Impressions of the Day

The Annual New Sun Conference can be summed up simply as a form of healing for the soul. You have only to attend one to no longer have any doubts of art being a form of therapy for the maker and the viewer. It is a day comprised of brilliant and talented artists whose work is presented in a variety of mediums and conveys powerful messages of hope, inspiration and education. Each presenter shares with you the knowledge of what they have learned, but often as not their work has a way of imparting to you something they maybe didn’t intend. It is a truly powerful, motivating, and inspiring event, and a day I mark off on my calendar every year as a must attend.

My New Sun Conference 2012 experience was an absolute delight, coupled with moments of inspired optimism for my future and my country and filled during the day with feelings of hope, faith, sadness, anger, joy and a deep gratitude for life. Qujannamiik Dr. Ryan and to all who made this happen. :)


I’ve been meaning to email you and tell you how impressed I was with the New Sun Conference! As I mentioned (when we spoke on the phone), I am new to teaching Native Studies / Aboriginal Art and I try to attend as many events as possible to learn about Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Metis. I’ve been to a number of Natives Studies conferences (including the big three day Circle of Light in Toronto) and your New Sun Conference was by far the best I’ve attended! The quality of speakers, the lunch and entertainment, was outstanding and I will highly recommended it to my fellow educators in the Ottawa Catholic Board. Thank you very much.

The conference was absolutely amazing! I am telling everyone about what a wonderful time I had. The meal was exceptional, the speakers were thought provoking, there was nice variety over the course of the day… I was delighted to be there. Thank you for a very memorable experience! I’m looking forward to next year!

It was again a pleasant trip to Ottawa. I don’t always have pleasant trips. I felt I had the “right to speak” cause what I had to say was important and worthwhile to listen to. That what we had to say and show was important and helpful. And you, Allan, are one amazing bridge, and an important one too. I think I am speaking in Inuktitut and translating it to English, which is how I usually speak anyway. Thank you again for the important day you invited me to. :)
–Evie Mark, throat singer and presenter

I just wanted to say what a lovely time I had at the conference. It was a great chance to get a breather from my family, work on some future ideas and meet some incredible people. I really enjoyed myself. Thank you for inviting me.
–KC Adams, visual artist and presenter 

Dear Allan—and your sidekick, Rae:

I was shattered that I was unable to attend the 11th New Sun Conference. Just know that my spirit was certainly with you. I have been so touched by the accolades I have been hearing about this year’s conference. I know that you put so much into it, and you must be exhausted, but just bask in the warmth of the New Sun rays for a day or two before you start planning for next year’s conference #12! Do you think you’d be able to teach me to hip hop?! I’d love to learn…. I’m always up to learning something new. Congratulations, once again, Allan.

–Dr. Joy Maclaren, C.M. “New Sun”

I wanted to tell you again how much I enjoyed the New Sun Conference. As promised, it was an amazing, thought-provoking event! I also wanted to offer you a special thanks for the Saskatoon berries you so vigorously insisted be included on the menu. I grew up on a farm in Alberta teaming with Saskatoon bushes. Come summer, my brothers and I would ride our horses out into the back field to pick berries—often having to fight off our cows who would rip the sweet fruit from the bushes with their tongues. Those berries that evaded being eaten on the spot were turned into pies and jam. To this day, the taste of Saskatoon berries evokes the memory of summer sunshine, childhood freedom, and the sweet smell of my mom’s kitchen. It’s a treat I rarely get, so I was delighted to find them offered at the conference. They were the perfect topping to an already wonderful day! Thank you so much for making it all possible!

I was very interested in John Kim Bell’s presentation specifically, as it opened up a meaningful dialogue on certain dimensions of Indigenous political rhetoric. His confrontation of abstract concepts with concrete realities was particularly refreshing, helping to illuminate new ways of viewing issues surrounding land, tradition, and identity. Moreover, Bell’s commitment to discarding limitations as an Indigenous person was deeply inspiring, reflecting the same fearless spirit that Douglas Cardinal brought to the 2011 Conference. Another wonderful day, Allan!

