P r e s e n t a t i o n s
Director, producer, choreographer, and performer Sandra Lalonde is best known for her work as director of Indigenous arts at the Banff Centre and as the progenitor of the internationally acclaimed dance company Red Sky Performance. A member of the Teme-Augama-Anishnaabe people from community of Temagami, Lalonde emphasizes how the land and ecology intimately shaped her work. Using the metaphor of water to describe her artistic process, Lalonde explains that while human beings strive to straighten out rivers to make them livable, the rivers still flood from time to time, which may be understood as a form of remembering comparable to the artist’s act of remembrance. Lalonde started Red Sky in order to show Indigenous peoples beyond their “issues,” producing dance, theatre, and music shows for adults and children. Red Sky has toured in more than 200 communities worldwide, producing new and commissioned works as well as developing an artistic associate program. Other Red Sky initiatives include helping remote Indigenous communities to develop formalized arts education. In her work at the Banff Centre, Lalonde fosters the intersection of Indigenous arts and culture, drawing in Indigenous people from across Canada and around the world. Beginning her career in the Centre’s dance program, Lalonde participated in panels and round tables until being asked to sit on the board six years ago. Her experience as an artist in turn informed her work as director, providing her with a more experiential than theoretical approach to evaluating artistic submissions. Throughout her career, Lalonde has lived by the idea that “with art comes voice, with voice comes freedom, and with freedom comes responsibility.”
Inuit children’s author, storyteller, and educator Michael Kusugak has authored nine books for children, including the well-known favourites A Promise Is a Promise and Baseball Bats for Christmas. Growing up in Repulse Bay, Kusugak remembered living with his family in their igloo, with only a kudlik lamp and furs to keep them warm. Before he could fall asleep, he would ask his grandmother to tell him stories. The most notable surrounded Kiviuk, a cultural hero who is found in narratives across northern Canada but who also has roots in Alaska, Siberia, and Greenland. When he was just six years old, Kusugak was taken to Chesterfield Inlet by plane to attend a residential school. Kusugak points to his experience of being catalogued by alphanumeric designation and then being renamed during Operation Surname, through which he received his father’s last name, meaning icicle. As the first Inuk to complete his high school education and attend university, he had the opportunity to work for the Northwest Territories government for many years. After having children of his own and being disappointed by the quality of the children’s books available, Kusugak came up with his own stories. Collaborating with Robert Munch, Kusugak authored A Promise is a Promise in 1988, which is still in print today. His second book, Baseball Bats for Christmas, recounts his experience of an airplane dropping Christmas trees in his community and the confusion that the children had in determining their use, eventually deciding they were used to make baseball bats. Kusugak points to the difference between oral and written storytelling and the difficulties of translating between mediums. His books have been translated into numerous languages including Inuktitut, Serbian, Japanese, Korean, and Braille. His most recent book, T is for Territories, addresses the difficulties surrounding land ownership in Inuit culture.
Photo-artist Meryl McMaster explores identity, history, the unconscious, perception, myth, and the environment within her work. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, McMaster is the recipient of the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship among others. Her practice begins as a journey of self-discovery, posing questions as to how individuals construct their senses of self through lineage, history, and culture. Her work incorporates the manual production of props and sculptural garments with which she interacts within her photographs. In her formative years she focused on drawing and painting but found that there was a disconnect between her work and what she wanted to produce, preferring the realistic aesthetic and spontaneity offered by photography. Throughout her work, she creates surreal imagery that allows the viewer to be transported out of everyday life. While her father’s family is Plains Cree from Saskatchewan, McMaster’s mother comes from British, Scottish and Dutch ancestry. McMaster explores the challenging history between her two sets of ancestors. In her first body of work, Ancestors, McMaster made her first attempt to connect with her indigenous identity through art by projecting images of Edward Curtis and George Catlin on the bodies of her and her father, challenging the depictions of Indigenous peoples as dying out. In her Second Self series, she comments on methods of depicting the inner self through portraiture by suspending blind contour self-portraits in front of the subjects’ faces. Her series In Between Worlds explores her challenging feelings about her own family heritage by transforming her views of the past. Within this series, sculptural elements act as extensions of her body within a dream-like, liminal narrative. Within her most recent series, Murmur, she refers to murmuration, when a large group of starlings move as one being, which she sees in a human context as a form of collective identity, as people are influenced by stories and language.
As CEO of the Aboriginal People’s Television Network since 2001, Jean LaRose is one of the visionaries of APTN, the first national Indigenous broadcaster in the world. The network works towards sharing the experience of Indigenous peoples with others as part of a renaissance of Indigenous cultural, spiritual, and political power. The roots of APTN reach back more than 20 years ago to TNVC, the satellite television program that broadcasts to remote communities in northern Canada. After the CRTC approved the extension of service to northern and remote communities to assist in the preservation of language and culture, they launched TNVC in 1991, and its success paved the way for APTN. By 1997, the board of directors of TNVC began pursuing a national Indigenous network, which came to fruition in 1999. APTN provides entertainment, news, and educational programming in ten million households. Their mandate is to provide programming by, for, and about First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Since its launch, the Maori people have also launched their own network to share their journey, celebrate their culture, inspire their children, and honour their elders. Beginning with only north and south divisions, APTN now has a western branch and broadcasts in HD as well. APTN collaborates with Indigenous peoples across the globe through the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network, which also provides international sales for producers. The network is recognized as one of the top employers in Manitoba and Canada overall, and through their mentorship programs, they have trained numerous Indigenous peoples for top management as well as production positions. Their most popular show, Blackstone, has received more than 20 awards. The network is segmented by genre, including drama, comedy, and music, as well as age, demographic, and language diversity, which includes French, English, and Indigenous languages. APTN also features an online space for Indigenous youth called Digital Drum, in which individuals can post, blog, and create entries to express their visions and talents.
A Tribe Called Red
A Tribe Called Red are a world-renowned DJ producer crew comprised of “DJ NDN” Campeau, Dan “DJ Shub” General, and Bear Witness. Their music is a fusion of tribal powwow drumming and singing with worldbeat electronic dance. With two acclaimed albums, they expand our understanding of tribal narratives and tribal culture itself. Bear Witness creates subversive videos that are screened during shows in order to further subvert stereotypical depictions of Indigenousness found in “Cowboy and Indian” films. ATCR started the dance party Electric Powwow in 2007 at Babylon nightclub in Ottawa, directing their advertising toward the Indigenous community but receiving tremendous support from individuals from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds. In 2009, DJ Shub joined the crew after having produced hiphop for more than ten years. ATCR’s use of traditional powwow music is negotiated through the drum label Tribal Spirit, which opens the their catalogues to ATCR and divides the royalties equally. While ATCR strongly identifies with hiphop’s politically subversive edge, they wanted to bring their music into the club scene as well. Although they have encountered fans in “redface” or headdresses at the events, venues have been very supportive about banning racist and offensive costumes. DJ NDN speaks to his public condemnation of the Nepean Redskins’ name and the media backlash he received, but ultimately, the Human Rights Tribunal banned the name. In terms of combining the sacred with the party atmosphere, ATCR only samples competition dance songs, which they know the traditional protocols for. As role models for Indigenous youth, ATCR looks to support young people in music by giving feedback on young artists’ SoundClouds. The group hopes to continue working in music for the next ten years at least, playing small venues like Babylon alongside larger festivals.
Synopses by Anna Eyler
Please note: All presentations have been archived on DVD and can be borrowed individually from Carleton University’s MacOdrum Library.
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