Impressions of the Day
Fantastic event once again Rae and Allan J Ryan of the annual New Sun Conference. Just so inspirational and restorative and transformative to get to celebrate and honor so many gifted artists guiding our collective journey in circle community. Thank you.
–MB (via Facebook)
How can I thank you enough for the fine conferences you organize every year? The talks are always outstanding—and I feel privileged to learn about artists’ lives and the creative process. Beyond that, however, you create a wonderful atmosphere of respect and celebration.
–Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President and Vice Chancellor, Carleton University
New Sun was a revelation, as always. What a gift you prepare for us every year! This year, for me, the highlights were the astounding film clips—and wonderful interpretative comments—by the first speaker, the director/film-maker and the very personal reflections on what to do with “difficult knowledge” by the student curator. Both speakers opened my eyes in very meaningful ways … I owe you real thanks for introducing me to Janvier’s work, which was new to me. The interview with him at New Sun was very informative and I absolutely loved the National Gallery show—which, without your important cheerleading, I might have missed!
Thank you again for having me out to the New Sun Conference. What a joy. Totally invigorating. Hope you’re recovering from what I can only imagine is a stressful weekend. But rest assured, it was grand and enjoyed by all! Thanks again for the unique and wonderful experience.
–Shane Belcourt, presenter
Many thanks for the opportunity to attend the New Sun Conference. I found it to be an incredible experience—very moving. Listening to the various methods that people have used to accomplish their work was soul replenishing. Lunch was also superb. I plan to save the first week of March forever for this conference!
Please forgive these belated comments on the wonderful New Sun Conference in which I was honoured to participate. As has been the case with every New Sun I have attended over the years, this gathering was moving, informative, and tremendously enjoyable. I so appreciated Shane Belcourt’s candour about the evolution of his film making, which addresses the issues of urban and Metis identity in such complex and nuanced ways. Candy Palmater’s two presentations were extraordinary in their knife edge balancing of humour and truth—however difficult those truths have been for her and everyone else. And Alex Janvier was so generous in sharing his accounts of his formative years and work. Although I have heard him speak a number of times, and have read much written about his life and art, I learned new things particularly valuable for my current work on multiple modernisms.
Your hospitality to speakers was so warm and thoughtful and added further depth to the experiences of the day. Best wishes for many more such successes.
–Ruth Phillips, presenter
What an impressive event you and your team have mounted. It was my first time in attendance and I was quite blown away. Laughed, cried, was deeply moved above and beyond tears. I don’t think there was a weak moment in the programme, yet it is hard to pick any one high point. And it all seemed to roll out flawlessly, a mark of the organization and effort that one knows went into it. I do have to mention the exceptional meal that was provided. It was a delight to experience that artful menu so beautifully realized. Congratulations to all involved. I look forward to the next one. Hope I’m on the mailing list for future events.
Having Alex Janvier as a guest speaker and being able to converse with him was such a treat—it’s hard to put into words. You and Rae provided to the community yet again another phenomenal conference and wonderful opportunity to meet aspiring and successful artists. There was a clear sense of optimism from all of the speakers this time around, but I saw it especially in Shane. Alex would have to be the definitive poster boy for “Overcoming Adversity”! Thank you again and please sign me up for next year’s conference.
Thanks again for the opportunity to provide production services for the New Sun Conference. Once again, it was both invigorating and fulfilling to be in a room of people who share a passion for learning new things, for discovering what makes others tick and for sharing experiences. Candy was very easy to work with and brought a levity to the event that also crossed into social commentary. Lunch was delicious as usual. All in all, a joy to work that day. I trust that you can take a short breather before you get back to the heavy schedule you have for yourself this winter and spring.
I wanted to extend my thanks for your kind invitation to your excellent event. It was quite the experience and I was glad to be a part of it, if only for a portion of the day. Congratulations on another successful year!
Just a quick note to thank you again for a wonderful symposium on Saturday. The speakers were excellent and it was a pleasure to meet them and hear their stories. I will definitely be back next year.
Thank you for another wonderful experience. I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s New Sun Conference and look forward to next year’s event!! If you have the dates confirmed, please let me know so I can ensure I can participate again!!
I really enjoyed Shane’s presentation and appreciated that he selected film clips that were so diverse—one that had you laughing out loud and the other that brought tears to my eyes….really showed the depth of his talents as a filmmaker. It was wonderful that he offered us an opportunity to access links to his work to appreciate their full value too.
Mathew’s presentation brought back memories of when I worked on the Nunavut file while in strategic communications at INAC. I really enjoyed hearing the story of his role in the creation of the mace. I was also really intrigued by the breadth of creativity of his design work and jewellery—also particularly loved the story of his bear claw necklace/ring and when he discussed its versatility!! Quite a wonderful sense of humour that is reflected in his art designs!!
