Impressions of the Day
Somehow the words “thank you” seem hopelessly inadequate. Every year I leave the New Sun Conference amazed and moved, and every year I say to myself “It couldn’t possibly get any better than this.” And somehow you manage always to prove me wrong. Thinking back on yesterday, words simply fail me. Perhaps the most significant thing I can say is that February 26th, 2011 is already reserved in my schedule!
–John Osborne, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Carleton University
Well you have done it again. My emotions are now stretched to the limit what with the New Sun Conference and some of the touching real life stories at the Olympics. Thank you for a great day. You took gold again but more importantly you allowed us through the New Sun program and your speakers and performers to open up our minds some more and be touched by the diverse experiences and need to interconnect and share and help each other in our journey. Merci beaucoup.
–GW, Development and Alumni Services, McGill University
Allan and Rae,
I would like to thank you both for such a tremendous and moving experience at the New Sun Conference. It was an honour to be in the same room as all of the presenters—truly, a once in a lifetime experience. Many tears were shed (by me and many others) but they were of course the “good kind.” Your many months of hard work were for the enormous benefit of all those who attended, and I can’t describe how powerful and moving the experience was, though I know you understand. Inspiration and warm hearts abound today. I’m speechless, but thought I could muster this much, at least, in return. Thank you both so very much.
First I want to thank you for the wonderful—no, amazing—no, as you said—transformative day! Second, I am sure your inbox will be overflowing, so I won’t expect a response for some time :) I, as with most in attendance, was so taken with Tanya Tagaq. I’m not ready to put it into words—but that woman is the definition of a warrior. I am wondering if the video of the conference will be publicly available, at the Carleton library (I’m a student), or available for purchase? I enjoyed all of it—truly—but I really want to share not just her performance, but Tanya’s words of wisdom, that really spoke to me, as a woman, and as a writer. Job well done! Enjoy your dinner, and sleep soundly with such an accomplished day behind you.
What an amazing day it was, I don’t think I will ever forget Tanya’s performance or listening to Gerald read. I would also love to have one of Christi’s paintings in my home—only a little smaller than the one that was there! The conference was quite spectacular and I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to attend.
–JC, Donor Relations Officer, Department of University Advancement
From morning until the day’s end, the New Sun Conference held all those in attendance in a kind of peaceful, communal spell. Perhaps the tone was set by Christi Belcourt’s esoteric canvas at the front of the room and its centering and calming effect. There was also the smudging ceremony and the opening and closing prayers that seemed to suspend the room in time and space, protecting it from external preoccupations for those few hours. What resonated with me most was the consistent acknowledgement by all presenters of the inextricable connection between their art and their loved ones; it wasn’t a scripted, obligatory thanks, but a natural, holistic gratitude that had no choice but to permeate their every word.
The luncheon was lovely and nourishing; and indeed a hearty meal was needed to stay grounded during the performance that followed. Kind strangers pulled me toward the stairs facing the stage, and moments later, following the first few human-animal sounds out of Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s mouth, I was literally gasping for air, and turning to those kindly unfamiliar faces for some acknowledgment that we were experiencing the same overwhelming feeling. I felt shaky, uneasy, exposed, and most of all inspired. The talk she gave later that afternoon only affirmed the message of her performance: honesty. I walked out of that room at the end of the day and promised myself that two qualities would propel my life forward: vulnerability and fearlessness. Tanya to me is another Nina Simone or Frida Kahlo—so absolutely feminine, while also transcending gender. I will never censor myself because of her. She brings to mind one of my favourite quotes by e.e. cummings: “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” Thank you, Allan Ryan, for this incredible event!
Thanks so much for all of the effort and hard work that you and Rae put into the amazing conference last weekend. Adrienne and I were in awe of the presenters, the art, the emotions that everyone shared, and the delicious food!!! I’m really glad that we were able to attend, and I think the theme was a very unique (and excellent!) way to involve people’s hearts and minds. We both learned a lot and had a great time.
Saturday’s conference was a remarkable experience. There are so many gifted members of the indigenous community, and your annual event offers a wonderful opportunity for those talents to be shared with others. What a surprise when Christi Belcourt suggested that the audience touch her painting, as it was to hear Tanya Tagaq talk about her impulse to hunt ducks in a Halifax park. The work inspired by the Wapikoni film project is remarkable. Gerald Vizenor’s latter day legends serve up a wonderful combination of credibility and nonsensical disbelief. I am now the proud attendant of one of Marwin Begaye’s heron prints. As you promised it was an unforgettable day—inspiring and thought provoking—a balm for the spirit. May there be many more!
–AC, Department of Art History, Carleton University
I am truly in the state of honorance. We arrived home about ten this morning. Thank you, my dear friends, for everything you have done to make Laura and me feel honored and comfortable. Every aspect of the conference and especially the discussions with so many outstanding students created a natural sense of honorance. The tour of the museums and the senate, and our discussions with dedicated curators, students, and faculty, created a truly memorable time in Ottawa.
All the best,
Thank you for a wonderful 3 days in Ottawa. We really appreciated the time you took to show us around your wonderful city and then host us at your home. You were very generous with your time, which I am sure you did not have much of in that week.
I just wanted to thank you again for inviting me. It was a great honour for me to be able to show my work and share my presentation with such a diverse, positive and interesting group of individuals. I really enjoyed meeting your lovely wife and also New Sun. What a warm woman she is. I remember when Wilfred Peltier was part of giving her her name. I appreciated seeing some old friends as well whom I haven’t seen in a long time, including fellow artists Simon Brascoupe, Armand Ruffo and Jaime Koebel, as well as some of my Metis friends from the Metis Nation of Ontario whom I haven’t seen in years. I was very interested in the presentation by the Wapikoni Mobile Project, and all the other artists works. All around a great day, I enjoyed it very much.
Faut que je réponde… J’ai trouvé super inspirant la simplicité de la présentation de la femme peintre qui me précédait. La patience infinie de ses grandes fresques pointillistes, petits points comme autant de perles, à la mémoire des ancêtres et façon unique de faire se rejoindre la mémoire et le talent des ancêtres et le présent, de tisser un lien entre femmes à travers l’art, en utilisant la nature et sa transpositon comme pont entre les générations, passée, présentes, à venir. Le Wapikoni vise un peu la même chose par le cinéma.
I must respond… I found the simplicity of the presentation by the woman painter very inspiring. The infinite patience of her large pointillist frescoes, little dots like pearls, made in memory of her ancestors. [It is] a unique way to bring together memory and skills of the ancestors and the present, weaving together women and art, using nature and its representation as a bridge between past, present and future generations. Wapikoni Mobile is trying to achieve something similar through film.
Thank you soooo much, Allan. I had an amazing time there and would love to read any of the responses from anyone. The audience was so attentive. Also, I need the contact of the lovely man… the writer [Gerald Vizenor] we went for dinner with (which was amazing to the maximum).
hugs hugs hugs,
Allan and Rae,
To me, you are a partnership. A good one. How true the saying is that behind every successful man there is always a good woman. I congratulate you both and extend heartfelt thanks for the extraordinary success of the 9th Annual New Sun Conference held at Carleton University. Although I could not see much of what was happening, my other senses picked up the unspoken communications that were taking place during the presentations. The presenters continue to share their art. They continue to explore new ways of expressing their message, and they continue to exhibit leadership and originality. And yet the audience somehow becomes an active part of the art. Tanya Tagaq mentioned that because her performance is improvisational, she is never quite sure how or what will evolve—at times she will just stand and sing, depending on the audience. She certainly responded at the New Sun Conference. The New Sun Conference has become a place where different cultures meet, where people are able to respect each other’s initiative and wisdom, and where we can all share in common experiences. Thank you, Allan and Rae, for making that happen.
–New Sun (Joy Maclaren)
The most magical moment of the conference for me was the standing ovation you received at its end. It was so very well deserved. I’ve attended 8 of the 9 conferences and at each one I have learned so much and gained so many different perspectives on Indigenous art and culture in Canada and the US. I’ve had my mind and emotions stretched as a result and I’m immensely grateful.
This year’s conference offered an even greater range as writers, artists and filmmakers from as far away as Nunuvat and Oklahoma and as nearby as Quebec came to Carleton to sing to us and to talk about their work. I listened enthralled to Christi Belcourt as she introduced us to her art – an extraordinary re-invention of traditional Metis beadwork; to the Quebecois filmmaker, Manon Barbeau, as she discussed her transformative work with Aboriginal youth who learn to be filmmakers through her travelling video studio, Wapikoni Mobile; to artist Marwin Begaye of the Navajo Nation whose engagement with multi-media and digital technology is, in part, also focused on the social and political transformation of Native Americans; to the splendid Inuk singer and performer, Tanya Taqaq, who held us all spellbound with her erotic re-imagining of traditional Inuit throat singing in a contemporary world; and finally to Gerald Vizenor, the distinguished Native American writer and scholar, who read a chapter from his new, soon to be published, novel. It was a deliciously tricky tale poking fun at all of academia, Native and non-Native, including, I think, the audience in front of him as well as himself!
Gerald Vizenor summed up the essence of the conference in a brief conversation with me after it was over. He told me how rare an occasion it was. He remarked on both its spirit of openness and generosity. There were, he said, “many differences that did not make a difference.” Bravo, Allan, and thank you again.
Congratulations on an absolutely amazing event on Saturday. My students and I were utterly moved emotionally and intellectually. The day was moving, eye-opening, mind-altering, engaging, hilarious, painful, daunting, and inspiring. The assembled speakers wove our minds and hearts through their work into ethical solidarity and intellectual conversation with various Indigenous communities (creating simultaneously a community among those assembled at the gathering). I really liked that the speakers worked in such disparate media and yet were part of a broad discussion of art, culture, politics, and worldview. Tanya Tagaq, in particular, blew my mind. And to spend time with Gerald Vizenor… well… I’m speechless.
–SM, Department of English, Queen’s University
Kudos to you on a absolutely wonderful conference. It was a real pleasure and honour to attend and listen to each and every one of the speakers: it really was a great line-up. Highlights for me were the chance to join in the seminar with Gerald Vizenor on Friday afternoon (an experience that did indeed transform my understanding of his theoretical work—*thank you so much* for allowing me and my class to come and listen and talk with him—the students were really excited to have had this chance!) and the opportunity to listen to Christi Belcourt talk about her work and to see and *touch* the stunning mural you installed at the front of the classroom. I also particularly enjoyed Marwin Begaye’s diabetes graphic art series—powerful stuff!
When we talked about the conference in my Aboriginal Literatures class last week, my students who attended had been blown away by Tanya Tagaq (and her style of music that was so new to them) and really also enjoyed the intimate feel of the venues and the opening and closing words by the elder. The food was also a big hit and deemed worth the ticket price! Congratulations on pulling it all off!!
Thank you for your hard work and creative energy in putting together the conference. I am so thankful I was able to attend! I found the Elder’s blessings and the lunch performance particularly transformative—but it was an inspiring day as a whole. So exciting to hear from such a diverse group of artists—all doing such meaningful things with their talents. Our class sure appreciated your kindness in including us in the Friday reception. What a treat to be able to meet Gerald [Vizenor] personally… If you have an e-mailing list for future events, please add me to it.
I had an amazing day on Saturday—my mind and spirit were truly awakened by hearing and seeing such brilliant artists.
Allan, this was my second [New Sun Conference], and I find it is the stunning quality and variety of your speakers that makes the conference rise above anything else that I’ve attended. The people are so open and ready to speak their innermost thoughts. It feels very close, informal, and real. I also can’t believe that food came out of a Carleton kitchen. Thirds, please!
The New Sun Conference was a total success, as usual. Well done!
–BH, Centre for Initiatives in Education, Carleton University
I will write in French because it is much easier for me to express this kind of experience in my mother tongue.
D’abord, je tiens à vous remercier pour cette journée, pour la mise en commun de ces personnes aux parcours et œuvres variées qui, ensemble ont tissé un événement qui a su allier la raison, les sens et les émotions pour nous faire comprendre (et célébrer) les réalités autochtones. À la fin je vous voyais comme un grand artiste créateur de cette expérience unique ; nous étions tous profondément touchés et reliés à ce plus grand que nous qui revenait sans cesse au fil des présentations et du repas…
Ensuite, cela fut très inspirant cette entrée dans un univers à la fois puissant, complexe et sensible au moyen de la création et la célébration… Cela peut très bien s’appliquer à d’autres groupes marginalisés, qui ne sont pas seulement fait de souffrance, mais aussi d’un fabuleux potentiel de création et d’enseignements. Cette journée était d’autant plus inspirante à l’intérieur de l’Université, haut lieu de production de connaissances et de recherches ; la mise en commun de diverses formes d’expériences et de savoirs pour entrer dans l’univers autochtone a constitué une inspirante voie d’accès pour connaître et faire connaître d’autres univers, d’autres sujets que nous étudions.
Finalement, je suis sortie de la journée, avec le sentiment d’avoir reçu un précieux morceau d’héritage. Avec toute la sagesse, la profondeur, l’engagement des invités, chacune, chacun à leur manière nous ont transmis une pièce de leur parcours, individuel et collectif, comme personne et comme peuple. Et ce peuple vivait sur cette terre où nos ancêtres sont venus s’installer, sans prendre conscience, pour la plupart, et sans désir de connaître toute la richesse qu’ils venaient de rencontrer. Je me suis sentie privilégiée…
C’était la première fois que j’assistais à New Sun Conference. Je sais que l’an prochain sera différent, comme le furent sans aucun doute ceux qui ont précédé. J’ai déjà réservé la date dans mon agenda. Je souhaite simplement que vous vous laissiez guider par votre inspiration. Ce fut parfait.
First, I would like to thank you for the day, for inviting these people with varied careers and works, who together contributed to an event that managed to combine reason, the senses, and emotions, making us understand (and celebrate) Aboriginal realities. At the end of the day, I saw you as a great artist, the creator of this unique experience. We were all deeply touched, and felt linked to something bigger than us, that manifested itself throughout the presentations and the meal…
It was very inspiring to enter a world so powerful, complex and sensitive through creation and celebration…This is something that could also be done for other marginalized groups, as they are not only made of pain, but of a fabulous potential for creativity and teaching. The fact that the conference was held at the university made it even more inspiring, because it is a high place for knowledge production and research.
These forms of knowledge and experiences, put together, were a very inspiring way of discovering the Aboriginal world, creating a gateway to teaching and knowing about other worlds and topics that we study.
Finally, I left the conference with the feeling of having received a precious piece of heritage. The speakers, with all their wisdom, profoundness and involvement, gave us a piece of their individual and collective journeys, as persons and as a people. And these people lived on the land that our ancestors settled, without realizing—most of them anyways—any desire to learn about the wealth that surrounded them. I felt privileged…
It was the first time I attended the New Sun Conference. I know next year’s edition will be different, as probably were the previous years. I have already written down the date of the next conference in my agenda. I simply want you to let your inspiration guide you. It was perfect. Thank you!
–MS, University of Ottawa
Another spectacular day. The conference was outstanding. Hope you enjoyed it too.
