On March 11, members of the campus community gathered virtually to hear original poems, prose and songs meant to uplift Indigenous voices and perspectives.
The performances were part of the events taking place during the University of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous Achievement Week, held from March 7 to 11. Zoey Roy, the University Library’s Indigenous Storyteller in Residence, hosted the event.
Roy is a poet, scholar and educator from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation. Throughout the winter, Roy facilitated several poetry and songwriting workshops, which culminated in the March 11 event where workshop participants shared their pieces alongside Roy.
Among those included Sarah Elizabeth, a member of the Couchiching First Nation in northern Ontario, who says that she was surprised to be invited to perform as an Ontarian.
“I thought this was more for people in Saskatchewan,” Elizabeth said, explaining that Roy had refused to exclude individuals from other nations across Turtle Island simply because of colonially imposed provincial boundaries.
Elizabeth shared her perspective on her connection to the land through an untitled song that she co-wrote with her friends. The piece referenced the sounds of chickadees as they jumped between the branches of the snow-covered pines beneath the bright blue skies of her homeland.
Other pieces were shared by local performers, including a poem by Sharon Meyer, a First Nations and Métis education consultant from the Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation.
Meyer’s piece, titled “Drum On,” is about teaching her children to be proud of their Indigenous heritage and was written from the perspective of a mother, kookum and educator. In the poem, Meyer reflects on how she grew up in a time when ceremonies were held in secret — referring to Canada’s historical ban on traditional Indigenous practices.
The performance also included a poem by hip-hop artist Zoe Slusar, whose stage name is ZHE the Free. The poem, titled “Crocus for Clover,” explored themes of rebirth and youthfulness through an ode to her mother, who Slusar once hunted for newly-bloomed crocus flowers with.
“One of the things that we explored in the workshops was land and I’m always thinking about my connection to place,” Slusar said. “I’m starting to fall more and more in love with the prairies and the open skies of Treaty 6 Territory.”
To close out the performance, Roy thanked the performers for their contributions and participation in the poetry and song-writing workshops.
“It is wonderful to be here with this wonderful group of people… Every one of them has a really dear place in my heart.”
Roy then shared three pieces of her own, including an uplifting poem titled “Unsilent.”
“When I wrote [“Unsilent”], there was a lot of challenges that our young people were facing in northern Saskatchewan … and so this poem is for them,” Roy said.
“Unsilent” was featured in a campaign for Cheekbone Beauty, an Indigenous-owned cosmetics company whose products are sold in Sephora stores across the country. The brand’s mission is to help Indigenous youth feel valued — a message that is echoed in Roy’s poem.
The performance, which marked the end of Roy’s time as the University Library’s Indigenous Storyteller in Residence, provided a platform for underrepresented individuals to share their perspectives through poetry, prose and song.