M e d i a

Nourishing the Learning Spirit–Allan Ryan’s 12th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Trailblazers
By Nick Ward
Posted on Monday, February 11, 2013 in FASS News, Carleton University

Aboriginal Conference Celebrates Arts Trailblazers
By Teresa Smith, The Ottawa Citizen, March 1, 2013

Changing narratives of Aboriginal Peoples’ past and future
By Natalie Berchem, The Charlatan, March 7, 2013

The faint scent of smoke lingers in the air as elder Jim Albert makes his way slowly around the room. He is smudging it, fanning burning medicines with an eagle feather and reciting prayers as he does so.

Several aboriginal guests fan smoke over themselves— smudge themselves— as Albert passes them.

The 12th annual New Sun Conference was hosted and founded by Carleton professor Allan J. Ryan, the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art.  The one-day conference took place at Carleton in the Minto Centre on March 2.

Artists told empowering personal stories in an attempt to change the narrative of Aboriginal Peoples’ past and future in Canada.

“Stories remind us of what has been lost,” said author Daniel Heath Justice. “But they remind us that not everything is lost.”

These stories can heal or hurt, Justice said. And there are a lot of hurtful stories about Aboriginal Peoples.

Singer-songwriter Lucie Idlout’s mother was renamed E5-770 when the Canadian government decided Inuk names were too difficult to pronounce.  Idlout’s mother sent her away from her community to protect her from the stories.

Tantoo Cardinal, growing up in the bush outside Fort McMurray, was banned from speaking Cree by her grandmother. No one taught her anything about her culture. She learned it by piecing together scraps of community life.

Aboriginal peoples are beginning to weave a new narrative for themselves, Gerald McMaster, curator of Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, said.

“This is our narrative together,” he said. “We’re celebrating a new time in our period.”

McMaster said his life was strongly influenced by a story his grandmother used to tell him. Ten years in a residential school meant she usually told British tales and stories by the Brothers Grimm, he said. But his favourite was the story of Wisakedjak— a popular figure in many aboriginal cultures— and the creation of the world.

McMaster said he had heard many stories of Wisakedjak, but he was drawn to this one because of the idea of travelling all over the world. Wisakedjak had created his own road. McMaster said he never hesitated  and was always thinking of ways to overcome adversity.

“When I was going out into the world, the visual for me was just kind of digging through the rubble of what our cultures were, and are now, and finding the gems,” Cardinal said.

Dorothy Grant, a designer from Vancouver, also draws upon her culture’s traditional and modern art to promote her philosophy: “yagu dahn,” meaning “respect yourself.” Grant said her story is about the evolution of Haida art and the success of First Nations people.

Grant avoids using ceremonial clothing like headdresses and moccasins in her works. Instead, she said she decorates robes, shirts, and gowns with the modern art of her people.

“When I see your designs, I see my people,” said Louise Profeit-LeBlanc, a member of the Canada Council for the Arts.  “I see the strength of the Haida.”

And the strength of the Inuit people comes out in Idlout’s songs. Someone told her that when she performed, people could hear the Inuit standing behind her.

Her music connects her to her fly-in Nunavut community.

“When I sing, perhaps you can hear my people standing behind me, but I can feel them,” she said.

Paul Skanks, an elder of the Mohawk Turtle Clan, said he was overwhelmed by the stories he had heard. In his culture, part of life’s journey is discovering your gifts and purpose. The speakers at the New Sun Conference have discovered their purpose through their gifts, he said. They are living the prophecies of his people.

“That says that it’s our turn, now, to bring the world back to the way the Creator would have us live,” Skanks said. “To respect one another. To respect the Earth. And to do everything we can to help one another.”

When it comes to storytelling, we have to listen to each other with generosity and humility, Justice said. Because if we have empathy for ourselves, and for others, he said, then we can build a better relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and non-aboriginals.

“Our stories will bring us home,” Justice said.

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A presentation of the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture
with the support of the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and the New Sun Fund
administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa, plus the generosity of private donors