The Rivers Speak Story: A Community-Created Documentary Film

Thinking Rock Community Arts is receiving support for their documentary film project through SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program. This project has a longer timeline than some of the others that have received support, so instead of only writing an end-of-project reflection post, Miranda is updating the SPARC community partway through…

By Miranda Bouchard (Acting Artistic Director)

For the past several months, Thinking Rock Community Arts has been working on a documentary film-based legacy project to celebrate and commemorate the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak project. What is this project, you ask? And what is Thinking Rock Community Arts?



About Thinking Rock Community Arts

We’re a nonprofit community arts organization – and SPARC member – based in Thessalon, Ontario that creates art with and for the people living along the North Shore of Lake Huron, from Spanish to Sault Ste. Marie and all points in between. We invite people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to join us in playing, making and dreaming about this special place we call home – as it was, as it is, and as it might be. Our governance, staff and artistic teams represent professional established and emerging rural artists of First Nations, Métis and Settler descent who share a burning desire to explore how we can together begin to create spaces for dialogue and mutual understanding through multidisciplinary, multi-generational, cross-cultural community-engaged art projects.

About the Rivers Speak Project and the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play

Between 2013 and 2017, Thinking Rock engaged more than 3,000 people in the multi-year process of co-creating and presenting a participatory, cross-culturally collaborative community-engaged play – Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak. The culminating performance was presented in September 2017 at the Mississaugi First Nation Pow Wow Grounds by a cast of over 40 Anishinaabe and Settler community members aged four to eighty, and led by a team of 20 professional Indigenous and Settler artists (musicians, dancers, theatre and visual artists) from Algoma and beyond. The play was developed in partnership with local Anishinaabe Elders, knowledge holders, youth and community partners, and was performed in Anishnaabemowin, French and English. It combined art forms, stories and histories from local Anishinaabe and Settler traditions, welcomed over 600 audience members from local towns and reserves, and was performed to much local media acclaim.

Following the play, Thinking Rock launched three projects to document and celebrate the legacy of the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play – including the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film, which received support from SPARC’s Community Initiatives Fund, as well as the Ontario Arts Council’s Northern Arts program.

About the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film (so far!)

The Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film is a crucial legacy component of the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play, in that it will provide an invaluable audio-visual record of the dynamic, multi-faceted, cross-cultural, intergenerational, multi-year community-engaged art making process that was the Rivers Speak. The project left in its wake a vibrant array of new relationships, experiences, memories and impacts for individuals, communities and partners who participated in it – including Mississauga First Nation, Blind River, Elliot Lake, Serpent River First Nation, AlgomaTrad, Timber Village Museum, SKETCH Working Arts and Jumblies Theatre. Through its production and distribution, this film will capture and share those experiences with a much wider audience than the play itself could have hoped to reach, and potentially inspire other similar projects in other communities.

The Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film is being led by Thinking Rock’s professional artistic team, which includes local media company Village Electric, professional musicians from AlgomaTrad (both fellow SPARC members) and Jon Cada – SPARC youth delegation member, resident of Mississauga First Nation, Rivers Speak participant and Thinking Rock Board Member.

Together with Village Electric, we have been working with the partners, community participants and volunteers who have been involved in the Rivers Speak project since 2013 to create a professionally-produced documentary film short that tells the project’s story from conception to completion: how it came about, the process of its making, the relationships created, the challenges and joys encountered on the way.

The film will explore this journey by incorporating amateur in-house footage and photos we’ve gathered throughout all five years of the community-engaged process leading to the final Rivers Speak production – including Elders’ sharing circles, community art-making and skill-building workshops, community outreach sessions, casting and rehearsals. It will blend this amateur footage with professional documentary footage of the play itself shot by Village Electric, as well as interviews they conducted with key artists and community participants about their experience taking part in the project. Finally, it will incorporate professional footage of our other legacy activities related to the project, including the Rivers Speak Evolving Gallery and the Rivers Speak Soundtrack recording project.

The documentary film will also feature a unique component: a professionally recorded, community-generated soundtrack. Concurrent to the Mini Documentary Film Project, during the summer of 2018 we reunited the original Rivers Speak community cast at AlgomaTrad camp and the Mississaugi First Nation Pow Wow Grounds to professionally record the original soundtrack to the play, which featured powerful music – created in collaboration with practising musicians, Anishinaabe traditional singers and community members – that draws on Anishinaabe, Scottish, Irish and French Canadian musical traditions. Last month, key members of the Rivers Speak musical team reunited to mix those recordings and begin the mastering process. Once ready, this original soundtrack will be incorporated into the film.

