Topic: ARTS

šxʷʔam̓ət (Home) – New Theatre Production will look at Reconciliation

by Kelly Many Guns

Since 1981, Theatre for the Living has been helping communities tell their stories through the expression of theatre. This year, director David Diamond and associate director Renae Morriseau will present šxʷʔam̓ət (Home) on March 3rd through to the 11th at the Firehall Arts Centre. It is hoped that audiences will find Home provocative and entertaining. This production is created and performed by an Indigenous and non-indigenous cast, and asks us to imagine what reconciliation really means.



I spoke with Diamond and asked him about Home.

“The play grows out of an organic process, and this is how Theatre for the Living works,” Diamond said. “The play will develop struggles, and it will try and try and answer what reconciliation means. I’ve been doing this work for a long time, and people’s perception of the world around us changes.”

If you want innovative theatre that is engaging and challenges your perceptions, than checking out Home would be it.

Theatre for the Living has a 36 year, multi-award winning history of creating cutting edge, interactive theatre that challenges perceptions and creates social change. With 11 performances slated, Home will weave stories based on real-life, and challenge the audience to make reconciliation real and honourable. When referring to reconciliation, Morriseau says that the deeper understanding we have, the better.

“The production sounds like it’s going to be heavy, but it will be a lot of fun and very interactive, only the subject is not.”

The title of the production, šxʷʔam̓ət (Home), is based on an hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ (a local Indigenous dialect) word used to reference home. This word has so many different meanings to all of us who are living on this land.

The Theatre for the Living says there’s a conversation happening in Canada about reconciliation, and how it is manifesting action in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across this country. The City of Vancouver has officially declared that Vancouver sits on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. But what do these initiatives really mean? If we are sincere about the desire for reconciliation, what kinds of shifts in perceptions and behaviours need to take place? What is the pulse of change each of us are shaping? How do we break down the walls of colonization that surround us all? Is Reconciliation possible without respecting promises and guarantees made regarding Indigenous consent for projects on Indigenous land?

In šxʷʔam̓ət (home), the production will invite audiences to change the patterns of behaviour inside characters who are struggling with these issues – patterns that audience members may recognize inside themselves – and rehearse true reconciliation.

The cast will consist of seven original actors of Inuk, Cree, Okanagan, Ho-Cak, Snaw-Naw-As, and a range of diverse performers.

Diamond is the recipient of the Otto René Castillo Award for Political Theatre in NY (2010), as well as the Mayor’s Arts Award for Community Engaged Art (2012). Morriseau is Cree and Saulteaux, and she is originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She works across Canada and the US in theatre, film, television and music. Among numerous honours, Renae was the recipient of the 2015 Mayor’s Arts Award for her work to cultivate social justice and inclusiveness through theatre and music.

MOA presents: Layers of Influence: Unfolding Cloth Across Cultures

By Kelly O’Connor

On November 19th, the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC unveiled Layers of Influence: Unfolding Cloth Across Cultures, transforming the Audain Gallery into a veritable forest grove of ornate and delicate textiles. The new exhibition features culturally, spiritually, and religiously significant selections from Western Canada’s largest textile collection, on display through April 9th, 2017 in Vancouver, BC.

“From birth to death, people are wrapped in cloth. We wear clothing for warmth or protection from the sun, but also as an expression of political power, social prestige, pride in identity, and spiritual protection,” notes Dr. Jennifer Kramer, MOA Curator and Associate Professor of Anthropology at UBC. “What we value and wish to emphasize is mirrored in the clothing we wear.”

Haida hlk’yaan q’usdan (frog) k’aad gyaat’aad (button blanket) by Robert Davidson and Dorothy Grant, 1982. Photo courtesy of MOA

Haida hlk’yaan q’usdan (frog) k’aad gyaat’aad (button blanket) by Robert Davidson and Dorothy Grant, 1982. Photo courtesy of MOA

The cloth used in rites of passage, celebrations, and ceremonies embodies cultural values, identity, and connection to community. “It’s the hands of your ancestors you’re meeting,” says Kramer. Across cultures, treasured heirlooms share the spirit of generations, and some are living artifacts still in use by family members today.

Salish blankets are worn by community leaders as signs of social prestige and civic responsibility. In 1991, inspired by an ancestral robe, sisters Debra and Robyn Sparrow of the Musqueam First Nation created a Sister Blanket (on display at MOA). During Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in 1997, Chief Councillor Gail Sparrow wore this robe when she met with President Clinton. The original blanket, now in the Smithsonian collection, was made with mountain goat wool, cedar bark, and wooly dog hair.

Wild mountain goat wool was difficult to gather in quantity, but the Salish Wool Dog was once an integral part of Pacific Northwest coastal life, bred and raised specifically for its “fleece.” The long-haired white dogs were deliberately separated from other village dogs, and small “flocks” of wooly dogs were confined in on islands or in caves to prevent crossbreeding. They were fed salmon year-round and sheared like sheep to remove their thick fleece for use in textiles.

Haida chilkat robe (Kaigani or Tlingit) circa 1875‐1900, Alaska. Photo courtesy of MOA.

Haida chilkat robe (Kaigani or Tlingit) circa 1875‐1900, Alaska. Photo courtesy of MOA.

In 1828, a report from Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Langley described flocks of shorn dogs being transported in canoes. As Coast Salish Territory was colonized, Hudson Bay blankets and domestic sheep eventually replaced this unique Indigenous textile industry, and the Wooly Dog interbred with other dogs, losing its specific qualities. Less than 100 years after European contact, the Coast Salish Wooly Dog was effectively extinct. The last identifiable Wooly Dog died in 1940.

