Wagamese: 'Soirees' create community

Richard Wagamese / Kamloops Daily News
January 8, 2013 01:00 AM

Every month for the last four years, my wife and I have hosted a gathering in our home. We call it a soiree. It's more like a salon and even more closer to old-time gatherings where folks got together around food, song, and story. It's grown from a small event to a routine houseful these days.

It starts with a potluck dinner that involves no planning. We never tell anyone what to bring. Instead, they arrive with a variety of things from main courses to desserts and the spread has always turned out to be fantastic. We eat together and talk and visit. Those meal times are wonderful.

Then, once dessert is over, I make my way around the room with paper, pen and one of my hats. I write names on slips of paper and put them in the hat. They are people who want to sing a song, tell a story, read a poem, read something that has inspired them or introduce a favourite song on CD.

As hosts, my wife and kick things off. Over the years we've sung with traditional Native hand drums, done puppetry, danced, read poetry and sang duets with a guitar. One or the other of us picks a name out of the hat when we're done and the evening's main festivity commences.

In four years we have had guitarists, poets, storytellers, novelists, photographers, artists, hobbyists, and other

Native drummers and singers. Over the last year we have welcomed banjo players, harpists, Celtic pipers, and a man who taught us all how to get out of a bear trap. Each of those evenings has been magical.

What makes them so is the spirit of the event itself. Everyone comes to share solely because they want to. I have personally murdered dozens of songs with my guitar and voice.

The magic resides in the fact there are no expectations or judgments. Everyone is welcomed and cheered for their performances. Everyone is greeted with absolute attention. Everyone is allowed to be imperfect, real, and genuine and moved by whatever particular muse is guiding them.

In the course of four years we have built a community of folks who were strangers before they came here. As a community we've shared illness, change, marriages, divorces and separations, wild triumphs and joys. We've come to care for each other, need each other, rely on each other. It's become more than a once a month event.

We're not all Native people. We're Celt, Scot, French, MÉtis and Ojibwa. We're Baptists, Catholics, tribalists and free thinkers. We're Canadians. There are no labels in the room those nights. There are no differences, no gulfs to cross, no barriers. There is only the notion that we gather together as brothers and sisters and equals.

People who come for the first time are amazed. The openness is so pervasive that it freaks some people out and they never return. But for those who have become part of our community, the soiree is necessary. It's the feeling of welcome, inclusion, belonging and home regardless of background.

That's the Canada I want to believe in. When I see a diverse group of people come together regularly in harmony, fellowship and acceptance, I believe all over again in the potential for social greatness that exists here.

I believe in what's possible. I believe in what is real. We are community. We are tied to each other. The more we remember that, the more we are more.


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