Indigenous Theatre Festival focuses on language reawakening  

The cast performing Jealous Moon(Credit: One Island Media)

As Indigenous Elders pass, how can younger generations best learn and increase their fluency with traditional languages? Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta believes applied theatre techniques can be an important part of the language-learning equation, and this month’s Indigenous Theatre Festival Reawakening Language on Stage offers a glimpse into how performance can powerfully augment classroom education.

Running at the Phoenix Theatre from September 16-18 in collaboration with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language and Culture Society (HLCS), Hul’q’umi’num’ Language Academy and other university partners, the festival offers a weekend of performances, workshops and discussions aimed at exchanging research-based knowledge on the best practices for using theatre as a tool for this essential project.

“Language revitalization is the most important thing,” says Hul’q’umi’num’ speaker and Cowichan Tribes member Tara I. Morris, a PhD candidate in theatre and linguistics who is working with Sadeghi-Yekta on the festival. “We’re fighting for our language—we don’t accept it to be extinct—so we’re organizing and preserving and revitalizing with the younger generation. This festival offers a beautiful way to create space and help keep the language going . . . people need to know how hard we’re working.”

Sedeghi-Yekta (right) rehearses with community participants tsatassaya | Tracey White and suy’thlumaat | Kendra-Anne Page (Credit: One Island Media)

 

A different way of learning

Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta has been engaged with this project since 2015 and her work has been supported by a number of SSHRC grants, including a new three-year Partnership Development Grant with UVic linguistics professor Sonya Bird as co-lead. “[This festival] is about inspiring other communities who are struggling to maintain their languages,” she explains. “We’re hoping to offer a spark for people to see that it’s possible to learn traditional languages through alternative ways—it doesn’t only have to be in classrooms.”

Sadeghi-Yekta was originally invited to participate by HLCS language specialist Joan Brown (now executive director of the Snuneymuxw First Nations) and SFU linguist Donna Gerdts, who were looking to find new ways to revitalize the Hul’q’umi’num’ language—which was traditionally spoken across a wide geographical area, ranging from now-Washington State and the Fraser Valley to the Gulf Islands and south-east Vancouver Island.

“Joan thought using theatre was a fantastic idea,” recalls Sadeghi-Yekta, a multi-lingual applied theatre practitioner whose international experience working with different cultures was ideally suited to this project. Given that performance has always been an integral part of Indigenous communities, theatre seemed an ideal fit for this project. “There was a steep learning curve on both sides to understand each other—both cultural protocols and the language of applied theatre—but the beauty of live theatre is you always start with your body, so we began by finding ways for participants to move past the discomfort of performing.”

Combining theatre techniques with community storytelling

Currently working with about 60 participants, Sadeghi-Yekta combines theatre-based techniques with community-inspired storytelling to help participants increase their fluency, focusing on nourishing a sense of excitement in speaking and performing only in Hul’q’umi’num’ . . . so festival audiences shouldn’t expect any subtitles.

“The whole point of the festival is that we want to celebrate Indigenous languages without translation,” she notes. “If we provide subtitles, the concentration towards Hul’q’umi’num’ could easily be gone. It’s a very complex language to learn.”

PhD candidate Morris—now co-director of the featured play Jealous Moon—has been involved with the project since 2019 in a variety of roles. “It’s been interesting being a student, learning the Hul’q’umi’num’ vocabulary for the play, acting it out and now helping teach and direct it,” she says.

Ironically, Morris’ grandmother—the late Theresa Thorne—helped create the Hul’q’umi’num’ dictionary and actually worked with SFU’s Gerdts years ago. “It’s such an honour to now be involved at this level,” she says.

kwustunaat rehearsing the role of Owl in Jealous Moon (Credit: One Island Media)

Engaging younger generations

Sadeghi-Yekta estimates there were over 50 fluent Hul’q’umi’num’ speakers when she began this project—a number that has now sadly dwindled to less than 30 over the COVID years.