The exhibition also includes an intricate mountain-goat wool Chilkat dancing robe, possibly owned and worn by Kaigani Haida Chief Kasawak. It was woven by women and features a diving whale motif. Creating these unique textiles by hand requires patience and skill in addition to physical, emotional, and divine energy to fuel the process of weaving. William White, Tsimshian master weaver, says the power of the weaver “goes into the robe—that spiritual power that is put on it when you wear that robe. We believe that it comes alive.”

Coast Salish swuqw’alh wool blanket made by sisters Debra and Robyn Sparrow (Musqueam). Photo courtesy of MOA

Coast Salish swuqw’alh wool blanket made by sisters Debra and Robyn Sparrow (Musqueam). Photo courtesy of MOA

The Museum of Anthropology is Canada’s largest teaching museum, inspiring understanding of and respect for world arts and cultures. Layers of Influence includes over 130 examples of culturally significant textiles, showcasing a range of materials, techniques, and adornments, including hand-dyed batiks of Bali, appliqued button blankets from BC’s Northwest Coast, jaspe weavings of the Mayan people of Guatemala, and much more. Unfurled, the lavish display of fabric reveals the sophisticated workmanship of each piece and creative use of materials like silk, wool, feathers, and bark. Go to [] to plan your visit or browse the MOA’s collections online.

Mohawk Girls: Season Four Debuts

Press Release:

APTN’s (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) critically-acclaimed and award-winning dramatic comedy Mohawk Girls returns for season four. The show takes a comedic look at the lives of four modern-day women trying to stay true to their roots while navigating sex, work, love and what it means to be Mohawk in the 21st century.



Filmed and set in Montreal and the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, the eight-episode, fourth season of the half-hour dramedy premieres Tuesday, October25 with weekly episodes airing on APTN e, and HD at 9:30 p.m. ET, APTN w at 9:30 p.m. MT and on APTN n on Sundays at 10:30 p.m. CT (premiering on Oct. 30).
Viewers can venture deeper into the world of Mohawk Girls via the interactive website, with a quiz app, behind-the-scenes secrets and entertaining graphic content. The devoted online community of the series can connect via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr.

This season, the girls are pushed further out of their comfort zones as they deal with interracial dating, politics, wedding planning, love triangles, career aspirations, all as they try to forge their own identities in a community embedded with rules and cultural traditions.

In Season 4, Bailey chooses a path that she hopes will make her happy while satisfying her family and community. But it soon becomes clear to her that she can’t have her cake and eat it too; she’ll have to choose between following her heart and being a good Mohawk. Zoe goes to extremes to win back the community’s approval after shirking her duties at a fundraiser at the end of Season 3. But trying to be everything to everyone takes its toll and she reverts to indulging in her kinky little secret, which threatens to derail both her personal and professional life. Caitlin, after discovering that she’s never had a healthy relationship before, throws caution to the wind and embarks on one, despite her community’s disapproval. But when things begin to go a little too well, she falls back into an all-too-familiar pattern of self-sabotage, putting the relationship – and her chance of happiness – in jeopardy. And, after fighting with her mother and losing her boyfriend Thunder at the end of last season, Anna is ready to call it quits and move back to New York. But to her surprise, she’s finally welcomed into the community with open arms… as long as she conforms to the rules of the rez. But will that be too much conformity for this free spirit?

The dynamic cast of four leading women includes returning cast members Jenny Pudavick (Bailey), Brittany LeBorgne (Zoe), Heather White (Caitlin), and Maika Harper (Anna). Meegwun Fairbrother (Butterhead), Kyle Nobess (Thunder), Jimmy Blais (Watio) and Shawn Youngchief (Ohserase), reprise their roles as the men they love. Also returning, Tantoo Cardinal as Zoe’s mom, Glen Gould as Bailey’s father and Jeffrey Wetsch as James. New this year is Dwain Murphy, who takes over the role of Leon.

The series was nominated for 4 Canadian Screen Awards this spring, including Best Comedy Series, Best Direction in a Comedy Program or Series, Best Writing in a Comedy Program or Series, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Comedic Role (Brittany LeBorgne). It has several awards to its name, including a Golden Sheaf Award in the Comedy category at the Yorkton Film Festival, the APTN Award at the Festival Présence Autochtone (Montreal First Peoples’ Festival) and a nomination for Best Sitcom at the Banff Rockie Awards. Spafax has licensed several episodes of the show, airing them on the Comedy TV channel on Air Canada enRoute Inflight Entertainment on domestic and international flights. US distributor GRB represents the show worldwide andMohawk Girls debuted in Australia on the SBS network in June.

HIGH STEEL: Mohawk Ironworkers Series on APTN

By Lee Waters

Mohawk Ironworkers is a new 13-part half hour documentary series that celebrates the ‘steely determination’ of the Mohawk ironworkers of Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Six Nations that are said to be “the best ironworkers on the planet.”

The series features engaging personal stories from the Mohawk Ironworkers who built the World Trade Center and were affected by the 9/11 cleanup, the men and women who enroll in today’s rigorous training programs to keep the tradition alive, and more. According to the APTN release: Using a mixture of dramatic HD “high steel” footage, on the job and home-life reality shooting and archival material, each half hour episode presents a fascinating visual and moving story of the ironworkers and their families – as they face the realities of one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet.

Photo courtesy: DC Montreal WordPress

Photo courtesy: DC Montreal WordPress


It All Began With A Bridge

Ironworking requires a rare combination of strength, intelligence and courage. Tasked with laying the foundations and building the metal skeletons of buildings, workers handle the lifting, fixing and welding of hundreds of heavy steel beams – often while thousands of feet in the air.

The Mohawk tradition began in 1886 during construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge across the St. Lawrence from Kahnawake to Montreal. First hired as day labourers, the locals soon proved adept at the dangerous work and later found themselves in demand elsewhere.