At Thinking Rock, the use of community-engaged artistic processes to build bridges of understanding and create pathways toward reconciliation is fundamental to our work. The Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film has allowed us to continue bringing our community participants along that journey with us by co-creating a legacy project that centres their Rivers Speak experience and conveys our shared ownership and pride in what we’ve built over the past five years. Hopefully it will inspire others across Turtle Island to start and continue on their own journeys toward reconciliation.

We look forward to continuing the process and sharing the final outcome of the Gigidoowag Ziibiik: The Rivers Speak Community Play Mini Documentary Film project in the near future!

A Work(shop) In Progress: Skill Building for Our Collective and the Community

by Andy King and Laura Cameron

Five weeks and five events later and our series of capacity building workshops have come to an end. Through the support of SPARC and their Collaborative Community Initiatives program, we were able to gain facilitation experience, create leadership roles, and explore different aspects of what those in the community would be interested in participating in. Collaboration is something that we value at the core of Youth Elevating Youth.

While our collective is still new and there are a few things we’re still working out, there has never been a question of whether or not we should place a heavy focus on creating opportunities for people to collaborate through projects or through skills sharing. So we were happy to receive the support of SPARC in helping to create spaces of capacity building and partnership.

We reached out to local facilitators with varying lived experiences and were lucky that so many creative people were excited to join us. Veanna and Tamer from the Laidlaw Foundation led a workshop on grant writing for us and for people of all ages who were interested in furthering their artistic community-focused endeavours that might require funding or seed money. It was clear that they love inspiring others to make changes in their community through the arts and that is something we will take with us through our process as well. This workshop gave opportunity for participants to share their ideas for the community and it was exciting to see so much passion for change.

We are fortunate to have the support of Sheatre to assist us and were happy to welcome members from their organization to facilitate as well. Joan Chandler led a very meta workshop about leading workshops. She was able to walk us through an uplifting and engaging workshop that conveyed the ins and outs of facilitating and how to structure an event, drawing on her experience. We hope to be able to use this knowledge in our future workshops. Warren Bain, also of Sheatre, led participants through a workshop inspired by Theatre of the Oppressed, Image Theatre, and Theatre for Living. This workshop, Theatre for Conversation, opened an inquisitive dialogue about ourselves and how we communicate with others, effectively or otherwise.

We reached out to Michael O’Connell from Toronto’s Sketch and Winston Boudreau, a community youth mentor for the Saugeen First Nation; both agreed to sit with us to discuss anti-oppression and how it affects each of us, not only within the community but in all facets of life. This workshop was designed to facilitate a healthy dialogue without inadvertently or subconsciously adding to the oppression that marginalized people face daily. This was important to us because we have all seen or felt oppression in one form or another so working together to learn about areas where we, or others, have been hurtful is one step toward putting a stop to it. The process of unlearning can be complicated and isolating but joining others on a similar journey is crucial, and hearing the voices of those who our words have hurt is even more so.

Through this experience, YEY was also able to create facilitation opportunities for local artists who have yet to have that experience. Youth Elevating Youth members Skye Cormier and Maxine Iharosy facilitated a Mindfulness and Intuitive Arts workshop that was fun, inviting, and challenging. Giving space for new facilitators to make their start in sharing their knowledge and particular area of interest, in turn, gave attendees an opportunity to explore their inner selves through meditation, a collage inspired by SoulCollage, and write a poem or prose based on the results. In a survey we created we asked: “What did you take away from this workshop?” and we got some great responses. One respondent said they learned to: “Be more okay with being uncomfortable. Be open to vulnerability,” and another said “Be more thoughtful. Try to realize why you do the things you do.”

Though there were bumps in the road and a couple of dates had to change, we were pleased to see everything run as smoothly as it did. We have learned from this experience and are so grateful to SPARC for the opportunity to create these workshops as spaces for people to learn and gain experience, something that we feel is not offered enough in this area. We hope to continue working with the people and spaces with which we made connections as we grow and expand on our vision to create leadership roles and art projects for the youth in our community.

SPARC At the Folk Alliance International Conference

Folk Alliance International ‘s mission is to serve, strengthen, and engage the global folk music community through preservation, presentation, and promotion. The FAI folk umbrella represents the broadest international iteration of the genre, encompassing a diverse array of music including Appalachian, Americana, Blues, Bluegrass, Celtic, Cajun, Francophone, Global Roots, Indigenous, Latin, Old-Time, Traditional, Singer-Songwriter, Spoken Word and every imaginable fusion. Each year FAI hosts the world’s largest gathering of the folk music industry and community at their annual conference. This year, the conference returned to Canada, and took place in Montreal from February 13-17.  The conference theme explored the artistic process from inspiration to vocation.

SPARC’s new Northern Outreach Coordinator – Jason Manitowabi –  and SPARC steering committee member David Newland were in attendance at the conference, and they share their experiences below!


“What an amazing experience! A newbie to this massive gathering of musical minded groups and individuals and the who’s who of industry was something I will not soon forget. You can be sure I am now hooked and am gearing up for New Orleans 2020! Attending on behalf of the Festival that I present, I was also invited to partake in the International Indigenous Music Summit. Being Odawa from Wiikwemkoong and working for an Indigenous Arts Organization, I was thrilled. We discussed ways to maintain a steady and staring relationship with mainstream within the alliance! I might also add that it was very uplifting to know that, in music and art, it is nearly impossible to see another artist as anything else but an artist first, aside from nationality, race, background or gender. Music and art is a world language! I also had a chance to hear northern artists’ challenges, coincidently enough to my new position at SPARC as the Northern Outreach Coordinator!” — Jason Manitowabi


“There was something about having 3000-plus delegates crammed into the Queen Elizabeth  hotel in Montreal for FAI2019 that was almost too much. I did a lot, but I felt I missed more. Between my own private showcases, hosting a showcase for Folk Music Canada, and interviewing members of the Wisdom of the Elders panel, I was busy. I was also a first-timer mentor for two newcomers, Melanie Peterson and Mihi Mihirangi. Add in in the various acts I managed to catch (Digging Roots, Annie Sumi, Benjamin Dakota Rogers, and Madeline Roger were highlights) and it starts to look manic. Still, apart from the frenzy, FAI2019 was positive. The Indigenous Music Summit, not formally a part of FAI but nestled within it was inspiring. While most sessions were closed to non-indigenous delegates, there was a palpable excitement with more than 40 Indigenous acts showcasing throughout the weekend. Buffy Ste. Marie and Tanya Tagaq both contributed tremendously. The Summit’s Summary Circle, convened by ShoShona Kish, included both Indigenous and non-indigenous delegates, and offered clear and useful thoughts for all. That, for me, was the heart and the spirit of FAI 2019.” — David Newland


To learn more about Folk Alliance International, visit

SPARC Mini Symposium 2018

The following post was written by Peggy Raftis, one of the organizers of the Mini SPARC Symposium in Harriston. This Mini-Symposium was held on Saturday, October 20th, 2018 and it received support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives Program last June. 

The next deadline to apply for support from the Collaborative Community Initiatives Program is Friday, June 28th. For more information about the program email . 

When the idea of exploring what a South Western SPARC hub would look like arose, there was significant interest from many groups. Locations and ideas where discussed and goals were set out.  Numbers dwindled a little and, as a result, a small – but determined! – sub-committee was formed. It was decided, to help gauge whether there was genuine interest, that hosting a ‘mini’ symposium would be a great way of engaging like-minded people and uniting them within this geographical area.

The selection of the time frame and date was difficult as we wanted to compliment what Haliburton was doing and not compete with other events within our own organizations and area.  We decided to host this in October as that would give us enough time to make arrangements such as booking venue, food and most importantly, speakers and attendees.

Three topics were chosen to provide information in three key areas: Audience Development,  Marketing and Promotion, and Grant-Writing. Using many resources such as SPARC, Theatre Ontario, Google searching, and personal connections, invitations were sent to speakers, asking for them to advise on expected remuneration as we need to prepare a cost analysis to determine the budget.  We were able to make this an affordable event thanks to support from SPARC’s Collaborative Community Initiatives program, creating the food budget based on the number of people that actually attended, using donated decorations and securing the support of the local municipality through the Minto Culture Round Table.  Of course, there are always the last minute cancellations and we were fortunate to have talented people within the group that filled programming gaps.  Invitations were sent via email and social media postings were made as well as articles in the county newspaper.

From the moment attendees started to arrive at the Mini Symposium, there was a buzz of enthusiasm and creativity in the air.  Although our group was small, the agenda was full of presenters and speakers that kept the audience engaged. Our sub-committee, a core group of individuals from Minto, Chesley and Elora, managed to pack the day with information on effective grant writing, audience development, engaging youth and marketing and promotion.

We received significant positive feedback from the attendees, indicating the session not only provided tools and information that could be put to use in their own organizations, but also that the networking and contacts made throughout the region would prove to be invaluable. Of course, the biggest hit of the day was the scrumptious food catered for the event!

The purpose of holding the Mini Symposium was to build on what SPARC has started at their biennial symposia; to strengthen the network and encourage communication and collaboration in this area so resources and support could be geographically accessible.  We feel this mandate was met, however, the event could have been more successful if more people attended. Same old story “getting bums in seats!”