By Clint Buehler
EDMONTON – For years, Edmonton’s summer fair, known then as Klondike days, would each year feature the arts, culture and commerce of a foreign country: Thailand, the Ukraine, the Phillipines, Russia, etc.
Despite the efforts of numerous Aboriginal organizations and individuals, there was little evidence of their rich history and culture at the fair, unlike the Calgary Stampede, where Aboriginal people have had a high profile for decades.
Last year, the name of the fair was changed to Capital EX, and a significant new element was introduced called “Kiyanaw (Cree for All of Us) – A First Peoples Showcase,” to celebrate the significant Aboriginal presence in Alberta’s Capital Region.
Edmonton’s geographic location has always lent itself as a central meeting place, says Beverly Crier, one of the organizers, and has been a hub of trade and gatherings for centuries before Europeans even realized North America existed.
“This city is at the very centre of the various First Nations scattered across what we now call Western Canada, including the northern territories. For centuries, the various languages and nations have gathered here on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River,” says Crier. “The High Level Bridge was even built right at the site of the ancient indigenous river crossing, because our people always knew it was the safest point to cross the river
“Why do you think the newcomers (Europeans) made Fort Edmonton their primary settlement. Because that’s where the First Nations people gathered naturally already.”
An estimated 10% of the city residents have First Nations heritage, ranging from Cree and Metis to Dene and west coast tribes. By 2012, the Capital region is expected to boast the country’s largest indigenous population.
“When Northlands (the fair’s organizer) refreshed its vision with Capital EX and invited the First Nations communities to create a showcase exhibit, we were very excited,” says Crier. “We welcomed the opportunity to tell our stories in our voice, told directly to the visitors at Capital EX. We have different stories to tell each year.”
Those stories are told through song and dance, through arts and crafts and through commerce. Aboriginal organizations, government agencies and NGOs that serve Aboriginal people also are present to explain their roles.
A popular event this year gave visitors the opportunity to sample traditional Inuit food such as whale blubber and raw seal meat, which they approached with varying degrees of trepidation.
Fashion shows featured the designs of Rhonda G. Cardinal, whose “Native Beauty Fashion and Designs” label creations are influenced by both today’s fashions and traditional designs.
The highlight this year was the caliber of the featured performers, showcased at the centre of a stage with four teepees and a Metis tent. They included:
• Adrian LaChance – Master of Ceremonies. He is a traditional dancer/cultural facilitator and master of ceremonies throughout Canada and overseas.
• Le La La Dancers – A traditional First Nations dance troupe whose members are from the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwak Kwak kee wak) First Nation of northern Vancouver Island, they have performed across Canada and internationally since 1987. Le La La means “traveling from here to there” in their language.
• Metis Spirit Dancers – Dancing with Metis pride is the family of Christian, Chantika and Freddie Hazell. Siblings who honour both their First Nations and Metis Heritage. Christian and Chantika have ranked in the top ten in their respective divisions for the past four years running at the World Hoop Dance Championships in Phoenix, Arizona. Freddie has been dancing the Grass Dance since he was 3 years old.
• Cory Poitras – 18 year old Jigging Metis Fiddler Plater, Cory Poitras is a talented and entertaining showman who has already enjoyed many successes in the music industry. With two CD’s under his belt, the latest “Electric Fiddler” won the Alberta Aboriginal Fiddler CD of the Year and the Alberta Aboriginal Rising Star Award for 2007.
• Yellowbird Traditional Dancers – Created by Lloyd Yellowbird, an original member of the American Indian Dance Theatre for 17 years, the Yellowbird Traditional dance troupe focuses on providing a strong cultural base for Aboriginal youth. Lloyd was also the program coordinator for the White Buffalo Dancers and the Drummers Society.
• Dallas Arcand & James Jones – Dallas Arcand is an Aboriginal entertainer from the Alexander (Kipohtakaw) Plains Indian Cree Nation. He is best known for his achievements as an aboriginal dancer, a motivational speaker, and a musician. Awarded the 2007 World Champion Hoop Dancer at the Annual World Championship Hoop Dancing Competition. James Jones is a hip-hop break dancer and the newest edition to Going Miles Youth Society of Alberta. Using the art of dance, James helps youth express themselves in a positive environment. He has won numerous dance competitions all over North America
• W.T. Goodspirit – Known as Wayne Jackson in his professional and private life, but to thousands of others across the Aboriginal music scene he is known as W.T. Goodspirit; singer/songwriter, a 2007 Alberta Aboriginal Music Award nominee and multiple other awards. Goodspirit is a member of the Goodfish Lake Cree Nation in northeastern Alberta, Canada.
• Brent Potskin & Darla Daniels – Born with Cree and Scottish ancestry, Brent Potskin is the world’s Master of the Metis Dance. He is a seven-time Canadian Red River Champion, 10-time Metis Square Dance Champion with the Edmonton Metis Cultural Dancers and Silver Medalist at the World Jigging Championship. Darla Daniels is a young 16-year-old who has been playing the Fiddle for four years and already has several accomplishments. Darla recently released her First CD on Aboriginal Day-June21/08. She received the first Gerald White Scholarship Award this past year, performed at the opening of International Polar Year Launch in Ottawa and was on APTN on several episodes of the Mix, where Greg Coyes did an interview with Darla and had her play fiddle.
• Michelle Arcand – A talented country vocalist who also loves to play the fiddle. This Metis artist has been singing with her family band for many years.
• Will Belcourt – Of Cree, Iroquois, and European descent, his debut album “Full Moon Blanket”, is a unique mixture of folk, blues and rock and is delivered with soulful purity and hard hitting intensity.
• Tom Jackson – Appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000 for his music and humanitarian work, Tom is well known to Canadians as an accomplished musician and actor dedicated to helping the less fortunate.