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.


Jason attends Riddu Riddu: An International Indigenous Festival

By Jason Manitowabi, Northern Outreach Coordinator

“Would you like to attend the Riddu Riddu Festival next month?”

As a new presenter, I’m starting to get more of these opportunities lately; Nipissing for the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance Intertribal Gathering, Mississauga for Folk Music Ontario, and Montreal for Folk Alliance International – all conferences I have been invited to or recommended to attend by newly made contacts such as Cynthia Lickers-Sage, Kerry Swanson and David Barnard. So when Cynthia sent a message asking me if I would like to take part in another cool opportunity, I said yes before even thinking about it. It wasn’t until 4 days later that I clicked on the attached link and saw that Riddu Riddu is an International Indigenous Festival — in Norway!

So here we go: Toronto to Copenhagen, Denmark, to Oslo, Norway, and then one more flight. Once you are about to land in Tromsø, you can see the snow in the mountains as you fly into the small city of 75,000. The next morning we head into Kåfjord. Picture a Mountainesque village of 600 people where the melting ice on top of each surrounding mountaintop pours ice-cold glacier fresh water streams from all sides. At one point, several of the streams combine to form a wondrous and mystical river that crosses through the middle of the valley with houses surrounding the ridges. At the North end of the village in the valley of brush, lilacs, and yellow birch trees, sits a welcome/community centre and library. Down into the lower grounds sits a 30×20 MainStage, a smaller 15×15, and several breakout and workshop tents. On the South side of the grounds there is a tandem Nordic Tent with Buffy Saint Marie painted on the side!

The opening night on Thursday is dedicated to the Children’s Festival. I find out later that the Children’s Festival started as a small side event to keep the organizers’ children occupied for the weekend: Now it has grown so big that people from all over the country bring their children and dedicate their whole trip to this Festival! Hundreds of children are spread out at stations learning life skills. Some are building traditional huts; debarking logs and hearing lessons and stories of the importance of each process. The style, structure and materials are very similar to a wigwam – the traditional lodge of the Anishnabek. There are workshops on gardening, storytelling, food preparation, fabric weaving and rope making. Of course, in the centre of all of this, sits a Children’s Stage featuring Indigenous performers from all across the Northern half of the planet! Also present were some traditional Tibetan musicians! Their throat singing style is almost similar to what you would hear in the Northern parts of this country.

Friday featured some Nordic Sami musicians. The Sami people, much like the Indigenous peoples of Canada, are still on their way out of the colonization period. While there were not many Sami performers presented, it was great to hear that the amount presented every year is growing as more and more Sami are becoming inspired to discover and follow their roots.

Saturday was the final day of the Festival. I took in the “Northern People of the Year” featuring the Inuit from Nunavut. Their songs were extremely powerful, ending with throat singing and chanting over an acoustic guitar and a spoken word piece that hit very close to home. It included pieces and points of residential school and assimilation. Many of the Canadian Indigenous attendees were brought to tears, including myself, from the beauty and emotion of the moving melodies and the heart-breaking reminder of history. After sharing some traditional seal stew, a delicacy of the Inuit, the delegate group moved into the Artist Cafe and met with some of the previous organizers of Riddu Riddu. It was inspiring to hear how the early years were an ongoing struggle of locating source funding, maintaining volunteers and securing artists and programming and how the event grew to become what it is today. Definitely inspired me to keep going through the struggles that I personally face in my ambitions as an Arts and Music festival back home in Northern Ontario.

Saturday night’s final performer was the one and only Buffy Saint Marie. Hearing her always inspiring words in between her amazing, world-renowned songs is something that I never tire of. A red dress flew in the wind on stage to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: A powerful image striking a powerful message. Saint Marie also brought Tanya Tagaq onto the stage with her and a few other guests. All in all the final Main Stage performance was invigorating and a true celebration of Canadian Indigenous Artists!

My trip, offered and sponsored by both the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance and the Canadian Arts Presenting Association, was the experience of a lifetime. It was really empowering and inspiring to see how other communities – and countries – work together to maintain a world-class festival in an extremely rural area.

About The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film

The following post was written by Miranda Bouchard, Acting Artistic Director of Thinking Rock Community Arts. Thinking Rock’s community-created documentary film received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program last June. 

This program has now closed for 2019. To read more about past projects that were supported, login to the Member Network and click on the Collaborative Community Initiatives tab in the menu! 

The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film is a vital legacy document of The Rivers Speak Project and of Gigidoowag Ziibiik I The Rivers Speak: A Community Play, which marked the culmination of a five-year collaborative community-engaged process, led by Thinking Rock in partnership with Jumblies Theatre, AlgomaTrad, Timber Village Museum, Mississauga First Nation, Blind River, Elliot Lake and Serpent River First Nation.

The Rivers Speak Story Project – supported by SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund, along with the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program and in-kind contributions from project partners at Village Electric and AlgomaTrad – resulted in the creation of a mini-documentary film that recounts the dynamic, multi-faceted, cross-cultural, intergenerational, multi-year community-engaged art-making process, and the vibrant relationships and experiences that resulted throughout the making of the play.

The mini-documentary film shares the impacts of The Rivers Speak Project with a wider audience than the play alone could have reached while building on the project’s legacy. It shows and tells the Rivers Speak story from foundation to production and beyond, offering viewers – those who were part of the process, as well as newcomers to Thinking Rock’s work – a look at the activities and processes involved, the relationships created and sustained, and the challenges and joys encountered along the journey.