Getting out of bed so early on a Saturday morning was no fun at all, but the conference was well worth it!

The conference—my first time at a New Sun event—was amazing. The food and the dancing were highlights, but every speaker was impressive and worth hearing as well. It was a terrific event and if you have an electronic mailing list for next year I’d love to be on it!

Just wanted to congratulate you on the New Sun Conference yesterday—it was absolutely amazing! I really enjoyed it. I’m sure you received a lot of positive feedback! Thanks again.

Just a short note to say congratulations on another successful New Sun Conference! All of Joy’s guests really enjoyed the conference just as much as I did. It was really well organized. Kudos to you—great job!

Congratulations to you, your wife, the participants and all the wonderful artists on another great conference. Are the DVD’s of the New Sun Conference available for purchase?

I really enjoyed the New Sun Conference this year, and felt as if I’d taken a short vacation after the day. It’s such a stressful time of year, with additional family stressors these days, and I left feeling renewed. I liked KC Adams and am still somewhat haunted by the cyborg concept and other ideas stimulated by her work. Her dry delivery was enjoyable. My friends and I are still talking about John Kim Bell’s presentation, which generated an incredible amount of energy. (I wish we could have a follow up to actually process some of Bell’s ideas.) Lunch was to die for, better every year, and the overall sense of community is so reassuring. Congratulations and thanks.

Thanks for sending the link to the Dean’s blog! I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one moved to tears—sometimes I feel like such a sap that I always seem to want to cry at these events (and not necessarily tears of sorrow but of inspiration and hope) so it is good to know I am not alone! I have to say I was very surprised by John Kim Bell’s speech—I know very little of him and I was, to be honest, expecting it to be somewhat boring but his speech was definitely very provocative and powerful.

I have already sent the Blue Print for Life information to my sister who works in Community Services and Youth Development programming in Kanata and the outlying areas. I’m not sure if the hip hop motif would work as well in a mixed urban/rural setting such as West end Ottawa but Stephen Leafloor does offer a powerful message outside of the implementation of the hip hop program that I thought might be of interest to her programmers.

I will also mention that one other thing that really stuck with me was the opening prayer by Jim Albert: I really liked the way he talked about us each having our own medicine that can be used to help ourselves and to help others, but also how we often don’t know we have it. Related to that, the other message I really liked was about being true to yourself and just being who you are and that we all have our own value in our own unique way. And the food was fantastic!

All in all a truly wonderful day and experience… but I’m sure you hear that from everyone who attends!

(I want to recall the word “boring”—it is a little harsh. I thought it would be the one of least interest to me yet it turned out to be highly interesting. I think I focused on the word “conductor” and thought he would be stuffier than he was but he was highly engaging.)


Thank you so much for a thought-provoking conference. Cyborg Hybrids, Avatars, HipHop—I was struck by the diverse nature and perspectives of the presenters and their cutting edge work. Stephen Leafloor, BluePrintForLife touched emotionally. Overall, I was amazed… and the lunch was so delicious.

It was another wonderful conference. I found Christine Welsh and John Kim Bell’s talks particularly memorable. Bell’s suggestion of the possibility of moving, for communities that are located in remote areas, possibly seen as unviable locations, was a new idea to me. It will be interesting to hear what community members think of it, if it is taken up in any way. The Blue Print for Life hip hop group was amazing, with the vitality of the group and their strength of purpose I can imagine how effective they will be. [My daughter] Victoria loved it too—she was delighted that you remembered her. She is in the School for Community and Public Affairs, with a minor in Aboriginal Studies, and is loving it. Thank you again for a wonderful day, and as always, the lunch was delicious.

Thanks for another wonderful and inspiring conference. L and I both really enjoyed the presentations by Christine Welsh and Stephen Leafloor. L was particularly inspired by Stephen Leafloor. I really liked the theme of Reconfigured Realities and how it ran throughout the presentations. I also liked how many of the presenters spoke of not wanting to be viewed as victims but rather celebrate their achievements. The lunch as usual was delicious and we both thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment during lunch.  Thanks for a wonderful day!!