The New Sun Conference offers me an opportunity to open my mind to an Aboriginal perspective and a chance to gain further understanding of a viewpoint that is vastly different from mine. This Aboriginal perspective, through the medium of art only enhances the respect I have for First Peoples in not only what is now Canada but worldwide.
I certainly enjoyed the diversity of the speakers and enjoyed how positive they were about their craft and journey through life. Tanya Tagaq was a most expressive performer. I have never seen or heard anything like that, however, I was surprised at my own ability to understand the meaning of the story she was telling.
Christi Belcourt’s work was truly breathtaking. I found it especially helpful for Christi to explain her work. It was also interesting how she explained her early work. I found it equally wonderful and understood as she explained her own journey in growth through her art; re: before and after “roots.”
Marwin’s work truly hits the nail on the head when it comes to diabetes. His art work is fabulous and tells it like it is. I will forward his link to my colleagues at First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (Health Canada), Community Programs Directorate. I would think they are already well aware of Marwin’s work; however, if not, it’s time.
Manon Barbeau’s efforts are wonderful, however, I was discouraged by the lack of programming throughout Canada. I can only guess there are many reasons why, however, I hope she will work toward expanding the program and seek out any financial assistance available. I have no doubt that the movies made and confidence gained by the artists can only help the community it touches. Maybe I’m a little too optimistic, however, I must admit that my optimism for Aboriginal issues originates from that of Aboriginal people.
Gerald Vizenor was a real treat. I am familiar with the name but have not read his work. It will be something I will do as I continue my journey. I thoroughly enjoyed his energy in sharing his stories and work.
In summary, I found the conference very insightful and it caused me to continue to think outside the box. The ability to heal and move forward through art is so terribly important for all of us. The strength and integrity that these individuals presented is truly astounding, considering the treatment they have received from their own governments both present and past. Once again, I am humbled by such qualities. I thank you, once again for putting on this wonderful conference and I look forward to next year.
Thanks again for all the work that you and Rae do! It really is like nothing else!
Thank you. That’s all I can say (and what fun that this year I don’t have to write about it for class! :-)) It rests well, within…
I know that spring is near when it’s time for the New Sun Conference. After some dreary months, this is renewal time.
The backdrop of Christi Belcourt’s painting kept me enthralled throughout the session. While I was listening with my ears, my eyes were busy finding new details. Up close, it was so delightful to see the vivid detail, while further back I was witnessing the unified whole of the painting and the interconnectedness of all the elements. Her teachings about knowing the land and reclaiming the language were inspiring to me. I am learning beadwork and have some new ideas that I am itching to try with templates from the earth. So available and so obvious, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. She opened my eyes to see the world around me.
I was very happy to see the work of the Wakiponi film project and the creative energy it is bringing to the youth in Aboriginal communities. Marwin Begaye’s message about the dangers in our food and how we’re poisoning ourselves has made me more conscious about making good choices and going back to basics. The luncheon has always inspired me with its indigenous ingredients and colourful presentation. Tanya Tagaq was mesmerizing. She has a beautiful spirit and an important message. I am so glad that her voice is being heard.
I was familiar with Gerald Vizenor by reputation, but not by his writings. I will seek out some of his works now that I’ve been introduced to him. I wish that he’d brought some books with him, or at least that there had been a display of books available for sale, including the books that Christi Belcourt illustrated. The New Sun Conference is a highlight of my year and I look forward eagerly to its announcement. It has become a priority that supercedes all other engagements. Many thanks to you and your team for your superb work.
The conference was great, as usual. Tanya’s performance was completely mesmerizing; Christi’s presentation was intriguing and inspiring and grounding; Gerald Vizenor’s presence was somewhat surreal; the filmmakers were inspiring and innovative; the printmaker/graphic designer’s work was hip and interesting in a commercial/political kind of way. What I appreciate most, and what is consistent from year to year, is the opportunity to listen to several unique and diverse presenters in one day, which, as you mentioned, is a challenge to put together in terms of representing the range of disciplines, gender, experience, regions/nations, etc. I find the conference/conference presenters to be simultaneously grounding and inspiring. And I still love the food. Thanks again!
Again, I would like to thank you for going out of your way to find me a spot at the conference. I took a lot away from the stories and visual presentations that day. I was really captivated by Tanya Tagaq. Besides being gorgeous she had such an amazing perspective on life and people. I was really impressed by her performance and her short movie, but most of all when she addressed us afterwards. Christi Belcourt’s story about the Sturgeon was really interesting. Its so amazing that art can have such a story behind it, and such mystery as well. This conference was certainly transformative for me. I really felt involved, and welcomed. I’m starting to feel its okay to call myself metis with only 6% of my blood being Mi’kmaq, and I have the right to declare myself metis officially. Of course, my father will have to as well. So this newfound pride in my identity has really been helping my dad too, who will also be trying to qualify for metis status. Thanks for the chance to get involved and help rebuild the circle.
I think that the most memorable part of the day was certainly the lunch period. The food, as usual, was amazing! Tanya Tagaq was absolutely phenomenal. Her unique style was so captivating and it was so great to hear her talk about her work. It would be nice if there was some other way to organize her selling her CDs since it seemed that people were torn between returning to Minto and grabbing a CD from her. Aside from allotting more time, I am not sure what the alternative could be since people wanted to not only buy her album but chat with her about it making it necessary for her to be selling it herself.
Gerald Vizenor was, of course, fantastic in his own right. What a wonderful opportunity to hear him speak. The philosophy of survivance is so important and inspiring and definitely something that we should build upon. The gift that the Word Warriors presented to him was so beautiful.
It was also so nice to have Christi Belcourt’s work present. I know it must have been quite arduous to actually get this to the conference, but it was completely worth it. It seemed like many people there took a picture of the piece to use as their cell phone backgrounds. It was so great to have the artist present to speak about her inspirations and techniques—positively amazing.
It was so great to hear from Marwin Begaye about his campaign against diabetes. It is amazing how dedicated he is and how intelligently and convincingly he approaches the message. I like how he had explained that it was necessary to produce his art to reflect those he intends the message for otherwise they think that it is someone else’s problem. His work made me furious with my father-in-law who cites many of the same excuses that Marwin said people typically produce. His almost confrontational approach is what is needed to fight this serious disease. I don’t know how anyone could ignore the dangers of diabetes after seeing this. Thanks so much for putting this together, it was just great!
I really enjoyed the New Sun Conference and will look forward to it again next year! I appreciated the wide array of artists you chose as guests; they were so very talented in different ways and did a wonderful job of explaining their intentions and processes of creating. It felt like a perfect blend of presentation styles and art forms. I also loved the energy of the conference, and I certainly left feeling inspired. Thank you again for the opportunity to attend.
–MB, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
I was so glad to be able to attend this year’s New Sun Conference and wish that I had known about it in previous years. As I was not in the FASS last year, I did not receive any notification about it or else I would’ve made a point to attend, as my future goals have always included working with Native peoples. However, the intimate nature of the conference, which was a highlight of the event, would have been tainted had you marketed more broadly.
I appreciate the opportunity to sit so closely to the presenters, and even more so the opportunity to mingle with those that I admire so. At the end of the day, I had the opportunity to meet Joy, Tanya Tagaq, and [Jim Albert] the medicine man who blessed the room and food for us. The energy that radiated from them was inspiring. I even found myself sitting with Christi Belcourt at the luncheon!
I brought my notebook with me, and was able to gather many insights and ideas that I will inevitably use in future research and writings. Manon Barbeau was also an inspiration, and I have since watched a few of the videos written and produced by her students.
Marwin Begaye had some really great prints. Listening to Gerald Vizenor read aloud was one of the many highlights. I have previously found his writing to be confusing at times, yet when he reads it, it seems so simple. Quite a treat and an event I am sure to never forget!
The brightest part of the day was Tanya Tagaq. Wow! What a person! The emotion that she is able to convey through her musical sounds! The performance took me on an emotional ride as I could feel the story being told. Once she was in front of us as a lecturer, I could tell that I was in the presence of a strong soul. At one point I was laughing, and at another, there were tears.
All in all, I wouldn’t have given up that day for anything, and feel sorry for those students that didn’t attend due to the cost. The money was more than well spent. Thank you, Professor Ryan, for putting yourself into such a wonderful event, and taking me along for the ride!
As promised here is my response to this year’s New Sun Conference, I apologize for the delay but not to worry my sense of the day will never “slip away.” I was profoundly moved by this year’s conference. It was the second that I have attended, and although I thoroughly enjoyed the events of the year before, this year has had an incredible effect on me. The opening remarks and words of the elder, Jim Albert, in my mind are an important aspect of the day. These moments force us to pause and consider the events of our everyday lives as well as the ones that we are about to experience during the conference.
I thought Christi Belcourt’s artwork was phenomenal. Her interpretations of Metis beadwork were not only beautiful but also incredibly inspiring. It was her honesty in physically and emotionally reconnecting with the plants and traditions, that I found most inspiring. The Wapikoni Mobile presentation was terrific. I had seen some of the films before in your class last year, but one or two were new to me. It was wonderful to have one of the creators there to present. Gerald Vizenor was obviously incredible. His words were not only poetic but also wonderfully uplifting with his gentle humor.
Lunch was delicious, as I expected. However it was Tanya Tagaq that really made my experience at this year’s conference. I have never been moved to such an extent by music as I was during the lunch break’s presentation. Her performance was the most beautiful I have ever seen. The performance moved me to the brink of tears, I couldn’t help myself I had to purchase her album immediately afterwards. The following presentation by Marwin Begaye was very good. I greatly appreciated his sense of purpose and approach to communication through his art. Tanya Tagaq’s closing presentation was wonderful as well. Her strength, honesty, and bold pride in being a woman were incredibly inspirational to me. There are no words to describe how moved I was by Tagaq’s musical performance and following presentation. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity, I am greatly looking forward to next year!
Congratulations on the success of another successful year of New Sun! I wanted to say this was my first New Sun Conference and I really enjoyed it. In fact, most of my friends (myself included) were moved to tears at one point or another (between you and I). So thank you for encouraging me to come. I will help to spread the word further next year!
–AS, The Conference Board of Canada
Thank you for consistently providing the high quality learning opportunities through your yearly New Sun Conference. I always enjoy the first-hand knowledge and the interactivity that occurs throughout this event. I thought it was wonderful to have the opportunity not only to see Christi Belcourt’s beautiful work but to also be allowed to touch it! I really enjoyed all the presentations – it was a great day. Thanks again to you and your wife and all those who help bring this day together. Thanks to all the presenters for sharing their views and knowledge.
–CC, Cultural Programming Officer, Employee Learning, Development Awards and Recognition, First Nation, Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada
I found the New Sun Conference to be an amazing time. It has been for the three that I have attended. I will always hold Tanya Tagaq’s performance and presentation as I grew up with her. I always looked up to her as a young child and can say what an amazing performance she gave. It went right to my heart as that was the first time I have ever seen her preform and I thank you for that opportunity. And of course, thank you very much for the chance to have a wonderful meal with all of you! I really enjoyed it!
The best part for me was “everything.” I was very touched to see the Dean there, and actually stay through the whole thing. I loved the balance of arts. Tanya Tagaq (though I knew her recorded work) was completely unexpected (live) and delightful to no end! That part was transformative. She is raw and honest to the core and puts us in touch with being human on so many levels. For Gerald Vizenor, it seemed that a week with him would be better! I had a brief and meaningful discussion with him. He is very accessible and personable. Well done, Allan and Rae! You shine!! We love that!!
This year was my first year participating in a New Sun Conference, and I found it to be both inspirational and transformative. Each presenter brought something different to the conference. Their individual stories, and how these stories contributed to and are infused in their art, are important. The moment which was transformative for me was Tanya Tagaq’s performance, and most notably her conversation with the conference attendees. Her story should be empowering to any and all aboriginal (and non aboriginal) women. Too often we are ashamed of who we are, but we should be proud instead!
I am currently writing my mémoire for my Masters in Social Work on the subject of the importance of culture in correctional programs for aboriginal women offenders. The conference gave me pause to consider the approach and the elements I wanted to include within the context of my mémoire, specifically the importance of art in aboriginal culture. I look forward to the 10th Anniversary New Sun Conference in 2011!
You’ve outdone yourself this year! I specifically appreciated Christi Belcourt’s presentation and Tanya Tagaq’s performance. It was quite an honour to be a recipient of such talent. It was interesting to hear Gerald Vizenor speak and to hear the presentation from the US artist—especially about the issue of diabetes (I’m glad that borders were not an issue). The salmon was so flavourful and the chutney was yummy!
p.s. I can’t forget the food. Superb!
It was thrilling, Allan! As usual, I thought beforehand that I really didn’t have time, too behind in my work, etc. etc., and maybe just a half day…and then I was blown away by it. Felt different for the rest of the day, so I guess it was a “transformative experience,” yes. Thanks so much for organizing it.
p.s. And thanks to Rae too. It was good to have colour and fresh flowers on our lunch tables, at least I noticed them until I was transported somewhere or other else by Tanya Tagaq.
I really enjoyed the energy from everyone involved. It was very inclusive and I felt like we had truly built a sense of community by the end of the day. I think the balance of humor and art was refreshing and inspiring! Thank you so much for all of your hard work!
I don’t think I have much by the way of constructive criticism for the event, just praise. I have attended the conference two years now. I came in 2008 and then again for half the day this year.
I found both experiences to be extremely eye opening. I have been involved with Indigenous Solidarity work over the past 3 years and have found this event to be extremely helpful to unite and communicate aspects of Indigenous culture in a holistic way. Often in solidarity work the organizations will end up hopping from one issue to another. This experience gives a dangerous impression that engaging with Indigenous culture is a very depressing and difficult thing to do.
The New Sun Conference is a revitalizing event to experience because it brings Aboriginal people in to present themselves. By focussing on artistic endeavours, the event gives a taste of a range of Aboriginal culture, not just the issues, though those are also address. It makes the learning experience joyful. Having a time to eat food together is a great way to create connections among the attendees who will likely use those networks later (as happened to me). Sharing food is also a wonderful communal experience that is a great way to unite people and give time for informal discussion. Plus the food is delicious.
Having a performance is a really good way to break up the day and add a different kind of excitement. I remember the performance by Santee Smith very well and I expect that the incredible performance this year will not fade for a long while. I appreciate the gender, identity and discipline considerations that go into making the event. It does feel well balanced. As a budding musician/writer, I have appreciated learning about how Aboriginal people incorporate their ideas and experiences into their art. Having studied primarily classical music, I didn’t always realize that it was possible to combine reflections on political issues with art in a beautiful way. The artists at the New Sun Conference show that it is possible and I have found their approach to be refreshing and inspiring.
Just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed the conference again. It was just such an inspiring mix of talent, energy and artistic vision. Congratulations. I had a thought for next year, if you accept suggestions. There is a phenomenal individual who has started a circus—called Art Cirq—in Igloolik, Nunavut, that is now performing, with Inuk artists, all over the world. I’ve seen them several times (I have been up visiting my daughter Emily, who was an organizer for Alianait—the Inuit summer festival that runs every year from June 21 to July 1 in Iqaluit, and at which Art Circq performed, along with one of the throat singers who was at the conference). He would be a very inspiring person to have attend along with one or two of the Unuit performers, if that was in any way possible. At any rate, here is his bio from the website, and the link to the website (http://www.artcirq.org). Just in case you are interested, and looking for possibilities.