I enjoyed the format for Alex’s presentation and really appreciated having an opportunity to hear how his life story impacted his work. His experiences with the Indian Agent, his lost opportunities because of it, the influence of this German mentor and his father were all fascinating insights behind the scene of a creative genius. I have always admired his work, largely because of the flow and colour—it all strikes me as so positive and happy—and when one hears the challenges he faced on his personal journey, the lightness and beauty his work conveys is all the more poignant.
Thank you for including Ruth Phillips’ presentation on the agenda and enabling Wahsontiio and Alexandra to share their experiences. This segment was truly enlightening and I couldn’t help but wonder whether the database is limited to visuals or if there is any intention to incorporate sound….when Alexandra referenced the “rattle” and explained how when it was rattled it sounded like rain it made me realize how incredibly important it would be for community members to have an opportunity “to hear those voices from the past.” As a drum carrier, I am particularly aware of the need for the drum to sound its voice and I feel it is critically important that we find a way to enable the healing voices, energy and power of these sacred instruments to return to the communities of origin as, in my view, this is an essential part of the healing process. In light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action I sincerely hope we can find a way to make this happen and I wonder if Ruth and her team are exploring this opportunity.
I sincerely appreciated Candy’s humour but more importantly, found her personal story to be supremely powerful and inspiring. She is one amazing woman and I agree with her view, that—she is the creative outcome of her mother’s efforts and love. Her words were incredibly powerful and I was truly honoured to have the privilege of hearing her speak them – she is a beacon of light and a true example of the power we all wield when we love and nurture ourselves. I loved when she said, “You will never understand your true creative depths until you have a love affair with yourself.” I am on that journey and I understand and align with that truth with my full being.
Thank you again for coordinating such an outstanding line-up of inspirational, creative beings Allan—I felt truly blessed to be in their midst.
Thank you for organizing this amazing conference—I truly enjoyed it.
As usual, you, Rae and your team organized a wonderful event with talented artists and incredible food. I did “feel” for you and your technical crew when Candy Palmater asked not to be filmed because I know that this is integral to the program and that New Sun would have probably wanted to see everything recorded. I guess that one never knows.
Shane Belcourt’s presentation was as powerful as his films. I think that every Canadian should see Tkaronto, including youth. There is power in the simplicity of this film and the symbol of the red tail hawk portrays the travel between the two worlds so well. I shall ensure that we purchase all of his films for the [University of Ottawa] library, if we have not already done so.
I loved the lyric and playful quality of Mathew Nuqingaq’s work. He must have been a popular kindergarten teacher. I would have liked to have been in one of his classes. I should have asked him how and what he taught the little ones.
Alex Janvier’s work also shared some of that lovely lyrical quality combined with beautiful colour and design. I studied art history at Sir George Williams University in the 70’s but never learned about the Indian Group of 7. I plan to learn more now. I look forward to seeing the exhibition at the Gallery.
Ruth Phillips and students’ presentations provided a good counterbalance. They highlighted the importance of understanding the difference between souvenir and artifact, the importance of respecting and honouring, of repatriation, the powerful example of trading remains for a can of milk. One of the students gave a fine definition of decolonization – meaning that Indigenous people have to be there doing what they do.
I am familiar with Candy Palmater’s work on CBC radio—but not with what she presented yesterday—both were very powerful presentations with very powerful messages such as lack of self-love = lack of creativity and comedy as empowering and engaging the relationship with oneself.
Congratulations Allan! Another stellar conference. Once again, an outstanding and unique occasion. Thank you Allan and Rae and everyone who contributed.
I loved that the title was a quote from Robert Houle.
Three of my students from Learning in Almonte attended and raved about the day they enjoyed very much.
Shane Belcourt: Shane started things off beautifully with his low key but open way of speaking. As soon as he showed segments of his films, we could see his creative approach to issues, his sensitivity. He must be a great director. I was also impressed when someone asked his advice for moving a story from text to film. He gave four great steps, instantly. So clear, and generous. I hope he gets to make his dream film about Louis Riel.
Matthew Nuqingaq: I was very impressed by Matthew’s jewelry, the silver and ivory and the polar bear claw. I’ve since been to see his pieces in two of the Ottawa shops he mentioned. His shapes are graceful and beautifully finished. Thanks to Matthew for his work in creating the Nunavut Arts and Crafts organization and the amazing Nunavut mace with stones from around Nunavut. “Art only comes when it wants to.”
Alex Janvier: I loved hearing his story about Karl Altenberg, the library books, looking only at the images, not the text. As an Art Historian I tend to do the opposite so will take his advice and look at the image first. His Landlord message is a good one—clear and easy to understand: I understand him to mean the importance of taking care of the earth and all that that encompasses. Also, I thank him from my heart for his words, “We’re beginning to cultivate ourselves as Canadians.” A thrill to have Alex Janvier and Douglas Cardinal in the same room. Thanks to Jonathan Dewar for his lively conversation with Janvier.
Ruth Phillips, Wahsontiio Cross and Alex Nahwegahbow: Thank you to Ruth for telling us a little about her arrival in Canada 50 years ago with her husband as Vietnam resisters. A timely reminder about the amazing contribution newcomers make to Canada. I always appreciate hearing how Ruth is able to make things happen for the better. She mentioned the key that Indigenous language contributes to understanding material culture and I look forward to hearing more about this in future.