I would like to thank you and Rae and the rest of your staff for having put together another wonderful conference. This is my fourth New Sun Conference and I have always enjoyed attending them. This year I was particularly impressed with two of your guests. The first was Christine Welsh. She reminds me of Tracey Deer, from Kahnawake that you had as a guest in the 2008 conference. These are wonderful filmmakers who bring a perspective to their documentaries that cannot be found with filmmakers from outside of their culture. The second was John Kim Bell. From his biography he is a highly accomplished person and he offers a unique set of solutions to complex problems. He thinks “outside the box” and I believe that this is important for our society today. We need to think outside the box also, to embrace other cultures as a way to appreciate ours as well as theirs. Thanks for a wonderful conference and I look forward to the 12th Annual New Sun Conference.

First of all, I was saddened that New Sun was not able to attend and I hope she recovers soon. Her family and my mother’s were friends in Calgary between 1920 and 1970. Her dad was very well-loved. I often heard his name.

I enjoyed the conference as much as ever. You always choose speakers that are passionate about what they do which makes it seem like a day of gifts. Even President Runte’s speech was passionate (about the winds of change). I could have listened to KC Adams all day—her ideas and concepts and the way she transformed them into art was fascinating. I was deeply impressed by Christine Welsh’s films and plan to watch them asap. Loved her story about her time in Haida Gwaii where the Haida women told her how her film was going to be made, how the story would be conveyed.

The person I found most memorable was John Kim Bell. He had so many interesting ideas, including the connection between Chinese and Native American music. I wonder if Frances Densmore would have agreed. She might well have! He was outspoken about the lack of effective leadership in the AFN and the reserves that he says are unsustainable. Listening to John Kelly’s question about how to move forward and still “remain true to our ancestors” I was struck by the two extremely different approaches and would like to have heard a little more discussion between the two men. I thought the lunch was the best yet. Everything—I had the squash, the rice and the duck—was outstanding. Thank you Allan. It was a great experience.

As for the New Sun Conference—what a tremendous success and quite a provocative lineup!

The 11th Annual New Sun Conference, “Reconfigured Realities” was an inspiring day full of many profound and touching moments. Many of the artists, educators and scholars attending the conference applied their creativity outside the fields of artistic production, to address the problems of political and social repair. For these attendees, any focus on arts had a dual purpose: they wished to preserve cultural diversity, but more than that, they wished to repair Aboriginal communities in crisis. Artist KC Adams explored Aboriginal identity in today’s urban setting. Christine Welsh discussed her career as a filmmaker and the tragedies associated with violence against Aboriginal women, but also, hope for the future. John Kim Bell offered insights into the future success of Aboriginal people in the arts but also, in life. Blueprint For Life delivered an enthusiastic performance following lunch and even got some Elders to try scratching on turntables. Skawennati presented her new-media work and offered positive possibilities for Aboriginal people in the future. Stephen Leafloor discussed his ideas on social work through hip-hop and brought many audience members to tears with his stories of struggle and triumph. Arts education in such settings offers a powerful tool for reclaiming children and youth from the streets, reducing prison recidivism rates, and revitalizing poor and marginalized populations.

Having never been to the New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts before I had no idea what to expect but it went over and above any expectations I had. It was especially important to be brought into the day and conference as a ceremony, as initiated by the overall welcoming community of the conference, and most importantly by the smudging and prayer by Elder Jim Albert. Each speaker brought something entirely different to the conference, which all built upon the idea of reconfiguring the realities we are presented with in the often stereotypical mainstream media. Each artist challenged this notion, whether it was through KC Adams and her photography, Christine Welsh through her films or even Stephen Leafloor through breakdancing. John Kim Bell was certainly a controversial speaker but he encouraged dialogue on many issues which is incredibly helpful in reconfiguring realities. When people remember what it is that struck them about his talk they will certainly realize he is trying to break down the boundaries. Skawennati brought an entirely new outlook to the use of technology and New Media as an art form that challenges the dominant culture’s stereotypes. Her videos compressed many messages into single episodes. I left the conference feeling inspired and influenced by the different art forms I was presented with throughout the day and I certainly think everyone else felt the same. It was a great experience of community, inspired change and encouragement for the future. Over a week later I can still feel the connection everyone had in the conference and I will continue to think about the issues, as well as inspiration, we were presented with. It will certainly not be the only New Sun Conference I will attend.