“Our Elders are passing so quickly that we’re trying to make sure we find ways to expedite the process and engage the younger generations,” she says. “The great thing about this project is that it inspires specifically younger participants to commit to the learning of the language—and to feel confident in speaking it—which is where it all starts.”

Given that the festival has been twice-delayed due to COVID, she is excited to finally bring Reawakening Language on Stage to campus. In addition to the performances and workshops, the festival will also include important life lessons about persisting, building confidence, overcoming adversity and helping others. Expect heartfelt messages of sorrow and reconciliation, loss and hope, and the realization that Indigenous languages are not just an object of study but a means of artistic expression—with the ultimate hope of galvanizing a new generation of Indigenous performers.

A full weekend of performances

As well as a September 16 full-cast performance of the original play Jealous Moon—written by Hul’q’umi’num’ community member Chris Alphonse—festival participants include Dene director and playwright Deneh’Cho Thompson (USask), Education Leadership master’s candidate Yvonne Wallace of the Lil’wat Nation (UBC), indigenous/Xwulmuxw studies professor Laura Cranmer (VIU), indigenous education, Victoria’s Visible Bodies Collective, plus theatre PhD Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde (UVic) and Fine Arts Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator Karla Point.

“Participants always tell me that they’ve learned to play again through applied theatre, that it’s one of the few times they can laugh again without focusing on other worries, ” says Sadeghi-Yekta. “They say that it’s brought the community more together as well—and that’s a huge compliment for the art.”

Awinakola: Tree of Life public discussion

How can art help develop strategies to heal the planet, heal the people and change culture? Find out at this free public talk by the Awinakola: Tree of Life Research Group from 3-4:30pm Sat Sept 10 in room A162 of UVic’s Visual Arts building.

This community presentation & discussion is in conjunction with the exhibition Still Standing: Ancient Forest Futures, running to Sept 17 at UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery downtown.

Join exhibit artists including MFA alum Rande Cook, Visual Arts professors Paul Walde & Kelly Richardson plus forest researcher Suzanne Simard (author of Finding the Mother Tree) & Ernest Alfred, Hereditary Chief of Tlowit’sis First Nation, elected leader of the ‘Namgis First Nation and leader of the Swanson Occupation. This discussion will be moderated by Still Standing exhibit curator Jessie Demers.

Awinakola: Tree of Life is a research group comprised of Indigenous knowledge keepers, scientists and and artists brought together by Makwala – Rande Cook, an artist and Hereditary Chief of the Ma’amtagila First Nation. By sharing cross-disciplinary research practices, the group seeks to develop strategies to heal the planet, heal the people, and change culture—starting with regeneration and preservation of threatened forest ecosystems in Kwakwaka’wakw territory through the confluence of Indigenous knowledge, scientific research, and the arts.

Don’t miss this amazing chance to hear a free public discussion with award-winning Indigenous & two-spirit singer/musicologist Jeremy Dutcher (Tobique First Nation) from noon – 1:20pm Friday, Sept 9 in the Chief Dan George Theatre, Phoenix Building.

Joining the Polaris Prize and Juno Award-winning Dutcher for the discussion “Art, Truth and Memory” will be Ry Moran (UVic Libraries) Lindsay Delaronde (Audain Professor, UVic Visual Arts) and both Chaa’winisaks & Carmen Rodriguez de France (UVic Indigenous Education). Together, they will explore how the arts, archives and language can further the goals of Truth & Reconciliation.

Tickets are also still available for his performance at The Farquhar at UVic 7pm Friday, Sept 9.

A classically trained operatic tenor and composer who takes every opportunity to blend their Wolastoq First Nation roots into the music he creates, Dutcher blends their distinct musical aesthetics that shape-shift between classical, traditional, and pop to form something entirely new. Their debut release, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, involved the rearrangement of early 1900s wax cylinder field recordings from his community.

“Many of the songs were lost because our musical tradition was suppressed by the Canadian government,” says Dutcher. “I’m doing this work as there’s only about a hundred Wolastoqey speakers left. It’s crucial that we’re using our language because, if you lose the language, you’re losing an entire distinct way of experiencing the world.”

