Jerilynn Webster, also known by her hip-hop name JB the First Lady, wanted to be an activist since she was five years old when she experienced the Oka Crisis. Now 34, she’s been working every since to better the lives of Indigenous women and girls across the country.
She’s released seven albums in seven years. Her newest album is titled Righteous Empowered Daughter (RED) for which she was nominated for best music video and best hip hop/rap album of the year from the Indigenous Music Awards.
Understanding the complexities of gender was also an important message for her.
“[This album] speaks a lot about clean water, missing and murdered Indigenous women, but also protecting and respecting our Two-Spirit people. That’s very important to me,” she says. “I feel like Two-Spirit people don’t get the honor and respect that they need. So I wanted that reflected in the album.”
She works at the grassroots level, planning rallies and holding candlelight vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She says the album explores how young Indigenous women are interacting with the world.
“It’s not just our most vulnerable, but it can also be our women who are going to school to those active as community leaders,” she says. “And that’s because we’re being targeted as Indigenous women and we need to protect each other.”
Webster also works at a federal and legislative level. She occupied the INAC office in Vancouver in 2016, along with other mothers and their children. They wanted the federal government to provide for Indigenous communities, prioritizing funds for language programs, as well as reinstating youth programming that had been cut.
She currently works a lot with youth and wants to see the world change for girls. She worked with Vancouver dance troupe Butterflies in Spirit, whose mission is to raise awareness of violence against Indigenous women and girls. She also created a comic with young Indigenous girls that was later adapted into a theatre piece.
“It was about experiential youth who have experienced sex trade work,” she says. “It’s a preventative interactive theatre piece with stories of how people were trying to recruit young women into sex work.”
Webster says she wants the future to bring a safe space for Indigenous women.
“I want to see a world that’s a safe space with no more missing posters,” she says. “A place where we can live freely, practice our culture, celebrate, give birth, and be proud of who we are, to be loved and respected.”
This years Indspire Awards was held in Calgary, Alberta at the Jubilee Auditorium on February 22nd. The event was beautifully designed all the way down to the free bannock and popcorn, and a memorable stage designed to come to life with nature inspired video graphics. Gracing this stage were the honourable recipients whose unyielding dedication to their passions, community, and culture has earned them an Indspire achievement award.
From Driftpile Cree Nation, AB, poet Billy-Ray Belcourt received the youth achievement award. At 23, his debut poetry collection This Wound Is A World has won multiple awards, most notable the Griffin Poetry Prize. His next poetry-prose hybrid NDN Coping Mechanism: Notes from the Field comes out in the Fall of 2019. Belcourt says that when he writes, he’s “always interested in how to refuse the narratives of suffering that have, for decades, demarcated how the public can understand native people. I’m always keeping my eye on how to breach that narrative, how to instead spin-one that always keeps in mind our futurity as native people, our ability to love and care, to resist, to enact the kind of liberatory world that we want – that’s all at the core of my writing practice.”
From Sanikiluaq, NU, pop-artist Kelly Fraser received the youth achievement award. She won album of the year for her second album Sedna which was written with a mix of Inuktitut and English lyricism.
From Metis Homeland, MB, canoe and kayak athlete James Lavalee received the youth achievement award. It’s on his blood memory to paddle the waters of his homeland, and by following the pull to pursue this professionally, he’s reached extraordinary heights. In 2017, he won three medals at the Canada Summer Games, and received the highly prestigious Tom Longboat Award for indigenous male athlete of the year.
The Arts recipient this year was Barbara Todd Hager from St. Paul Des Metis Settlement, AB. She is a writer, producer, and director. Her docu-drama series 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus covers 20,000 years of history and is told from the indigenous perspective. This is the kind of powerful narrative that the film industry is in need of, thank-you Hager for putting your mind to it!
Award recipient for Business & Commerce went to Westbank First Nations (BC) Chief Ron Derrickson. Elected as Chief of his nation in 1976, his business models have lifted his community out of poverty and they are now one of the wealthiest bands in the country. .
