Twenty years ago, she was shy and scared.
But she stepped up in front of her son’s kindergarten class anyway to share her story. She did it for her son.
Now Kung Jaadee (Moon Woman) has performed for hundreds of audiences across Canada and the United States at festivals, schools, museums and aboriginal celebrations and conferences.
This Saturday at 7:30 p.m., she brings her story and stories about Haida culture to the Sid Williams Theatre.
“I grew up ashamed of who I was,” says the singer, storyteller and drummer. “On my first day of school I was taunted and teased because I was a Haida.
“It was an Armed Forces school and all the other five-year-olds yelled out all the stereotypes that exist for my people. To save myself I climbed into a shell of shame and silence that lasted my whole life until my son started school.”
Kung Jaadee (Roberta Kennedy) didn’t want her son to suffer like she did. So she took her button robe to his school and talked about how long it took her great-grandmother to make it and how it was given to her at her high school graduation.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “But when I finished, all the students looked at my son and said, ‘You’re so lucky!’ And I noticed my son sitting a little taller.”
But Kung Jaadee was in for a surprise.
All the other teachers at the school invited her to come to their classes and then she began receiving invitations to tell her stories at other locations across Canada.
“I was scared,” she admits. “I thought I would only do that once. It was hard for me to change. In the beginning I had to fake being proud and strong.
“But after a few years I realized I wasn’t faking anymore. The more I told the stories the more I learned how to heal myself.”
Now Kung Jaadee, who also teaches elementary school in Masset, has been to almost every province in the country. And she’s learned that even though people are different, there is always something that connects them.
“It might be the same story told another way or the same food prepared another way,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a song, the word for grandmother or the belief in the importance of family. There is always something that brings us together, that makes us realize that people from other places aren’t so different from ourselves after all.”
Kung Jaadee loves sharing her culture, especially with people who have never heard the word Haida before or who don’t even know where Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Island, is.
“Haida stories tell of a time when the animals were people like us,” she says. “We were all brothers and sisters and the animals taught us how to live and be true haada-laas (good people).
“My stories stretch from before the beginning of time to the present day. It is a safe journey and usually a fun one. My stories are for all ages and all peoples.”
Unfortunately, Kung Jaadee says the racism and prejudice she experienced as a child is still prevalent.
“There are a lot of negative stereotypes out there,” she says. “But I try not to focus on that. I concentrate on the richness of our stories, dances and songs as a way to bring people together. I use humour as much as possible as laughter is healing.”
Tickets, ranging from $5 to $15, are available at the Sid Williams Theatre. To find out more about Kung Jaadee, visit www.sharkhouse.ca.