumont, who lived and worked in Europe for 20 years.

“And wherever I go, I like to learn other cultural stories of how they perceive of how things came to be and our celestial skies here have a lot of Indigenous stories.”

Part of what makes a story engaging is when it includes things people can remember when they head out into the forest, she said.

“I think there’s lessons to be taught,” Dumont said, and added when a mother tells her children not to venture into the forest alone, “there’s a reason for that.”

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Respect, rather than fear, for animals is another lesson.

“We call them our four-legged brothers, but we have that respect for them,” she said.

“Whereas a person that’s not of our culture, goes into the forest and experiences a wild animal — he doesn’t have that respect. It’s like fear sets in. Automatic fear and shock.”

Dumont is from the Cree culture and moved to the Chilliwack area when she was young, living up in the high mountains of Ryder Lake. She became interested in storytelling at a young age.

“My earliest memories were from my grandfather,” Dumont said. “He would take me to the five and dime store and buy me candy, and I would lie on the grass and he’d go on the bench and tell me stories. I think I was about three years old, but I remember just gazing up to the clouds, just drifting off while he was telling his story.”

She had a career that saw her host cultural workshops in Europe (including in a 17th Century castle)and work as an Indigenous cultural facilitator for the Surrey School District.

“Some of the stories that do not belong to me, I ask permission for them,” Dumont said. “Because they come with songs, so in respect to other people’s culture, because it’s not my culture, the Northwest Coast stories. So we recognize and acknowledge that these stories are — where they’re from and to be respected.”

Northwest Coast Indigenous Stories begins at 7 p.m. at the MAC (133 McMillan St.). Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20 ($18 for MIST and Oceanside Community Arts Council (OCAC) members.

They can be purchased at the MAC box office, by phone at 250-248-8185 or online at mcmillanartscentre.com.