Jijuu Mary Snow Shoe from Gwich-in Nation, NT received the award for Culture, Heritage, and Spirituality. Her greatest lessons were those taught to her by her father. He taught her how to survive on this earth, and of the importance of land, fire, and water – these are the true powers of the world. Snow Shoe tells First Nation Drum “I really would like to leave this with the youth, to go and get their education, to go to university, become a doctor or nurse or whatever, it’s all out there but they have to work for it to get it. Another one, to try to learn more about their culture, and how to survive out on the land.”
Dr. Vianne Timmons from Mi’kmaq, NS received the education award. As the Vice Chancellor at the University of Regina, Timmons says, “Indigenous youth are Canada’s next generation of leaders, so there is nothing more important than ensuring they get the education they deserve. Education opens doors, creates opportunity, build leaders, and changes lives.”
Dr. Marlyn Cook from Misipawistik Cree Nation, MB received the award for health. In 1987, she was the first First Nations woman to graduate from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine. Though something was amiss for her with all this western medical knowledge,and now weaves traditional healing together with western healing, ensuring the body, mind, and spirit of each patient is cared for.
For Law & Justice the award went to community-oriented lawyer Dianne Corbiere from M’Chigeeng First Nation, ON. “In some ways we’re doing great because we have the Indspire awards and we see that if we work really hard and things are fortunate for us we can reach some very high goals! But there’s still a lot of our people who are struggling with the colonial realities, and you know, they’re addicted, they’re in jail, they’re in the child welfare system – so we have both, and I’d like to see where the pendulum swings more my way and that the kids are going to school, and having better lives.” She has dedicated her time at the Law Society of Ontario to many working groups and review panels, such as the working group formed by the federation of Law Societies of Canada to decide how best to respond to the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation report.
For public service the award went to Peter Dinsdale from Curve Lake First Nation. He has dedicated his life to improving the lives his indigenous brothers and sisters, and does so in his position as President and CEO of YMCA Canada.
From Mallard, Manitoba and Cote First Nation, SK, Bridgette Lacquette received the sports achievement award. She played in Canada’s National Women’s Team at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. From a small community, dedication and resilience is what rose Lacquette to be among the best women hockey players in the world.
Even though she couldn’t make it to the ceremony, Atuat Akittirq was given a standing ovation and many blessings for her lifetime achievement award. From Aggu, NU, Akittirq embodies the resilience of Inuit knowledge and language. She was brought up in the traditional way, and continues to teach her traditional knowledge of culture and life as one of the Elder professors at the Piruvik Centre.
Amazing achievement, all resting on the backbone of determination, resilience, and education, definitely an inspiring evening for all who attended. Congratulations to this years Indspire recipients, your work is beautiful and makes all First Nations proud.
Mary Yuusipik Singaqti: Back River Memories – on now until March 10, 2019
Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 14, 2018: Born in the Back River area north of Baker Lake, Nunavut, artist Mary Yuusipik Singaqti became well known for her wall-hangings and carvings. But Winnipeg Art Gallery Curator of Inuit Art, Dr. Darlene Coward Wight, was “blown away” to discover a collection of her coloured-pencil drawings. Some of these incredibly detailed pieces are featured in the new exhibition, Mary Yuusipik Singaqti: Back River Memories, which opened last weekend and runs until March 10, 2019.
A second exhibit, Nivinngajuliaat from Baker Lake, opens at the WAG this Saturday, bringing together wall hangings by nine artists, most of whom are women. Nivinngajuliaat, or “wall hanging” in Inuktitut, includes work by Mary Yuusipik’s acclaimed mother, Jessie Uunaq (Oonark). The exhibition is guest curated by Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Curator of Inuit Art for the Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collections. Nivinngajuliaat from Baker Lake is on view from November 17, 2018 through spring 2019.
The two exhibitions connected by both family and land will be celebrated at a free opening for the public on Friday, November 30 (7-10pm), 2018 at the WAG.
Mary Yuusipik Singaqti: Back River Memories is the first solo exhibition of the artist who was born in a remote inland region north of Baker Lake. It features 26 captivating drawings recently purchased by the WAG, as well as striking wall hangings and sculptures.
Yuusipik (1936-2017) belonged to the last generation of Inuit to experience the inland nomadic way of life that centred on fishing and hunting caribou. Her artistic motivation was to show her life, “I want the younger generation to know about me, how we used to live [and] how life was before.”