2012’s New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Reconfigured Realities was opened with a prayer from Elder Jim Albert in which he stated “knowledge comes with responsibility.” In our society knowledge, difficult enough to gain, becomes further complicated by an awareness of the responsibility attached to it. What became particularly evident at this New Sun Conference was that the combination of knowledge and an understanding of the responsibility connected to that knowledge leads to creative projects that reach far beyond something shallow like a pretty picture. KC Adams explored the use of cyborg theory for mixed heritage, Christine Welsh examined the role of women in Indigenous histories, John Kim Bell proposed radical solutions to continuing problems in Indigenous communities, Skawennati brought Indigenous cultures to the virtual sphere and Stephen Leafloor addressed frequently occurring issues in northern communities with hip-hop. They all display the awesome power and positive effect to be gained from being responsible with the knowledge one has attained. Through the use of responsible knowledge, the aforementioned five speakers at the New Sun Conference have been able (and continue) to reconfigure perceived realities of Indigenous peoples.

At the New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Reconfigured Realities, attendees were exposed not only to methods of reconfiguration, but were also provided an opportunity to continue to develop how they themselves each individually conceived of Aboriginal realities. Five speakers presented different methods through which they attempted to “Reconfigure Reality,” and affect change in the perceptions and conceptions of Aboriginal cultures. Whether through KC Adams’ humour and subversive arts, Christine Welsh’s affecting and moving documentary works, John Kim Bell’s striking and challenging call for solutions, Skawennati’s new media methods, or Stephen Leafloor and BluePrintForLife’s active efforts to change northern conditions, all those in attendance who listened with open ears and hearts left with their own realities altered.

In attending the 11th Annual New Sun Conference, I had little knowledge of what to expect, but I found myself incredibly engaged with each of the speakers as they presented their various projects and achievements. I was most interested in the opening and closing presenters, KC Adams and Stephen Leafloor respectively. KC Adams’ exploration of her identity introduced the recurring theme of reconfiguring reality throughout the conference. Adams’ extensive body of work looks to dismantle the concepts of Aboriginal/Euro-Canadian and traditional/technology as being mutually exclusive, acknowledging the spaces she, as well as many Aboriginal people, exist in simultaneously, calling herself and other Euro-Aboriginal artists cyborg hybrids. This term could go on to describe all of the presenters, as they are all working with diverse interfaces to blend traditional approaches and technology within Aboriginal communities. Stephen Leafloor’s presentation was captivating and utterly inspiring as he presented and demonstrated his community development work with BluePrintforLife, a program that introduces and encourages Aboriginal youth to use hip hop to express themselves. His techniques and practices of creating intergenerational and intercultural exchanges are empowering youth to embrace their culture while developing new passions, connections and feelings of belonging within their communities. I hope that his methods and practices become more influential within social work and pedagogical approaches, and I look forward to following his work and the BluePrintforLife program in the future. Overall, the conference was thought-provoking and fascinating, and I hope I get the opportunity to attend in the future.

I thought the conference was very good. I enjoyed listening to KC Adams and some of the bead work she did was impressive. One of my favourite performers was Stephen Leafloor. I liked how they did beat box and hiphop. It was a great  way to get us all involved, especially the elders. This is my fourth year going to this conference and I am always so excited and leave with something I have learned. I am looking forward to next year. Thanks so much.