Free public lecture by Heather Igloliorte

The Department of Visual Arts invites you to a free public lecture and artist talk by Dr. Heather Igloliorte.

7pm Monday, July 4 in room 103 of UVic’s Fine Arts building (masks are encouraged) or via Zoom: https://uvic.zoom.us/j/96013374661

Dr. Heather Igloliorte, an Inuk-Newfoundlander from Nunatsiavut, has been an independent curator for seventeen years. Her major curatorial projects include INUA: Inuit Nunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut (Inuit Moving Forward Together) (2021-2023); Among All These Tundras (2018-2021); Decolonize Me (2011-2015); SakKijâjuk (2016-2019); the Memory Keepers series (2019-2020) and the forthcoming ARCTIC XR/ ARCTIC AR, presented in conjunction with Árran 360° at the Sami Pavilion of the Venice Biennale.

In addition to her curatorial practice, Igloliorte teaches curatorial studies, critical museology, and global Indigenous art history at Concordia University, where she holds the holds the Tier 1 University Research Chair in Circumpolar Indigenous Arts and is an associate professor in the Department of Art History. Heather co-directs the Indigenous Futures Research Centre and directs the nation-wide Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project (2018-2025).

Adam Con looks to rebalance the scales of music education

To paraphrase the poet Longfellow, music may well be our universal language, but how it’s traditionally taught in our schools no longer speaks to students in a multicultural society. That’s why School of Music professor Adam Con is looking to rebalance the musical scales.

“We need to broaden the perspective of how and what we’re teaching,” he says. “We have to honour the past, but we also have to move forward by ensuring students see their own cultures reflected.”

Dr. Con, co-head of UVic’s music education program and principal investigator of the National Study on the Status of Music Education, says he believes we can build a better society by integrating concepts of access, equity, diversity and inclusion (AEDI) into every school’s music classroom and ensemble—a difficult task as the study revealed vast disparities between provinces’ approaches to music education.

“At UVic, we’re teaching students that when they create music together, they become a community,” he says. “We’re actually teaching life—music just happens to be the vehicle.”

Education rooted in experience

Con’s AEDI concerns are not only core to his teaching—including 15 years in the K-12 system as well as his role as Choral Canada’s national chair of AEDI—but are also rooted in his experiences growing up in Vancouver.

“None of my music teachers looked like me … they were all white,” he says, adding, “I’ve recognized I can be one small piece of the representation puzzle: people see me and hopefully see possibilities in themselves.”

Putting an AEDI lens on music education means reframing how it’s taught, with an emphasis on process over performance. While Con’s research revealed there’s no single solution, essential steps forward include diversifying cultural partnerships to include Indigenous ways of knowing and being, and expanding the musical portfolio that’s taught to better reflect Canada’s multicultural makeup.

“People tend to think about this lens by colour—what you can see—but sometimes it’s more about what you don’t see,” says Con.

While the Western tradition places emphasis on reading sheet music, many cultures learn by ear, and that’s where access and inclusion become important. “When we only teach music for music’s sake, we start to exclude people,” he explains.

A groundbreaking conference

This shift in approach was at the core of the groundbreaking inter-faculty collaboration led by Dr. Anita Prest in the Faculty of Education and Dr. Steven Capaldo and Con in the Faculty of Fine Arts, with grateful contributions of Indigenous partners. The Indigenizing Music Education conference held in May at UVic was attended by more than 200 people and was an essential next step after research revealed the need to include First Peoples Principles of Learning in the curriculum.

“We’ve never had music educators, Indigenous cultural bearers and knowledge keepers from all of BC’s 60 school districts together before.”

Con says he realizes that more research and a long-term approach are needed to adopt an AEDI approach and decolonize the reliance on Western classical music. “Once our students start teaching in the public school system and are able to make a difference, it could be another five or 10 years before we see significant change,” he says. “But we plant the seeds and put our hope into our students.”