Featured artists include Dr. Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq, Naomi Ityi, Victoria Mamnguqsualuk Kayuryuk, Miriam Qiyuk, Jimmy Taipanak, Winnie Tatya, Marion Tuu’luuq, and Jessie Uunaq (Oonark).
The public is invited to celebrate the launch of Mary Yuusipik Singaqti: Back River Memories and Nivinngajuliaat from Baker Lake, along with three more new WAG exhibitions, on Friday, November 30 from 7:00 to 10:00pm.
The WAG is Canada’s oldest civic art gallery and houses over 27,000 artworks spanning centuries, media, and cultures, including the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world.
The Vancouver Art Gallery presents Dana Claxton: Fringing the Cube, the first-ever survey of the work of the provocative Vancouver-based Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux) artist Dana Claxton, which runs until February 3, 2019. Photography, film, video and performance documentation trace nearly 30 years of Claxton’s career and her investigations into Indigenous identity, beauty, gender and the body.
Kathleen S. Bartels, Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, says as a prolific multidisciplinary artist, Dana Claxton has been an important voice for reclaiming narratives around Indigenous culture through striking critique of stereotypes and ideologies.
“From the Indigenous portraits captured to stunning effect in her ‘fireboxes’, to the dramatic video installations that retell the stories of her Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux) people, Dana’s emotive works compel audiences to re-examine their understanding of Indigenous art.”
Merging Lakota traditions with so-called Western influences, while utilizing a powerful “mix, meld and mash” approach, Claxton addresses the oppressive legacies of colonialism by critiquing representations of Indigenous people that circulate in art, literature and popular culture. Such potent criticism can be found in early video works such as I Want to Know Why (1994), a searing protest against the depredations of colonialism, and The Red Paper (1996), which parodies Shakespearian drama while providing an Indigenous view of the European invasion of the Americas.
Other early video installations that brought Claxton widespread attention are also represented in the exhibition, including the mixed media installation Buffalo Bone China (1997), which looks at the mass slaughter of the buffalo and the disastrous consequences it held for the Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains. These works are accompanied by multi-channel video projections, including Rattle (2003), which eschews narrative convention, taking the form of a visual prayer with its mirrored imagery and hypnotic audio comprising traditional Lakota rattles (instruments of healing) along with synthesizers and peyote singing.
Claxton’s widely acclaimed photographic works play a prominent role in the exhibition. These include The Mustang Suite (2008), five staged photographic portraits of a contemporary Indigenous family, with each member appearing with their own form of “mustang”—be it a car, bicycle or pony. Also featured are the AIM photographs (2010), Claxton’s images of declassified FBI documents on the American Indian Movement.
Complex questions regarding beauty, cultural appropriation and the construction of identity are prevalent in Claxton’s photography project Indian Candy (2013), a series of aluminum-mounted chromogenic prints, which includes Tonto Prayer, a work that portrays Jay Silverheels, the Mohawk actor from the 1950s television series The Lone Ranger. Claxton further confronts such questions in her brilliant “firebox” or illuminated lightbox works depicting Indigenous women as seen in Headdress (2015) and Cultural Belongings (2016).
“I am in awe and grateful that the Vancouver Art Gallery and Grant Arnold have selected to curate this survey exhibition spanning twenty-eight years. I am elated to be sharing my video installations, photography and performance with a Vancouver audience. Combined the work speaks of a Lakota sensibility of time/place/space/spirit and the complexities of our shared socio-political-cultural realities,” says Dana Claxton.
After finishing high school in her home province of Saskatchewan, Kylie Fineday joined the workforce but never gave up on her dream of becoming an artist. As an Art Studio major in the University of Lethbridge Bachelor of Fine Arts program, she’s pursuing her aspirations.
“The great thing about uLethbridge is the classes are small enough that everyone gets a lot of time with their professors,” says Kylie. “Plus, having my own studio space and access to the incredible art facilities has made me really enjoy pursuing studio art.”
Kylie says her uLethbridge experience has not only supported her artistic development, but has introduced her to ways of working in the arts outside of the studio. This past year she completed an internship with the uLethbridge Art Gallery, where she curated an exhibition including works by current students and pieces from the gallery’s collection.
“It’s been an amazing experience getting to see what is in the University art collection and learning about everything that goes into creating an exhibition.”