Unintended Consequences

The Mohawk Ironworkers series details some of the devastating health effects the cleanup crews were exposed to during the 9/11 cleanup. One episode description is as follows: When the NYC Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, over 50 Mohawk ironworkers helped clear the wreckage of the iconic Towers their fathers built. But no one was prepared for the health risks of the Ground Zero cleanup. The cleanup cost Jaysen Mayo his health and career, and Brad Bonaparte, his life…

Photo Courtesy: Smithsonian Institute

Photo Courtesy: Smithsonian Institute

The chronic health impacts of ground zero have remained a controversial topic. An article from the Village Voice in 2006 reported that several dozen recovery personnel have developed cancer – as opposed to having contracted respiratory ailments, and that doctors have argued that some of these cancers developed as a result of the exposure to toxins at the Ground Zero site: “To date, 75 recovery workers at ground zero have been diagnosed with blood cell cancers that a half-dozen top doctors and epidemiologists have confirmed as having been likely caused by that exposure.”

Dr. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital said, “Why isn’t the whole nation mobilizing to take care of the chronic health impact of this disaster?” Dr. Norton cited the 70 percent illness rate among first responders as “a wake up call.” Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, Dr. Nathaniel Hupert of Weill Cornell Medical College, quoted by Jill Gardiner of the October 4, 2006, issue of the New York Sun said that premature deaths and other ailments of dogs in the area are “our canary in the coalmine.”

Alleged deceptions about Ground Zero air quality also surfaced in August 2003, in a report by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA said the Bush administration pressured the EPA to remove cautionary information about the air quality at Ground Zero. According to Wikipedia, numerous key differences between the draft versions and final versions of EPA statements were found. A recommendation that ‘homes and businesses near ground zero be cleaned by professionals’ was replaced by a request that citizens follow orders from NYC officials. Another statement that showed concerns about “sensitive populations” was deleted altogether. Language used to describe excessive amounts of asbestos in the area was altered drastically to minimize the dangers it posed. Despite the health risks, many ‘fearless’ Mohawk Ironworkers, felt it their duty to participate in the cleaning and building of the One World Trade Center.

The series is also accompanied by an online videogame called Rivet Rampage. This single-player game puts you in the role of a Mohawk ironworker. You are tasked with building one of the most iconic buildings in history, the Empire State Building, as well as Montreal’s infamous Mercier Bridge. Follow the foreman’s orders and ‘avoid flying birds, hot rivets and whirlnados.’

Each building site contains multiple levels where you take on real-life ironworker tasks like climbing structures, erecting platforms and finding tools.  Also available are Mohawk Ironworkers collectible trading cards that feature over 80 ironworkers who participated in the series. Collectable Cards will soon be available for purchase on the Mohawk Ironworkers website and in select stores in Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Six Nations. Virtual cards are available on the series Facebookpage.

Mohawk Ironworkers is produced by Paul M. Rickard, George Hargrave, and Margaret Horn. The series features a team of Indigenous directors: Jeff Dorn, Margaret Horn, Courtney Montour, Paul M. Rickard, and Michelle Smith. The series premiered Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at 7 p.m. ET on APTN.

For more information visit the Mohawk Ironworkers Facebook page at or visit the Mohawk Ironworkers website at

SECRET PATH: Gordon Downie tells the story of Chanie Wenjack

By Lee Waters

Gord Downie is releasing a new album and graphic novel about a young First Nations boy who died a half-century ago after running away from a residential school. Downie, who saddened Canadians in May with news that he suffers from an aggressive form of brain cancer, recently played his final concert with Tragically Hip after a highly televised Canadian tour. However, he is still promoting his recent project titled Secret Path by playing two solo concerts, The first at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 18 and the second at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto on Friday, Oct. 21.

Gordon Downie performing in Guelph Ontario in 2001 (Wikipedia)

Gordon Downie performing in Guelph Ontario in 2001 (Wikipedia)

Secret Path started as ten poems incited by the story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve year-old boy who died on October 22, 1966, in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario, walking home to the family he was taken from over 400 miles away. According to the official Secret Path website, Gord was introduced to Chanie Wenjack (miscalled “Charlie” by his teachers) by Mike Downie, his brother, who shared with him Ian Adams’ Maclean’s story from February 6, 1967, “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack.” Mr. Downie recently travelled to Marten Falls First Nation, a remote Ontario reserve 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, to visit with the family of Chanie Wenjack, whose body was found beside a railway track. “I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him,” Mr. Downie said in a statement. “Chanie haunts me. His story is Canada’s story. This is about Canada. We are not the country we thought we were.”

In winter 2014, Gord and Mike brought the recently finished music to comic artist Jeff Lemire for his help illustrating Chanie’s story, bringing him and the many children like him to life. According to the website, ‘Secret Path acknowledges a dark part of Canada’s history – the long-supressed mistreatment of Indigenous children and families by the residential school system – with the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation.’

Jeff Lemire’s statement on the website describes his first meeting with Gord and Mike about the project. ‘Before we left the coffee shop I knew I was going to do it. I had to. Chanie’s story is one that will not let you go once you hear it. It’s a story that can’t be ignored. And yet, somehow, it has been ignored. By nearly all of us. He continues about the education system, “Growing up white in Southern Ontario, I never learned about Chanie Wenjack or about any of the tens of thousands of other indigenous children like him who were part of Canada’s residential school system. This is such a massive part of our country’s history, yet our schools didn’t teach us about it. Why? Maybe because it’s easier to live with ourselves if we pretend stories like Chanie’s never happened. But they did happen, and still happen. Chanie Wenjack lived and died, and no one knows his story.’

Chanie collapsed from cold and hunger while trying to make it back to Marten Falls from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. He was wearing only thin clothing when he set out on journey through dense bush and he did not know the way home. The Senator Murray Sinclair created an organization that spent several years recording the experiences of survivors of the residential schools. That inquiry found that the institutions funded by the federal government and operated by churches were aimed at cultural genocide.

