The trickster has long played an important role in the oral traditions of Aboriginal peoples around the world. For some, the trickster may be a dangerous or destructive being, for others, an adventurous and humorous friend. In either case, the trickster is typically a creative force and an important part of people’s spirituality, at the same time helping to ensure that cultural and oral traditions are passed from generation to generation.
The trickster is also central to a socio-cultural program recently delivered in Waswanipi called the Trickster Effect.
Developed by Project Exeko (www.Exeko.org), a non-profit organization based in Montreal, the Trickster Effect uses storytelling, singing, circus workshops, games and other exercises, to lead young people toward the progressive development of a traditional Aboriginal tale that has been passed on to them by Elders in the community. The young people then present the tale on stage to their community.
“The main idea is to strengthen the links between generations; give the kids, Elders and family members the tools to share,” explained Francois-Xavier Michaux, co-founder of Projet Exeko. “We hope that through the Trickster Effect, kids learn more about their identity, which can often be missing.”
The Trickster Effect program offers young people and Elders a place to meet, where they can learn, interact and gain value from each other. The activities central to the program help young people in their quest for identity by celebrating their culture, creating intergenerational links, developing their sense of belonging, while at the same time teaching them new skills like juggling, acrobatics and beat-boxing. The production and presentation of the tale at the end of the program gives the young people a positive, successful experience and helps them develop a sense of trust and self-esteem.
Many of the exercises and activities are created to provide an opportunity for the youth and the adults to express the sometimes difficult realities that they may have experienced. The program also creates awareness of healthy lifestyle habits through physical activities and snacks.
The Trickster Effect was made possible through the cooperation of the Brighter Futures in Waswanipi. Funded by Health Canada, Brighter Futures delivers culturally sensitive programs and resources at a community-based and community-paced level.
In addition to the Trickster Effect, Brighter Futures delivers a wide variety of programs, including summer day-camp, preteen after-school and evening programs, suicide prevention training, babysitter training courses, Waswanipi Day and Chiiwetau activities. As a result, the decision was made to run the Trickster Effect program at the same time as Chiiwetau in July 2011.
“In November 2010, we started the Trickster Effect as an after-school program in Waswanipi, working with Brighter Futures. It was the beginning of the winter, and the first program went pretty well,” said Michaux. “So we decided to do the project again during the summer. We were there for 20 days last July. It was decided that we would be part of a special event called Chiiwetau.”
Chiiwetau is a traditional gathering at the original settlement of the Hudson Bay post on Lake Waswanipi. The gathering usually takes place during the last two weeks of July and activities are managed by Brighter Futures.
“It was a great event and showed that the ties within the community were very strong and powerful,” added Michaux. “Chiiwetau gave us the perfect conditions to do the Trickster Effect. So we lived with the community, took part in all activities and the Trickster Effect was an activity that was proposed to the community and 60 kids took part.”
“The Trickster Effect is a great program,” said Erika Eagle, Social Development Assistant with Waswanipi Brighter Futures, and a participant in last summer’s program. “It’s a great program for children to learn about their traditions and to increase their interaction with Elders in the community.”
The program lasts for two weeks with a structure that includes 10 sessions of three hours each with both the young people and the adults. The program begins with a show presented to the community by the facilitator/artists, with the young people presenting a traditional tale to their community on the final day of the program.
The program is overseen by two facilitator/artists, including one who comes from the community where the program is being delivered. The facilitator/artists are supported by a coordinator, while three trainees, who also come from the community, assist during the activities while receiving complete training that later enables them to implement the program autonomously.
This structure is designed to allow Michaux and Exeko to expand the Trickster Effect to other First Nations communities.
“We want to create a situation where we give them our program; where we reach the point where we do not exist anymore,” explained Michaux.
In addition to Waswanipi, Exeko has also delivered the Trickster Effect to the Innu community of Natashquan, with plans to work with other Innu and Cree communities across Quebec. The program has also been adapted to respond to the needs of Aboriginal communities in Montreal.
“We have launched a pilot project through the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal, and want to reach out to kids here in the city who are in foster care; mostly Inuit. The Inuit children here are pretty far from their roots and we want to help them keep their roots and their sense of identity and culture.”
While Michaux and the Exeko team have enjoyed some success in developing and delivering the Trickster Effect program, it has not been without its challenges; particularly the challenge of building trust with the communities that they hope to serve.
“It is a long process. We don’t want to sell a product. This is not what we do. We want to work hand-in-hand with communities. We want to be in a partnership. We want to adapt the program to the needs of each individual community,” explained Michaux.
“A problem we have faced is that there are a lot of people who want to take advantage of the fact that there is funding available, but they don’t offer anything to the community. So communities are understandably very tentative; they wait and see before they trust. So we must be patient and keep working with the kids. We never force the door open. We open our hearts; respect the communities where we work.”
In the view of Eagle, the Exeko team’s efforts have had a positive impact on the young people of Waswanipi.
“They are great people,” said Eagle. “It was hard at the beginning, but they opened up and interacted with the children and Elders. The facilitator/artists are very outgoing, very outspoken and very trustworthy people. I love working with them. I recommend the program and hope that other communities will use it.”
So what advice would Michaux give to other organizations seeking to provide programs to First Nations communities?
“Do it for the good reason, first. If not, then just please stop!” said Michaux, emphatically.
“Be transparent, respect people, listen to people, because we have a lot to learn from First Nations communities. Sure we are doing a lot but I receive a lot every time I go there.
“First Nations people are willing to share; it is their natural way of being. It is part of their culture. But too many people take advantage.