That experience helped Kylie land a summer job at the gallery where she worked as a curatorial assistant, giving her even more valuable hands-on experience. Recently, the uLethbridge Art Gallery received a bequest of more than 1,000 artworks from the estate of Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess (DFA ‘04), including works by international artists like Henri Matisse, renowned Canadians like Emily Carr and more than 400 pieces by Indigenous artists. Kylie helped assess the value of the collection, catalogued the new acquisitions and installed a portion of the exhibition showcasing the collection in the main gallery space.
“It’s such an impressive gift and I think it’s great to see a lot of Indigenous representation alongside the big Canadian and international names. It’s been a great learning opportunity, and it’s really exciting to be involved with something so big for the University community.”
After finishing at uLethbridge, Kylie plans to explore artist residencies where she can continue her practice and look for more opportunities to work in galleries or museums.
2018 Fulmer Awards in BC First Nations Art recipients
VANCOUVER – The BC Achievement Foundation (BCAF) honoured the six recipients of the Fulmer Awards in BC First Nations Art at the 12th annual Awards in First Nations Art celebration at the Roundhouse, Vancouver, on November 20th. The recipients were celebrated for their artistic excellence in traditional, contemporary or media art.
“These awards honour the very best in First Nations art in the province and help celebrate the inheritance of a rich cultural tradition,” said BCAF chair Scott McIntyre. “The 2018 recipients join the 68 artists the foundation has had the privilege to honour over the past twelve years,” he added.
The 2018 Fulmer Awards in BC First Nations Art recipients, chosen by an independent jury, are:
Richard Adkins – Haida Nation – Richard Adkins grew up in a traditional Haida family, one where he had the opportunity to learn history and tradition. . He has carried that love of art and tradition over many decades, beginning with studying Northwest Coast Art with Freda Diesing. As an established mixed media artist, Rick has created masterful pieces in sculpture, jewelry and drawing. Rick has garnered national recognition for his design, and his work has been exhibited at art galleries around the country.
Bradley Hunt – Heiltsuk artist from Waglisla (Bella Bella) He is a member of the Eagle Clan, through his late mother Annie Hunt. One of Bradley’s core philosophies as a teacher is that he believes that the student must learn the principles of the traditional art form before they try to push the boundaries and create their own personal style. Bradley continues to carve every day with his two sons in Sechelt BC on the Sunshine Coast.
Nakkita Trimble – has been instrumental in the re-claiming of Nisga’a tattooing methods of skin stitching and hand poking –– techniques her ancestors would have used. Nakkita’s tattoos connect generations, helping individuals reconnect with their identity while developing pride and curiosity for their family histories, stories and traditions. Her solo-exhibit at the Nisga’a Museum in Grenville, B.C. featured the oral history of Nisga’a Tattooing prior to contact. The oral history was passed down from Freda Morven and the Council of Elders comprised of some Matriarchs and Chiefs of the four main villages in the Nass Valley.
Carrielynn Victor – Carrielynn Victor, Xémontélót Carrielynn Victor, (Stó:lo, Coast Salish & Mixed Western European Heritage) from the community, XwChí:yóm (Cheam), is a gifted artist. Her paintings and murals reflect her belief of her role as a defender of the earth. An artist, fisher, plant harvester and medicines practitioner, Carrielynn’s work fuses ancestral knowledge and a deep connection to her culture with contemporary techniques and styles.
Henry Speck Jr – master carver received the Lifetime Achievement Award, A self-taught artist of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation of the Tlawitsis Tribe, Hank has close to sixty years of carving experience. Many of his pieces are interpretations of the large bird masks used in the hamatsa ritual and the Atlikim dance series. Given the scale and intricacy of his work, Hank produces only a few major pieces each year and many of these are for cultural use. Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) chiefs commission his gigantic raven and Hok Hok masks, stretching to six and seven feet in length, for use in potlatch ceremonies.
The Fulmer Awards in BC First Nations Art are made possible through the generous support of the Vancouver-based Fulmer Foundation.