“All those governments, and all of those churches, for all of those years, misused themselves,” Downie said in his statement. “They hurt many children. They broke up many families. They erased entire communities. It will take seven generations to fix this. Seven. Seven is not arbitrary. This is far from over. Things up north have never been harder.”

Ry Moran, the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, also travelled with Mr. Downie to Marten Falls. He told the Globe and Mail, “It has been reconciliation in action. You’ve got a very prominent Canadian, an amazing guy, deeply humble and caring and loving, who travels to a community like this with this incredible piece of his own contribution. And there has been this amazing coming-togetherness amongst and between the communities.”
All of the proceeds from the multimedia project will support the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, which was created to preserve the memory of what happened at the institutions and the legacy of a system that ripped indigenous children from their families. It will be used to identify some of children who died at the schools and were buried in unmarked graves as well as to commemorate their lives and, in some cases, return them to their home communities.

Mr. Moran said the contribution that Mr. Downie is making will help preserve and care for the stories of the lost, “Gord lending his voice to the work of truth and reconciliation in this country really helps raise awareness across the country on this critically important issue that, until we face it, in Gord’s own words, we are not a country.”
The ten song album will be released by Arts & Crafts accompanied by Lemire’s eighty-eight page graphic novel published by Simon & Schuster Canada. Secret Path will arrive on October 18, 2016, in a deluxe vinyl and book edition, and as a book with album download.

Screen shot from the animated trailer (Youtube)

Screen shot from the animated trailer (Youtube)

Downie’s music and Lemire’s illustrations have also inspired The Secret Path, an animated film to be broadcast by CBC in an hour-long commercial-free television special on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 9pm (9:30 NT).

Four Aboriginal Women discuss topics on local TV talk show

Currently taping their fourth season, The Four on Access 7 Regina is a one-hour talk show featuring four native women discussing issues from residential schools, hot topics, online dating, and ‘yes’ even orgasms.

The Four originated from Bevann Fox, who’s been the regular host for all four seasons.
“I had an idea to create a show with all Aboriginal women discussing native topics,” Fox said. “I turn on the television, and I usually see negative Aboriginal stories, so I thought, we have successful Aboriginal business men and women, there are First Nations that are doing tremendous work, and I wanted to discuss these issues, and topics that are not normally discussed with other First Nations women.”

So in 2012, Fox wrote up a proposal of her idea and mailed it to a number of networks both in Canada and the United States, all of which turned her down.
“They said they were not looking for a talk show or interested. I then dreaded having to tell the other women that my idea would probably not happen.”
Around this time a friend asked her, ‘why not try the local Access Communications 7 Channel in Regina?’

“So I sent my proposal to Access Communications, and almost immediately Wade Peterson, the Community Programming Manager, phoned me and said he was interested! – of course I was super excited and we’ve been on air since 2013, now taping our fourth season and I’m excited about the whole process within the TV industry.”
First Nations Drum spoke with Wade Peterson on the ratings of The Four on Access 7 Regina.

Co-hosts of “The Four”: (clockwise from seated) Bevann Fox, Dr. Shauneen Pete, Robyn Morin and Shannon Fayant.

Co-hosts of “The Four”: (clockwise from seated) Bevann Fox, Dr. Shauneen Pete, Robyn Morin and Shannon Fayant.

“The ratings have always been really good from the first season till this current season. We continue to have an amazing following,” said Peterson. “The uniqueness of the women and the interesting topics they wanted to discuss is what made my decision to proceed with making the show.”
Peterson added that the viewership feedback has been tremendous from social media and word of mouth as well as other media outlets.
Fox’s day job is a Child & Family Services worker with Yorkton Tribal Council, and her co-hosts are Wendy White Bear, a research coordinator with the University of Regina, Ashley Norton, prevention manager, and Pam Rock Thunder, an administration clerk.

Fox says she would like to tackle the tough issues like Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Residential Schools, just to name a few.
First Nations Drum contacted APTN, one of the networks Fox approached with her idea, and asked them why the network rejected her proposal.

“APTN has annual requirements for programming based on its CRTC Conditions of Licence,” said Jean La Rose, APTN CEO. “Every year, series acquired or licensed by the networks are assessed on our programming needs. APTN welcomes program production proposals from independent Aboriginal Producers across Canada. The Requests for proposals that the network puts out a few times a year detail our requirements and sometimes very interesting proposals that do not reflect our needs are offered.”
The APTN CEO continued her reference to Access 7 airing The Four.

“The network is pleased to see other broadcasters offering a voice to Aboriginal Peoples in various regions of Canada. APTN has limited resources but the network is working to increase those resources to offer broader opportunities to our producers and expand the range and regional content offered by the network.”
Peterson says that he thinks The Four has potential for nation-wide broadcast.

“The sky is the limit for these amazing women, they have great conversions and stories which makes for great television.”
Interested in catching a show? You can tune in to The Four on Access 7 in Regina at 7pm every Tuesday.

TRAGICALLY HIP Advocate For First Nations in Final Show

By Lee Waters

In what may have been the Tragically Hip’s final performance on Saturday in Kingston, Ontario, Gord Downie spoke passionately of struggles in Canadian native communities, specifically Attawapiskat.

Downie, who revealed earlier this year that he has terminal brain cancer, used the podium in an emotional and televised concert to bring awareness to First Nations youth as well as endorse Prime Minister Trudeau, who was in the audience. “You know, Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me; his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go.” He told the crowd and estimated 11 million watching. “He cares about the people way up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore — trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there.” Downie continued, specifically pointing out the recent issues in Attawapiskat, with an air of encouragement, “It’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there, but it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”


The Tragically Hip gave their final performance on August 20th in Kingston, Ontario, using the opportunity to advocate for Northern Indigenous Communities. Photo © Mike Homer

The Tragically Hip gave their final performance on August 20th in Kingston, Ontario, using the opportunity to advocate for Northern Indigenous Communities. Photo © Mike Homer

That statement struck a chord with First Nation Chief Bruce Shisheesh, who said it’s clear based on the Hip’s song “Goodnight Attawapiskat” that “Gord has always had a special place in his heart” for the community, he told CBC.