Guillaume I. Saladin, 33 years old, co-founder, co-artistic director, trainer, cast – Is from an anthropologist’s family, grew up partly in Igloolik until he was 15. After graduating from UQAM in 1998 in Sociology and Communication, he helped start the Artcirq project while at the National Circus School of Montreal. In 2001, he was part of the cast of Cirque Éloize’s show Nomade, directed by the world renowned Daniele Finzi Pasca from Theatro Sunil, Lugano, for a 4-year world tour as an actor acrobat. He lives in Igloolik on a permanent basis to carry on the training and to work on video projects with Igloolik Isuma Productions.
Thanks again for such a great day.
The New Sun conference is amazing! We are so fortunate to have you and the team working to put it on every year! I am really excited for the 10th! It’s already on my electronic calendar at work :o)
I found the conference to be educational, thought-provoking, and stimulating. I’m glad that I went because it was refreshing to step outside of my field for a day and see what people in another department study, how they do it, the things they focus on, and so forth. I really enjoyed the big painting, and I loved the speaker who used art as advocacy [Marwin Begaye]—maybe it’s because I’m a public policy person, and the power of his satirical pieces to give emotional depth to aboriginal social issues was really cool to see. I think that next year you and whoever else is helping organize the conference should spread the word to people in other disciplines for that reason, and try to get them to attend.
WOW! What a great conference! I’ve been talking about and thinking about it since Saturday! It took me longer than last year but I’ve finally put together my thoughts about the experience this year and you can read it on my blog:
Blog text: Something Else Again…
I say it every year… this was the best year but I mean it, this was the best year! Saturday morning at 6:15 am we packed up the car and left the winter wonderland to drive back into Ottawa for the New Sun conference. If you’ve read my blog for at least a year then you know that for the last 9 years I’ve been attending the New Sun Conference. Every year new speakers come, some I’ve heard of and some I haven’t but I am always, always profoundly moved. Like New Sun is the air that fills my spirit and rejuvenates me for spring and starting another year.
This year I was excited to hear from all of the speakers, especially the first two. I was worried we might accidentally sleep in, the weather or traffic would be bad and this would cause me to miss the first speakers—fortunately, none of these things happened and although I was sad to miss the morning prayer and welcome, I was very happy to make it in time for the speakers.
The first speaker, Christi Belcourt, I met last summer at the National Aboriginal Day celebrations and participated in her community project to create a large piece of art. She did the design and then everyone could participate by using the supplies she provided to fill in the piece. It was really fun and I enjoyed painting 2 of the leaves. Christi spoke about her feelings on family, her family and that memories are passed down through the blood. That we are “only one ceremony away from remembering”—losing our languages, spirituality and connection to the earth. Her art is incredible and I love to look at it! Her large 2009 floral mural My Heart (Is Beautiful) was on display at the conference and she encouraged all of us to touch it. I loved the animals and plants depicted in the mural, especially the hummingbirds, chickadee, spider web and turtles.
The second speaker was Manon Barbeau who is the producer and general manager of Wapikoni Mobile, an RV home converted into a travelling video and music studio. I was really excited to hear her speak about this project, especially since my sisters are both in the world of film. It was interesting to hear from one of the guys from Kitigan Zibi who has had the opportunity to make a few films with Wapikoni Mobile and how it seems that this project has profoundly changed his life. The objective of the program is to break the isolation and connect young people. The project connects young people in Canada but also around the world! Abraham [Cote] said that Wapikoni has helped him get a grant given to only 10 other people to develop and produce a feature film. He’s creating opportunities for himself and others in his community and wants to go to university to study film. Abraham’s story was inspiring and you could see by the short videos they brought to show that he is insightful and thoughtful with a bright future in front of him. You could see by the way Manon looked and smiled at Abraham that she was proud of him and also when she spoke about the other youth and the program. Manon explained that the Wapikoni Mobile goes back to communities every year and will be trying to establish permanent studios in the communities. This program deals with so many issues, creating economic opportunities in communities, giving a voice to youth and an international stage to hear them and also dealing with difficult social issues (which is why the program travels with a social worker who is there to connect them to services but primarily to listen).
The incredible Gerald Vizenor went next, his soothing voice and descriptive narratives filled the air. He read from his newest work and spoke about the differences between Native commercial and literary art authors. He spoke about “survivance” and the creation of toyed-with words. To hear such an accomplished author was incredible and to meet the person who coined the phrase “cultural schizophrenia” thrilling. I don’t want to say too much about what he read as I don’t believe that everything is published yet but it was a humorous and engaging story and I will definitely be looking to pick up a copy and some of his other works… I wonder if he does audiobooks?
At lunch we had an incredible performance by Tanya Tagaq who did one of her improvised performances which incorporates throat singing with a very avant garde/contemporary sound. She was captivating and her performance just drew you into her and the story she was weaving.
The lunch was delicious (as always) and I especially enjoyed the pickled beets and pearl onion salad and the venison celery root and shitake mushroom ragout—yum yum!
Marwin Begaye was after lunch—he is an expert at printmaking and painting social issues, and and health advocate. His art provides an interesting discourse and social commentary about our modern culture and issues that affect many communities. The issue of diabetes and healthy eating was prevalent in many of the pieces he showed. His quick wit and storytelling abilities brought to life his pieces which were already jumping off the page at me. I was in awe of what he can create using the wood block and other printmaking techniques. I am very interested in doing more research into “culture jamming” which he referenced a few times during his presentation. I think one of the most powerful slides was not of art, but instead read: “Sa’ah naagháí bik’eh hózhóó″ (Living life in a good way). Marwin said that he encourages all youth to create art to address social issues and give back. His message was honest and troubling at times but also hopeful that all is not lost but we need to be aware and to make others aware about the issues effecting us.
The day closed with an extremely emotional testimony by Tanya Tagaq. She started by introducing herself and saying that growing up she was “weird” and that she wasn’t like everyone else. Her story was interesting, as music sort of “fell in her lap” and her message was profound about life, the feminine and belonging. Tanya wants to challenge why society accepts lying or treating other people poorly—why don’t we hold ourselves up to a higher standard?, she questioned. Tanya said she feels that our job is to heal spiritually so our children don’t have the same sorrow and she heals through her music, “like house cleaning.” She said she would rather die than not be a proud woman. Tanya spoke about self-esteem, women loving themselves, both emotionally and physically, for who they are and not bending to social norms. Each woman should be empowered to embrace herself exactly as she is and wishes to be. Tanya expressed that there is a need to protect the feminine from those that would harm it, men need to be protectors too and love their partners for who they are. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when a friend of Tanya got up and thanked her for being such a strong example and for being exactly who she is. It was a touching moment as the two of them embraced. Her presentation ended with an example of throat singing by her cousin, whom she called her twin as they are very close to each other, and it was possibly the best throat singing I’ve ever heard.
Allan Ryan, the New Sun Chair, and his wife Rae, once again outdid themselves. Their dedication to the New Sun Conference is obvious by the care and detail in every aspect of the day and every year finding new speakers to inspire those who attend. Thank you, Allan and Rae, and all those involved in hosting this amazing conference. I’m not sure that words can express how I feel about attending and how uplifted I am when it’s done.
Next year will be the 10th conference… so perhaps this year I will say, this was the best conference yet and I can’t wait to see what happens next time, I’m sure it will be something else again…
(Editorial Note: Thank you so much to Christi Belcourt for permission to post photos that have her incredible piece of art My Heart (Is Beautiful)—it was so amazing to see in person. [Five photos appear on the blog])
Course-related conference feedback
Students from a fourth-year seminar on contemporary Aboriginal arts were asked to attend the New Sun Conference and write a brief reflection. Some of these, along with excerpts from others, appear below.
Expressions of Survivance: Reflections on the 9th Annual New Sun Conference
To open the 9th Annual New Sun Conference, Elder Jim Albert offers prayers to the creator and created realm, describing the event as a spiritual ceremony, which effectively encompasses its multi-dimensional nature. It is a healing ceremony, offering inspiration and rejuvenation for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is a ceremony of uniting community in shared understanding, which is a pillar of spiritual experience, with presenter and audience alike participating in a renewed consciousness. It is a ceremony of reflection, inspiring contemplation of issues ranging from land rights to health, identity to women’s power, all of which unite in a positive declaration of renewed Indigenous culture. From Christi Belcourt’s reflections on identity and colonial history, to Manon Barbeau and Abraham Cote’s social activist filmmaking, to Gerald Vizenor’s wry trickster stories, the first presenters challenge our understandings of Indigenous people, our own lifestyles, and our systems of knowledge. In the afternoon, Tanya Tagaq’s visceral musical performance resonates deeply with the audience, while Marwin Begaye’s subversive diabetes awareness prints inspire reflections on health and corporate manipulation. While each artist uniquely informs and challenges the audience, the collective experience of the conference creates a space of understanding and openness that is carried forth into one’s life, reflected back each time one shares the memories with others.
Métis artist Christi Belcourt’s fusion of traditional beadwork and painting initiates the atmosphere of cultural continuity and celebration that permeates the conference. Beginning her presentation with photos of her family members, including those of her grandmother and father, she describes her grandmother’s struggles with poverty and her father’s role as an Indigenous rights activist, and in so doing, she honours their perseverance and demonstrates the importance of family in shaping personal identity. This homage to ancestors, specifically the women, is presented more generally in her presentation of Métis beadwork designs, which are in themselves markers of cultural identity. Belcourt affirms the ingenuity and creativity of design in their geographic specificity, depicting individual plants and flowers with accuracy and precision. In her Great Métis of My Time series, she celebrates her five major influences in a form of “visual biography,” ranging from author Maria Campbell to activist Harry Daniels. As a compliment to her celebration of cultural identity, in Bloodletting: Does this make you more comfortable with who I am?, she criticizes the destructive blood quantum expectations for being a Status Indian which has historically excluded Métis people from their inherent rights. In this sense, she deconstructs and then rebuilds her own identity in a transformative act of healing, highlighted by her commitment to relinquish alcohol as a crutch and turn to her powerful cultural heritage.
Belcourt’s work also stresses the profound connection to the land and spirituality shared by Indigenous peoples, making the powerful assertion that this connection can be reclaimed with tobacco, prayer, and sincere desire. Having grown up without her stories, culture, and language, Belcourt’s assertion resonates with honesty and truth. This notion of an inherent knowledge within each Indigenous person that can be drawn out is deeply inspiring and humanizing, stressing the power of individuals to heal. She continues her deconstruction of colonial history in her series of maps as symbols for opposing worldviews, and the results of divergent understandings of land. By juxtaposing an Indigenous perspective on the sacredness of land with the colonial imperative of land as an economic resource, she reveals the cultural values encoded in these definitions. In a contemporary context, she highlights that many Indigenous communities are excluded from maps altogether as an act of erasure, just as they were used historically to lay claim to Indigenous land. However, maps can also be a site of reclamation; in A Work in Progress, she reinstates more than four hundred Anishnaabe places with their original names, covering up those imposed in English and French, as an act of remembrance. On a personal level, Belcourt initiates a dialogue with the land in her work, speaking to the spirits of the plants, for she must understand them before she can visually represent their essence. Her emphasis on showing the roots of the plants forcefully rejects superficiality, as well as connecting her to Mother Earth. Moreover, her use of dream imagery reflects spiritual awakening and confidence in her own visionary experiences, which is a powerful statement of renewal. Belcourt’s presentation not only brings a sentiment of quiet celebration to the conference, but also expresses the beauty of her relationship to the land and its potential to heal.
Wapikoni Mobile: Manon Barbeau and Abraham Cote
Wapikoni Mobile director Manon Barbeau’s commitment to providing access to filmmaking techniques to the youth of Indigenous communities represents the healing power of the arts and the therapy of self-expression. The fact that many of the filmmakers choose to address social issues demonstrates the commitment of this generation to continue the process of decolonization within communities. The positive experience of Indigenous youths from Quebec encountering Indigenous peoples from South America and Scandinavian countries through the program demonstrates the power of a global Indigenous consciousness to dispel feelings of isolation. The huge success of the films themselves, garnering thirty-one prizes at film festivals, is a tremendous confidence-builder for youths in communities where social dysfunction and suicide are prevalent issues. Barbeau highlights that the films also serve to dispel misunderstandings surrounding Indigenous peoples through self-representation. Moreover, in returning to communities annually, Wapikoni aims to establish permanent filmmaking studios within communities to create lasting change that will allow for continued self-expression. Barbeau’s commitment to improving the lives of individuals on reserves and her promotion of self-assertion through the arts is a powerful message in the face of what Vizenor calls tragic victimry.
A graduate of the Wapikoni Mobile Program, Algonquin filmmaker Abraham Cote affirms the success of the program in supporting his own filmmaking endeavours, which now include an Aboriginal Jumpstart grant and commitment to a feature-length film. Cote screens two of his own films, including Two and Two, a commanding indictment of the destruction of the earth through “disposable living.” To enforce the connection between lifestyles and the loss of the land, he concludes his film with the statement “Put it together,” which stresses individual accountability. His second film entitled The City critiques the encroachment of city life on traditional culture and the profound loss that this represents for Indigenous individuals. Both films demonstrate a commitment to renewing traditional relationships with the land and imagining a positive future. Cote points to the value of these films in bridging the generational gap within communities, allowing the older generation to understand the thoughts of the youth. Finally, two other graduates of the program effectively communicate the importance of Indigenous languages. Kevin Papatie’s The Amendment confronts the viewer with the progressive loss of Indigenous language through four generations of residential schools, resulting from the 1920 Amendment to the Indian Act. In a positive affirmation of enduring traditions, Innu musical group Uashtushkuau’sInnu-Aimun: The Innu Language demonstrates the importance of retaining Indigenous languages and traditional knowledge in a modern context, and celebrates cultural values for youths who may feel pressured to assimilate. In this sense, Wapikoni Mobile presents an optimistic future for Indigenous youths through self-expression.
“Old stories don’t like books” quotes Anishnaabe postcolonial theorist and author Gerald Vizenor, stressing that while oral tradition carries multiple stories simultaneously, writing only offers one voice: a hegemony of narrative. There is one particular narrative that Vizenor hopes to dispel, that of tragic victimry, instead favouring an ethos of survivance: a sustained quality of being that transcends reactionism, suggesting the power to assert an Indigenous presence. Survivance challenges the exclusion of Indigenous peoples from history and social sciences, and it is the “word-warrior” who embodies this warrior consciousness in literature. As a writer of trickster discourse, Vizenor subverts the mono-voice of literature using the trickster, a figure who transcends boundaries and rejects terminal creeds, and a shamanic character full of imaginative transformation potential, yet who is also compassionate. This figure is found throughout Indigenous literary art, which is contrasted with commercially appealing Indigenous literature in its freedom to confound the reader with uniquely Indigenous insider knowledge. The prioritization of Indigenous knowledge is a powerful reminder that there are multiple truths that are contingent upon context: a powerful statement of decolonization.