Wahsontiio Cross’ talk about her visits to the ROM, the Peabody and Vienna illustrate an amazing future for her study of material culture.
Alex Nahwegahbow: I appreciated her telling us of the difficult moments in museums, especially with regard to human remains. I understand the Field Museum is doing some good work in this area with the Haida. I also very much appreciated that Alex mentioned the deep pride she feels when she sees the beautiful items made by her Anishnaabe ancestors and would like to have seen a few more images of those items. I’d like to hear more about objects as belongings, as the need for them to be spoken about and to, and touched.
Candy Palmeter: Candy had some great positive messages: the strength of her mother and the importance of loving oneself. Her stories were very funny.
Thanks for another wonderful day spent learning about new developments in the Indigenous arts in Canada. After recently seeing the Janvier exhibition at the National Gallery, it was a special treat to hear him speak about his work and life. Mathew Nuqingaq’s work with silver, bone and ivory is extraordinary. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to see his work and to meet him as we did, in one of the breaks. But I was really taken with the film clips and the presentation by Shane Belcourt, who is the same generation as my own children. He is doing some really marvellous work in film. His comments suggest that he is taking on some very important issues. I plan to follow up to see some of his work in full.
Let me say that I really enjoyed the New Sun Conference! C really enjoyed it too. It was her first experience attending a conference and she was blown away.
Congratulations! It was a great conference. Thank you for inviting me. The speakers and their presentations were just awesome. I think this is a great opportunity to bring indigenous people with stories and academics together to learn from each other which will finally make more people realize the true value of the culture of all ethnic groups. Thank you for making this possible. I assume that the same thing is also expected in China. … What I found particularly memorable about the conference is: 1. People from different walks of life are interested in the protection of indigenous culture and would like to do something to claim the rights of indigenous people. 2. The personal experiences shared by the indigenous people, especially the successful ones, are very impressive and encouraging.
–PZ, visiting scholar from China
Another great conference! I enjoyed meeting new people who had never been to this conference in the past, coming because someone had recommended it in an art history class in Almonte or because of an interest shared with a friend. This was my second conference and I will certainly make it an annual event in my life because the artists are masterful in their field and willing to share their stories openly. They share their struggles as well as their achievements and their dreams. I like the conversation with them and the intimacy of the venue. It has been inspiring and invigorating with great audience participation. It is a great showcase for Carleton’s talent as well. I am a graduate of this school so it makes me feel proud to hear of the projects people are undertaking to help the indigenous community. This conference helps us move into the future, a future where all feel welcome and nourished in more ways than one. Meegwetch.
Can’t thank you enough for a phenomenal experience at the New Sun Conference! I loved the structure of the day, the incredible speakers, the opportunity to get to ask the speakers questions, and the delicious meal. It was great to informally make new contacts with community during lunch. I loved the casual and friendly feeling of the volunteers and participants. Everyone was warm and welcoming. Though attending on Saturday meant a six day work week for me, I’d have never known it as the day was so enriching and gave me so many great ideas for my teachers! To be honest, I feel renewed from the day! Can’t wait until next year! Will definitely share my experiences with my teachers! … I think all of our Indigenous Studies [teachers] should see some of those [film] clips from Shane Belcourt … I plan to encourage my teachers to sign up next year for the Conference and may even pay for their entry as I think it’s incredible professional development for them.
–KLP, Arts/Indigenous Studies Consultant, Ottawa Catholic School Board
This year’s New Sun Conference was a wonderful experience, as always. Elder Thomas Louttit opened with a lovely prayer, and his humour set the tone for the day. I was intrigued by Shane Belcourt’s work, and I am looking forward to seeing his films. Mathew Nuqingag was so humble despite the incredible beauty of his designs. Alex Janvier’s art is absolutely stunning, and it was amazing to hear from him in person. Lunch was delicious, and such a great opportunity to socialize with other conference attendees. The New Sun community is wonderful, and I always meet so many different people who are each interesting and inspiring in their own ways. Candy Palmater’s comedy performance brought laughter and lightness after our bellies were full, and I loved that her comedy was playfully teasing but never made anyone the brunt of the jokes.
The GRASAC presenters were interesting, and Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow in particular told a story that made my hair stand on end. At the same time that she moved me to tears, she left us with an uplifting message of hope. Candy Palmater was the final presenter of the day, and I was expecting more comedy. But I was completely blown away by her strength and the way that she made me feel empowered and inspired. She captured my attention so fully, and her story made me want to raise my child the way her parents raised her – to be a strong, confident, and kind person who uplifts others and never lets anybody bring them down or tell them they cannot achieve something. This year’s conference theme was ‘An Energy Worthy of Healing’, and when Candy and the others were presenting, I could feel the healing energy flowing through the room. I think every attendee left this year’s conference feeling better about ourselves and feeling like we can achieve anything we set our minds to. Thank you so much for your thoughtful selection of inspiring, creative presenters. I look forward to next year’s conference!