“It’s a beautiful song,” Shisheesh said. He thanked Downie for the tribute and his words on stage in a video posted online Monday. “Our young people have suffered so much, a lot of them tried to commit suicide,” Shisheesh told CBC, referring to the several states of emergency that have been issued in Attawapiskat related to overcrowding and poor housing, as well as a suicide crisis that overtook the Ontario community in April.

Shisheesh suggested having a formal ceremony in Ottawa, holding a powwow, making Downie an honorary chief or hosting a healing ceremony would all be great gestures of gratitude. He says his dream would be to have Downie visit Attawapiskat and honour him right there in the community, he told CBC, “Downie’s presence would also help boost morale on the First Nation — especially with younger people.”

“We could do this in Attawapiskat because he wrote this song for our community. It is fitting for us, our wishes to organize the honorary ceremony,” Shisheesh said, adding he plans to reach out to other northern First Nation chiefs in Ontario and Manitoba in the coming days to see what they think of the idea.

Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), which represents most of northern Manitoba’s First Nations was also moved by Downie’s message. She suggested naming a lake or a park after the musician but wanted to be respectful and wait to hear his wishes.  In a video posted on Facebook, North Wilson sent a message to Downie, first in Cree and then translated in English:

“I want to thank you for your love and care and concern for us. We love you, too. God bless you.

Downie and the Tragically Hip are known for their activism. Downie has served on the board of environmental group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. He’s also performed concerts near James Bay to raise awareness of the many issues facing those First Nations communities.

Watched by fans in living rooms, bars, and public squares across the nation, the concert was one to remember. The band’s hits have provided a soundtrack to many Canadians’ lives through the last three decades. In a brief interview with the CBC, Trudeau reminisced about how he used to ‘enjoy the band’s music during his high school and university years,’ a heartfelt sentiment shared by many.

Book Review – Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours)

By Morgan O’Neil

As a 65-year-old recovered (recovering) authentic alcoholic with ten years of sobriety and 40 years of destructive drinking–courting death and disaster–behind me, I believe I have earned the right to tackle the issue of alcoholism. In my up close and personal experience with inebriation I have gathered the ideas and vocabulary necessary to articulate the problem taken on by Harold R. Johnson’s recently published book, Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours). If there were ever an issue that cries out for a fix it is the devastation by alcohol, by the ‘firewater’ of the book’s title.


And if Harold Johnson and I have experienced the death-dealing power of alcohol use for individuals and their communities from different perspectives, we have arrived nevertheless at a similar conclusion; that is to say, so far nothing has worked, nothing has managed to stem the homicidal and suicidal direct results (and many and myriad unintended consequences) of alcohol consumption.  Johnson’s book is, as others have said, “a passionate call to action.”

Johnson begins (as any good writer should when arguing a point) by pointing beyond the act of writing to establish his credibility; he gives us a good reason why we should give him a listen in the first place, in the context and language of the courtroom (or the sentencing circle) why we should give him a hearing; and it is very much a valid justification.  The author is a Crown prosecutor: as such over the course of his career he has “noted that the vast majority of people charged with offences were intoxicated at the time they committed the offence.”

But there is more to Johnson’s credibility than this objective relationship with the problem of alcoholism, and as a reader I think this is important. He has been many other people in his life: logger, miner, trapper, fisher, mechanic, firefighter, heavy equipment operator, smelter worker, tree planter, trade unionist, educator, writer, and holds a Master’s degree in Law from Harvard University. He has written five works of fiction and another non-fiction book, Two Families: Treaties and Government examining Canadian constitutionalism from a Cree law perspective. If this does not add up to credibility I do not know what does.

He is honest about his own past. He also gives us access to the historical trauma of his interior life. He was the victim of sexual abuse when he was a child. The very first words he writes state that, [this] small book is a conversation [between the writer and his] relatives the Woodland Cree” in Northern Saskatchewan. He intends to be ‘tough’, as one might expect a Crown prosecutor to be; that is to say, we may not like what we hear as it pertains to ourselves and our place in the problem we face, the fact that in the end we bear responsibility for at least some of the devastation caused by drinking, and there is no easy solution to the problem.  And what is the problem, or better yet, what is not the problem, according to Johnson?

Well, it is for certain not the past internalized and the historical trauma that indigenous peoples have experienced in Canada and the rest of the Americas by colonialism, residential schools, the sixties scoop, impoverished urban exile, etcetera. The list could go on and on. The problem of alcoholism and substance abuse (as wrongly defined by the colonialist) is in fact the solution, but that solution is the problem. This narrative of aboriginal intersection with alcohol needs to be rewritten and retold.

Johnson is clear; the story being told, the story we tell ourselves, a twenty-first century story written by the white man (kiciwamanawak) defining the Indian once again as victimfrom indios by Russel Means and the American Indian Movement, from Columbus as the phrase In Dios “with God”—this story must be reformulated and populated with new, no longer victimized protagonists and warrior heroes.  The colonial story forces First Nations peoples to take on an identity as a people unable to fix the problem ourselves. “If we are a product of historical trauma and so we’re then victims,” according to Johnson, “we are stuck in that story with no way of telling our way out of it.”

On the basis of this articulation, Johnson lays out an alternative narrative from that of the ‘lazy drunken Indian’ in order to clear the way to a different conclusion and find and fashion a home-grown fix to a problem that threatens to destroy Indigenous communities. Johnson’s suggestions for necessary ways of healing are welcome and tragically overdo. And his suggestion for an alternative narrative is not one of hopelessness. The book should be a bible in the fight for survival and recovery, for a better life for coming generations, and it should somehow be made available to band councils and urban community and friendship centres.