Fulmer Award 2018 Crabtree McLennan Emerging Artist Award: Kelsey Hall
Kelsey Hall (KC) of Bella Bella, in Heiltsuk Nation territory on the central coast of BC, belongs to the House of Wakas and descends from noted Heiltsuk artist Chief Robert Bell. His artistic practice stems from handwriting, lettering and graffiti skills developed in high school. Mentored and influenced by many BC First Nations artists, KC has collaborated with local artists on many projects, including murals for Granville Island’s newest public space. He has been commissioned for art that demonstrate his knowledge of traditional First Nations craft, creating a mural for the UBC Museum of Anthropology, and co-designing a Spirit Blanket that was presented to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to Bella Bella. KC’s art is modernist with traditional roots. His work arises out of the tension between ancient First Nations skills and traditions and the urban digital world he now inhabits. The skill with which KC navigates this rift shows in his use of formline to create habitat for traditional figures with a distinctively modern/Manga twist.
Through Black Spruce, a project produced by Tina Keeper is a movie that touches on issues that relate to Canada’s Murdered and Indigenous Women. The film has received rave reviews in screenings across Canada and at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
Keeper, a Cree actress, producer, activist, and former member of parliament and is best known for her role as, Michelle Kenidi, the RCMP officer in the CBC 1990’s television series, North of 60. Keeper optioned the book in 2012 and began looking for funding and someone to direct the book into a movie. Keeper was looking for a director that could interpret and bring to the screen Indigenous issues that tell the story of a First Nations family coping with their missing daughter. After looking at many potential directors, Keeper hand-picked Don McKeller, a Canadian director, writer and filmmaker with such credits as The Red Violin, and the critically acclaimed, Last Night.
The story is about Annie (Tanaya Betty) who searches for her sister Suzanne who disappeared while modelling in Toronto. The film also centres around Will (Brandon Oaks) the uncle also dealing with the disappearance.
Keeper says the novel was very personal to her and wanted to work closely with the writer, Joseph Boyden in the creation of the movie.
“The book really spoke to me because it was set in the Treaty 9 territory where my late mother was originally from,” Keeper said. “Plus in the book, the Bird family, who are a intergenerational family of the residential schools.”
Through Black Spruce lead actors, Tanaya Betty (Annie) and Brandon Oaks (Will)
I asked Keeper about the experience working with the two main characters, Tanaya Betty, who plays Annie and Will played by Brandon Oaks.
“They are genuinely nice kind people, very considerate, measured artists and very thoughtful on how they’re performing,” says Keeper. “Both of them came to the project and made filming a beautiful experience. They each brought their own visions to the characters and they were always prepared. I was really impressed with both of their performances which were just Steller!”
The film also features veteran and respected actors Tantoo Cardinal and Graham Greene. Both actors are best remembered in the 1990 blockbuster, Dances With Wolves, where they played man and wife.
“We were so thrilled to have both of them (Cardinal and Greene), they were a dream to work with, and I’ve worked with them in the past as an actor. They brought incredible life to the characters. Their roles are a reference point of the film and they’re both such master crafters.”
The movie explores how a young Cree woman’s disappearance traumatizes her family in two communities, the remote Northern Ontario community of Moosonee, where she fled from years ago to the city of Toronto where she vanishes.
“One of the elements of the story in the film is about the setting in the town of Moosonee. We were honoured to work with local language dialect coaches, for the northern Cree language and cultural advisors,” Keeper said. “Through the experience of working with the people of Moosonee, we saw the resilience of the people in that community, and that is what this film is about, the resilience of the Bird family.”
Don McKeller, told Breakfast Television in Toronto, that in the book, the character Suzanne, works as a model in New York, Toronto and Montreal, but in the film we scaled it down to Toronto.
“As an outsider I heard stories of the troubles in communities like Attawapiskat, but I never been up there, so when I read the script, I immediately got into theses characters,” McKeller said. “I could feel the family, and the repercussions of what they were going through.”
Keeper says the reaction to the film, in terms of the film festivals, they’ve had near sell-out on all the screenings, and have been getting good feedback.
“What I hope audiences will take away from this film is that they remember the family portrayed in the movie and remember this region which most Canadians don’t ever get to see. I just really hope people take away some knowledge of the culture of the Northern Cree. Also how the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women affects people and families, because they say this is a national tragedy and we try to honour their stories as best we can in this project.”
