Vancouver Public Library selects aboriginal storyteller in residence

Filmmaker, poet Jules Koostachin began her residency on Jan. 3

For someone once derided as slow, savage and solitary, Jules Koostachin has reached a point of ultimate redemption.

The Vancouver resident is working towards her PhD, has established a niche in the film industry and most recently has added to her successes by being named the Vancouver Public Library’s 2017 aboriginal storyteller in residence.

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That role, which started Jan. 3, will see Koostachin tasked with working on personal art and storytelling projects, while also planning and delivering public events across the city.

Her inaugural event takes place Tuesday, Jan. 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Orpheum Annex. Koostachin will speak to her experiences growing up in the Mushkegowuk territory and screen her latest documentary film, Without Words.

Koostachin landed the role after being selected out of a field of five applicants from across B.C., Canada and the U.S. and she got news of the gig in December.

“I was surprised to be chosen,” she told the Courier. “I knew that I did well in the interview process, but when they told me, I fell off my chair. My thinking went from ‘I think I can do this’ to ‘Well, I have to do this now.’”

Koostachin is of Cree descent and grew up on the Mushkegowok territory of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. Her artistic specialties are in film and TV and in creative writing. She’s the creator of the television series AskiBOYZ, which airs on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

During her residency she’ll produce poetry and other prose that reflects her 44 years’ worth of life experiences.

Some of it will be pretty, other points won’t.

Koostachin’s mother suffered traumatic violence while living in a residential school setting. Koostachin’s experience in the public school system wasn’t much better.

“People knew that my mom was Cree, so there was a lot of racism,” she said. “There was a time when I was assaulted by a teacher and I was called a savage. I had a hearing impairment, so I was the loner at the back of the classroom. Art was my comfort zone.”

Koostachin’s work in the intervening years after high school and before arriving in B.C. was rooted in intergenerational resiliency, a theme that will be prescient throughout her output in the next few months. The former Ontario resident worked in women’s shelters, crisis relief centres and with women who were incarcerated or on the cusp of being institutionalized. She’s now working towards her PhD in UBC’s Gender, Race, Sexuality, Social Justice program.

“Reciprocity was a big thing with my grandparents,” she said. “I was told to not take things for granted. When you are given an opportunity, you need to give it back.”

Established in 2008, the library’s storyteller program has previously welcomed carvers, stand-up comics, playwrights, actors and writers into the fold. Those artists have come from First Nations backgrounds spanning the entire country.

Some of the application parameters include experience in Aboriginal storytelling and performance, a zest for information sharing, availability to participate in public events and a full-time commitment for the duration of the residency.

Koostachin receives a monthly stipend of $4,250 for the duration of the residency, along with resources and dedicated office space at the Central Library location in downtown Vancouver.

Her residency concludes in early May.

“I want to be happy with the work that I create,” Koostachin said. “I really thrive off one-to-one connections with people. You can tell when you’re really connecting with someone, you can tell when the lightbulb goes off. If that happens throughout the residency I’ll know that I did a good job.”


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