Museum of Anthropology at UBC Presents Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: Unceded Territories

by Kelly O’Connor

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, a celebrated Vancouver-based artist of Cowichan (Hul’q’umi’num Coast Salish) and Okanagan (Syilx) descent, has a style that is bold and vibrant, playful and politically charged, exploring themes of colonialist suppression and the struggle for Indigenous rights to lands, resources, and sovereignty. The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at University of British Columbia (UBC) is proud to exhibit Unceded Territories, an impressive collection of his work on display May 10 to October 16, 2016 in the museum’s Audain Gallery.

Unceded Territories Opening Ceremony

Unceded Territories Opening Ceremony | Photo Credit: Ricardo Seah

Curated by Karen Duffek and Tania Willard, Unceded Territories showcases Yuxweluptun’s remarkable 30-year career and includes over 60 of his most significant drawings, paintings, and other works, as well as brand new art on display for the first time. A full-colour publication accompanies the exhibit, beautifully illustrated with selected works, and a series of public programs at the MOA will also compliment the exhibition. Visit [] for details.

Highly respected locally, Yuxweluptun’s work has been displayed in numerous international group and solo exhibitions. He has called the MOA the “Indian morgue,” but Unceded Territories brings something current and vibrant and loud to a space where people and the past usually talk in whispers. Tania Willard (artist and independent curator from the Secwepemc Nation) explains that showing Yuxweluptun’s work there is a statement, “a way for him to speak to an audience, an institution, a collection, a past, and his very own ancestors.” Museums have an important place in the process of reconciliation. They can be an active site for facilitating discussion and articulating history for the wider public, “places of conversation, sharing, respect, celebration, and laughter,” Willard explains. “There is medicine and spirit in this place, and though Lawrence’s paintings are often dominated by their bold politics, they are also about medicine and spirit. Today we as Indigenous people come to this museum to speak to the poles, to laugh with the stones, to cry with the water, to struggle with weapons built on our culture, and to celebrate with colour our ancestors’ carvings, weavings, and other objects.”

Fish Farmers They Have Sea Lice, 2014 acrylic on canvas 162.6 x 244 cm.

Fish Farmers They Have Sea Lice, 2014 acrylic on canvas 162.6 x 244 cm. Private collection. Photo by Ken Mayer.

MOA curator Karen Duffek predicts the exhibition will “undoubtedly fuel dialogue, indignation, and even spiritual awareness” about land rights, environmental destruction, and Indigenous art from the Northwest Coast. “The issues Yuxweluptun addresses are impossible to ignore,” she explains. “Environmental concerns and debates around topics such as oil pipelines, liquefied natural gas, and fracking are no longer predictions for the future, but reflective of what is happening now in Canada.”

Yuxweluptun is a free-thinking modernist, a graduate of the Emily Carr College of Art and Design “taking the translation of our cultures in new directions.” He sees the land “in a Native way” as he was born to do, envisioning landscapes animated with spirit beings, “living components of the land, water, and atmosphere,” Duffek explains, sometimes “wounded and grieving” from the ravages of industry and environmental toxins.

Larry Grant, an elder-in-residence at UBC First Nations House of Learning, first saw Yuxweluptun’s work at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “I came around the corner and BOOM, there it was: a huge outcry coming from this painting,” Grant recalls. “I could see the artist’s anguish and anger.” Grant says the conflict revealed Yuxweluptun’s work is “not an imaginary thing—it’s real.” It is “an outcry about the injustices perpetrated by Canadian society on Aboriginal people.”Grant sees Yuxweluptun as “a frontline activist” breaking free from cultural restraint with artistic license, “taking us out of the ancient terminology into contemporary terminology.” In the process, there is a broader realization that we are all connected.

Killer Whale Has a Vision and Comes to Talk to me about Proximological Encroachments of Civilizations in the Oceans, 2010 acrylic on canvas 280 x 184 cm.

Killer Whale Has a Vision and Comes to Talk to me about Proximological Encroachments of Civilizations in the Oceans, 2010 acrylic on canvas 280 x 184 cm. Private collection. Photo by William Eakin, courtesy of Plug In Editions.

Yuxweluptun “Man of Many Masks” was given his name at the age of 14 during initiation into the Sxwaixwe Society, but Yuxweluptun doesn’t claim to be making Native art. “I’m not a traditionalist,” he says, “though I did my Black Face dancing, I did my masked dancing, and I have traditional philosophy. But my work is for the world. Natives already know what it feels like having a bad colonial day. We wake up to it.”

Yuxweluptun uses the visual language of Northwest Coast art (classic formlines, U-forms, and ovoids of the Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Tlingit, and Tsimshian traditions), but pushes against those artistic boundaries. In the earliest painting on exhibit, “Haida Hot Dog” (1984), the artist took liberties with traditional ovoids, the split-U form, and the salmon-trout head to comment on “hot dog culture,” assimilation, and the politics of identity. “Northwest Coast art is serious,” Yuxweluptun says. “Haidas don’t eat hot dogs.”

Willard suggests he is responsive to, rather than influenced by, modernist masters like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Max Ernst. The surrealists coveted and rabidly collected Northwest Coast art and objects, some of which were actually confiscated during potlatch raids when the ceremonies were illegal in Canada. Yuxweluptun has taken artistic elements of classical European styles like surrealism and cubism and fired them right back at colonialism.

“Man’s job on this planet right now is to learn from our mistakes,” Yuxweluptun says. He was working on a painting called “Killer Whale Has a Vision and Comes to Talk to Me about Proximological Encroachments of Civilizations in the Oceans” when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in 2010 along the Gulf of Mexico. “If you can’t eat the fish, then there’s something wrong,” he says. On the rez, people watch the complete destruction of the biosphere of their territories. “It’s a very sorrowful feeling,” Yuxweluptun says, and disheartening that Aboriginal people don’t have the right to say “No, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place.”

