Celebrating storytelling with cultural exchange

The 2019 Scottish International Storytelling Festival hosts 15 guest artists from Canada, along with 60 Scottish storytellers, as part of its biggest international exchange to date.

The group, which includes storytellers, musicians and dancers, represents the rich cultural diversity and heritage of Canada. They will perform in Edinburgh and travel across Scotland, as part of the Festival on Tour.

In March 2019 Scottish storytellers visited Canada to pave the way for this project and more will return in the Spring of 2020, celebrating the diversity of both countries and their longstanding connections.

SISF’s ‘Canada Coast to Coast’ strand has three aims:

  • To celebrate the contribution of First Nation traditions in the UNESCO Year of Indigenous Languages. This will be complemented by Gaelic and Scots language events, as well as the launch of a Gaelic podcast series Sgeul is Seanchas, a TRACS and Scottish Storytelling Forum project, which passes on and celebrates the oral storytelling tradition around Scotland, funded by Comhairle nan Leabhraichean/The Gaelic Books Council with support from Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
  • To strengthen the worldwide renaissance of storytelling through international partnerships
  • To bring creative resources to bear on the global climate emergency

Donald Smith, Scottish International Storytelling Festival Director, and Mary Duncan, Canadian Honorary Consul Scotland, launched the Scotland-Canada Storytelling Festival programme this week at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, with respects paid to Canadian First Nation woman Demasduit.

Kidnapped by a British settler in 1819, Demasduit died in 1820 from tuberculosis. She was returned to her Beothuk Nation and buried at Red Indian Lake in Newfoundland. A few years later her skull and that of her murdered husband Nonosabusut, as well as sacred burial objects, were removed from their graves and sent to Scotland.

Following a campaign led by Mi’sel Joe, chief of the Miawpukek First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community located at Conne River in Newfoundland and Labrador, the human remains of Demasduit and Nonosabusut will be returned to Canada later this year from the National Museum of Scotland.

Alongside the Scotland-Canada strand, the 2019 Scottish International Storytelling Festival will host the world’s first Global Storytelling Lab, based on the Earth Charter Initiative.

Over five days the Lab will explore the politics of folktales, ecological action through storytelling, wild nature, the art of conversation and mythic imagination. Storytellers from Spain, Italy, Canada, Norway, Scotland and the Caribbean will lead participative sessions on how storytellers can respond to our contemporary crises.

The Global Lab is supported by funding from the PLACE Programme established by the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government.

Festival director Donald Smith said: ‘This year the Storytelling Festival reached across boundaries of culture, nationality and race. Never have we had so much need of authentic communication. Storytelling is much more
than spoken words. It expresses human connection, shares culture and makes us at home in the world.’

The PLACE Programme has also enabled a further expansion of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival across Edinburgh and Scotland. A new ‘Community Programme’ will assist with locally initiated events and the Festival on Tour ensures that international guest artists will meet new audiences and communities, while seeing more of Scotland. These associated event programmes include ‘Scotland and the Arctic’ in Dumfries and Galloway, the Orkney Storytelling Festival, ‘Aberdeenshire and the Yukon’, and ‘A Heart for Duns’ in the Scottish Borders.

The 2019 Scottish International Storytelling Festival continues its mission to strengthen storytelling in Scotland as the authentic platform for the world’s leading festival of storytelling traditions.

This week has also seen the launch, with The History Press, of Folktales of Scotland, anthologising the work of seventeen storytellers from Scotland’s contemporary renaissance. The volume is dedicated to the much-loved Shetland storyteller, Lawrence Tulloch, who died in 2017, and whose work opens the new anthology.