Indigenous Youth Storytelling Program

The Indigenous Youth Storytelling Program connects Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Knowledge Carriers, and guest storytellers with Indigenous youth in Assiniboine Park.

This program is a partnership between the Seven Oaks School Division’s Mino Bimaadiziwin program (Anishinaabemowin, meaning “The Good Life”), and Assiniboine Park Conservancy, to foster mentoring relationships, encourage cross-cultural connections, and connection with all living beings on Treaty 1 Territory and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

Youth participants explore and learn their ancestral ways through land-based teachings, storytelling, songs, and various forms of expression. Assiniboine Park is used as a space to strengthen their inner foundation. Together with Indigenous leaders, the youth bring their voices and their presence to the Park, acknowledging and celebrating Indigenous ways of being, knowing and learning.

The Indigenous Youth Storytelling Program was launched in 2021. Youth participants gather weekly in the summer months.


Learning Through Mentorship

Program guests include a variety of Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and community members who have diverse life experiences as Indigenous people. Guests include artists, musicians, politicians, and educators who show the youth there are many ways to share stories and learn about who they are as individuals and as Indigenous people.

Lee Mae Spence is the program’s primary facilitator and has connected the youth with other Indigenous leaders who have included Mark Hall, Norbert Mercredi, Ally Stoneypoint, Frank Walker, Adrienne Huard, Kevin Settee, Ivana Yellowback, and Sonya Ballantyne.

The youth are accompanied each week by Elder Mary Courchene, who provides support and insight throughout each program and journey in the Park.

Meet the Mentors

Elder Mary Courchene 

Elder Mary Courchene is a residential school survivor. Born and raised on the Sagkeeng First Nation, she moved away in 1971 and attained degrees in Arts and Education from the University of Brandon and the University of Manitoba. Mary’s career journey is extensive, including teaching in elementary and high schools, working as a school counsellor, and school administrator. She was also an Assistant Superintendent within the department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). Mary is involved in supporting many divisional events as an advisor and Elder in Residence in Seven Oaks School Division.

Lee Mae Spence

Lee Mae Spence is a proud Ininew Metis Iskwew born and raised in Churchill, Manitoba until planting roots in Winnipeg. She is a consultant, facilitator, student breathwork facilitator and advocate. Lee’s work is implemented in the spirit of truth and reconciliation and focuses on building knowledge and capacities for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, organizations, and communities.  Lee has a bachelor of Recreation Management and Community Development from the University of Manitoba.

Sherri Denysuik

Sherri Denysuik is Anishinaabe from Sagkeeng First Nation, Treaty One. She is currently the Director of Indigenous Education and Inclusion in Seven Oaks School Division. Her educational journey is grounded in family, community, and culture. Her knowledge of Indigenous history, culture, and ways of knowing and learning has deepened in part through her leadership in the division and through her connections with Indigenous community resources and organizations.

Frank Halas

Frank Halas has over 14 years of experience working for Indigenous youth in Winnipeg's North End and northern Manitoba. First, with the University of Manitoba's Rec and Read Programs and later with the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre. Frank now works as the Community Support Connector for Indigenous youth for Seven Oaks School Division.

Kevin Settee 

Kevin Settee was born and raised in the downtown west end of Winnipeg, with roots in Matheson Island and Fisher River. Kevin focuses a lot of his work on social justice, Indigenous rights, and Indigenous storytelling through photography and video. Kevin is the writer and director of The Lake Winnipeg Project, a four-part documentary series about the life and culture around Lake Winnipeg. He is also the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine.


Elder Mary stands in the centre of a group shot with 2021 participants
Elder Mary Courchene (centre) with 2021 Storytelling Program participants.


2022 youth visit the Fire Node
Youth participants visit the Indigenous Peoples Garden at The Leaf.

Writer and film director Kevin Settee teaches youth participants
Writer and film director Kevin Settee teaches youth how to tell stories in Indigenous communities.


2023 Storytelling Program

This year, participants had the opportunity to connect with Indigenous leaders such as Kevin Chief, Ally Stonypoint, Cree Crowchild, Sarah Prouty, and others.

This summer, the program included the creation and unveiling of a mural near the Nature Playground, painted by the youth and local Indigenous mural artist, Kale Sheppard. The mural represents the collective experience of the youth in their exploration of their identities and connection to the land during the program this summer.

Kevin Settee, a well-known Indigenous filmmaker who has been a past program guest, joined the team on a more permanent basis this season. Kevin documented the participants’ experience through photos and a video which can be watched below.



