This week Gord Downie premieres his project The Secret Path at the National Arts Centre and on CBC
I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of The Secret Path this past Tuesday at the National Arts Centre. It was not an easy event to get through. Gord Downie along with illustrator Jeff Lemire have created a work that invokes discomfort and deep pain – as it should.
Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack was a young Anishinaabe boy from Marten Falls First Nation. He was only one of 150,000 children that were taken from their parents and placed into residential schools often thousands of kilometres away. Far in physical and emotional distance, a large percentage of these children, an estimated 6000, never returned home.
The Wenjack family was present at the NAC and has been a part of this project to bring awareness not only to the past but also to the present – many Indigenous teenagers must leave their community to attend high school. Having high schools on all reserves would allow for kids to stay in their home communities. This is part of the message of Pearl Wenjack, Chanie’s sister, who shared with the audience at the NAC her memories of her little brother and her hope for his legacy.
Along with the production of The Secret Path video and album a foundation (The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Foundation) has also been established to raise money for projects that promote opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue between Non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities. In the spirit of reconciliation, as Gord Downie says “It’s time to get started folks, we had the last 150 years, now we have the next.”
TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson moderates a panel of cultural provocateurs speaking on Art & Reconciliation.
“It’s time for the rest of Canada to do the heavy lifting” ~ I Lost My Talk composer John Estacio
On Thursday, January 14 the National Arts Centre hosted a panel discussion on ART & RECONCILIATION prior to the opening night of I Lost My Talk, a performance inspired by the poetry of Mi’kmaq elder and poet Rita Joe. The response to this event was tremendous. Hundreds of people swelled up the stairs from the lobby where the 100 Years of Loss exhibit on the impact of Residential Schools is installed until the end of this week. The event also drew political support. In attendance was the Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, the Governor General’s wife Sharon Johnston, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde and former Prime Minister The Right Honourable Joe Clark. I Lost My Talk was a commission by Clark’s family for his 75th birthday. A moving and lovely gift that we all got a chance to participate in and benefit from.
Canadian writer Joseph Boyden speaks on his commission to write the libretto for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star.
It’s encouraging to see a National cultural institution take such a leadership role in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. It’s also poignantly symbolic to have a National cultural institution recognize, in the present moment, a fact that history has tried to obscure. Both the panel and the performance of I Lost My Talk opened with the National Arts Centre acknowledging that “we are on UNCEDED Algonquin territory.”
On the panel, along with Canadian writer Joseph Boyden and John Estacio, the composer for the musical score of I Lost My Talk, was Rachel Maza, “acclaimed Australian theatre director of Jack Charles V The Crown.” I had the opportunity to attend this incredible play that delved into the impact of assimilation policies on Indigenous people in Australia. Over the course of 75 minutes Jack charmed us with his beautiful way of presenting his biography – a life full of identity confusion and much loss but also an amazing amount of grace due to Jack’s own incredible resilience. I left with many mixed emotions. Find out more about the play…
Jack Charles receives a standing ovation at the closing of his performance of Jack Charles V The Crown at the NAC.
Going Home Star opens this week in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre.
“Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation is the brilliant result of a star-studded collaboration between the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, award-winning Canadian author Joseph Boyden, acclaimed choreographer Mark Godden, and renowned Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. Going Home Star was ten years in the making, first envisioned by late Cree elder/activist Mary Richard and RWB Artistic Director André Lewis. Searing and sensitive, this powerfully emotional classical ballet is the deeply resonant love story of Annie and Gordon, a pair of contemporary Aboriginal young people coming to terms with a souldestroying past. Hatzis’s multi-layered score incorporates music by Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq (winner of the 2014 Polaris Music Prize), Steve Wood, and the Northern Cree Singers.” Read more…
The creative team and performers of Going Home Star speak at the NAC about the ballet during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering in May/June 2015
Also, this weekend at the NAC is Innu author, composer and singer Florent Vollant performing on Saturday, January 30.
“born in Labrador in 1959 and grew up on a reserve named Maliotenam, east of Sept-Îles. He began his musical career in the middle of the 80s and helped to create the Festival Innu Nikamu, which, since its founding, has brought together many musicians and singers from various Amerindian nations.”read more…
“BlakCollectiv invites you to join us in our Black Lives Matter March. We will be meeting at 5:00pm in front of the U.S. Embassy, 490 Sussex Dr. on May 30th 2015. We will be marching in remembrance of the Black lives lost to police brutality, including cis and trans black women.
We would like everyone to join us in this march to shed light to the issues that our communities are currently facing, and to let the world know that we will not be silent!
This is a peaceful protest so feel free to bring your own posters, family and friends to support. However , we do ask that any organizations that attend to please refrain from using this march as a promotional opportunity. This march is meant for healing and remembering the lives lost, do not come with intentions to disrespect this message.
Allyship: an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people. Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.”
SUNDAY MAY 31th Truth and Reconciliation Commission “Walk for Reconciliation”
WHEN: 11 am program begins & 12 pm starts WHERE: The Walk will start from École secondaire de l’Île, 255 rue Saint-Rédempteur Street in Gatineau (next to the Robert Guertin Arena, where there will be parking) and the walk will end at The Walk will end at Marion Dewar Plaza (Ottawa CIty Hall), 110 Laurier Ave. West.
