Over four frigid days in December, people gathered in the John Dutton Theatre at Central Library for Creation Lodge, listening as Elders Jerry and Jo-Ann Saddleback warmly shared Cree creation stories.
Creation Lodge is about “reclaiming our way of life, one story at a time,” said Organizer William Bellegarde, an Assiniboine Cree man from Saskatchewan who lives in Calgary. A small group of people, including Bellegarde, started Creation Lodge in Calgary in the fall of 2016.
The events aim to fill a void. Many Indigenous people do not know their creation story, Bellegarde said, or they only know pieces. But such stories are foundational, filled with values and learning.
“They’re so important, because those stories have a way of governing family, politics, so many things. But we’re missing them,” Bellegarde said. “We want to bring creation stories back into the fold.”
The grassroots events are hosted at various venues and intended for anyone, with special efforts made to reach people who are homeless.
At each Creation Lodge, a story keeper tells oral stories over multiple days. The audience members simply listen; there are no videos, sound effects, or distractions. “When you hear the story you create the pictures, you create the imagery based on what you know,” Bellegarde said. “You become actively involved by listening.”
At the free drop-in Creation Lodge program at Central Library Dec 27 - 30, 2017, Elder Jerry Saddleback spoke animatedly and at length. Saddleback, a member of the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta, recited far-reaching stories to a rapt audience, shared his profound knowledge on Cree history and traditions, and taught Cree words.
The rich days of learning were intended to give people a “holistic perspective,” Saddleback said. “I’m hoping and praying that the younger generation will pick up on it, and I’m confident that they are. Many are sitting here today, and I’m very thankful for that,” he told the audience.
Creation Lodge has garnered positive feedback, from both the storytellers sharing teachings and the people coming to listen, Bellegarde said.
For non-Indigenous people, Creation Lodge offers a powerful opportunity to hear and recognize stories that have long been pushed aside, under past government policies of assimilation. “It’s important for reconciliation, and it’s important for one culture’s religious beliefs not dominating another’s,” Bellegarde said.
He’s also heard from Indigenous people who describe Creation Lodge as “like going home.” “That really means a lot to me,” he said. “In terms of my worldview, home is a bigger thing. It means family, it means community, it means connection.”
Bellegarde continues to work alongside a small steering committee, aiming to bring Creation Lodge to more people. There’s an appetite, he said, and a growing recognition of the power of story — to root people and connect them.
“People are hungry,” Bellegarde said. “They want to hear more.”