Past Programs

2022 Storytelling Program

Throughout the summer of 2022, 13 youth gathered at Assiniboine Park every Thursday with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, Elders, and guest storytellers. Youth participants explore and learn their ancestral ways through land-based teachings, storytelling, songs, and various forms of expression. Meet the youth from the 2022 program:

portraits of students: Aaron, Natalie, Hunee
Aaron, Swan Lake First Nation | Natalie, Misipawistik Cree Nation | Hunee, Peguis First Nation 

portraits of students: Tanisha, Hunter, Andrena, Jayden
Tanisha, Peguis First Nation | Hunter, Manto Sipi Cree Nation | Andrena, Berens River and Sagkeeng First Nations | Jayden, Peguis First Nation 

portraits of students: Carly, Jayna, Tyvon, Maqus
Carly, Berens River First Nation | Jayna, Lake Manitoba First Nation | Tyvon, Berens River First Nation | Marqus, Peguis First Nation 

“One place I really felt at home in the park was probably the times we went down the trails, on the outskirts of the park. I felt good mainly because I was off my phone and interacting with the land and it was fun to just pass by time, really fast.”
- Aaron, Swan Lake First Nation

“When we went on the walk in the Indigenous Garden, they had a fire pit in the middle. I felt like home there. Lee led us through an experience where we would all close our eyes, meditate, and she would say things and we would imagine them. She talked about love and the eagle. So it made me feel at home and more connected.”
- Natalie, Misipawistik Cree Nation

“Walking around in the Indigenous garden. And when we were at the stones, the 13 moons you know? [at the Water Node in the Indigenous Peoples Gardens] I just felt at home because I know lots of people who talk about that and I felt good.”
- Hunee, Peguis First Nation

“I think just hearing all the different Elders and speakers that we've had, they made me kind of open my eyes and learn about my own culture because I didn't grow up traditionally. And I went to schools where I wasn't taught my culture until I got to high school. So I'm just glad that there's many different speakers that we've had that brought me back to learn my culture. I think most of the stories I remember are from Elder Mary. Because she's had to overcome a lot. Her experiences were hard to listen to, but it gave me that push to kind of keep going because she kept going.” 
- Tanisha, Peguis First Nation 

“The land is sacred. We have to protect it.” 
- Hunter, Manto Sipi Cree Nation 

“To teach the young ones so that our culture can keep driving."
- Andrena, Berens River and Sagkeeng First Nations 

"I remember Norbert, like I could tell just from seeing him and just learning from him that he's like a really nice guy and cares a lot about people and he's very humble. I just kind of seen that and that's like what I would like to be doing when I'm older because he liked to help a lot of people."
- Jayden, Peguis First Nation 

"One Thursday Kevin Settee [filmmaker and writer] came in. He shared about four documentaries. The first documentary he showed was the one of Poplar River. And in the video, there was an elder speaking and the elder said that if you destroy the land around you, we won't survive as people. And that teaching was very important to me because think about where we are in this world. There's so many people that are just destroying the land so if you destroy all of it, what do you have left? And it's the land. So that's very important to me.” 
- Carly, Berens River First Nation 

“I remember from storyteller Kevin Settee … to use your own voice and to take the initiative, to tell your own story, rather than letting others tell it for you. One other experience that stood out to me this summer was when we got together to learn and play some traditional games with Norbert Mercredi” 
- Jayna, Lake Manitoba First Nation

Where would you take your friends and family at the park?  
"To the Indigenous Gardens"
- Tyvon, Berens River First Nation 

"What I seen and experienced is a lot more about my culture. Probably the teaching we had here with the drum was probably my favorite. We had Ally Stoneypoint come in. She brought her drum and we learned how to play on beat and how to sing songs. Being able to sing a song in the native tongue was nice. Learning how to drum and actually learning how to sing a song was great."
- Marqus, Peguis First Nation 

2021 Storytelling Program

The Indigenous Youth Storytelling Program was launched in 2021. Using the Park as their classroom, the inaugural group of students explored and learned their ancestral ways through land-based teachings. Guided by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and facilitated by Elders, students observed more than just the trees; they learned how the animals, birds and insects live in the forest.

The students journaled and recorded their experiences throughout the program. Click on a name below to read their reflections and writings.

Read the student's stories: Brooke | Jaiden | Zoey | Theran | Tess | Saydie | Phoenix | Michael | Logan | Hayden | Danae | Creedon

Youth with Norbert Mercredi
Youth participants learned to play traditional games with Norbert Mercredi.

group shot of 2021 participants
The youth visited Assiniboine Forest to further their connections to the land. 


The Indigenous Youth Storytelling Program was made possible with support from:

Tachane Foundation Inc. | Manitoba Blue Cross 

To make a donation in support of the Indigenous Youth Storytelling Program, please click here. 

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