Hi Allan! The conference was excellent. Candy Palmater especially was such an uplifting speaker, I feel really grateful to have had the opportunity to see her. The food was also amazing. I was wondering if there was any chance of getting the recipe to the venison stew? My kids would LOVE it! :) Thank you for organizing this event. It was my first time attending, and I’m hoping that I’ll have the opportunity to attend for many years.
Allan, thank you again for your generous hospitality. L & I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. While our initial goal was to hear our son Jonathan’s interview with Alex Janvier, we were totally enthralled by all of your other presenters. We particularly enjoyed meeting and talking with Mathew Nuqingaq, whom Jonathan had met in Iqaluit (and whose daughters were born within days of each other). L had met him there—I hadn’t. All in all a wonderful day which went by almost too quickly!
As always, the Conference was amazing, as were the presenters.
I was really intrigued with the work Shane Belcourt has done and have started watching his films. He is an amazing talent. The clip from Tkaronto was mesmerizing. As I watched it, I found myself hanging on every word. He has a unique way of pulling the viewer in…and, I guess that’s the point. :)
Mathew Nuqingaq’s jewellery is so unique and so lovely. I will certainly have to take a trip down to the Snow Goose! I love how he shared that “the land owns us” and “every day is a learning day for me.” It speaks to me about the part I play as a human being on earth and how I can make it better.
Alex Janvier echoed similar comments as Mathew, as per “the Art belongs to the land.” I love the humility that he shared of his work. I also enjoyed his honesty of the many challenges he faced through the years. What an amazing power-house. Whatever challenge was presented, Alex seemed to see it as an opportunity to grow and teach the nation and the world about who he is and what his Art represents.
It was wonderful of Ruth Phillips to share her talk with her students, who could also share their own perspective on the arts and the work being done under GRASAC. It’s so important to share the many aspects of Indigenous art and culture. Both Wahsontiio Cross and Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow understand the value of sharing this history with Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons. As a non-Indigenous person, I welcome the continued education of a people who were here long before my ancestors.
Candy Palmater was very entertaining. I enjoyed her lunch hour act and am so impressed with all she has done. I was equally impressed with how candidly she shared in her ‘off camera’ discussion. She seems to be very sure of who she is and has all kinds of energy to share! I commend her.
Thanks again! Until next year…
I really enjoyed Shane Belcourt’s talk at this year’s conference. It was personal, relatable, and definitely interesting. I am extremely excited to watch his films (once I have time!) as the ones he showed clips of at the conference were intriguing and contain important messages and topics. One thing which stuck with me was the quote he mentioned someone else saying to him regarding an idea for one of his films, which was: “is a red-tailed hawk still a red-tailed hawk in the city?” This idea is relatable for not only myself but many others, and it is a message which I am glad he sent out at the conference (as well as in his film).
I also really enjoyed Matthew Nuqingaq’s talk at this year’s conference. Not only is his jewellery beautiful, but I also enjoyed the story he shared about making the mace for Nunavut. Though it was a serious topic, he made it humorous. His jokes throughout the rest of his talk were also quite funny and were creative. I wish he had been able to speak for longer so that he could speak more about his drumming (and that he had brought his drum) but to hear him speak about it as much as he did was very interesting, as I found he explained what he does when he drum dances in a way that no one else has for me thus far, making me think more about how I understand drum dancing and music as a whole.
Alex Janvier was a delight to hear from. As I really admire his paintings, as well as the skill he has, it was an enjoyable experience to hear him speak. One part of his talk I wish he had delved into more was that each individual is a landlord. From what I remember of his discussion, this idea was mentioned briefly and then he moved on to discuss something else. Though I enjoyed his entire talk (his jokes were also funny!) it would have been nice to hear more from him about this topic and idea that he did not get too deep into.
Ruth Phillips (along with the other two who spoke with her) was also interesting to hear from. Though it was from a more academic perspective than I was used to at the New Sun Conference, it was still quite interesting. Having spoken with Ruth over lunch, it was nice to hear her speak in two settings. I also found the stories of what her two research assistants are researching in their own work to be quite intriguing.
I found Candy Palmater’s talk probably the most healing of the day for me. I enjoyed her comedy at lunch, but found when she spoke at the end of the day she ended the conference on a great note. Her message about not letting others define your worth was something I feel like I needed to hear at that moment, and for that I really appreciate her talk with us.
Overall, this conference was my favourite that I have been to thus far as I enjoyed what each speaker had to say. From the conference, I took away knowledge which I did not have before, and also took away new perspectives and information that I needed to work through. Though I have not worked through all of them yet, I will do so because I now have that knowledge and understanding within me, and I need to do something with it.
This year’s conference was a great success! I hope next year’s will be just as amazing!
I enjoyed participating in this year’s conference. The presenters were some of the best I’ve seen including Shane Belcourt, Alex Janvier and Candy Palmater.