This year being my second year in attendance at the New Sun Conference, I had a slight inclination of what to expect. I at least knew that I was in for a day of reconfigured realities that would possibly end up reconfiguring my own reality. Throughout the day I was challenged and moved to new places and thoughts. What stuck with me the most was John Kim Bell’s theme of understanding the past in order to excel at whatever you wish to do in the future—this theme could be strung through each presenter. I was amazed at the contributions that each presenter is making in the art world, as well in their own communities and beyond. The positive energy of the New Sun Conference has yet to fade, and the themes and topics discussed are working their way into my daily reality.

I had never heard of the New Sun Conference until Allan Ryan told us about it in class. I’m not sure if I would have participated in this day had it not been a part of our course requirements. After saying that, I am very grateful that it was a requirement. This day has opened my eyes up to a whole new world of art. The way these artists have been challenged time and time again to prove themselves has obviously made them stronger. All of the speakers were very effective, however, Stephen Leafloor stole the show. He came in with a group called blueprintforlife. This group started by performing for us during lunch, then proceeded to give a presentation back in the lecture hall. This group has found a way to connect with Aboriginal communities all over Arctic Canada. These communities are filled with poverty, abuse, and sadly enough, suicide. Blueprintforlife spends a week with these communities and uses hip hop to bring the community together. The rest of the speakers consisted of KC Adams, a multimedia visual artist and photographer, Christine Welsh, a documentary filmmaker and educator, John Kim Bell, an arts producer, composer, and conductor, and Skawennati, a new media artist. All in all, this was a very impressive day and I would recommend that everyone go enjoy this day.

“Reconfigured Realities” was an apt name for this year’s New Sun Conference. Beginning with KC Adams and her Cyborg Hybrid series, the speakers never lost the thematic thread that bound the conference as a whole. In Adams’s work, the reconfiguration came from her ability to bridge cultural, temporal, aesthetic, and geographic divides. With her whitewashed Cyborg Hybrid photo series, she asks pointed questions about the nature of stereotype and the ways that individual realities are configured by those stereotypes.

Christine Welsh’s talk was somber. She has taken it upon herself to give voice to the voiceless, and, by doing so, reconfigure their reality. One thing I found particularly interesting about her talk was how she frequently referred to her struggle to reclaim the heritage that, out of necessity, her parents and grandparents pushed to the margins of their lives.

John Kim Bell is a provocative speaker. His overall message—that ending what he describes as a “culture of continuing victimization” is most important—stirred some interesting discussion. While his execution was sometimes misguided—for example, his sweeping generalizations failed to account for nations and communities that were successful, such as the Haida—his premise was sound.

Skawennati is an innovator and is probably far ahead of her time. Thankfully, technology is racing to keep up with her. Her CyberPowWow and Second Life installations are helping to break new ground for artists to exploit a whole new type of medium. She is literally reconfiguring the reality of net-based art as she smashes boundaries.

Stephen Leafloor and the BluePrintForLife crew were engaging and inspirational. Many of them rising up out of difficult circumstances, they demonstrate the transformative power of dance and hiphop. While they bring a positive message, they don’t shy away from the tough realities that many kids need to face. They teach children and youth how to reconfigure their own realities through artistic expression.

The New Sun Conference is always enlightening. This year was no exception. Thanks, Allan and the presenters for helping me continue to reconfigure my own reality.


The New Sun Conference was awesome, as usual.

The 11th New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts was entitled Reconfigured Realities. I initially went into the conference believing that based on the title the whole day would be an examination of prominent Aboriginal artists in the technology world. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find that each artist manipulated the theme to his or her own advantage. Some indeed interpreted the theme in the literal sense (reconfiguring reality through technology) while others approached the theme figuratively (creating changes in personal realities). While all of the artists impressed me, the high points of the conference consisted of John Kim Bell’s presentation which was extremely interesting and energetic, albeit controversial, as well as the presentation by BluePrintForLife. Stephen Leafloor was not only charismatic, he truly represents the epitome of hard work and drive. Finally, the lunch and lunchtime presentation were, like last year, delicious and entertaining.


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