In an excerpt from one of his short stories, Vizenor re-imagines colonial history with satirical wit. He first draws out the power of the seasons as a source of reason and memory, speaking to the value of traditional experiential knowledge over the written word, which betrays a sense of absence or detachment. This critique is extended to educational institutions, who deal in this type of knowledge. For Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike, his indictment of Western academic pedagogy expands our definitions of knowledge. Vizenor also playfully re-imagines the sexualization of Indigenous peoples, naming the protagonist’s boat the Red Lust, while alluding to bestiality among Benedictine monks of the 15th century as a subversion of history. Like Ojibwa artist Carl Beam, Vizenor draws out parallel experiences of violence in Hiroshima and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. Moreover, he highlights the imposition of English and French names on Indigenous peoples as a means of assimilation, while suggesting that ‘nicknames’ maintain the connection between the one who names and the named, an illustration of knowledge and identity based on context. Vizenor playfully and ironically refers to ‘virtuous Caucasians’ while taking jabs at bureaucracy and government with his mongrels trained to sense an absence of irony, which he equates with an absence of Indigenous peoples. Finally, he points to the inadequacies of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and its historical application to Indigenous peoples to justify assimilation. Vizenor’s power of playfully exposing the inadequacies of historical narratives, as well as his positive affirmation of an Indigenous presence, are testaments to a renewed future for Indigenous peoples. His work serves to situate the conference within a broader context, adding new dimensions to each artist’s work as it participates in survivance, decolonization, and a reaffirmation of Indigenous presence.
Navajo printmaker and professor Marwin Begaye opened his presentation with an announcement of clan affiliations and an acknowledgement of his ancestors and elders in the Navajo language, as part of a reclamation of tribal protocols that have been eroded by residential schools. Like Belcourt, he highlights the influence of his weaver grandmother, who instilled cultural values and aesthetic principles in him, which are reflected in the tactile quality of his work. Begaye uses art to break down barriers, travelling to communities with his two children to discuss social issues, especially those pertaining to health. His series entitled What’s Your Sugar: Diabetes in Indian Country addresses the global issue of cane sugar intolerance in Indigenous communities, often exacerbated by alcoholism. Influenced by the mass appeal of Mexican printmakers and German Expressionists, Begaye produces prints encoded with culturally specific knowledge and region-specific aesthetic styles to create a relevant and personal message. Many of his works humorously implicate the fast food industry and insufficient government policies in the prevalence of diabetes, in the hopes of creating a dialogue of engagement with the viewer.
Begaye also draws parallels between his own work and the phenomenon of culture-jamming, a term coined by author Kalle Lasn, in his subversion of advertisements and subsequent exposure of the hidden truth behind them. Similarities are also apparent in his desire for art to be accessible to everyone, aiming for a broad dissemination of his message. Begaye’s prints boldly address what some refer to as the “silent assault” of diabetes and its effects on Indigenous communities, pointing to its impact on his own life, having taken the lives of two of his brothers, as well as being a physical reality for him and his son. By personalizing his activism, he communicates an immediacy of experience, and demonstrates tremendous strength in his drive to change attitudes and imagine a healthy future for all Indigenous communities. Like Belcourt, Begaye draws on themes of healing in his mandalas, such as Soda Mandala, and just as Belcourt reclaims maps, Begaye transforms the destructive into a sign of renewal. In his bird prints, such as Great Heron and Cardinal, he stresses that the lack of respect for the land serves to further disconnect people from it. Each bird is associated with layers of meaning within different Indigenous nations. Depicting these birds, he reaffirms their primacy and enforces their value and beauty, and in so doing, re-establishes a connection to the land and its creatures. Begaye demonstrates the power of commitment and activism, offering a means of resistance that is relevant for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike, both of whom are grappling with corporate recklessness and government inadequacy in the realms of food and health.
Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq offers a powerful performance that establishes a connection between the profound experiential knowledge that Belcourt addresses and the individual. Just as Jim Albert refers to this conference as a ceremony, so is Tagaq’s music a moment of closeness with creation, an ecstatic experience, and a transformation of self into the elemental. As with all spiritual experiences, however, words provide an insufficient medium of description, relying on dualistic language to express a moment of unity. Tagaq refers to the improvisational quality of her music as a dialogical interaction with the audience, which contributes to the sense of shared experience and community. In her presentation, Tagaq continues as a force of vitality. Describing her experience of culture shock and homesickness in university, she speaks to experiences of isolation common to many Indigenous peoples in the cities. It is when she is throat-singing that she can feel her home, and it is this power of remembrance that is communicated to the audience. Tagaq also speaks to the pain, sorrow, and hope in Inuit communities, and the incredible perseverance of her people amidst radical change. It is within this context that Tagaq sees her role in healing individuals in a spiritual sense, communicating with ancestors and drawing out instinctual knowledge. At the same time, Tagaq describes her own desire to push boundaries and expectations of womanhood, to promote discomfort as a means of challenging individuals to be self-reflective. Tagaq affirms the primacy of women, in our closeness to the Divine and ability to create life, and stresses her complete control of her female power: a point that hardly requires emphasis. In her film collaboration with Isuma productions entitled Tungijuq, the transformative capacity of her music is made visual in the blending of human and animal realms, suggesting an interconnectedness of experience. As the final presenter of the day, Tagaq’s effect on the audience is inspiring, powerfully emotional, and as one audience member describes it, “decolonizing.”
Tanya Tagaq states that “when you love, you make life,” a statement which seems to characterize the spiritual and cultural renewal of the 9th Annual New Sun Conference: in displaying their positivity and strength, the presenters exemplify love: of culture, tradition, and self, bringing forth a renewed future for Indigenous peoples. Each presenter shares not only their unique artistic contribution, but their experiences, creating a space of rejuvenation and an assertion of positive Indigenous identity. It is this feeling of community and shared experience that opens the heart, deepens our humanity, and spurs the imagination for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike.
Transformative. Reverent. Inspirational. Motivational. Healing. Beautiful. Hopeful. Empowering. Spiritual. Humorous. Entertaining. Fun.
All of these terms describe my impression of this year’s New Sun Conference. Yet, they do not fully capture my experience. This conference profoundly moved me—to the depths of my spirit—that I do not believe it is possible to articulate my experience in words. Consequently, this is one of the more difficult tasks I have been assigned. This is also indicative of how deficient the English language is; our vocabulary lacks the terms/concepts that embody such an experience. There were moments where I was completely overwhelmed with emotion, and could only react with (joyful) tears. There was a strong mystical presence that embraced the conference, and at times it made me feel overwhelmed with emotion. I realized that I was not the only one who was experiencing this:
My father had joined me for the buffet lunch, and Tanya’s performance. He is a very serious man who rarely displays his emotions, and prides himself on being able to “control” them (while he would say “control,” I would say “repress”). I, on the other hand, have always been a very emotional individual, which has often confused my father. When Tanya was performing, I was completely captivated. This was one of the moments where I felt completely overwhelmed by—for lack of a better word—a mystical presence. After her performance, my father turned to me, with tears running down his face. My “rational” and “unemotional” father was crying! When I spoke with him later that evening, I asked him about his experience. He also had difficulty describing what he witnessed. He said that it was unlike anything he had ever seen, or experienced. He was overwhelmed by this “presence” or “energy” that he could not fully describe. This presence was something beyond Tanya’s performance and artistic creativity. I would argue that this energy was present from the start of the day. In class the following Monday, I came to realize in our discussions that there were several others who had very similar accounts. I thought it was really interesting when the student who major’s in Religion explained that those who have encountered a religious or spiritual experience describe it in a similar way. I felt validated; I realized that there was something incredibly special about this day.
In the academic world the spiritual is not privileged and, for the most part, removed from Western paradigms. Integrating the spiritual into a space (such as academia) where it has become trivialized and disconnected from everyday reality is something that I have often contemplated in my studies. The New Sun conference effectively created a space within academia where the spiritual was integrated and valued. This was not only refreshing, but grounding. Additionally, the presence and involvement of Jim Albert in the conference was not only appropriate for following protocols, but contributed to the inclusion of the “spiritual.” I, personally, was thrilled to see Jim, and hear his words of wisdom. He is a close friend of our family, and had performed a marriage ceremony for my husband and me. I believe that he was a perfect fit for the conference.
In several presentations, there was discussion about integrating the spiritual in the artists work. Jim Albert spoke of ceremony while opening for the conference. Interestingly, Christi Belcourt also spoke of ceremony in her work. In her presentation she said that she was raised without ceremony. She explained that growing up without ceremony meant that language, connectedness to land and spirituality were absent. However, she believes that this connection is inherent within us, and therefore not lost; “we are able to connect at any time to the spirit world because we are of that world.” She told us that through prayer and offering medicines (such as tobacco) we can remember this intimate connection. She explained that “we are one ceremony [away] from awakening.”
Christi Belcourt also told delegates about the spirits of the plants she depicts in her artwork. She explained that every plant has a spirit, and that they are equal with her. That it was the plant world that taught her about her place in the world and her connection to Mother Earth. Her artwork reflects this spiritual connection and awareness. She paints roots in her plants to show the interconnectedness with the land and to our ancestors; that there is more to life than what is on the surface. Other works in which she reflects on her spirituality are Tree Spirits Moving Before the Fire and What the Sturgeon Told Me. The latter piece was actualized after the sturgeon spirit came to her in a dream and told her that “she missed the frogs.” Upon further research, she learned that the sturgeon will wait for the frogs to sing before they spawn. This message from the dream world was intended for her to share the story of the loss of sturgeon and frog habitat due to human interference. She followed her dream, and created a visual story. Another painting where she reflects on the spiritual she created to remind herself and her daughter what to include in their prayers. This included, Mother Earth, the Moon, the Sun, water, plants, creatures, insects, a prayer for ourselves, the four directions, and Creator.
Marwin Begaye similarly spoke of the influence of dreams in his artwork. He shared that his designs were given to him through dreams and experiences. However, he explained that these images were not simply there to be taken, that there are proper protocols which need to be followed in order to bring good feelings to those who see them. In his presentation he emphasized the importance of following protocols as a way of connecting to the ancestors, and this is a teaching he passes on to his children.
Gerald Vizenor touched on the spiritual aspects of the trickster in his presentation. He spoke of trickster as a profound, shamanic figure in a story that can transform and transcend shape, time, space, and gender.
Tanya Tagaq spoke about the necessity for people to heal their spirits. She shared a story of her peoples relocation to Resolute Bay, and the damage it caused to their spirit. She explained that there needs to be healing in order to avoid intergenerational trauma, “so our children don’t hurt as much.” She explained that this healing needs to be spiritual, and her involvement in the music industry is part of this healing process; for herself and others.
I couldn’t help but think that we are perhaps at the beginning of a shift. I am not quite sure what this shift is; perhaps it is paradigmatic or perhaps it is de-colonial. The term “hopeful” seems appropriate to how I perceive this. I am hopeful that change is coming. A change that helps heal people, and bridges cultures. I believe this change to have been present at the conference, and was evident in the sense of community that was experienced. In our class discussion the following Monday, several students mentioned the strong sense of community they felt at the conference. One student shared that being non-Aboriginal had often left her feeling insecure about her place and role in Aboriginal-centered events. She described feeling like an “outsider” at these events. However, here many people described a strong sense of belonging and did not experience a feeling of exclusion. Others have described the space that was created as safe.
There are many people who believe that it is the institution’s “objectivity” that creates safe spaces within academia; in the classroom, at conferences, and in its various departments. Instead, I would say that that it is not possible to be truly “objective” or “neutral,” and as a result the academy can be a hostile and alienating environment. There needs to be a shift in the academy in order for people to feel the safety, comfort, and community that was present at the New Sun conference. I believe that we are at the threshold of this change. The New Sun conference provided a space for this, and embraced it. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of it.
For me the 9th Annual New Sun Conference truly was “something else again.” I expected a conference about aboriginal art. What I experienced was a conference about humanity through the lens of aboriginal art and culture. I was touched, moved and inspired by the presentations and performances, but most importantly I was challenged. I was challenged by each speaker to evaluate my own life, and reflect on my own actions and values. The New Sun Conference did not only teach me about aboriginal art, it taught me about myself.
Entering the conference I had apprehensions about my presence there as a non-native person with limited knowledge of native art and native practices. The first challenge I faced was becoming comfortable with my own presence at the conference. Within minutes of entering the room I realized that I had overcome this challenge. I was at no point simply attending the conference; I was always participating in the conference. I have been to native ceremonies and dances in the past, yet I never felt part of those events; I always felt like an outsider looking in, as if I did not belong. The atmosphere of the New Sun Conference was different. It was in fact a native ceremony, yet it was a New Sun ceremony, one that included and encompassed all those that were in attendance, both native and non-native alike.
Over the course of the day at the New Sun Conference I was challenged by each presenter in very different ways. Some challenged me to look deeper at myself and my identity, while others challenged me to open myself up to new experiences and new emotions. The first presenter, artist Christi Belcourt challenged me to look at my own life, and the traditions that have been passed down to me from my elders. The way Belcourt used traditional bead work of her Métis heritage struck a chord with me; her work reminded me of the many skills and crafts that I have been taught by my own grandmother. At 94 years of age I consider my grandmother to have similar qualities to that of a native elder. She is wise and full of knowledge of tradition. Over the course of my life my Grandmother has taught me many skills including how to knit, crochet, embroider, cook and bake. But above all my Grandmother has taught me how to carry myself in difficult times, and how to heal a soul with a simple cup of tea.
What Belcourt’s presentation challenged me to do was to meditate on the skills my Grandmother has taught me, and to make a place for those skills in my life. Belcourt reminded me that the skills my Grandmother has taught me are more than tradition or memory, they are now part of who I am; they are part of my identity. As Belcourt said “memories and tradition are passed down through the blood.”
Another presenter at the conference that challenged me to look at my own identity was filmmaker and producer of the Wapikoni Mobile Corporation, Manon Barbeau. I truly believe in the need for all young adults to search for their own identity through the creative process. What Barbeau and the Wapikoni Mobile Corporation facilitate is an integral part of the development of the self-concept in young aboriginal people. In viewing some of the Wapikoni films I was challenged to think about my own identity and self concept. Facing graduation and a world of opportunity ahead of me in a mere four months time I am facing an identity crisis. Watching the films by Abraham Cote and other Wapikoni students challenged me to reflect on my own life, and imagine what a short film on my identity would look like. Presenter Abraham Cote also reminded me that if you want to be something, you need to go for it. In Cote’s case being a film maker has been a dream for him for a long time, and even at such a young age he is working hard to achieve that goal. Both Barbeau and Cote’s presentations really inspired and challenged me; they left me with a sense of control and dominance over my life, my identity and who I am.