Shane Belcourt showed us that it is possible to make a world-class film with a limited budget. I will certainly try to find and view his film Tkaronto.
I enjoyed Alex Janvier’s art. I noted in Alex’s art a mixture of several influences, including indigenous, the 1960s and the art we often associated with fractals. It certainly speaks to his talent when he can visualize a completed painting on an entire blank wall.
As for Candy Palmater, her comedy routine during lunch was welcome and a nice change from the bands in the past. During her afternoon presentation I found her story inspirational. I was somewhat disappointed that she did not want her presentation to be recorded. It did not seem to be a problem with any of the previous presenters you had.
When I leave these conferences I am left with a sense of appreciation. An appreciation of the gifts these artists have and a willingness to take a chance and share their art with us. It must be difficult for some of the presenters to share a part of their lives that may be painful. But they have overcome these hardships and in their wake they are leaving a legacy of wonderful art.
My grateful thanks to you and Rae for hosting this conference and inviting my wife and I to share. Also a grateful thanks to the presenters and to the chef and staff for having given us such a great lunch and great service.
And I now know where moose are manufactured!
The New Sun Conference this year—as with the past 7 or 8 years I have attended—was really wonderful! I am always struck by the warm dynamic which allows presenters and the audience to feel at ease and to share really important insights (sometimes difficult or personal, often very powerful) with each other. The presenters are always top-notch artists and I inevitably come away super inspired by their artistic practices and courageous life stories. A wonderful event! Thank you for all that you did to pull together another wonderful day for all of us on March 4th!
That’s great to hear that you have folks who would be interested in learning more about GRASAC! We welcome that :-) They can see a little of our work online at www.grasac.org (a small public website that we are in the process of expanding) and we would welcome anyone who would like to check out the database to get in touch with us and we will give them a guest account to log in to the database and check it out.
As usual, the conference was a huge success, with very inspirational speakers and a very enjoyable lunch and entertainment. I appreciate how organized and on-time everything was, not too many conferences run that smoothly!
I particularly enjoyed Alex’s talk, his reflection on his career and his struggles and triumphs, and I appreciated his sense of humor throughout. Matthew was very down-to-earth and I appreciated the no-nonsense manner in which these two elders answered questions—it made me feel at home!
Candy’s performance was hilarious, it was one of those things where you wish there was more. Her talk was also very heartfelt and honest, which I found to be inspirational. And I was not very familiar with Shane before this conference, though I have seen some of Kaha:wi, but now I am interested to see what kind of work he will put out next. Thanks for providing the links [to his films], I’m looking forward to watching them.
And I think we did pretty good too with our GRASAC presentation, despite the time limitations! Hopefully, we will have much more to say about community perspectives once this next phase of research and funding gets under way. I liked that there was a whole mix of people in the audience, not just museum people or art people etc., but others who came up to me later and asked different types of questions than what I might get at any other standard academic conference. It was a different type of experience.
Thanks again for the beautiful scarf and the wonderful speakers’ dinner. It was a nice change of pace from the rest of the day. Looking forward to next year’s conference! All the best,
–Wahsontiio Cross, presenter
Just writing to thank you again for inviting me to participate in the New Sun Conference. It was an honour to engage Alex Janvier in conversation and spend time with his family and other presenters—and you and your wife, of course—over dinner. I am still receiving very positive feedback from attendees I run into or am connected with over social media—on both the Janvier session and the overall conference. My parents in particular loved it, especially the food! Mathew is an old friend so seeing him again was very special. Thanks for highlighting his beautiful work. Candy was a powerhouse and the inclusion of humour, a note you’ve hit in previous conferences, was a very nice and welcome component. Shane, whose work I know well, was a revelation to me. He is a great presenter and I will certainly seek him out in the future for projects, especially if they involve students. Ruth, Wahsontiio, and Alexandra were also very inspiring. It was great to hear about their involvement in GRASAC. I’m excited for the future!
–Jonathan Dewar, presenter
Upon entering the 2017 New Sun Conference, one was immediately welcomed by warm food, tea, coffee, atmospheric smudging, and attendees eager to meet one another. Once everyone took their seats, Dr. Ryan consciously warned of an emotional spectrum that each one of us would likely feel throughout the day, alluding to an educational experience like no other. From the day starting with laughter through an opening prayer by Elder Thomas Louttit, proceeding to Roseanne O’Reilly Runte’s transcending generosity, Shane Belcourt’s talented filmmaking, Mathew Nuqingaq’s abilities to move silver in ways we’ve never seen before, Alex Janvier’s humbling presence, Candy Palmater’s flowing transitions between comedy and self-worth, and the GRASAC’s imperative role in today’s reconnection between Indigenous people and their lost belongings, the emotions ranged from laughter to tears. One should be prepared to leave the conference inspired, humbled, eager for the following conference, and with energy worthy of healing.