With more than 100 events scheduled over 12 days at over 40 locations throughout the Downtown Eastside, the 15th Annual DTES Heart of the City Festival (October 24 – November 4, 2018) has a cornucopia of cultural events and artistic activities to attend, participate in, and enjoy.
The Heart of the City Festival will include twelve days of music, stories, songs, poetry, cultural celebrations, films, theatre, dance, spoken word, workshops, discussions, gallery exhibitions, mixed media, art talks, history talks and history walks.
To acknowledge, honour and support our home communities long standing commitment to social justice, the theme of the 2018 Festival is “Seeds of Justice, Seeds of Hope”. We celebrate the history of the Downtown Eastside community advocacy for human rights and social justice as we move forward and create artistic activity that speaks to today’s vital concerns and burning issues.
Heart of the City Festival’s mandate is to promote, present and facilitate the development of artists, art forms, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The festival involves a wide range of professional, community, emerging and student artists and lovers of the arts. Over 1,000 local artists and Downtown Eastside residents participated in last year’s Festival.
Here are some of the exciting Top Festival Picks.
Hope Matters, An Evening with Lee Maracle and Columpa Bobb: Acclaimed award-winning writer and elder Lee Maracle and award-winning actor, playwright, photographer, poet and teacher Columpa Bobb read from their upcoming book, Hope Matters. Thursday Oct 25, 7pm. Massy Books, 229 E. Georgia.
Material Witness: The Festival is honoured to present Material Witness, an international co-production between renowned Spiderwoman Theater of New York City, the longest running Native American women’s theatre company in the United States, and Aanmitaagzi, an Indigenous multi-disciplinary-arts company from Nipissing First Nation, Ontario. Friday Oct 26, Saturday Oct 27, 8pm. Ukrainian Hall, 805 E. Pender.
Songs of Justice, Songs of Hope: This evening of stirring sing-along activist songs launches the Festival and this year’s theme Seeds of Justice, Seeds of Hope. Led by musician, composer, conductor, and 2018 Festival Artist in Residence Earle Peach (2017 Mayor Arts Award), this evening of song features, among others, social justice Solidarity Notes Labour Choir singing about historical and current events and issues; and accordionist-extraordinaire Geoff Berner, whose powerful and biting social satirical songs can make you laugh or weep – often at the same time. Come ready to sing!
Wednesday Oct 24, 7pm. Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main.
Emerging Heritage Fair 1928-2018-2108: Join the Festival and the Japanese Language School to celebrate the shared 90th anniversary of the Japanese Hall and of Japan/Canada diplomatic relations; and to laud the 15th anniversary of the groundbreaking Downtown Eastside Community Play:Saturday Oct 27, Education Fair 1pm, Performances 7pm Vancouver Japanese Language School & Japanese Hall, 487 Alexander.
Vetta Chamber Music, Seasons of the Sea weaves together contemporary classical music by award-winning Vancouver composer Jeffrey Ryan with a narrative written by Rosemary Georgeson (Sahtu Dene/Coast Salish), recipient of the 2009 Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award as Emerging artist/Community-engaged Arts. Sunday Oct 28, 3pm. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall.
Ukrainian Hall Community Concert & Supper: The festival ends on a high note at the east-end’s historic Ukrainian Hall with lively music, invigorating dance and colourful costumes, featuring among others Kat Zucomul’wat Norris (Coast Salish). The best full meal and concert deal in Vancouver! Sunday Nov 4, concert 3pm, supper follows. Ukrainian Hall, 805 E. Pender.
Many events are free or by suggested donation. Visit www.heartofthecityfestival.com for full details.
Donna Cowan is a networking agent for the National Film Board of Canada, and she spoke withFirst Nations Drum about the Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) tour, a must see for communities and educators wanting to view films made by Indigenous film makers.
“The Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) collection is comprised of NFB films that have been made by Indigenous directors,” Cowan said. “Currently there are almost 250 films, and that number continues to grow as the NFB has committed 15 percent of its production budget to Indigenous-made films.”
Nearly 1,100 screenings of the Aabiziingwashi film collection have been held across Canada since 2017. Many Canadians have sat in dark theatres, community centres, church halls, and schools to learn about treaties, policies that created residential schools, Sixties Scoop, the current child welfare system, and their devastating effects.