As the conference moved forward I could not help but realise the links and connections between presenters. This continuity speaks to the great organization and effort put forth by the organizer. From one presentation to the next, my mind was making the link between the idea of identity. When Gerald Vizenor spoke I was, like many others entertained. It was not until the end of his presentation however that his words struck me deep. The word survivance has stuck with me since it left his mouth. For native people Vizenor uses this word to represent the actions of those that live above and beyond the idea of the “tragic” native. Survivance reminded me to thrive as a person, no matter what social roles are implicated by your identity. For me this is a very important term. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 18 I have struggled over the years with what this identity implies. The population at large has a view of what I should be like, how I should act and what I should and should not be able to do. An important part of my life has revolved around these preconceptions. For me survivance is to thrive, no matter what the preconceptions about your life may dictate. Gerald Vizenor encouraged me, and challenged me to thrive in my own life; his words will be forever remembered and cherished.
Another presenter that will forever be remembered in my mind is throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Tagaq’s performance held me spellbound from start to finish. Having never heard throat singing before, I was amazed by the sounds that Tagaq was able to make, and the way in which she was able transform those sounds into a cohesive storey. I always enjoy knowing how things work, and how things are going to turn out; with that being said, Tanya Tagaq’s performance was anything but comfortable for me during the first few minutes. I was simultaneously confused and mesmerized. I was challenged during Tagaq’s performance to just accept what was taking place. I was challenged to go against my nature and not question what I could not understand. In a sense Tanya Tagaq’s performance forced me to be more open to new experiences. It forced me to let go of my preconceptions of what music should sound like, and how it should be created and performed. At one point during her performance I was evaluating the way in which the violinist was playing, having been trained on the violin for many years I was noticing the freeness with which he played. I could not help but realize that his methods were unconventional and new to me. I was challenged to not judge the violinist’s methods of playing as wrong, but simply as different and new.
The newness of Tanya Tagaq’s performance challenged me to be more open and more accepting of things that stray from the structure of my life. Later in the afternoon in her talk, Tagaq touched on this very issue. The power of Tagaq’s performances paired with the strength of her personality make her very hard to ignore. When Tagaq stated: “as humans we need to be more open and understanding of one another” I felt as if I needed to obey. The uniqueness of Tanya Tagaq and what she does challenged me to be more open. Her presence at the conference touched me in a way that I never thought possible during those first few minutes of her performance.
What Tanya Tagaq did was break down barriers inside of me through the power of her voice, what Marwin Begaye did was use his art to break down barriers. Begaye uses his art to break down barriers between groups of people and address social and health related issues with others. Begaye’s art was interesting to me because even though his focus is on native communities, issues of obesity and diabetes need to be addressed to the population at large. Begaye’s approach is one that is nonthreatening, yet truthful. In approaching the subject through art, Begaye is able to get his message across in a way that is clear, and at times even humorous. Marwin Begaye’s art challenged me to evaluate the amount of sugar and fat I consume on a daily basis and he challenged me to make the small necessary changes towards a healthy diet. Begaye’s approach also challenged me to think of other ways in which the need for a healthy lifestyle could be addressed. I was left pondering ways in which Begaye’s native oriented messages could also be used to address the non-native community, a community who is also in dire need of education and awareness about the consequences of obesity and diabetes.
Over the course of the day at the 9th Annual New Sun Conference I became aware of many issues surrounding native people, and even more surrounding humanity at large. The conference was eye opening to me, and left me with a lot to think about. Throughout the day I was challenged to look inward, and challenged to open up. My experience was overwhelming at times, but over all enjoyable. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Thanks.
Prior to the New Sun Conference, I had only fragmentary ideas of what the day would entail. I knew about New Sun through her generosity in helping to provide a two-year, curatorial residency for Ryan Rice at the Carleton University Art Gallery. Also, in taking a class with Dr. Ryan last fall, I heard further details about the conference itself. But no further connections seemed to be made, and even with the information provided by Dr. Ryan closer to the day of the conference, I did not realize the momentousness of the occasion.
Arriving at the Minto Centre slightly early, the posters on the ground floor gave few clues as to what would happen on the fifth floor. The day was relatively warm for late February, with little snow, but still a need for heavy coats. I had not visited this part of the campus before, and when I stepped out of the elevator, I was impressed by the brightness of the lobby outside of the conference room. I saw class mates helping at the registration desk, and some familiar faces from Carleton faculty, friends in the Aboriginal community and many others I had not met before. So, I settled in for a day full of surprises. My only other very indirect experience of New Sun came from researching Joane Cardinal-Schubert for my class presentation. Presenting at the Second Annual New Sun Conference in the Bell Theatre, the capacity and decor of the Minto Building location was by far superior.
Aside from the incredible venue, which I did not know even existed on the campus, I was taken aback by how many people had shown up. The Facebook page, which indicated fifty-seven people attending, was clearly not a good measure of attendance, or popularity of this event. Now, the university hosts many lectures, symposia and conferences, not the least of which was the Congress of the Humanities last spring, which increased Ottawa’s population by roughly 8,000 for one week. I had the opportunity to help organize receptions that took place in the art gallery throughout the week. But, I had seen more in the past about Carleton University’s Butterfly Show than I had about the New Sun Conference. I think the large vinyl letters on the Nesbitt Biology Building help in that regard. Regardless, I would estimate attendance at roughly 200 people, and maybe I should keep quiet, lest I have to stand in line for tickets next year.
The setting of the room was enhanced beyond expectations by Christi Belcourt’s large mural My Heart (Is Beautiful), which she generously lent to the conference as it toured some of Canada’s major galleries. That was the first hint that I would experience some major cultural figures during the day, and share in the wealth of their offerings. I have to admit my lack of first-hand knowledge of any of the presenters, besides what Dr. Ryan described to us in class. But I am happy to have the opportunity to make up for that now. The room still smelled sweetly of sage from the smudging that I believe Elder Jim Albert carried out. There was an excellent selection of tea, coffee, juice and muffins and bagels, and although I had had breakfast, I helped myself to a delicious berry bran muffin.
With the welcome remarks, Dr. Ryan prepared us for the day’s proceedings. Elder Jim Albert offered a meditative opening prayer, and Dr. John Osborne stood in for Paul Chesser, who was delayed by travel; lucky for Dr. Osborne, as he put it. All three speakers impressed on me the importance of acknowledging people and place. Whether speaking about their ties to the event, or the fact that Carleton’s campus resides on Algonquin territory, I felt at ease knowing that nothing was taken for granted. A feeling underscored by Dean Osborne’s remarks on slow but significant change.
Christi Belcourt began her presentation humbly announcing her preference for solitary pursuits, such as her artwork, over speaking at conferences. However, she did an excellent job of presenting her unique approach to bead work. Although she left little time for questions with her apparent enthusiasm about sharing her work with the audience, she generously invited people to approach her painting and touch it if they liked. Such an invitation is almost unheard of in any cultural setting.
Through the presentation, I felt some sadness and outrage at the treatment of cultural artifacts, such as a piece of bead work that was thrown away by a museum, only to be found in the dumpster by relatives of the person who had created it. However, Christi’s dedication to her art, and acknowledgement of all the people and plants and animals that helped her create it took me beyond such feelings. As the presentation concluded, I was left thinking about how bead work became a widespread art form following contact with Europeans. I wondered what forms of creativity were displaced by the rise of the glass bead. Again, though, I felt prompted to see beyond this initial reaction towards historical circumstances, to consider that in spite of everything that contact entailed, a people could adapt something as simple as a bead and communicate beauty, patience and knowledge, which continued into Christi’s work through paint.
I was very much looking forward to the presentation on the Wapikoni Mobile film training project, as presented by Manon Barbeau and Abraham Cote. The concept for such a project seemed so simple, yet vital in its potential to allow people to tell their stories. Although similar projects of mobile film or radio projects may exist, they seem to have more general goals, and may not take such huge risks in their operation, nor bring such incredible rewards. I was very impressed by the films that we previewed, two by Abraham, and another featuring a duo of musicians. It was inspiring to hear of his initial reluctance to participate in the project, and then see not only the results of his projects, but that he had been given further opportunities that may allow him to complete a feature film, and consider attending film school. The aspect of the Wapikoni project that I like the most was how a social worker accompanied the team. While film can be an exciting medium, not everyone may be ready to share his or her story. And again, as with the opening remarks and Christi Belcourt’s presentation, there is an acknowledgement and respect of people and places as one encounters them.
In terms of Aboriginal writers, I had once lived in the same house as Richard Van Kamp, knew of Tomson Highway, and read and heard stories by Thomas King and Sherman Alexie. However, I must admit my ignorance of Gerald Vizenor. He struck me as a natural storyteller. The excerpt that he read from his upcoming novel was not only humorous, but he told it in a way that slowly revealed the plot as though he was reading a poem. His description of various types of dogs was not only humourous, but respectful, being careful not to anthropomorphize the creatures for the sake of his story.
During the question period, he took the same considered approach as when he told a story. The difference being that he had to make up his answer on the spot. His explanation of the term “survivance,” and Stephen Gould’s theory of asymmetrical evolution was not only informative, but spellbinding. I am very happy to have seen and heard Gerald Vizenor, and will be certain to become more familiar with his works.
Lunch was beyond anything I imagined, particularly the maple butter. My only problem was not having a plate big enough to have salmon and venison at the same time. I had two helpings, and then desert. The meal was timed very well in anticipation of Tanya Tagaq’s performance. Her set was also beyond anything I imagined. With just two back-up musicians, she captivated the audience with her particular blend of jazz, wolf calls and traditional throat singing. At points, she seemed to transcend gender and her own being. Although she later admitted to varying her performance depending on how open she perceived the audience to be, she seemed quite comfortable singing from amongst where the tables and chairs were situated for the meal. The improvised arrangements showed a high degree of musical accomplishment, and her performance left me slightly unsettled, although completely at ease; such an odd combination.
After lunch and a brief talk by Tanya, Marwin Begaye shared his stunning prints and experience of tragedy related to diabetes amongst Aboriginal people. His images were at times humourous, but always wonderfully executed, whether they were digital or traditional approaches to image making. He was extremely at ease, sharing personal stories, including the death of his brother, from an illness he fought so hard to prevent. I have no doubt that Marwin will continue to make wonderful art at the same time enlightening people to the dire consequences of their actions. One of the most difficult aspects of his talk to hear was how similar circumstances are for Aboriginal groups in Australia. His print inspired by Andy Warhol’s soup can, Dolly the cloned sheep and the label for generic and extremely low grade meat products, which are then provided to Aboriginal communities in the southwestern states, made me realize that the events depicted in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee are still happening today.
Tanya’s later appearance was unusual in that the audience got to see a different side of her. Although still very much comfortable before a crowd, she shared her experiences of growing up in Cambridge Bay, and, as she put it, becoming “weird.” I was very glad that she came back to speak, as her performance was, although really excellent, quite unusual. Not only did she give us some background as to how she developed as a performer, but demystified her appearance as a tour mate with Bjork (although I think this was just modesty). She spoke boldly and openly about very personal issues, drawing us closer to herself in support of women, the importance of friends and family and courage in light of adversity. It was a treat to preview her collaboration with Isuma, and pleasing to know that while artists in Canada’s north may seem isolated, their message continues to gather momentum. I was also glad for the release of emotion that she helped alleviate, something I think that was necessary given the realities of the incredible presenters and the reason for the conference.
The conclusion of the day seemed to arrive before I knew what was happening. It certainly did not feel as though I had spent the last eight hours in the Minto Building. The event was timed well so that it was still light when I came outdoors, indeed, renewal of the plants and trees would soon follow. I left feeling lighter than when I arrived, looking forward to acknowledging and being thankful for all the things I had received during the day.
On February 27, 2010, I had the pleasure of attending the 9th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts. Appropriately titled, Something Else Again!, the daylong conference was extremely rehabilitating in the sense that it rejuvenated my mind and my spirit. I left Carleton University after 5:00 PM extremely happy. Another part of me felt encouraged as an Aboriginal person to continue to devote my education, career and energy towards the liberation of my people. This conference, to me, was a form of decolonization. Decolonization; “the intelligent, calculated, and active resistance to the forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of our minds, bodies, and lands, and it is engaged for the ultimate purpose of overturning the colonial structure and realizing Indigenous liberation.” By allowing the five artists to present their history, dreams, and talent, they embraced their minds and bodies and resisted the stereotypes and forces of colonialism that may, at times, oppress them. I would like to reflect on the presentations of Christi Belcourt, from my perspective as a keen learner about Métis culture and art, Manon Barbeau and Abraham Cote, as a youth worker who engaged in similar work over the years, and Tanya Tagaq, as an Inuk woman who is very proud of her culture both traditional and contemporary.
First, I must acknowledge our Elder, Jim Albert, who honoured the conference with an opening prayer. To me, it was very important that an Elder was present to open and close our gathering. Elders are the knowledge keepers and it is through them that we are able to learn and balance our modern lives with traditional teachings. It never occurred to me to view an academic conference as a sacred space at which knowledge can be treated as medicinal. It is so easy for us to disregard simple teachings and ideologies when placed in a Western space acquiring knowledge in a Western way. But Elder Jim Albert balanced this reality by stating confidently that “we are in ceremony for the day.” Once I accepted this fact, it was very easy for me to welcome the powerful messages of the Aboriginal artists, free my mind, body, and spirit and accept the knowledge that was being given to me, by virtue of my presence and interest. It was with this frame of mind that I reflect on the day.
Christi Belcourt, celebrated Métis artist, had a powerful presentation that embodied her ancestry and culture, the Métis political struggle, and her beautiful artwork. To begin, Belcourt introduced her ancestors to us delegates, with several black-and-white and colour photographs. To the artist and to us, it was very important that we become aware of the shared experiences of the Métis people during the generations of transition from traditional to modern living. And with those experiences, it was discovered that the artist extracted stories, traditions, and of course, the beautiful craft of art. The craft of beading in the Métis artistic design is a focal point for Christi Belcourt as she uses it throughout her artwork. She explained that she always “honours the women” when she learns from their work, whether it be on Louis Riel’s jacket, on a pair of leggings, a Smoking Cap, or a purse. And although these floral beaded items are considered a part of the Métis cultural identity, the beadwork patterns are each unique. For her, it was very important to learn about the flowers that she was painting and to do so, she would go out onto the land and spend time with the plants. She stated, “I believe to the depth of my soul, they are equal with me” and that she spoke with the plants to learn about how they grew and lived. “Wow!” I thought, how dedicated she was to truly represent each plant in her work. This fact allowed me to appreciate each petal, leaf, and thorn depicted in her paintings. The artist also mentioned that in order to honour each plant, she began to include their roots (something she did not do in her early work) because it demonstrated that “there is more to life than what is seen on the surface”, a teaching that we are all given while growing up. I particularly enjoyed learning about her transition from her early works to the one we were able to see in front of us: My Heart (Is Beautiful) which presented over 300,000 dots of paint and many different plants on the same stem—she simply and powerfully stated that we are all connected.