As a whole, the 2017 New Sun Conference was a unique event that I am so grateful to have attended. The focus of celebrating these talented and inspirational artists and activists is something that I think, during this time in our society, was so uplifting and a good reminder that there are still people working towards the bettering of humanity. In this time of prejudice and uncertainty it is nice to stop and look at all the different efforts that people make to improve perspectives, preservation and rights. The work of Shane Belcourt, Matthew Nuqingaq and Alex Janvier show us how creative minds carry powerful messages never to be forgotten. The GRASAC effort worked on by Ruth Philips, Wahsontiio Cross and Alex Kahsenniio Nahwegahbow shows us how important preserving a still living culture is, even though the information may be difficult to know. And Candy Palmater tells us how valuable our self worth is, despite what others may claim. The New Sun Conference was an amazing experience never to be compared with other conferences, but to be celebrated, much like its speakers, as its own unique thing.
The 16th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts was titled “An Energy Worthy of Healing,” a title that would characterize the entire day, every presenter and the range of emotions felt by all. The 16th conference was a day of laughter, celebration and true human conversation. Every presenter went from making you laugh, to making you cry, to making you [feel] inspired. The issues and topics discussed were of great importance, reflected the many realities of today’s contemporary world and made all in attendance look deep within themselves. Although all presenters are exceptional in their craft, they also made it possible for everyone to see themselves in them. It was a truly profound human experience.
When you hear “day-long conference” as a fourth-year honours student in March with multiple assignments due in every class, at first it seems a bit worrisome. A day away from studies concerned me and I felt stressed. As soon as the conference began, things took a quick turn. It is as if the energy of the room went inside my brain, turned off a stress switch and flicked on a relax one. The entire day was captivating, emotional, and soothing. Throughout the day I felt so many emotions from happiness, to sadness, to compassion, to admiration, I felt proud and inspired. Each speaker brought a different perspective to the table, none more or less valuable than the next. I learned about culture, art, heritage, and value to name a few things. I also learned that I need to take some time to turn off the stress switch on my own. The environment and the content which I engaged with during this year’s New Sun Conference was not a day away from needed study time, it was the break and motivation which I needed more, and can use in school and in life.
I found the New Sun Conference to be a truly educational and inspirational experience. We heard from so many incredible and accomplished artists who through their work are affirming their contemporary Indigenous experience and encouraging healing. This is exemplified in the work of all the speakers: Shane Belcourt with “Tkaronto” and the other films he has produced, Mathew Nuqingaq and his unique and exquisite jewellery, Alex Janvier a world-renowned leader in the art world, Ruth Phillips, Wahsontiio Cross, and Alexandra Nahwegahbow and their work with GRASAC and archiving for the Aboriginal community, and finally Candy Palmater, a comedian and broadcaster who bridges cultures and encourages healing through humour. The conference in its entirety is a testament to the power of the arts and is an experience that I hope others can attend, experience, learn and grow from.
Since beginning my studies in Art History at Carleton University, I have attended a few conferences, but the 16th New Sun Conference was unlike any other. Professor Ryan mentioned to our class that at the 15th New Sun Conference, someone [artist and presenter Robert Houle] wrote to him afterwards and had said that they could “feel an energy in the room—an energy worthy of healing.” This is how the 16th New Sun Conference got its title, or its theme. There truly was a different energy in the room during the conference—it is already such a privilege to be among well-known Aboriginal artists, but through their presentations, the artists make you laugh, cry, think, and feel inspired. When I was at middle school and high school in New Brunswick, we learned a bit about First Nations, Native, and Inuit people in Canada, but I have to say that we did not learn enough. This conference has given me the opportunity to explore the art being produced by Aboriginal artists, to think more about how Native peoples are represented, about issues of growing up in a city and looking either “not native enough” or “too ethnic,” and has given me a glimpse into the inspiration for some of their art being created. I’m interested to learn more about Janvier’s legendary style of painting; the different perspectives that have influenced the creation of Belcourt’s films; young, Native university students, who may feel a disconnect from their family’s culture while they’re in cities; about the skilled drummers and jewellers who feel such deep connections to the land as does Nuqingaq; and about accessibility made possible by academic projects similar to that of GRASAC, which is certainly a valuable resource.
The New Sun Conference was an inspirational setting for any artist hoping to understand more about Aboriginal experience and more specifically, Aboriginal experience as an artist. The most impactful moment I’d like to share about this year’s conference was when Candy left the conference room with ideas on value and self-worth. When she said, “People have no idea what kind of fire is burning in us,” that struck a chord. Because she is right. People have no idea what we are capable of. This confidence she has, and this fearlessness she holds when she takes on new challenges is how I want to be in my expeditions for art, advocacy and musical representation. I am held back by my fear of other people’s opinions regularly, I am held back because I do not think my work is worth as much as I think. When Candy said at the very end of the conference that as an Indigenous artist we need to value ourselves, as a responsibility, something stirred inside of me. I need to set the price I originally put on my painting. I need to require pay for events instead of doing them free unless it’s for a good cause. I need to show people that I have fire, a lot of fire, and that even if I’m not at the point in my life where I can easily value my work for myself, I need to value my work for my people. I need to honor the gifts that my Maker, my ancestors have given me, and I need to honor the Indigenous man whose bones were traded for a can of condensed milk. The conference taught me many things but most of all it taught me to value the work I do if not for myself as a unique human specimen, for my people and my ancestors.
