AWA Affiliate Vicki Pinkerton shared the following account with us. We are grateful to her for offering this writing and for helping us expand the communities into which the AWA Method has reached.
“I facilitate writing groups near my home in Southern Ontario. When Yukon College approached me, asking me to travel 200km north of the Arctic Circle, to the small, fly-in community of Old Crow, Yukon Territory, to work with elders and youth writing and storytelling, I was torn between overwhelm and excitement. The answer of course was “YES!!”
Theirs is an oral culture and the stories of the Vuntut Gwitch’en, are the root of their culture and knowledge. Writing in the north has helped me become a better AWA facilitator. Cultural differences mean that I need to dance with the participants following their lead, relying less on what I know to be true. It has been exciting for me and has allowed many in the community, elder and younger, to explore their stories from a personal rather than community perspective.
I have been to Old Crow three times in the past two years. The last time I was there, a herd of Caribou ran through the village the day before I arrived. Everyone who was able moved onto the land. Although these people have cell phones and are able to put video of the hunt on Facebook, their year is still governed by the ancient rhythm of the animals and earth’s abundance. Late May and June is Caribou time. Nothing gets in the way. I was welcome and stories were told as the women sliced the meat into thin strips for drying and smoking. No writing was done that time.
I am challenged to find my role as a writing facilitator in a culture steeped in stories. A story comes often with a good cup of tea, on the land. I have made use of my tape recorder and small notebooks that I bring to hand around when we find ourselves out of the comfortable room in the tiny “Alice Frost” campus of the college. My best friend in that environment is a small backpack filled with a travel mug, notebooks, and retractable pencils that write in cold and warm weather.
When we write, prompts work well but having taken several courses in their history and culture I realize that my reality has no meaning for them. For instance, to use a tree in a prompt means something very different to a people living on the edge of the tundra than it does to me coming from southern Canada. I often used prompts that come up in conversations with them outside of our writing group.
To the Vuntut Gwitch’en ‘truth’ in their stories is important. It is their history, their understanding of the world, and their culture. Lately, scientists have been able to unlock mysteries of weather patterns as far back as the Ice Age, accurately, by talking to elders, so anything they take time to write down, needs to be true. Those who have time to read don’t mind a good fictional tale but they seem incapable of writing it. That may change as their lives take them further from the land, but for now their writing, beautiful in its simplicity, is about lives lived from the past into the future.
As I continue my work and my education in Old Crow, new opportunities to write with the people are opening up in other far-flung communities. I have always said that as a facilitator I learn as much or more than those I work with. That is definitely the case here. I will never be able to thank the group I write with in Old Crow enough for their patience and willingness to work with me.”