Advocating AEDI into music education reflects UVic’s commitment to quality education as articulated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Edgewise: find out more

  • With financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Indigenizing Music Education conference, Everything is Connected: Songs, Relationships and Indigenous Worldviews, featured eight partner organizations: the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, BC Ministry of Education (Indigenous Branch), BC Music Educators’ Association, School Districts 61 (Victoria) and 83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap), Pacific Opera, University of British Columbia and UVic.

  • It focused on developing respectful relationships and exploring ways to embed Indigenous ways of knowing and being into BC music education classes in ways that are culturally appropriate to each school district. “This was a historic event,” says Con. “We had spontaneous drumming and sharing of songs, as well as critical conversations about decolonizing music education.” Next steps? Developing local relationships with First Nations peoples in every district and expanding the conversation nationally.
  • UVic is one of only two Canadian universities supported by Ontario’s Don Wright Foundation through a $1-million, one-time endowment to the School of Music, focused specifically on music education.
  • A recent report on music education in Canadian schools found that only one in three had a specialized or certified music education teacher on staff and that, over the past decade, music education funding has decreased while student participation in music programs has increased.

 

This story originally appeared on June 26, 2022, as part of UVic’s KnowlEDGE research series in the Times Colonist 

Visiting Artist: Jaimie Isaac

“The Eighth and Final Fire” (2021), public art installation by Jaimie Isaac (Winnipeg)

Our final Visiting Artist of the academic year is the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s new chief curator, Jaimie Isaac, an interdisciplinary artist and mixed-heritage member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Treaty 1 Territory who is dedicated to decolonizing art and cultural institutions.

Join us from 7:30-9:20pm Wed, April 6 in room A162 of UVic’s Visual Arts building, or online.

Isaac is dedicated to making space for womxn, BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+ voices and decolonizing art and cultural institutions. She served as the Indigenous and Contemporary Arts at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for more than 6 years and has been in leadership positions in arts and cultural organizations as well as many independent projects. Isaac holds a degree in Art History From University of Winnipeg and a Masters of Arts from the University of British Columbia, with the thesis focus on Decolonizing Curatorial Practice.

Exhibitions curated at the Winnipeg Art Gallery include the likes of “Nahdohbii: To Draw Water” (an international curatorial collaboration triennial and symposium), “Born In Power”, “Behind Closed Doors”, “Insurgence Resurgence” (co-curated), “Vernon Ah Kee: cantchant”, “Boarder X”(national tour), “We Are On Treaty Land” and “Quiyuktchigaewin; Making Good”. During her tenure, Isaac managed touring shows and initiated many dynamic and sustained partnerships and programming.

Artistically, Isaac co-founded The Ephemerals Collective, which was long-listed for the 2017 and 2019 Sobey Art Award. Collectively and independently, she has exhibited and presented work internationally. Jaimie collaborated with an artistic team on a public sculpture at the Forks called “Nimama at South Point Path: Niizhoziibean” and collaborated on a public art project, “Cyclical Motion: Indigenous Art & Placemaking” and a solo public art work, “8th and Final Fire at the Forks” (Winnipeg, 2021).

With published work, Jaimie has contributed articles and features for Art + Wonder, C Magazine, Bordercrossings and essays for exhibition catalogues; Nahdohbii; To Draw Water, Insurgence Resurgence, Boarder X, Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, and unsacred. Isaac has contributed in collections of writing within The Land We Are Now: Writers and Artists Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation, West Coast Line 74 and Public 54: Indigenous Art: New Media and the Digital Journal and contributed in forthcoming publications.

In community, Jaimie was co-faculty for the Wood Land School at Plug In Summer Institute in 2016.  She is the Advisory Committee for the Manitoba Museum and is on the board of directors for Bordercrossings Magazine and Trustee for the Sobey Art Foundation. Jaimie is an honouree for Leaders of Tomorrow from the Manitoba Museum 50th Tribute Awards 2020, CBC Future 40 Finalist and the Canadian Museums Association recipient for an outstanding achievement award in exhibitions category with the Boarder X exhibition, 2021