On March 4th, I had the opportunity to attend the 16th New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts. This was the first time I had attended the conference, leaving me with no background knowledge of what the experience would be like. I went into the day expecting to hear inspirational talks about the achievements of artists, filmmakers and academics whose work I admired. I was not anticipating the personal and emotional connections I would feel while listening to each of the speakers talk about their own lives. Each speaker, as well as the people surrounding me in the audience, impacted me in a unique way, and changed the way I look at both others and myself. The day was uplifting and encouraging, and I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.
Allan, As always, this year`s conference was a fabulous success. The speakers and their topics were all interesting, but the one I enjoyed the most was Alex Janvier: a real master. Getting tickets, through your event, to his show at the National Gallery was a nice added bonus. This was the 7th or 8th conference I’ve attended, beginning with the first one, and the high level of quality and production values have remained the same for every one of them. Congratulations to your technical staff as well as the caterer. I look forward to attending many more of your events.
A student’s extended reflection:
Before attending the New Sun Conference, I had certain imaginings of what it would be like. To begin, I expected to be enlightened, inspired and entertained, and to enjoy a fun day with friends in the midst of interesting and intriguing talks. What I didn’t expect was to feel as if I was part of an amazing community that I didn’t know existed before. The atmosphere of the conference is difficult to articulate with language, but the best way I can describe it is warm and safe. Upon arriving at the conference I enjoyed the scent of smudging that engulfed the room, and was surprised by the number of familiar faces I saw when I got there, including teachers, friends, classmates, people I knew from the community, and artists that I admired. I had been in somewhat of a slump prior to the conference, in fact I almost considered not going. However I was so glad that I did. The incredible warmth, hospitality, inspiration and emotion that filled up the day were extremely helpful in facilitating a cathartic environment in which I could find myself removed from my own problems, and within the stories of those who were sharing. My favourite part of the entire day was the foregrounding of storytelling and the intricate weaving of both strength and humour that permeated everyone’s work. I appreciated the raw vulnerability of all the presenters, and the way that the conference reanimated personhood and embraced human experience and emotion as an integral part of the presenters’ work, and not something separate from it. I have not been to any conferences before, but I can imagine this is not normally the case, as we are often told to leave our personal selves at the door of professional events. However it was the personal and uniquely human element to this conference that I think made me feel so connected and close to all of those around me.
I found Shane Belcourt’s talk a great way to start the day. While I was familiar with the work of his sister and father, I had never explored Shane’s films and found that he was a wonderful speaker. I loved the way that he grounded his work within a larger narrative of his self identity, his relationship to place, and his coming to terms with who he is as a half-Metis person living in the city. I appreciated his vulnerably when he was discussing his struggle to find a fit, and the way in which he used film as a vehicle for exploring this struggle. By grounding what he does in his life story, I found Shane did a good job of situating the practice of art making as a way of healing, emphasizing the ways in which his understanding of self and who he is had influenced his art and career.
I also thought it was interesting how Shane discussed the influence of his family on his work, especially his sister who helped contribute her art to several of his films. The notion of collaboration between Shane, his family and other artists became a main theme in his films, and further connected them to where he came from and who he was. I found this really inspiring as we often see filmmakers discuss their work outside of their own lives, and as something they are passionate about that they do as a career. However it appeared that Shane’s films, specifically Tkoronto, were far from detached from who he was, and were in fact integral to his own process of self discovery. This made the films really stand out to me, and inspired me to not push who I am out of the way when completing academic or any other work, as my own subjectivity and experiences are something unique to me that should be embraced as part of the process and not separate from my professional life.
I also found it interesting how Shane foregrounded storytelling both in the way that he presented his art as part of the narrative of his life story, but also in the reflection of the stories and tales that had influences on his films. The story of the red tail hawk for instance, which Shane described as being a metaphor for the ways in which one might change when they enter into an urban environment was really interesting to me, as well as the reference to Rumi’s The Reed Flute which held influence on the ways his films were made. This notion of storytelling seemed to continue in Mathew Nuqingaq’s talk.
Mathew’s presentation was one of my favourites, simply because of his sense of humour and the way in which he, like Shane Belcourt, spoke about his art as a journey and a story intertwined with his life. I appreciated the way he acknowledged that his art is a mechanism of speech and expression for him, and that talking and public speaking is not his strong point. This is something that reminded me of Roxanne Swentzell and the way in which she used her sculptures as a means to communicate how she was feeling. I also enjoyed Mathew’s sense of effortless humour and found it so refreshing and relatable to hear him speak. It felt as if I was listening to a family member tell a story, who happened to make me laugh from my gut.