I was intrigued by Christi’s appreciation of the many flowers depicted in her paintings as medicines given to us by the Creator. As well, I was very interested in her mapping series that portrayed Aboriginal territory in two ways by contrasting 1) “mainstream” maps that include landmarks, cities, and bodies of water with names that were given by colonial entities and 2) “Sacred Mother Earth” as seen by Aboriginal People before colonization with its original names. I was very impressed by this series as it reminded me of our constant struggle as a people for decolonization. We try in many ways to reverse colonization appropriately and one means is by changing the maps. It was so very important to European explorers to map their findings and claim the drawn lands as theirs, including the natural resources that were abundant. For First Nation, Inuit, and Métis people, we knew the land as we lived on it and we respected it for giving us life. She explained this reality with the following quote, “Mapping was used as a way to claim place and what is important and isn’t important in life.” She used mapping in reverse as a medium to reclaim the places and names important to Aboriginal people and to honour the sacred places given to us by Mother Earth. I, myself, was born in what was mapped as Frobisher Bay, Northwest Territories in 1989. Today, I am very proud to see in its place today the capital city of Nunavut, Iqaluit (which translates from English to Inuktitut as “place abundant of fish.” We are on this journey already.
As we continue to evolve in modern ways along this journey, we have become accustomed to technology. Manon Barbeau, writer and filmmaker, is a mover of positive change with her creative intellect and her ability to channel technology and culture into great productions. Her presentation was about the Wapikoni Mobile, a travelling studio bus equipped with technology, two trainers of film, and one social worker. The purpose of this bus is to train Aboriginal youth within Quebec to tell their stories by creating films. This is a very healthy way to work with youth in promoting Aboriginal culture while using multimedia and technology. Abraham Cote, co-presenter, is originally from Kitiganzibi and is now a film director. As a child, Abraham dreamed of directing films and he now travels worldwide to showcase his films and gain more experience as a youth director. When the Wapikoni bus was in his reserve, he took his chance at his career.
I was extremely pleased with this presentation. I worked with First Nation, Métis and Inuit youth in the city of Ottawa and across Ontario for five years with Minwaashin Lodge. The purpose of my work was to promote healthy relationships and non-violence in a culturally reflective and exciting way. To be exciting I had to tap into the interests of youth, like Wapikoni Mobile does. At a Provincial March Break camp held at Carleton University, the youth created an online magazine (titled VIP: Very Indigenous People), a short film, and a song (titled Our Hearts). We’ve also created a First Nation specific rap song music video titled Love You Give as well as an Inuit documentary titled It’s Time to Shine. All of these productions are healthy relationship educational tools. The short films that Manon and Abraham showed us at the conference were reflective of my work as a youth leader. I was particularly impressed with the short film The Amendment—Abinodjic Madjinakini by Kevin Papatie. It too, is an educational tool that creates awareness of colonization for Aboriginal people in Canada. In 1920 the Indian Act was amended and made residential school mandatory for Indian children. The film addressed the intergenerational connection between Zoe Papatie who speaks only Algonquin; her son, Noe Louis Papatie who attended residential school at the age of seven only able to speak Algonquin but who returned able to speak French; his daughter Nadia Papatie who was “taken away by the Whites” as a young girl able to speak Algonquin and French and returned barely speaking Algonquin; and her daughter, Ingrid Papatie who can speak only French and is currently a ward of the state. From a grandmother to her great granddaughter within a span of one hundred years was the Algonquin language to be forgotten. It was with the goal of assimilation that the government of Canada ensured that Indigenous languages would be forgotten while attending residential school.
This is a shared reality amongst First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities across the country. This is my reality and I was reminded of this while watching this short film. By the time the four minute production was complete, I was crying. My mother moved herself and my siblings away from the Arctic when we were young to shelter us from harm that is prevalent among Inuit due to the intergenerational effects of colonization and residential school. Along with the sacrifice of family, culture and the environment which she knew as home, she sacrificed our language. In Panniqtuq, Inuktitut is spoken by over 80% of the population. Inuktitut was my first language and I regretfully have lost it having grown up in mainstream society in the capital city of Canada. This is a barrier for me to identify myself as an Inuk, to communicate with my older uncles and aunts as well as my Elders. These people grew up ‘on the land’ and have so much knowledge to offer to me, as a member of the next generation to bear children. I am unable to gain any teachings, knowledge, or even engage in meaningful conversation with them, which truly is disgraceful. I make it a point to reclaim my language and reverse the curse of colonization that has and continues to plague my people and fellow Nations. Watching that film only encouraged me on this journey, as decolonization includes the collective reclaiming of culture and language.
Lastly, Tanya Tagaq, originally from Resolute Bay but raised in Cambridge Bay, performed in the Fenn Lounge after our delicious gourmet meal. This was the first time that I had seen Tanya perform live and I was very anxious about it, to be honest. I was not sure what to expect and for the first few minutes of her performance I was undecided as to whether I liked it or not. It wasn’t until I began to really listen to the traditional throat songs and “ayaya” that were fused with her whispers and singing, that I came to appreciate her performance. As a throat singer myself, I was able to picture the landscape, the animals, the tools, and Inuit culture within her song. I was also able to embody her experience as an adult “searching for her childhood memories.” I experienced her anger when she sang from deep in her throat, her frustration when she screamed, and her innocence when she throat sang with a child’s voice. I was able to understand the story that she was telling and join her out-of-body experience as she shared it with us. I appreciated it and will always remember it.
When she ended the conference with her presentation or “talk” as she titled it, I was very surprised at her honesty when referring to her feminist views and uncensored stories. I felt the same way when I saw her tears as she was complimented by another Inuk female delegate also from Cambridge Bay. I later learned that she was emotional and cried because she had never been complimented or encouraged by someone from her own community. I can understand why this might be a burden for her as she breaks free from what she views as a “regimented” practice of traditional throat singing and enters a very new realm of contemporary performance. However, she did honour the traditional piece by performing with Celina Kalluk, her cousin, “Qimmiruluapik—Poor Little Dog”, a traditional throat song, which I think was important to do. As another Inuk, I have since congratulated her for her very powerful performance and encouraged her to continue to grow as a contemporary Inuk artist. She is very in tune with her mind, body, and spirit and embraces her identity as an Indigenous person. She is not afraid to show that off and she is very liberal. I think that she is breaking free from the silence that was imposed on our people. We were told that our traditions were backward and sinful. We were to give up our ways to achieve civilization and religious obligation. In this tiring process, we were told to forget our shamans, traditional stories, and songs. We will no longer be silent and Tanya Tagaq will continue to produce art with “full-force passion and power.” I am very proud of her.
I am also very proud of all of the presenters at the New Sun Conference this year. I am thankful to Elder Jim Albert who closed our ceremony with a prayer. But, I am most grateful to those who planned and hosted Something Else Again! by creating a safe space on campus to join in ceremony and celebrate the beautiful achievements of each presenter in the room. While gathered in ceremony, we all had a chance to reflect on our purpose in life and as mentioned, rejuvenate our minds, bodies, and spirits. I left the conference with hope and energy to continue on my journey, knowing that people were educated and aware of the realities of Aboriginal people over the day and that my peers were able to share in the memorable day with me. I began this reflection by claiming that it was a day of decolonization and I end with the same message. All of us were a part of the process of liberation and the overturning of colonial structures that day! And for that, qujannamiik! All my relations.
Program of the 9th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Something Else Again!
Waziyatawin and Michael Yellow Bird. 2005. “Beginning Decolonization” In: Wilson, Waziyatawin Angela and Michael Yellow Bird (eds.). For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook. Santa Fe: School of American Research. 1-8.
On Saturday, February 27, 2010 I woke at sunrise, and began my physical and mental preparations for the day-long New Sun Conference. This was the first time that I had attended a New Sun Conference as a student in (New Sun Chair) Professor Ryan’s Art History 4005 course, and as per the course outline, I would have to submit a reflective paper on my experience. I made sure to pack up my Toshiba mini-computer, an item that as a contemporary Aboriginal Graduate student at Carleton University, I cannot imagine living without. There is irony in that I suppose, an Anishinabe woman born and raised in the colonial “prison” that is the Kitigan Zibi reserve in Quebec, whose belief systems are rooted in traditional spiritualism, yet I am very much present in the here and now. I have elected to raise my daughter in an urban environment while I pursue a university education at Carlton University, an institution located on the traditional territory of my ancestors. Would the artists I was about to encounter be so different from me, or would there perhaps be some similarities in the diversity of who we all are as ever-evolving Aboriginal peoples?
I arrived on campus an hour before the conference was set to begin, and as fellow students (from Ryan’s class) and other guests began to trickle in, I could not deny the electricity of anticipation and expectation that seemed to spark and travel amongst us as old friends took seats along and amongst new faces, names being exchanged in the spirit of continuity. I have been to several New Sun Conferences in the past, but I have to admit that this year’s 9th annual conference was by far, one of the most emotionally moving, and spiritually uplifting yet. Upon further reflection of this year’s New Sun Conference, I would be committing an injustice if I failed to mention that both the physical and mental aspects were also stimulated during the seven hours that I (and approximately two-hundred guests) had the privilege of being part of. Like any important Aboriginal gathering, the day began with an Opening Prayer. Elder, Jim Albert summarized succinctly what was (at the time) about to transpire: “the New Sun Conference” he stated, “is like coming into Ceremony” and that he and all those present were “going to be in Ceremony all day.” Ceremony it was indeed. After having two weeks to ponder upon and digest the experience, I feel almost ready to begin writing about it. I must admit however, that there is a part of me that feels strongly that the event will lose quite a lot of its pure essence in my attempt to commit it to paper, and that there are many parts of it that the English language is just simply too limited a medium of expression to parlay with accuracy what was felt, shared, and what I came away with. To write it in Anishinabe though, would mean that Professor Ryan would be at a loss on how to grade my observations, and as I am not inclined to alienate anyone (least of all the professor) I offer all that I possibly can with the limitations of a language not inherently mine, and in the spirit of that which is “Something Else Again.”
As already mentioned, this year’s New Sun Conference stimulated the four sacred ways of being: the physical that is our body, the mental that is our mind, the emotional that is our heart, and the spiritual that is our soul. We were in the physical presence of some remarkable artists whose presentations enabled us to (mentally) visualize how Indigenous artists juxtapose tradition with contemporary lifestyles; the event tugged at the emotions (causing the physical reaction of tears to well and run); and the various artistic expressions provided nourishment for the spirit. This particular New Sun Conference seemed to unite a diverse community of individuals, allowing those who are normally on the “outside” to feel “part of the community and enjoy the experience in a whole new way.” The feeling of community produced by the New Sun Conference is important for those of us who choose to occupy and claim urban space in which numerous communities exist side by side, but not always harmoniously. The atmosphere of the conference allowed for a diverse community to co-exist in one room, and I could not help but wish that such sincere goodwill could be transplanted to the rest of the university, could seep into the urban centre, would somehow permeate the walls of parliament, and percolate throughout the country and inspire people to shed the socialized biases that so violently divide and segregate the Nations.
Perhaps I dream in Indigenous “technicolour,” and I need to return to the smaller reality of what occurred at the New Sun Conference, and how that particular experience touched me personally. There was no better person perhaps to open the conference than self-taught Metis artist and educator, Christi Belcourt whose early interest in the floral beadwork patterns of Metis and First Nations women led her on a journey of exploration into traditional Metis art, history, environmental concerns and contemporary issues encountered by the Metis in modern times.
Belcourt’s generosity was evident by her mural, My Heart (Is Beautiful), loaned to the New Sun Chair for display during the conference. The mural showcases not only Christi Belcourt’s talent as an artist with tremendous patience (the mural she said comprised over three hundred thousand dots), but also honours traditional Metis and First Nations beadwork. Christi Belcourt’s works speak to all those qualities that make up human nature—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, and her mural pays tribute to all those four sacred ways of being. The artist admitted that her first attempts to translate floral beadwork to paint and canvas was not as successful as she had hoped and realized that she was unfamiliar with the plants she was attempting to paint. With this in mind, Belcourt went out onto the land and began to introduce herself to the flowers and plants.
Christi Belcourt’s discourse reminded me of a story (told to me by an esteemed member of Kitigan Zibi), about human births and the world surrounding us, and the responsibility we hold to one another as living beings, the gist of the story is as follows:
There was one boy whose birth was never announced and as he grew up he was the least successful hunter of his people. Most boys begin hunting small game, and as they mature so too do their hunting skills, but this one boy grew into manhood never having killed even one animal to share with his people. Eventually the young man, feeling shamed and useless ran away from his people and eventually fell to the earth completely exhausted and dismayed by his life. When he opened his eyes, a female Caribou was looking down at him and asked “who are you?” The young man introduced himself to the Caribou and expressed to her his profound despair. The Caribou said that she “had never heard of him,” and realized that the birds had not done their job when the young man first arrived into the world. The Caribou called two birds over and pulled a couple of tail feathers from each of them as punishment for not performing their duties properly; she then told the two birds to fly throughout the land to announce the young man’s name to all living creatures. The man returned to his family, and to their surprise he became the most successful hunter amongst all his people. As he grew into old age, the man returned to forest and took the form of a male Caribou, and so he spent the remainder of his life with the female Caribou who found him laying hopeless and full of despair all those years before.
This story speaks to me of Christi Belcourt’s explanation of her first attempts to translate floral beadwork to paint and canvas. The plants, flowers (and indeed the animals) had not had the benefit of knowing her intimately, and this perhaps might explain why she was not (according to her impression) very successful with those initial depictions. Only after Belcourt went out onto the land and invested a great deal of time introducing herself and becoming acquainted with each plant individually, did she form a connection that enabled her to see herself as no better, no less than all living things. Her mural (along with the other Powerpoint images Belcourt shared with us) reflected someone who had indeed spent time on the land. Belcourt uses her hands (physical), her mind (mental), heart (emotional) and soul (spiritual) to create her images and through them is able to honour the traditional beadwork of Metis and First Nations peoples. Christi Belcourt expressed that “the plant world has taught (her) about (her own) place, (her) connection to mother earth” as that which is “mysterious and perfect to look at,” and that there is “more to life than what is seen on the surface; all life needs nurturing from Mother Earth to grow.” What is Mother Earth? Perhaps it is fair to say that “Mother Earth” includes all living things that have sprung up from her, including every single one of us, who as human beings with minds, hearts, bodies and souls, have a responsibility to nurture not just our own creativity, but that of our youth so that they too can do the same for future generations. Becoming better acquainted with our surroundings enables us to grow, and ensures that our names, and the good work we put forth will possibly be remembered and carried out in new and ever-evolving ways.
One might easily argue that in the artistic endeavors of Manon Barbeau, Gerald Vizenor, Marwin Begaye, and Tanya Tagaq all incorporate the four ways of being human. Barbeau, through her work with Wapikoni Mobile Corporation and Video Paradiso brings studio equipment (physical) to Aboriginal communities in Quebec to teach (mental) Indigenous youth how to express their experiences (physical, emotional and spiritual) through film. Such creative talents in our Aboriginal youth was showcased by (fellow Kitigan Zibi member) and student of Barbeau and Wapikoni, Abraham Cote. To bear witness to one of the younger members of my community taking advantage of a great opportunity, and to view a sampling of some his film work filled me with pride and hope in our future as Aboriginal people, particularly in our young men who very deliberately claim space and place in contemporary society. Abraham Cote might represent that man in the Caribou story whose voice was not being heard until he found the strength to stand up and introduce himself to the broader community as a contemporary Warrior whose voice, vision and creative energies need to find new ways to re-emerge in a world that has (since contact) emasculated our men by stripping them of their responsibility as protectors of the people. As a young man actively pursuing his dream and exploring his creative talents, Abraham Cote becomes a role model for other young Aboriginal men who are stepping up to protect their people with contemporary “media weapons” that announce to the outside world that the Warrior spirit is alive, well and in transformation.