“Through these films and the powerful discussions that follow, people are better understanding this dark history and the systems that are still in place today resulting in many Canadians demanding more of themselves, and of their government, with respect to Reconciliation,” said Cowan.
Cowan says screenings have also taken place in small, remote First Nation, Metis, and Inuit communities across Turtle Island. From Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to Kivalliq Region in Nunavut to Lennox Island First Nation on the East Coast, Indigenous-made NFB films have brought communities together to hear ancestors speak their language and to learn more about their history and cultural traditions.
“Our community partners across the country have also been very creative,” Cowan said. “In Ottawa at the Asinabka, festival films were shown on screens made of snow, in Vancouver they screened in a longhouse, and in Toronto the audience watched a 40 foot blow up screen as they sat under the stars.”
I asked Cowan, how have audiences reacted to the selected films across the country?
“The response to the Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) Indigenous Cinema tour has been very positive so far. We will continue to offer these films for community screenings as well as for individual viewing on our website at NFB.ca/Wideawake. Educators can use these films in classrooms by subscribing to CAMPUS, our educational website.”
The film collection dates back to 1967 when the “Indian Film Crew” was formed as part of a community engagement initiative to use film as a tool for change by training Indigenous filmmakers to tell their powerful stories from their point of view.
The first film created was The Ballad of Crowfoot, by Willie Dunn. Recent releases include Alanis Obomsawin’s Our People Will be Healed, a story about the new school in Norway House; We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, which followed Cindy Blackstock as she challenged the Canadian government and fought for the welfare of Indigenous children on reserve; Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk is a film showing the devastating effects on the Inuit communities after the ban on the commercial seal hunt; Tasha Hubbard profiled Betty Ann Adam and the reunification of her siblings as they deal with the after effects of the Sixties Scoop in Birth of a Family; and Marie Clements’s musical documentary The Road Forward examines the connection between Indigenous nationalism in the 1930s and First Nations activism today.
For the last 26 years Cowan has focused on festivals, film screenings, comedy theatres, filmmakers, and actors. As vice president of operations at Second City in Chicago, she increased sales, and improved morale. In 2004 she joined the National Film Board of Canada’s marketing department, becoming integral in the launch and distribution of most of the top films the NFB launched in the last decade.
“It is films like these from our collections that have helped Canadians to understand the issues a little bit better, and provide thoughtful insight into the images they see on the nightly news,” said Cowan.
Persons and organizations interested in booking a film can discuss their interest with the NFB team who will provide suggestions and help curate local screening for their particular audience.
Mary McPherson pictured with Scene of my Elders Emerging from an Inauthentic Past, a drawing she did last year.
Photo courtesy of The Royal Canadian Mint
A fourth-year visual arts student at Lakehead University says it feels incredible to have designed one side of a new coin for the Royal Canadian Mint.
The Royal Canadian Mint asked Mary McPherson to participate in the design process for the new coin.
She was thrilled when the Mint chose her image of Tecumseh, a legendary Shawnee war leader who allied himself with the British and heroically led hundreds of First Nations warriors into battle at such places as Fort Meigs and most famously, Detroit.
Released on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the new coin recognizes the 250th anniversary of Tecumseh’s birth.
“It feels incredibly different than the work that I usually produce,” said McPherson, who is Ojibway and a member of Couchiching First Nation.
“I’ve never had an artistic experience quite like this one. I feel extremely grateful to have had the honour of drawing Tecumseh and having the design immortalized on a coin.”
McPherson said she learned a lot during the process.
“What I particularly realized throughout the duration of this project was how Tecumseh had, according to Dickason and Newbigging, ‘sided with the British, not because he liked them particularly but because he saw them as the lesser of two evils,’” she said.
“Tecumseh fought for the wellbeing and independence of his people. He had also united Indigenous nations, in resistance to a divide-and-conquer mentality, while maintaining the essential notion that the land was to be shared among all peoples and was not something to be owned.”
The MM on the right side of the coin represents McPherson’s initials. McPherson said her Lakehead University education helped her immensely with this process.
“Through Visual Arts and Indigenous Learning, I was able to improve my drawing skills, research skills, and time management skills, which aided me in completing this project.”
For more information about the coin, visit the Royal Canadian Mint website.