Kwey, tansi, she:kon, tunngasugitsi, bonjour, and welcome to the 14th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Life Lived Like a Story. As in the past, we acknowledge with gratitude the hospitality of the Algonquin people on whose traditional unceded territory we gather today.
For many indigenous peoples across Canada and beyond, this season of long nights and deep snow is reserved for storytelling, for telling tales steeped in imagination that affirm and reaffirm communal and familial connections to the land, to shared origins and histories, to shared values, identities and aspirations. At the heart of many such stories is a belief in the need to preserve and pass them on for the health and well being of future generations. In this, they constitute healing narratives. Is there anything more potent than a healing narrative? Is there any greater vocation than the production and voicing of healing narratives?
Today, we draw from this midwinter narrative tradition to recognize and share in the achievements of contemporary Indigenous storytellers whose tales of “survivance,” to cite the mixed-blood Anishinaabe writer Gerald Vizenor, imbue the physical and cultural landscape with a rich and vibrant Native presence. And we are all the better for this sharing as their stories intermingle with our own stories, the ones we bring with us, the ones we live every day, and together over the course of this day, we will create a multi-vocal communal story, one unique to this New Sun community, that you will get to take with you and relish and share as you wish.
In the Introduction to her seminal text Life Lived Like A Story, written in collaboration with Yukon Native Elders Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith, and Annie Ned, anthropologist Julie Cruikshank states that storytelling may well be the oldest of the arts. It may well be the newest of the arts too. Storytelling’s adaptive and shapeshifting ability to both reflect, and reflect on an ever changing world is captured in microcosm in the range of artistic expression we are privileged to witness and experience today—in the stunning painted portraits and photo collages of George Littlechild that give renewed vitality to familial relations and honoured leaders; in Gloria Miguel’s rich remembrance and subversive writings that prove humour’s rapier ability to lay bare the truth while laying the groundwork for healing; in the short stories and midnight sweatlodge reflections of Waubgeshig Rice, inspired by elders but filtered through a journalist’s incisive quest for answers; in the myriad roles and identities assumed by Tiio Horn in a brave new world of independent film production, cable TV channels and Netflix series; and in the melodic ballads and blistering blues guitar licks that trace the world travels and private journeys of Raven Kanatakta and ShoShona Kish, the backbone and lifeblood of the musical life force that is Digging Roots. The theme of today’s gathering can well be summed up in the mantra inscribed on the sleeve of their latest CD For the Light, “Live your roots—Love your roots.” Words to live by indeed!
A defining characteristic of the New Sun Conference is generosity—expressed in President Runte’s continued support for initiatives that affirm Carleton University’s belief in the value of Indigenous ways of knowing and learning; it is expressed in Dr. John Osborne’s unwavering encouragement and financial support for this conference throughout his decade-long tenure as Dean of Arts and Social Sciences (It is an exemplary commitment!); it is expressed in the number of people who have sponsored students who would otherwise not be able to attend. And of course, we are indebted to the generosity of the presenters who accepted my invitation to participate in what I promised would be a memorable midwinter experience. I have never been wrong. There is more to winter in the capital than skating on the canal!
On this day too we honour the extraordinary generosity and indomitable spirit of Joy Maclaren, New Sun, who passed away last November at the age of ninety-two. Her support for Carleton, and especially this conference, have allowed us to celebrate so many Indigenous artists whose stories have touched and inspired us in ways too numerous and too profound to mention. And the celebration continues. Joy’s spirit is most assuredly with us today, and this conference remains a vital part of her remarkable legacy.
Enjoy the day!
All my relations,
Allan J. Ryan
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