Jason attends Creefest 2019

By Jason Manitowabi, Northern Outreach Coordinator

Part of my role as the Northern Outreach Coordinator is trying to understand, as best I can, the conditions that Northern artists work in. Therefore when I was planning a networking trip this summer, I wanted to experience exactly what it takes to live as an artist, producer, presenter or animator in truly rural and remote communities. I chose to visit Kashechewan: The host of Creefest 2019.

Creefest is an annual festival that travels around the different communities of the James Bay area. Kash is the definition of a Northern Ontario community – another 50 minute plane ride and I would have been in Peawanuck, the northern most community in Ontario. It is so far up into the wilderness that some refer to it as “Extreme Northern Ontario”

To give you an idea of the travel required to reach Kashechewan… I jumped into my car in Manitoulin on a Wednesday morning. I drove for 5 hours to Timmins (where I met with a few artists) and then continued to Cochrane (another hour and 20 minutes North). From Cochrane I needed to wait for the one train that runs between Cochrane and Moosonee; a 5 hour train ride. In Moosonee I headed to the airport where I boarded a plane that went to Fort Albany, picked up some additional passengers and then dropped me off in Kashechewan. Just under 14 hours of traveling with one overnight stay on the way. For context, it took about 13 hours to travel from Toronto to Oslo, Norway where I was 3 weeks earlier!

To give you an idea of the struggles that our fellow Northern Ontario residents have to deal with everyday – without even considering the travel required to go to work or school – in Kashechewan, Hydro Dams and deforestation cause severe flooding; E. Coli is a large problem in the community and the chlorine used to fight it causes skin dryness that contributes to itching and worsens conditions like eczema. Since 2004 the community has also experienced regular flooding and water contamination when ice melts on the Albany River. Members of the community were evacuated for six consecutive years before 2019. I had been worried that Creefest might not happen because of flooding, however the resilience of this community is apparent: Creefest was amazing!

Breakfast was served at 9am each morning and was immediately followed up with programming. Some of the daily programming included hand drum making, Cree syllabics, leather mitt making, beading, fish filleting and prep for cooking, goose feather plucking, cleaning, prep and cooking, moose meat prep and cooking. All of the food cooked on a daily basis was shared with the community, which has a population of around 2500; around 700-1000 of them attending the festival everyday.

I saw all of the amazing bands and musicians perform over my 4-day 3-night stay (many of them rotated around each night and were featured more than once). Some of the headliners were stars in their own right in the Cree Community. Thursday featured Midnight Shine, a band from Attawapiskat. The lead singer, Adrian Sutherland, was recently featured in an article about the water crisis in his home community. It is a statement of his resilience and determination to spread inspiration to his community to overcome any obstacle in the way to follow his dreams. The band’s sound seamlessly mixes roots, classic and modern rock with touches of Mushkegowuk Cree. Crafting a musical soundscape that gives a glimpse into their remote landscape, they continue to push musical boundaries and boldly take new strides, while staying true to who they are and where they come from. Mr. Sutherland also speaks his language fluently and adds this into his music. He does a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” that features verses translated into Cree. Quite the exciting performance!

Friday night featured The Relic Kings, a three-piece rock band based in Moose Factory. In May of 2018 the group travelled to Germany for their first performance outside of Canada, and that same month they won Rock Album of the Year at the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards! They also had the opportunity to open for The Sheepdogs, Monster Truck, and The Trews: Three of Canada’s top touring rock acts! In October their single “The Drive” hit #1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown.

The Saturday night headliner was none other than Randy Bachman. I love the way he explains how he wrote some of his songs just before performing them. It adds to the feeling you get when you listen to the songs as well as gives you a better understanding of them. He also brought his son, Talmage Charles Robert “Tal” Bachman to the stage with him. Both gentlemen impressed the crowd and embraced them with several phrases in Cree, which I found admirable.

Sunday was set for a Powwow and I was on a plane at 4:30 pm, starting to make my trip back home.

I had a wonderful time on this trip. I was fortunate to know that, even though the further North you go, the colder the weather gets, the warmer the people are. Even though I was walking into several communities I had never been into and did not know anyone in, I was welcomed and quickly lost the initial homesickness that is always involved.

With this trip, I gained a full understanding of many struggles and challenges that those in Northern communities face. There are obvious needs that we can address and areas we can provide assistance, resources or at least lend knowledge to.

 

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