SHUTTLE BUSES FROM TORONTO & MONTREAL: Round trip buses for youth depart from downtown Toronto @ 6:00 am & Montreal @ 8:00 am and will depart home for Toronto & Montreal @ 6PM
“The Walk for Reconciliation is designed to transform and renew the very essence of relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. It sounds so simple, but just the act of gathering and walking and sharing our stories can join us all in a shared commitment to creating a new way forward in our relationships with each other. Our future depends on being able to simply get along, respecting each other for the unique gifts we bring.
On May 31, we will walk together in Ottawa to express our determination in rebuilding the relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians. Join Us.”
I am not going to tie this up with many words because a few lines will get the message across better than a post full of paragraphs or a lesson in history. What Savannah Simon shared at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s “Power of the Arts Forum” says it all.
Her grandmother had her language beaten out of her in residential school. She found a way back to her mother tongue when she fell in love with Savannah’s grandfather. He re-taught his love the language she had lost.
In residential school her grandmother went 6 years without being hugged. That is why Savannah gives away free hugs, so no one feels the isolation that comes from not being lovingly embraced by another.
Savannah’s other passion is to teach people her language. #SpeakMikmaq “L’nuisi, it’s that easy.”
FYI – If you are interested in learning more about Canada’s complex history with First Peoples join writers Waubgeshig Rice (Anishinaabe), Suzanne Keeptwo (Métis & Irish) along with John Ralston Saul to discuss John’s book “The Comeback” tonight Monday, November 10 at 7 pm Southminster United Church, Ottawa.
Left to right: Actor / Writer Cliff Cardinal, youth worker Rob Chief, co-creator of huff Elizabeth Kantor and Sarah Garton Stanley, Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC.
Bravo to the National Arts Centre / Centre National Des Arts Ottawa for creating safe spaces for tough conversations.
As the Q & A (Talk Back) session wrapped up after NAC’s Tuesday night performance of huff Sarah Garton Stanley (Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC) passionately declared “We are so proud of having this piece and it’s a piece we want everyone to see!”
If you don’t know about huff it’s a play by Cliff Cardinal that explores what he believes is the most taboo subculture existing in Canada – Aboriginal children who are addicted to solvents. And because of the subject matter the play is understandably intense and difficult to watch. Cliff’s strategy of immediately making the audience complicit as witnesses pulls people in so they can’t back out despite the uncomfortableness. It’s the right tactic because now Canadians can no longer say they aren’t aware of issues facing First Nations children. This country’s shame is ever present in the media and as witnesses we have a moral obligation to be part of the process that will lift this intergenerational burden off these children.
Local Métis artist and tour guide Jaime Koebel (www.indigenouswalks.com) was so moved by the play seeing it once wasn’t enough. She has now seen it three times in order to absorb what Cliff accomplished with this piece. She says:
“Cardinal’s ability to take on 16 characters in a one hour time span mirrors the intensity of the content within the show itself and provides a peephole’s view of life on a reserve soaked in destitution. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, the fact that Cardinal is presenting this play at all is a testament to the resiliency of the fastest growing population in Canada.”
When a gentleman in the audience asked “Is there any way of knowing that we are progressing in the treatment of Aboriginals” panelist Rob Chief, a youth worker, answered “Cliff is here [performing the play] and you are here [watching].” Perhaps for all the steps forward that seem to follow with several steps back, slowly but surely, there is an illumination that leads out of the darkness and artists are leading the way!
A friend who accompanied me was impressed by all the interconnecting issues that were touched on beyond the issue of addiction – the educational system on the reserves, poverty as well as incest. “The parts on incest were hard to watch but these are the things we should be talking about because it is the first step to collectively contribute to the solution.”
She feels that “having these stories on stage is a good starting point to build connections between First Nations people and Canadians around the issues” and she “appreciated that all of the people on the panel mentioned that this is all of our history.” She reflects that “by watching a play like huff and talking about these stories we create the on-going dialogue that needs to happen.”
An experience that leaves you with action steps as to how you can help.
Another strategy Cliff and co-creator Elizabeth Kantor deployed was to have resources on hand for each person in the audience to leave with. These resources give lists of organizations, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, that provide services around these issues. They also gives online links you can visit to read up and become more informed.
This was the most effective part of the performance – the “Talk Back” and provision of educational and support tools. So often we leave a performance (or film or lecture) dealing with heavy topics stunned by what we have just discovered but also lost as to how we can grapple with it. To create an experience that goes beyond just a performance to ensure the audience walks away with action steps as well as support is a strategy I hope to see more of.
I love that the NAC understands the important role they play in fostering these types of safe spaces! Sarah provided the audience with name after name of Aboriginal artists who “shine a path by either entering into the academy [to teach arts education with a different perspective] or not entering but teaching in their own way.” These are the cultural provocateurs who will lead this country to a renewed place.
So the future is hopeful but only if we all reach into our deepest empathetic places. I had some trouble with the play’s ending and final message that the help the main character needed lay just beyond in the spirit world because the help needed in these desperate times lies in the here and now. We need to make intentional decisions around moments when we are intimately faced with another person’s pain to that turn the experience into action.
When asked by an audience member “What do you think can be done?” Cliff addressed us all by saying “In this room you each know people who have influence, perhaps you yourself have influence. Give your time. Write a cheque. I know you can come up with something! I don’t have the answers but I know you have the solution!”
huff runs until Saturday. Performances are as follows: