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.

Theatre Night in Merrickville’s ‘Theatre in the Making’ : A Collaborative Playwright Journey for the Whole Village

By Tia Lutes


Have you considered becoming a playwright or wondered how much love, blood, sweat, and tears go into writing a play? You are a talented actor who enjoys arts and writing so being a playwright should be second nature….right? Wrong! There is so much more to becoming a playwright than meets the eye, and nine budding playwrights in the Ottawa Valley can certainly attest to this.

It all started with a premise, a gathering of artists, and the courage to take a leap of faith!

This journey began in September 2018 for Theatre Night in Merrickville. Brian, one of TNIM’s members, approached the executives about Trafalgar 24; an event he attended and presented as a possible basis for a TNIM production. The premise of Trafalgar 24 was that 6 professional playwrights composed and performed 6 script synopses in 24 hours. The purpose of the event was twofold: fundraising for Driftwood Theatre and allowing the audience to choose which script would be developed into a full play. Brian’s presentation ignited interest and the executive began strategizing how to transform this initiative into something our own restricted resources could support. At the same time, Helen (another TNIM member) and I had the honour of attending a SPARC Community Gathering in Almonte. Here, we were introduced to SPARC and were amazed with the sense of community, networking, and support given to artistic groups within rural areas. We were surrounded by kindred spirits and rejuvenated by the spirit and energy present in the hall. That afternoon, we discovered how we could combine the idea of Trafalgar 24 with the SPARC collaboration initiatives to create a memorable event for everyone.

Utilizing our new found connections, Helen contacted Michael Clipperton of SPARC and Theatre Ontario to ask if he would do us the honour of facilitating a playwright workshop. To our delight he agreed…yahoo! Everything was falling into place as if fate had destined it to be!

Hearing back from Michael we continued planning our journey: A four day playwright workshop in February and March, then periodic write-arama meetings, and finally excerpts from the plays produced in early June in a gala evening. Akin to Trafalgar 24, the winner of our gala, which we titled Theatre in the Making, would be our Theatre Night in Merrickville entry to the Eastern Ontario One Act Festival in November 2019. It was also at this point that we decided this was the ideal time to reach out and form some collaborations with other artistic groups in the surrounding areas. We opened the workshop to other thespian groups as we welcomed both old and new faces to our green room and within our Thespian Tale family. We then reached out to the Merrickville United Arts Centre (the old united church recently restored into an events centre) with the hope of developing a relationship with the owners and using this as our event venue; strengthening our sustainability within the community and forging new relationships that foster a broader sense of community within the village we call home.

The weekend of February 9th-10th we welcomed Michael to our green room to start our writing journey. Nine talented individuals eagerly and enthusiastically gathered around the tables equipped with pen, paper, laptops, and of course cups of coffee/tea and goodies. They all seemed confident in their abilities to be a playwright and excited to commence writing. Nonetheless, as Michael spoke and shared the basics of writing a strong dialogue their sense of confidence began to waiver. Have no fear! Michael presented them with a tool box filled to overflowing with suggestions and tricks of the trade.

Over two weekends, with Michael’s calm and quiet guidance, these playwrights became parents and gave birth to their plays. Subsequently, like parenthood, these playwrights learned that there is no right or wrong way and there are always moments when that blank page stares judgmentally back at you. Then there are the unwelcome visits from Mr. Writer’s Block, Miss Busy Body, and Mother Nature which results in self consciousness and doubt. Nevertheless, no matter what, these playwrights learned the most important lesson, to be tenacious! For that is the true definition of a playwright – or any artist really – someone with tenacity and courage! With those two essentials in one’s tool box anything is possible!

The moment of truth came on June 8th, 2019 when the playwrights took a deep breath and shared their babies with the world in their premier staged readings. In the sanctuary of MUAC, with a sense of tranquility, energy, excitement and anticipation, 21 talented actors ranging in age from 11 to 70 brought the 6 plays to life. The evening was a smashing success as an audience of 88 thespian lovers and aspiring thespians alike engaged to the fullest and the unthinkable happened… a tie for first place! Despite having a winner (or two) each play is deserving of further attention and love as they all hold immeasurable potential!

Through this endeavour, not only did the playwrights learn about tenacity and courage, but so did the Theatre in the Making team. There were many trials and tribulations along the journey, but in the end it was a great initiative that created numerous relationships. These relationships will only grow stronger as we encourage the village and other artistic individuals and groups to join us on future collaborative journeys.