“Land is power; power is land,” Yuxweluptun says. “For Indigenous people, it’s all Indian land in desperate need of Indian caretakers.” The largest clear-cuts in the world are not in the Amazon, they are in British Columbia, and you can see them from outer space. Yuxweluptun has been compared to Emily Carr, who also saw the destruction of the natural world as matricide. His painting “Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in Sky” (1990) was an early comment on global warming, illustrating the absurdity of scientists trying to fix the hole in the ozone layer with a screwdriver. “Do we continue to make a big hole in the sky?” the artist asks. There will be consequences for generations. “This is my homeland. I have to stay here and look after it, clean up this mess,” Yuxweluptun says. “It’s time for change. Canada has to grow up. We are the caretakers. The biosphere is too fragile for pipelines. Let us move in a new direction.”

Preliminary Study, Burying Another Face of Racism, 1996 black ink on graphite paper 90 x 63 cm.

Preliminary Study, Burying Another Face of Racism, 1996 black ink on graphite paper 90 x 63 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo by SITEPhotography, courtesy Petra Watson and the Contemporary Art Gallery.

Yuxweluptun considers himself an “urban Indian” and thinks of reserves as “internment camps for glorification of the colonial regime.” He wants to be emancipated from the oppressive legislation Indian Act and its assimilation policies designed to absorb Aboriginal peoples into “mainstream” Canadian life. The potlatch, one of the most important ceremonies among west coast First Nations, was seen as a threat to assimilation tactics, so it was outlawed, and the impact was significant. For 75 years this law prevented the sharing of cultural values and oral history. “How do you exile people and limit rights and call it democracy? How will we move forward if you’re going to keep us prisoner on our own land?” he asks. “This is not my dream.”

In 1997, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun went to Healey Estate, Northumberland, UK for a defiant act of performance art: “An Indian Act Shooting the Indian Act.” On September 14th, he tied copies of the Indian Act to posts and “fired a shot at colonialism” while the national anthem played in the background. The British were “a bunch of assholes,” so he shot it to “teach them with their own power.” He decorated the sacred guns and mounted them in display cases along with the empty bullet casings and the executed legislation, and they can be seen in the Unceded Territories exhibit. The work was “blissful,” he said, “one of the most loving things I’ve ever put my hands on.”

Truth and reconciliation is a difficult thing to deal with in the face of the “global atrocity of genocide.” In Canada, the United States, South America, Australia, everywhere Indigenous cultures met colonialism, “first contact” quickly became conquest. In pursuit of resources and real estate, colonists took the land, took everything, and left scars on the landscape and spirit of every community they touched. Lack of understanding easily turned to fear, and the First Peoples of North America were forcibly assimilated. Their children were taken away and put in specialized boarding schools with the express directive to “kill the Indian in the child.”

Cultural and religious practices were outlawed, but they were not destroyed. Colonialism took Yuxweluptun’s language, but he can talk to the world through his body of work. “Spirit Dancer Dances Around the Fire” is a religious painting that shows the world “this is how we pray.” It is his most recent work, completed just weeks before the exhibit opened, and it takes up an entire wall. There is a spirit dancer in the longhouse, a black face dancer, spirit guardians in green and red, and sacred ground inside and out. Culture and spirituality remain unceded territory. To the Catholic Church, Yuxweluptun says “Thanks, but no thanks.” The land is his sacred ground, and he has the right to be a spiritual person. “I will not get down on my knees and pray to your god,” he says with conviction. “I’m always going to pray this way.”

Some of his works evoke a deep human sorrow. There is no national monument for residential school children, so Yuxweluptun made his own. Laying on the gallery floor is Residential School Dirty Laundry (2013), a Christian cross composed of hundreds of pairs white underwear, some splashed with red. Another white ceramic cross in the centre reads “For this child I prayed… (1 Samuel 1:27).” Like war veterans, Aboriginal children gave up their lives and innocence to the Crown. It’s an unflinching indictment: “This is what Canada did.”

A pair of untitled ovoid portraits, described simply as Priest and Woman (2003) use singular ovoid forms outlined on white paper and detailed in inky black scribbles full of thought. They are facing you, but they have no face. They could be anyone. They are so simple in their form and colour, but they speak volumes and evoke a remarkable array of thoughts and feelings considered in the context of residential schools.

Yuxweluptun’s work is both delicate and raw, and he pulls no punches. Each work makes a statement, tells a story. His vivid landscapes are visually alive, filled with animated spirits in the trees, mountains, and water, illustrating the symbiotic relationship of all things and the need for healing. He is a master colourist, with a vivid and broad “chromatic vocabulary” that earned him a second name: Let’lo:ts’teltun (Man of Many Colours). “I paint the colour of life,” he says.”

“I have been an artist all my life,” he says. “It’s been my life’s goal to portray the negative and positive realities of this world.” He refers to his work as “history painting,” taking possession of history in his own hands. “The things I see are very hard, depressing,” Yuxweluptun admits. “My job is to enlighten people to see the world in a different way. I’m not asking for much. It’s simple. Look after our people, look after our children, make a better world.” As for National Aboriginal Day: “Make it a national holiday. Celebrate with me. Make change properly, together,” he says. “It’s time to take the walls down.”

Stampede 2016: A Report on the New Indian Village

by Hannah Many Guns

Rather than soaking in the sun, the crowds attending this years Calgary Stampede instead found themselves soaking wet. A perpetual overcast hung sullen over the treaty seven territory, scattering the ten-day event with heavy rainfall and bouts of severe thunderstorms. Despite this weather disarray, the grounds entertained as many rodeo enthusiasts, if not more, as they have in recent years. The chucks still-a-wagoned and the barrels were raced; bull riders matched their eyes with death, and calves were lasooed in the split-of-a-sec. The rain smacked, smacked against the Grandstand – packed – as Stampede go-ers cheered and cheered – smiles remaining intact.

