Kwey, tansi, she:kon, tunngasugitsi, bonjour, and welcome to the 12th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Trailblazers. As in the past, we acknowledge with gratitude the hospitality of the Algonquin people on whose traditional unceded territory we gather today.
Exciting, creative, innovative, inspiring, amusing, enlightening, even wondrous. These words, in various combinations, have been frequently used to describe the artistic achievements of today’s presenters. They are not words we have encountered much in recent news stories about Aboriginal peoples, but they have regularly appeared in feedback from those who have attended the New Sun Conference over the past decade. Perhaps the mainstream media is missing something.
This year’s conference, on the theme of Trailblazers, seeks to honour those individuals within the Aboriginal arts community whose radical acts of imagination, coupled with a dogged determination, have broken new ground in the fields of haute couture, literature, film, music, and the visual arts, ensuring an active Aboriginal presence in a global cultural landscape that has, until recently, all too easily acquiesced to an Aboriginal absence. Their fearless acts of imagined inclusion have opened doors and built bridges that have, in the words of the late Ojibway artist Carl Beam, allowed us to “dream ourselves as each other.” As mentors and sometimes unwitting role models, today’s presenters engage with the world through their respective artistic media, refracting indigenous realities in ways both lush and luminous, dark and disturbing, comic and clever, heartfelt and cautiously hopeful. The spectrum of symbols and imagined experience they employ is as broad and diverse as the communal stories they celebrate.
Carleton University’s ongoing support of the New Sun Conference into its second decade reflects its commitment to incorporating indigenous knowledge and pedagogy into the life of the university. In this regard, I am indebted to President Roseann O’Reilly Runte and Dr. John Osborne, Dean of Arts and Social Sciences, for their continued commitment to indigenous teaching and learning, and especially to New Sun (Joy Maclaren) who has quietly provided support and encouragement for Aboriginal education over several decades not only to Carleton, but to numerous institutions across this country. Without such personal acts of kindness and generosity there would be no New Sun Conference.
Indigenous pedagogy is distinguished by several characteristics, among them: an emphasis on subjective, experiential learning; on storytelling, moral teachings, and personal relationships; and on the importance of the arts and ceremony in attaining balance in life. Personal experience is privileged in both writing and research, where “writing from the heart” often provides a much needed emotional context for considered reflection and critical analysis.
One of the most potent qualities of Indigenous pedagogy is its transformative potential. For the past eight years this room, Minto 5050, has been transformed into an intimate, sacred space of indigenous learning through the prayers and cleansing practices of Elder Jim Albert and the positive energy and personal gifts that each of you brings with you today. Over the years, and over the course of the day, not a few lives have been transformed. It is both a healing and redemptive space and a space of infinite possibility.
Holistic learning is also germain to the notion of indigenous pedagogy. This is perhaps best reflected in the teachings of the medicine wheel, which seek to maintain balance among its four quadrants representing the spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional domains of our lives. On this day, we will all be immersed in an experience of holistic learning where each of these four quadrants will be activated and energized—by the richly patterned wearing apparel of Dorothy Grant, the detailed fantasy landscapes of Daniel Heath Justice, the compelling stage and screen characterizations of Tantoo Cardinal, the public celebrations of visual arts curated by Gerald McMaster, and the evocative musical voicings of indigenous experience by Lucie Idlout.
No doubt, in the midst of stimulating our five physical senses—sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—a sixth sense, our sense of wonder, will also be animated. It can be argued that our sense of wonder is at the very heart of the medicine wheel encompassing all four quadrants.
Exciting, creative, innovative, inspiring, amusing, enlightening, even wondrous. Most assuredly! Today we embark on a journey of discovery and delight in the company of artists who have broken new ground and blazed new trails, enriching our lives along the way, and helping us to better understand what it means to be both Canadian and indigenous in this country.
All my relations,
Allan J. Ryan
A presentation of the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture,
with the support of the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and the New Sun Fund
administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa, plus the generosity of private donors