Gerald Vizenor, a “distinguished Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, and Professor Emeritus as the University of California, Berkley,” is the author of “more than thirty books in all literary genres, including poetry, drama, journalism, tribal history, cultural criticism and fiction.” Vizenor stands out as the man who coined the term “Survivance” and stated that he “needed a word that (he) could say and write that had the power of the word ‘dominance’.” he wanted “a word that could grow, a word to challenge the western world view that spoke to survival of victimization.” Marwin Begaye of the Navajo Nation grew up with his Grandmother who “lived to be one hundred and twenty years old, and wove until the last week of her life.” The respect and the esteem with which Begaye held his Grandmother is something that is perhaps waning in our traditions today as Indigenous peoples in Canada. My mother related a story to me about one young Kitgan Zibi man (a youth who recently died of a drug overdose on the reserve), whose Grandfather attempted to reach out to his misguided Grandson, and was told “Fuck you Shomis.” Hearing this made me cry, and to know that some of our youth have become so lost in the hopelessness of drug abuse.
Marwin Begaye shared many images with the audience, but there was one that seems have been emblazoned into my memory with vivid accuracy, it is the image of (the artist’s) Grandmother’s hands, “the most beautiful hands (he) has ever seen.” Marwin Begaye’s Grandmother was a weaver who taught him that “designs aren’t yours to take, you are given them through dreams,” and one “must go through certain protocols so as to bring good feelings to others.” Aboriginal artists seem to create with all ways of being human and the creations that result are highly personal. The artistic expressions of this year’s New Sun Conference guest speakers can be traced back to the traditions of our ancestors while simultaneously moving forward, adapting and dominating or perhaps, claiming “survivance” as a people.
The young artist whose performance left the greatest impression on me was Tanya Tagaq, a contemporary Inuit Throat Singer whose performance after lunch was like going through the phases of (contemporary) Aboriginal birth and life. We come from the Spirit World (after choosing our parents) and make our entry into the physical world where we are given mental “tools” that will enable us to perform according to societal standards and expectations; we experience a whole range of emotions as we go through life including happiness, sadness, anger, loneliness and at times profound despair. Much of our experiences today relate to and are a result of colonial impositions, but after our time on earth is done, we will be called back to the Spirit World by our Spirit Names. Tanya Tagaq’s performance had a decolonizing effect on me, made me rethink my place at the academic institution where I have elected to pursue a formal, Euro-Canadian education. As Tagaq sang and allowed her body to move the music of her own voice and the contemporary instruments that accompanied her, I realized that so much of who we are as Indigenous Peoples needs to be announced and the world needs to know we live, we breathe, we dance, we sing, and most importantly, that we continue to create. Tagaq was also the final speaker, and I thought again how fitting it was to have begun and ended “ceremony” with female artists (we are here because of our Mothers, and we will return to Mother Earth).
When Tanya Tagaq claimed the speaker’s stage and announced herself to us, she said something that impacted me as an Aboriginal woman; Tagaq articulated with pride that her Mother is Inuk, her Father is English, and that there is no such word as “Metis” and there is no such thing as “being half Inuit”—no matter what their lineage and genealogical legacy they are all Inuk. The government seems to have really impacted negatively on First Nations peoples (perhaps because of our numbers), and our people have been impacted by colonization to the point that many of us believe in the idea of “blood quantum” as though it was something built into our cultures, our traditions. So long as we ostracize one another by closing the doors on those who do not have enough “Indian blood” coursing through their veins, we perform what Christi Belcourt depicted in one of her images “Blood Letting.” In do so, we strangle our Ancestors and we consume our own young before they are even announced among all those living creatures that we continue to share the earth with. We need to find that internal song, similar to the one Tanya Tagaq performed that she herself described as primal, but that I can only relate to as profoundly ancestral re-emerging as “Something Else Again.” Miisawa. Kakina ni-djiiniwendaginak. (So there it is. All my relations.)
Story related by Simon Brascoupe during Directed Studies course “Traditional Teachings” segment Jan. 2010. Some elements of the story have been deliberately omitted to honour the Oral Tradition with which it was told.
“Sa’ah naagháí bik’eh hózhóó”: Reflections on the New Sun Conference
On the afternoon of February 27th, attendees of the Ninth Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts (subtitled Something Else Again!), heard artist and activist Marwin Begaye proclaim “Sa’ah naagháí bik’eh hózhóó,” a phrase by which all Navajos live. Essentially connoting a willingness to live life to its fullest, and in the purest way possible, the sentiment seemed to resonate deeply with what the conference attempted to do: to show Aboriginal artists in their whole-hearted quests to lead meaningful lives, and indeed to improve the lives of others through their poignant and important work. It was a day filled with hope, humour, and inspiration, though at times the mood did become solemn, and for good reason. The presentations and performances given by Christi Belcourt, Manon Barbeau, Gerald Vizenor, Marwin Begaye, and Tanya Tagaq covered many critical issues of contemporary Aboriginal life in Canada and abroad, most notably problems of alcoholism, depression, diabetes, and the loss of languages and culture due to attempts at assimilation. Yet what dominated the atmosphere in the room that day were not feelings of grief, but rather of joy and hope. Each presenter came into the conference with a wealth of information to share—how they were working to regain traditional knowledge, as in the case of Christi Belcourt and her botanical studies, or how they were attempting to empower youth in communities all over the country, as with Barbeau’s Wapikoni Mobile. To say the least, the conference proved to be a moment of coming-together across cultures and ages, and may very well serve as a crucial model for future advocacy and intercultural understandings.
After a moving welcome given by New Sun Chair Allan J. Ryan, in which the site was acknowledged as being on Aboriginal ancestral lands, the day began with the smudging of the room by Elder Jim Albert. In the soft and sacred scent of burning sweet grass, the opening prayer began, conveying notions of celebration and the sanctity of the age-old traditions and medicines being used for this special occasion. Followed by a warm greeting from Dean Osborne, and the introduction of New Sun herself, Dr. Maclaren (for whom the conference is named), the real work of sharing stories began in a space of mutual respect and inquisitiveness. Christi Belcourt, a soft-spoken artist of Métis heritage and daughter of activist Tony Belcourt, began the presentations in front of her very own painting. Known perhaps most for her appropriation of Métis beadwork patterns and design techniques, Belcourt in fact has a much larger and more varied oeuvre, portraying themes ranging from environmentalism to cultural renewal. In her series The Great Métis of My Time (2005–2007), the artist portrays cultural leaders to whom she and other Métis people look up to for their advocacy and activist roles. In such a manner she gives her people a sense of pride, hope, and strength. In other works such as Good Land (2007, cartographic displays of Aboriginal concepts of land are juxtaposed against European maps that traditionally marked places and resources to be exploited. A moving piece, it successfully renames and reclaims the land that was stolen by Europeans so long ago. In addition to reclamation and a sense of cultural unity, Belcourt delves into her environmental concerns in such works as What the Sturgeon Told Me (2007), a moving piece based on a powerful dream in which a sturgeon proclaimed that it missed the frogs, and which later proved to be true, given the complex and interdependent relationship between frogs and sturgeon spawning. These are but a few of the works and issues brought up by Belcourt, with many others which warrant discussion, such as the loss of language and culture and its devastating effects on the psyche of both the artist and so many Aboriginal peoples. To be brief, it was a beautiful and poignant opening to the day, and laid out the framework of issues to be taken up by the other presenters.
The following presentation was given by Manon Barbeau, founder of Wapikoni Mobile, a traveling film studio, and her protégé Abraham Cote, one of the youths who benefited from the programme. Wapikoni Mobile grew out of Barbeau’s activism with troubled youth in northern Quebec, and the tragic death of one of her most beloved youth leaders, for which the mobile is named. Barbeau, being a documentary film-maker herself, decided to start the project as a way to reach out to the youth and as a vehicle (literally and figuratively) for the youth to express themselves; in so doing, the mobile seeks to provide positive alternatives to the epidemic of depression, addiction and suicide surrounding them. Established in 2003, the programme has a phenomenal track record to date, comprising fifteen communities, six Nations, and over three hundred films produced in five languages. The project is indeed a success and continues to make change and help youths not only in Quebec, but across Canada and even across continents. With thirty-one prizes awarded around the world, and projects in places as far away as Finland, Peru, and Bolivia, it is an astounding organization; serving as a model for the power of art in the social arena, it provides an enormous message of hope to Aboriginal peoples everywhere. Attendees were witness to a private screening of several of the Mobile’s films, as well as a humorous and inspiring speech by Abraham Cote, a member of the Kitigan Zibi community and one of the project’s shining stars. After viewing such films as The City, which deals with the encroachment of white civilization on an Aboriginal utopia, and The Amendment, a film outlining the loss of language due to residential schooling, the audience was left with a strong impression of the power of film, and the importance of the work being undertaken by Wapikoni Mobile.
While there were messages of hope in both these presentations, they nonetheless dealt with some very solemn issues, and so it was a great refreshment to have Gerald Vizenor, renowned Aboriginal author, give a reading and presentation filled with wicked humour and harebrained trickster-ism. A charismatic and charming character, Vizenor treated the listeners to a reading from the first chapter of his upcoming novel Chair of Tears, a book based on an unlikely candidate for the head of an Indian Studies Department at a university. The first chapter introduces a very eclectic “family” who are living on a boat headed by Captain 80, a gambler who collects “mongrels” from the area and names all of his children after poker hands. Replete with poignant metaphors underlying a devilishly bumbling sense of humour, the reading was a great delight to the ears and the intellectual mind, and the room became filled with many laughs indeed. Vizenor’s warm personality graced attendees for a little while longer during the question and answer period, during which time another story was told and his notion of “survivance” was discussed. Explaining that he needed a new term to counteract the tragic Western trope of the “vanishing Indian,” the author turned to the archaic English word (derived from the French) to provide a binary opposition equally as powerful. Meaning “the right to inherit something,” the word speaks on many levels indeed, and proclaims the same message of strength and hope as were found in the previous presentations. After deconstructions of the trickster figure and discussions of literary Native art versus the popular kind, the listeners were left with happy hearts and a sense of the great importance of this very intelligent and magnetic author.
Following a phenomenal buffet of Aboriginal food provided by Classic Fare Catering—undoubtedly a culinary first for many in attendance, myself included—the world-famous Tanya Tagaq graced us with her presence on a makeshift stage, accompanied by a percussionist and violinist. Hailing from Cambridge Bay (Ikaluktuutiak), Nunavut, Tagaq melds traditional Inuit throat-singing with contemporary sounds, creating perhaps and new genre of music in and of itself. Having collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, Tagaq became known around the world after touring with legendary artist Bjork. You wouldn’t know it, though, as her humility and openness infused every aspect of her show. Looking around during the improvised performance, it was clear that the audience was, in essence, hypnotized. Tagaq’s incredible array of vocal sounds expertly intertwined and shifted so as to evoke the powerful, primal, haunting, and joyous sounds of the arctic itself, even incorporating sounds of such animals as the coyote. At the completion of the song, a great applause broke out, and it is safe to say that no one left the room the same person they had come in as. Ending with a demonstration of traditional throat-singing, it was a remarkable, powerful and transformative performance indeed.
Following the luncheon, it was Marwin Begaye’s turn to take centre stage—not an easy feat in Tagaq’s wake, but he succeeded remarkably well and provided a warm and witty presentation of his cutting printmaking and art. Assistant Professor of Printmaking and Painting at the University of Oklahoma, Marwin originally hails from the Navajo nation in New Mexico. Having grown up with his grandmother, a traditional weaver, Marwin was exposed to art from a young age and benefited greatly from this relationship, which also allowed him to keep his language, something many other Navajo were incapable of doing due to US boarding schools and their assimilation tactics. This abundant creativity led to art that is not only aesthetic, but important to the health of his people, as well. Following the theme of traveling art which is both educational and inspiring, as in the case of Barbeau, Marwin brings his art around the US to schools and institutions as a way of bringing about Diabetes awareness in Aboriginal populations. The life-long mission began with a diagnosis of cane sugar allergies in both he and his son, which led the artist to explore the horrible culture of consumption and improper nutrition in North America. Often using humour as a weapon, many of Begaye’s prints appropriate fast food logos and turn them on their head, as in Fountain of Youth or FKD, which also incorporates the Mexican skeleton imagery of Jose Cavado, part of Begaye’s ongoing tactics to use imagery appropriate to each audience so as to make the art works legible and poignant. Entitled “What’s Your Sugar?,” the presentation was tremendously informative, intimate, and humbling. To be sure, Begaye is an inspiration to all who wish to help their fellow people.
The conference came to an emotional end with a speech given by Tanya Tagaq, who shared her many views on life, womanhood, and being Inuit with total openness and honesty. A true force of a woman with an enormous joie de vivre, Tagaq handled the question and answer session with vim and vigor, inspiring women to lead the lives they want to lead, to be proud of their power to create, and to look shame in the face and denounce it. Utilizing a somewhat brazen but appropriate erotic Inuit legend to demonstrate the natural state of bodily acceptance, and the normality of sexuality, Tagaq countered Christian notions of shame of the corporeal and sexual, denouncing them as silly yet harmful cultural constructions. Especially touching were her ideas on healing through art—healing which necessitates openness and compassion for humanity. Using the metaphor of a salmon swimming upstream, Tagaq compared daily life to a great struggle which cannot be broken lest one fall downstream again. For this journey, for this great quest, we need to rely upon one another for support—as many have said before, no man (or woman) is an island. By the end of the session, there was nary a dry eye in the house.
With closing prayers by Jim Albert, the conference came to a beautiful close. Thanks and gifts were given to all those who participated, and it was with reluctance that the audience left to “go safely home to their loved ones, and to share this experience and new way of seeing with them,” as Jim Albert urged. Allan J. Ryan and his wife Rae succeeded in creating a safe and open space for discussions on the many issues facing Aboriginal people all over the world, and were it not for this protected arena, where emotions can be shared, and where tears can be shed, the messages held by the presenters would have been far less powerful. The New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts is an event that ideally everyone could attend, and it is a prime model for intercultural exchange and the breaking down of barriers. Moreover, it is an essential vehicle for the promotion of Aboriginal artists and issues, and as such is vital to all nations for its advocacy, and for its healing purposes. On behalf of all attendees, I would like to say an honest and heartfelt Miigwetch.