While the main draw to the Calgary Stampede is the rodeo and cowfolk, what really peaked the interest of First Nation’s Drum was the grand opening of the new and improved Indian Village.

Indian Village

Indian Village. Photo by Kelly Many Guns

“This is the third Indian Village that we’ve had on the park,” informs Russ Sabo, chairman of the Indian Events committee. “The first one was by the corral, and was affectionately refereed to as Sundre place. In 1974, they moved over to the South end of the park, which was almost one and half times bigger than the first one they had.” Last year, many tipi owners were uncertain about leaving their homebase for new pastures in the east. “There was a lot of consultation with the tipi holders about the placement of the new Indian Village,” continues Sabo, ensuring us that there was a strong foundation of mutual agreement between the Indian Village and Stampede officials when it came to settling on the new location. “This space that we have here is about two point three times bigger than the last. We have this great green space where people can come and bask in it’s oasis, enjoy the ambiance, and explore our expanded tipi circle.”

The upgrades are apparent, and it was clear that the Calgary Stampede capitalized on the fifteen-million dollar project. Rather than the usual foot-trodden paths, there is now this wide wheel-chair accessible sidewalk. It curves and swoops, spanning from one-side-of-the-village-to-the-other, guiding Stampede visitors to the centre of the tipi circle. The new Suncor Sweetgrass Lodge is a brick-built multi-story haven for Indian Village volunteers, tipi-owners, and officials to use at their leisure. “We have space in this building that will see us well into the future for year-round aboriginal programming,” beams Sabo. The lodge provides the village with modern conveniences such as meeting rooms, laundry facilities, a dining area, showers, spa-like bathrooms, and a new state-of-the-art Bannock Booth. A great oak amphitheatre nestles in the middle of the lodge and tipi circle. The village utilized this area as they have did their last stage, presenting pow-wows, cultural teachings, and musical performances for visitors eager to immerse themselves in our First Nation culture.

Powwow Dancer at Calgary Stampede.

Powwow Dancer at Calgary Stampede. Photo by Hannah Many Guns

Along with seeing all of this first-hand, First Nation’s Drum got a chance to speak with the Calgary Stampede’s newest cultural addition: the six Treaty Seven Warriors. Being no more than in their late-teens to early twenties, they shared with us some of their youthful thoughts on the new Indian Village.

“They say it’s bigger, but, I dunno, for me… it seems smaller,” ponders Warrior Austin Standing Low. Not physically, of course, but there’s something definitely missing. It is as though the usual energy that used to fill the Indian Village lies stagnant in the soil at the South end of the park.

Warrior Anthony Crow Shoe suggests that there should have been more time put towards planning the layout. “Our last location was strategically placed, and you could have a big crowd watching the pow-wow. It was on a hillside, so people could just sit anywhere and be able to see. But now it’s just flat.”

Young Treaty Seven Warrior applying paint.

Young Treaty Seven Warrior applying paint. Photo by Hannah Many Guns

“On the other hand,” commiserates Warrior Cam Crow Chief, “it is a lot bigger, and a lot less drunk people are comin’ through. It was right beside two beer gardens before, and people would be coming through, just scrappin’, you know, right in front of our elders and young ones,” he shakes his head. “It’s a good thing that they put it right next to the Kiddy Land, and now it’s a whole lot better for our kids to be safe and all that.”

Crow Chief is spot on, the Indian Village is further away from the usual stream of Stampeder’s, in turn becoming a sort of sanctuary of peace and tranquillity. However, it is a lot closer to the stream of the river, and is therefore susceptible to the not so tranquil rising of the water.

Powwow Dancer at Calgary Stampede.

Powwow Dancer at Calgary Stampede. Photo by Hannah Many Guns

“The way they have it set up is, geez, you know, if another flood happens again, there’s no stopping it,” speculates Crow Shoe. “We’re right beside the river. It would have been nice if they put us on higher ground.”

Sitting just below Scotchman’s Hill, the new village lies alongside the Elbow river, an area which had been completely flooded back during the 2013 Alberta floods. Due to this years persistent rain fall, the west half of the tipi circle had to temporarily evacuate due to three flash-floods. During this time, some of the tipi’s’ traditional artifacts were water damaged beyond repair. Along with this, the fast-tracked landscape development also proved to have suffered due to the excess water. By the fifth day, many areas of the village had become sopping wet, and the mud ensued.

“Around the arbour there’s no bleachers anymore,” states Standing Low, “everyone is just crowded in the muck when it rains on the grass”. The rest of the warriors agree that there should be more attention in improving the audiences experience of the amphitheatre. First Nation’s Drum also agree’s, and suggests that there should be an investment in bleachers to surround the performance space. We also think that the area would be more cultural defined if an increase of artistic vision helped shape the appearance of the Indian Village. For now, the area feels a bit barren, corporate, and the brick walls of the Sweetgrass Lodge are not much unalike the brick walls of the old residential school that still stands on the prairies of Siksika Nation. The tipi’s, though. The tipi’s are as awesome as always.

Bull Rider.

Bull Rider. Photo by Kelly Many Guns.”

When it really comes down to it, the honest truth is that the village needs to undergo many more stages of planning in order to accurately represent First Nation’s culture. The space is beautiful, expansive, and it is rich with potential. What is more is that the quiet, secluded location invites visitors to enter an entirely different world once stepping off of fair grounds.

Like the plains First Nation’s people that we are, we are bound to seek and find where adjustments need to be constructed. We will incorporate our traditions within much needed renovations. We will depend on our communication and invite purposeful innovation. With the future ahead of us, let us fill our present with every intention to thrive and prosper in this new location. We are here, now, existing on the forefront of a whole new era of the Calgary Stampede’s Indian Village, let’s take advantage of it.