I also found it interesting how Mathew focused very little on his cultural identity as an Inuit man, and more on his identity as an art maker. The narrative that he presented was one which was focused on the progression of his artistic career as it evolved over the years. While his identity doesn’t seem to be the most important aspect of Mathew’s art, he discussed the ways in which the accessories he designs are made to make living in the Arctic easy and fashionable. However, despite his focus outside of his identity he did mention how he was inspired by the carvings of the Thule people, and legends such as that of foxy lady. The grounding of Mathew’s art in wearable and practical art forms that draw from past culture is very interesting. I loved how he stated that we don’t own the land but the land owns us. This suggests that identity has a lot to do with place and space and where one is born and where one comes from.
Alex Janvier’s discussion with Jonathan Dewar was very interesting and amazing to see. I have been a long time fan of Janvier’s works and their discussion of land, personhood, trauma and storytelling was so interesting. I appreciated Janvier’s humour and engagement with the audience and the ways in which he answered audience questions with humour and wit. It was humbling to see a renowned artist joking about his own art practice and acknowledging the struggle that he had to endure to become what he is today. Despite his status as an internationally renowned artist, he was so grounded and conversational.
Janvier situates much of who he is with where he comes from, much like Shane Belcourt, and I found the ways in which he discussed the shooting range and the removal of traditional hunting grounds really heartbreaking as place and identity become so intricately intertwined. I also found the discussion of his number 287 to be really upsetting, as it invoked the sense that his personhood had been diminished to numbers. However, while Janvier was addressing these hard to talk about topics, he did so with a sense of humour and wit that made the talk fun and optimistic despite the themes he was bringing up. For example, when he stated that he wanted his daughter to ensure that 287 was the name on his gravestone, he employed this kind of dark humour that seemed to challenge us to not feel sorry for him but to laugh at the absurdity of history with him.
The lunch provided during the break was absolutely amazing. I was blown away by the amount of care and hospitality that this conference provided. Usually a conference lunch consists of finger sandwiches and macaroni salad but the options available were delicious and diverse and the atmosphere was great. During the lunch I sat with some of my classmates, and could feel the inspiration igniting in all of us. Everyone seemed inspired and kept talking about their futures and all the things we want to do when we leave Carleton. It was interesting to see how, although the talks were of other peoples’ lives and artistic successes, they seemed to resonate in many ways with all of us and our own experiences, and inspired us to acknowledge ourselves as having our own stories and our own abilities to contribute things through them.
Candy Palmater’s comedic performance was another aspect of the day that made me laugh gutturally. Like Mathew Nuqingaq’s talk, Candy didn’t overly emphasize her cultural identity. Instead she seemed to ground who she was in her comedy, as an Indigenous woman in general, and as a lesbian. A lot of what she said seemed to transcend her subject positioning as an Indigenous woman and instead invited us to make connections to her. She used comedy in a way that challenged stereotypes head on in her performance, and critiqued both the stereotyping of Indigenous people and what they should look like, and also the stereotyping of lesbian women and what they should be like. She grounded her experience as a lesbian, one who dates online, with a larger human experience of self discovery which I really loved. I found this so interesting in contrast to the kinds of emotions she invoked during her talk. The death of her mother and understanding self worth that she discussed was heartbreaking, and brought a somber and powerful feeling to the room. My mother is one of the closest people to me in the world, and anytime I think about the possibility of losing her I become overwhelmed with sadness.
Lastly, the idea of difficult knowledges which arose out of Ruth Phillips, Alex and Wahsontiio’s talk was something really fascinating as well. The haunting tale about selling someone’s bones for a can of condensed milk was heartbreaking. However, I think there is so much happening there in terms of repatriation and digitizing knowledge and histories that makes me optimistic about where we are headed. The blending of pain, history, strength, humour and experience that intertwined its way through the conference was so fascinating and encouraged me to confront these powerful emotions as part of existing as a human in the world. There was no regard during the conference to leave your feelings at the door to talk professionally about successful people, but was rather successful people and community members embracing that which makes them human as part of their success as Indigenous artists and scholars.
The conference overall was an absolutely amazing experience that I am so happy to have been a part of. The sense of hospitality, community and warmth in the room generated an environment that was very cathartic to me in the current place in my life that I found myself that Saturday. I appreciated the ways in which we were challenged to question how we think about both scholarship, and also Indigenous people and what they have to say. The room in the conference felt like a safety net, and I felt a great pride in being part of this community. I appreciated the humanness of the conference and was so inspired by the vulnerability of all of the presenters and their willingness to share their stories as integral parts of their success. Speaking to the cathartic nature of the event, I think it successfully articulated the 4 realms of healing that are present in the medicine wheel. The spiritual, emotional, physical and mental parts of myself were confronted, challenged and stimulated during the day, and upon leaving the conference I felt both heavy and light. I am upset that this was my first experience at the conference, and hope to be able to return again, and bring as many people as I can, for I feel indebted for all that I learned that day to those I thought I had nothing in common with.