Throughout the filmmaking process, Thinking Rock and the project team engaged many of the partners, participants and volunteers who were involved throughout the Rivers Speak. This included conducting additional interviews (of participants, Elders, artists and others) and filming Rivers Speak legacy activities (notably, reunions and gatherings, as well as the evolving gallery and art-making sessions) across the Central Algoma region during the summer of 2018. Additional amateur and community-generated video footage, along with audio files and photos documenting the multi-year project, were incorporated in the film to represent the breadth of community-generated content and offer a sense of the project’s collaborative creation. Existing Rivers Speak production video footage and interviews captured by Village Electric, as well as a professionally-recorded, community-generated soundtrack from the play (featuring community participants, AlgomaTrad musicians, Grandmother Marly Day and others) further enhance the resulting film while speaking to the play process.

The creation of The Rivers Speak Story mini-documentary film fostered exciting experiential learning and mentorship across the team, from Thinking Rock staff to filmmakers to musicians to participants. It expanded our perspectives about documentary filmmaking’s potential as a tool for exploring narrative and conveying the specifics of community-engaged artistic practice; the final mini-documentary film communicates the integral involvement of many hands, hearts and perspectives throughout the process. Making this film increased the capacity of all involved to work collaboratively across communities, cultures, languages and artistic disciplines. Despite a few challenges and having to alter our plans and timelines somewhat, we collectively carried the project forward towards an impressive outcome we are excited to share.

This project had many wide-reaching, short- and long-term impacts. We learned a lot throughout the process that will impact our respective work in future. The final mini-documentary film will continue to impact the Rivers Speak partner communities, whose contributions are reflected in it. The Rivers Speak Project engaged more than 4,000 people as participants, performers, partners, audience members and more between 2013 and 2018. As a record of this process showing many formative moments along the way, the mini-documentary film celebrates and acknowledges the contributions made by participants and community partners to the successful play, from pilot to production to legacy, each time it is viewed at home and elsewhere.

It is our hope that the mini-documentary will extend the Rivers Speak project – and our work generally – to live on and make impacts well beyond the life of the play, in places farther afield than our Algoma District home. We hope that the film will inspire others across Turtle Island to start and continue their own paths toward community-building, respectful collaboration and reconciliation. The Rivers Speak Story mini-documentary film is nearing completion, and we look forward to sharing it widely soon! Follow us on Instagram (@ThinkingRockCA) and Facebook for details about this and other projects. Thinking Rock is thankful to the SPARC Collaborative Community Initiatives Fund, the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program, and in-kind contributions from project partners Village Electric and AlgomaTrad for making this project possible.

Land-Based Arts at 4elements

By Kirsten Nelson, Executive Director

4elements Living Arts was founded in 2002, making it a relative old-timer among northern Ontario arts organizations. Our vision is engaged experiences of land, arts and community, and our mission is to nurture and inspire community engagement in land-based arts on Manitoulin Island.

Workshops remain one of our favourite ways to engage the community in land-based art, and remind them that the divide between artist and audience is an artificial one. 4elements has offered workshops by local and visiting artists and artisans in areas as diverse as audio art, biology, clay, clowning, dance (ballet, latin and modern), doll-making, drumming, dying with indigo, fibre, geometry in nature, jewellery making, mapping, mask-making, meditation, mural painting, photography, poetry, printing, sculpture, shadow puppets, watercolour, writing, and yoga.

Our biggest excitement of the year comes with the Elemental Festival, a celebration of musicians, artists, films, and performers of all kinds, responding to our land-based arts theme. Held in late September each year in Kagawong (“Ontario’s prettiest village”), people can wander between the Park Centre, Old Church on the Hill, Riverbend Stage and Billings Connections Trail to listen, watch, create, and eat for three full days. There are big-stage musical performances in the evenings, and rotating performers and workshop leaders with more intimate or child-friendly setups in the afternoons. You might choose between a needle-felting workshop using fleece from local alpacas, or learning about Indigenous hand drumming and singing.

We have quieter, more contemplative missions as well. We have three beautiful books that continue to surprise us with sales out of proportion to the marketing we do for them. Learning the Land: Creative Community Engagements is an inspiring look at land-based engagements, written for community arts animators, artists, environmental art educators, and community members. The Art of Land-Based Early Learning (volumes 1 and 2) offer concrete, yet inspiring guidance for teachers, parents, and facilitators who work with children.

In the past year, our Walking Waters program was an unqualified success. Uniting indigenous and settler students from Sheshegwaning First Nation and C. C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay, we took groups on water walks to find and engage with the water in our community. In the winter months this entailed snowshoeing on the lake, where the students watched, listened, thought and talked about their experiences. Bookends of smudging, drumming, and teachings from local elders created context for the movement. A rich output of drawings, photos, and videos resulted.

Our longest-lasting contribution to the land is undoubtedly our outdoor sculptures, most notably the Billings Connections trail, which garnered us and our partners a Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award in 2017. Ten sculptures and 32 historical interpretive plaques dot the land along the Kagawong River and the main street of town, inviting visitors to partake of a deeper conversation and understanding about the complexities of Truth and Reconciliation.

If you’re interested to learn more, we hope you’ll visit our website, and maybe even plan to come to the Elemental Festival this year! September 26-29, 2019.