…Since the beginning of our course the New Sun Conference has been a point of reference and anticipation for all of us in the class. While I expected an informative day I was overwhelmed by the truly communal atmosphere which united speakers, faculty and students. …
The amazing lunch was followed by Tanya Tagaq’s spiritual performance of her contemporary take on traditional throat signing. … The intimate setting, which included having the stage on the floor to bring Tanya to the level of the audience, was an especially a nice way to be introduced to the art form. Her performance was so raw and emotional I think it moved everyone in the room. I did not exactly know why, but the energy of the group brought tears to many people in the room. I have never been so moved by a live performance where I actually had such a strong emotional reaction. Though initially I tried to resist the emotional outpouring out of some kind of embarrassment, I soon realized that everyone was as deeply affected as I appeared to be. Not knowing what exactly was being sung, everyone could connect to the primal, penetrating sounds of her voice. Her broad range of scale truly made it sound like there were many people fighting within her to sing out, an animalistic energy which at times sounded like a wolf howl or a distant spiritual connection. Tanya seemed to almost possess some kind of shamanistic quality in her work. As a shaman, she seemed to be transcending the spiritual and physical realm in her performance and brought everyone in the room along with her.
… Tanya Tagaq returned to the conference to conclude the day, her energy and confidence really left a great impression on everyone’s soul. As a woman she was so inspiring to me, her attitude and perspective on life despite having come from a harsh territory and childhood was very strong and beautiful. She was so hilarious and her openness with everyone was so refreshing in an academic environment which is usually so silencing of personal narratives and open sexuality. …
By the end of the day everyone was so connected and there was a real sense of positive energy in the room. We left feeling so touched by the emotions being expressed by everyone. Having brought my mother, it was really interesting to see how moved she was, she just wanted to hug to express her connection to the positive energy in the room. Having grown up in the fifties she told me she never really knew about any of these issues affecting the marginalized people of our society. She was struck by the great respect, honour and admiration younger aboriginal peoples had for their Elders and noted that she wish she saw the same in our mainstream non-aboriginal culture. It was such a successful day and everyone truly appreciated all the work you brought into the organization and careful selection of presenters. I cannot wait for the following New Sun Conference. I’m sure it will soon have to be held in a larger space as word of mouth will spread soon about this inspiring day.
… I was hesitant at first to attend this gathering since all previous conferences I had attended were overtly educational, theoretical and boring. But at no point during this conference did I ever feel bored, yet I was still learning. It was educational, not in a theoretical way, but in a way which focused on shared experiences and feelings, which made every second new and riveting. I feel this was not only due to the overall nature of the conference, and the organizers, but it was also due to the presenters, who openly expressed their art and connected with the audience on such a level that it made each word they said profoundly intriguing. … In the program it states, “one is invariably struck by the wealth of creativity that exists within Aboriginal communities. For some, this is a revelation. For everyone, it is a celebration.” I completely agree with this statement, and I would even suggest going one step further and say that one will not only be struck by the creativity of these peoples, but also by their immense generosity and ability to connect with the audience in such a way that the audience (me in particular) almost undergoes an out of body experience where your soul becomes one with the presenter. The boundaries between audience and presenter are broken and a friendship emerges; a friendship where we accept the hurt and the pain of their traumatic past, and embrace it as a way to move forward into the future. This destruction of boundaries was done not only through the words of the presenters, but also in the way the room was set up. The presenters—if you can call them that—were not placed on a stage; instead they were right at ground level with us the audience, allowing for this connection, and friendship, to be easily created. …
I particularly loved …[Christ Belcourt’s]… presentation because it is very rare to hear directly from the artist what the work means or is meant to symbolize. As an art historian I have become accustomed to reading books, and other people’s opinions, as a way to understand what the artist is trying to say in their work. It is very rare to actually have the artist tell us directly what she is trying to say in her work, and I believe it is an invaluable element which only adds to the uniqueness of this conference. …
Prior to this conference I had no idea what throat singing was, and was pleasantly shocked after, and during, Tanya’s performance. I believe her performance fit perfectly into the celebratory and ceremonial nature of the conference and encapsulated the whole indescribable feeling of the conference. Later that night when I got home and told my family about my day the first thing I talked about was Tanya’s performance. I was so excited and moved by it that I wanted to share that excitement with my family. But I found it hard to describe. I was at a loss for words for the performance and the way it made me feel, which I feel relates to the entire conference. It was an experience that I am still in awe of, and feel I will be for a long time. …
As previously stated I was in awe of her performance and was very interested in how she makes this sound. When I think about it now the only way I can describe the strength of her voice is by comparing it to the earth. Her voice sounds like something coming from the center of the earth. It is so deep, empowering and it both shook and grabbed me to the core of my being. And through the process of learning some basics to throat singing I was able to appreciate this art form even more. Also during this lesson, the feeling of connectedness between each member of the audience and the presenter grew. We all became a community, the New Sun community, within this conference, exemplified through this act of throat singing. …
I would like to conclude this reflection here, since I feel I could write on forever about the events, the presenters and the way I felt during and about this conference. As a closing note I would like to say that the day was a spiritual journey which was memorable, insightful, inspirational and even transformational. It shows the diversity of the Aboriginal people of the world in a way which almost challenges tradition, and breaks down the cultural barriers which contain us in our own self centered world. It also challenges the conventions of the term conference. I believe the structure, organizers and presenters of this conference displays the evolutionary nature of both the definition of the term conference and also of Aboriginal art. I believe it truly is more of a celebration, I wish I could suggest another word, other than “conference,” “celebration,” or “ceremony” to categorize this event, but as I said earlier it really is indescribable. But I do feel the term conference does not do the day justice. Therefore, I will end by simply saying it was an awesome way to spend my Saturday, and I will definitely be back next year for the 10th Annual New Sun Conference. Great Job.
As was probably the case for many others, this was my first time attending the New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts and I am pleased to say that at the end of the day, riding back home on the bus, I was filled with so much excitement that I felt the need to talk about it with friends and family to share the experience. It was an extremely rewarding experience for me and I felt like a sponge soaking everything in. After absorbing so much raw and genuine emotion I found myself completely exhausted once I got home.
Saturday morning I was feeling a bit nervous on my way to the campus, which is natural when you are participating in something new. It felt like a first day of school or going on a first date, not really knowing what to expect. As soon as I opened the door to the fifth floor of the Minto Building I could smell the burning of the medicine which Elder Jim Albert had prepared for the conference. This immediately reminded me of when I used to live with my parents when I was younger. On Sunday afternoons they used to light incense in the living room where they would spend a few hours reading or simply relaxing while listening to music. The burning of the medicine brought me back to those carefree moments spent with the people closest to me and almost instantly got rid of those butterflies lingering in my stomach. As a fellow student mentioned, the conference room felt like a safe space where everyone seemed comfortable. Elder Jim Albert’s opening prayer really achieved its effect of making our “mind clear and our heart strong in this day of ceremony,” and initiated what would truly become a day of transformation. …
Contemporary throat singer Tanya Tagaq gave a mesmerizing performance after our lunch. It was the first time I had ever seen a live performance of throat singing and it was very intense. After the first few minutes I realized that she was going to perform for half an hour straight, what I did not know until afterwards was that it was all improvised. I felt exhausted just witnessing her performance and I cannot imagine how much energy it must take to perform so intensely for such a long period of time. Her talk afterwards was very insightful, genuine, positive and uplifting. While I was listening to her speak I was constantly reminded of the book Woman as Goddess and Robert Markle’s idea of nude women as a symbol of power. She spoke with such passion about defying the Euro-Christian concept of nudity as shameful and her words inspired everyone in the room. As Robert Markle said, “All women remind me of what beauty is,” and Tanya Tagaq is not different. The short film afterwards was beautifully animated and her vocals in the background were extremely powerful and almost haunting. It is a great way to raise awareness of the importance of the seal hunt for the communities that depend on it as a way of life. You can see the significance of the hunt when the female character is lying down in the snow gutted. It is a great way of depicting the link between the prey, the land and the hunter who respects and honours both for their sacrifices which allow him and his family to survive. Hopefully, visual productions such as these will have more impact on the European Union’s ban on imported seal products, rather than gimmicky political stunts such as having seal on the menu at the parliamentary restaurant.
“We live in a culture of waiting.” I had never thought of how much time is wasted by standing around and waiting before, and that is when I realized that Marwin Begaye’s lecture and his art were going to be outside the box and captivating. He mentioned that he was influenced by his grandmother who was a traditional weaver, German Expressionism, Chinese woodblock carvings, traditional printmaking and new computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop. He blends absolutely everything to create art that is new and refreshing while still conveying an important message and raising awareness of diabetes in Aboriginal communities. His fight to live a healthier life after being diagnosed with an allergy to cane sugar was very inspiring and to be able to take such a life changing experience and share it with others in a positive manner is one of the great things about his art. …
… The most educational and memorable aspect of Gerald Vizenor’s discussion was “survivance.” He called it the creative contemporary presence of Natives. I think Vizenor is ahead of his time in his writing. From the excerpt that he read from Chair of Tears one can grasp the style of innovative literature that Vizenor delves into. His fictitious characters and plot lines stand for metaphors of Native life and experiences. Some of his jokes went over my head and understanding and encouraged me to seek out his books to get a better understanding of who he is. I enjoyed hearing Vizenor’s response to what trickster means to him, particularly when he said the trickster is a shamanic visionary figure and not any real person. It made me think about all the times I have experienced the trickster without knowing it right away. I think Vizenor was the most professional speaker and it is obvious that everyone in the audience holds him in high regard. I felt he was also expected to be very enlightening, which he was. His work is refreshing and I would enjoy writing an essay or report on his life and work one day. …
… Marwin Begaye creates fascinating work. If I were to create modern prints and paintings I would love to create images that have a social and emotional impact on people. Like Belcourt, I found Begaye’s work more powerful after he explained his life story and the meaning behind each piece. I have tried printmaking and it is difficult to make things to look exactly how you want them. Begaye has a strong talent for making his visions come to life for people to see. I enjoyed hearing the gasps and laughs from the audience as different images were shown and explained, especially the ones concerning McDonalds and other fast-food chains, for example, “Fountain of Youth.” I can see how his use of the skeleton drives his point home and has a deeper impact on people. I do not now much about diabetes so it was beneficial that Begaye provided statistics and explanations about his allergy to sugar cane. Rather than feeling sorry for Begaye and his suffering, I was inspired by his strength and initiative in using his skills to promote awareness.
Begaye’s bird series is also very different from the expected style of bird paintings. He receives my praise for taking traditional aspects of his culture—the weaving patterns—and combining them with birds into a painting that is modern and attractive in an odd way. I did not expect to see these two subjects put together in such a manner, but it is delightful to look at, almost mesmerizing. I think Begaye and his children are doing a wonderful job of creating awareness while having fun and enjoying life in an artistic way. Begaye’s presentation made me rethink what I should be doing in the future, for me and for other people. I want to raise awareness and educate people on issues that are important to me, and Begaye is a good role model.
As I try to find words to describe how Tagaq made me feel and think I am listening to her various performances on Youtube. And I have come to the conclusion that there are no words to describe the feeling one gets when she is performing. Bone-chilling, soul wrenching and trance-like is sort of how I feel seeing her live. Watching her interviews on Youtube, people always say she is connected to a deeper ghost-like out of body musical being. I agree that it feels like her sound comes from the middle of the Earth, as one person put it. She is gifted and it is amazing that she can share her gift with people around the world. I like to keep my demons and emotions in a nice closed box most of the time and Tagaq forced them out of me, as she did to many others. Personally, I did not feel comfortable expressing myself at the conference, but I did some soul searching and thinking later. I was scared for her to talk after Begaye because her presence is so demanding and intrusive making me feel uncomfortable. I wish I felt that way more often. My regular everyday routine is very numbing. An interruption like this is definitely needed more often. It is like a wake-up call back to being human and woman. I will seek out that bit of Tagaq livelihood that resides in me more often. Her video was also very beautiful. It was very primal and modern. Again, like all the others who presented, Tagaq wonderfully combines traditional values with contemporary existence making a tremendous statement.
The conference successfully stimulated all parts of my brain and heart. Educational, emotional and memorable are the three words I will stick with to describe my experience. Each person is an inspiration and has affected the way I see life and my future goals. I am scared and excited for next year. I am happy I have chosen this life path to follow because every day I am experiencing and learning so many great things that I never saw coming. I know amazing things are going to happen for me and that I can make a difference. This conference helps to enable me to free myself from restraints and assists in providing wisdom and knowledge to better my understanding of me. Funny how listening to other people share their stories helps one to discover themselves. I really do see a bit of myself in all of the presenters.
…Tanya Tagaq, for me, gave the most powerful performance of the day: her throat singing was entirely different from anything I had heard before, and was an immensely energetic performance that commanded the audience’s attention. … Tagaq’s strength and courage to be her own person without pretence was inspirational. …
The conference gave a real sense of hope: the problems were still present but the people speaking showed courage and fortitude and offered light-hearted yet profound views of their plight. … the [conference] was insightful, emotional and an entirely unique experience—there was great fluidity and a relaxed atmosphere. Audience response was especially enthusiastic: large numbers of people who attended mentioned how inspired they felt and spoke of the day as transformative. … It was also educational, in both the themes explored and the opinions expressed. Finally a sense of hope was the greatest legacy of the day, in particular the idea expressed by Vizenor—that of survivance. The saddest thought on leaving was the knowledge that [as an exchange student] I would not be able to return for the conference again next year.
I absolutely adored Gerald Vizenor’s presentation. I did not know the author, but there is nothing I love more than listening to stories, and he was an amazing storyteller. The words just seemed to flow, with perfect rhythm and sounds, carefully connected to form a story. And what imagination! I liked how he integrated tricksters and healers in a contemporary story. …
Last but not least, Tanya Tagaq. Her performance left me speechless, with goosebumps all over, and my eyes a bit dry because I think I forgot to blink while she sang. I had no idea what to expect from her performance, and was blown away. She had such intensity, such strength, such honesty and such freedom in her singing. It was like nothing else I had seen before, beautiful noise, both unsettling and familiar. As if that voice had always been there, but we could not hear it, or as if it could be anyone’s screams, the sound of anyone’s life. The first description I could come up for it is that it sounded like the voice of the centre of the Earth. Singing pain and anger and softness and love. Calling wolves. Calling everyone else, in a way, to join her. As if her voice could reach anything or anyone and was connected to something so deep that nothing could stop her. I think that at the moment she opened her mouth to sing, she had everybody mesmerized. The violinist, Jesse Zubot, was amazing too. Who knew a violin could make such sounds? Throat singing and a violin, both seeming so traditional, yet completely reinvented.
The New Sun Conference was incredible. Learning so much about so many different things, having the chance to hear such interesting people, and sharing the experience with the people who were there was truly a great opportunity. Thank you for everything!
… Joy New Sun, whom the conference is named after, touched my heart in a special way and will remain there for many years to come. … Tanya Tagag is the performer who blessed us with the most heart string-pulling concert of my life. … She is now one of the heroes that I will look up to for many years. The New Sun Conference was one of the most emotionally charged days of my life to date. All of the presentations were heartwarming, transformational, inspiring, moving, spiritual and many more things. I will keep this day in my heart forever. Thank you for making this possible.
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