Most would say that the art of oral history is on the decline; however, one new animation series, aimed at children, is working to combat this. Delores Smith and Darryl Whetung created Amy’s Mythic Mornings, a Vancouver-produced series of eight episodes with each one showcasing a different Canadian aboriginal story. The stories are told through a fictional character, Amy, and her friends, Theodore and Casey, who learn a different lesson in each episode. The program is currently airing weekly on APTN. With a second series in the works, the show’s formula of storytelling, foot-tapping songs, and informational clips has already become part of the curriculum in some Canadian schools.
While each of the stories originates from different communities, families, and areas, the geographical settings, as in the case of the episode in which Amy meets a young polar bear in the Arctic, are secondary to the universality of the lesson. A recurring character, Granny Louie, acts as a guide, assisting the children in solving a problem and discovering the moral. Out of respect, Smith says that they seek out the community or family from which the story originates to gain permission to feature the story, and if necessary, make a few alterations. “Some of the stories are not totally appropriate for children, and so they are altered,” Smith notes. This happens in the case of the “Wild Woman of the Woods”, who according to grizzlier accounts, ate children she stole, but in the case of Amy’s Mythic Mornings, just takes them home with her.
In addition to watching the stories unfold, a highlight of the series is the music. Each episode features one or two songs composed and sung by Kimmy Alexander, who plays Amy’s character, and Douglas Proulx. These songs are catchy and compelling, dovetailing beautifully with the stories.
Amy’s Mythic Mornings is the ultimate brainchild of Smith, who has had a long and successful career in journalism. “I am a social activist who sees my latest project as another way to showcase my heritage as living history,” she says. Smith began as a newspaper writer and discovered she had a knack for storytelling. Much of her recent work with her company, WoneWomanWorks, has been documentaries, including her series, Beyond Words, for which she won a Leo Award, and which had a seven-year run.
Regarding her newest project, Smith says that “animation is not without its challenges”. It cannot be done inexpensively, and requires a great deal of coordination between animators, actors, and composers. Such a series, intended for children, benefits from having a website and, in this case, an app for iPhones, which is already available in English (called Tasks and Rewards) and in Squamish shortly. All of the current episodes of the first series are available not only in English, but also in Squamish, as translated by Chief Ian Campbell among others, and French, with the intent of reaching as wide an audience as possible.
While finalizing funding for the second season, Smith and her team have been planning a few changes. Smith is excited to introduce a segment with live people at the end, representing the community or family from which the featured story originates. This addition will hopefully further emphasize the fact that these stories represent an ongoing tradition within communities across Canada. Smith says that her team has taken great pride in their work on the show: most have brought the show back to their home communities, where it has been added to the programs of local schools and community centres.
Outside of her work on Amy’s Mythic Mornings, Smith is working with Geoffery Romald, owner of GFZ Studios, to set up the Karin Foundation, aimed at apprenticing people in film and television production. It will be facilitated as a long-distance learning process, hopefully involving six-to-10 apprentices each year, who will have built up a portfolio at the end of their time in the program. Smith is passionate and excited about her work, intent on creating more aboriginal animators across the country and instilling an appreciation for Canada’s oldest stories among children and adults alike. As Smith has learned herself in her work on this series, and as we might learn from the episode devoted to the Sasquatch, new is not always to be feared.