Happy Indigenous Peoples Day! Below, we’ve highlighted some recent articles we’ve published that showcase fantastic Indigenous artists.
Unboxing the term “Indigenous dance artist” with three generations
By Amy Hull with Rayn Cook-Thomas, Ange Loft and Byron Chief-Moon
I’ve always felt like I didn’t quite fit into the box labelled “Indigenous dance artist,” even if I put myself in there. I resist the label, but at the same time, I feel a responsibility towards it. When applying for funding, “Indigenous” is a handy adjective to have in my tool box to describe myself. It also comes in handy with networking and helping other “Indigenous dance artists” to prioritize their peers. When working outside of Canada, however, “Indigenous” is the only descriptor I’ve been allowed to use, with “dance artist” cut out entirely. In those cases, the adjective was used to exoticize me and rug-sweep my education and accomplishments in favour of celebrating the people who “gave” me the opportunity to work in Europe.
The pros and cons of leaving that label in versus taking it out often end up balancing equally, but also precariously. When do I want my work to reflect on the community crammed like sardines into this box? When do I want to climb out of the box and take a breath for the sake of myself, my peers or my work?
I’ve been pondering what “Indigenous” means in the context of “dance artist” and what “Indigenous dance artist” means in the context of, well, “dance artist.” Perhaps these definitions are not static but ever-changing in their spatial, temporal and cultural contexts. To gain some understanding, I asked three artists from three generations of dancemaking to write about how the intersections of their identities might inform, beautify or complicate their relationships to Indigeneity, dance and the term “Indigenous dance artist.” Rayn Cook-Thomas, Ange Loft and Byron Chief-Moon have collectively curated a dance-focused journey through time, space and sub/cultures. — Amy Hull, Winter 2022 guest editor.
The importance of time and space
By Sandra Lamouche
Throughout history in North America, Indigenous dances have been deliberately targeted by policies, laws and practices designed to disconnect Indigenous Peoples from Indigenous space, including landscapes, sacred sites and community spaces, as well as from time – our histories and our futures. This includes the suppression of dance and, in the worst cases, imprisonment and massacres. This history alludes to the inherent resilience in the stories and dances practised by Indigenous Peoples and the ability for dance to unite and bring us together. That is our strength.
Resilience is built into Indigenous dance through stories, social structure, ceremony and embodiment. Just take the Nehiyaw (Cree) word that my mosom (grandfather) used for the northern lights: Cipayak E-Nimihotowin, which translates to spirits dancing in the sky. The northern lights are said to be our ancestors and Elders dancing in the spirit world. We have both reverence and respect for the northern lights as a reminder of not only our connection to the greater history of our people but also our humanity. As a dancer, I have always found a strange comfort in the belief that I will continue dancing in the spirit world. I think, now more than ever, we have been aware of our mortality as humans and the importance of our connections with one another and the universe.
We have been thrust into a world where we often connect across time and space through digital offerings. This comes with its own challenges and opportunities. Just like the northern lights, it’s a way to feel connected. It highlights our need for connection and brings awareness to our human capacity and limitations. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of connecting with IBPOC communities of dancers and artists across Canada and beyond. Several of them are featured here for movement highlighting land, place and story through videos where they dance across time and space.
Katuaq’a Katuarpalaaq festival aims to celebrate and preserve Inuit culture through knowledge sharing
By Valerie Herdes
In March, a group of seven Nunavummiut travelled to Greenland to take part in the Katuarpalaaq drum dancing festival. The festival, which took place from March 21 to 25 in Nuuk, was organized by a Greenlandic arts and culture organization called Katuaq. It brought together Inuit artist representatives from Canada, Alaska and different parts of Greenland to share knowledge and stories from their respective regions, with the goal of preserving and revitalizing Inuit drum dancing through workshops, conversations and performances.
Through movement, Aztec dancer Asalia Arellano was able to dig into her roots
By Robyn Grant-Moran
For the past 15 years, Asalia Arellano has been calling Tkaronto home, where she regularly teaches and performs traditional Aztec dance. She is passionate about learning about different cultures and sharing. This is reflected in her work – Arellano collaborates with artists the world over. Recently, she worked with Neetika Sharma from India in Reeti with Theatre Oculus, juxtaposing traditional kathak and Aztec dance, discovering their similarities. Arellano has a similar upcoming project working with dancers from Australia, Africa and South America.
Until 1951, Indigenous dances were banned by law
By Indigo Dowdie
Although Indigenous dance and dance-centred practices are meant to be respected and honoured, they have historically been denigrated and subjugated due to systemic racism and cultural genocide. Indigenous dance and dance-centred ceremonies were banned by law in Canada from the 1850s until 1951. In 1884, an important northwestern tradition called the potlatch ceremony was banned. The yearly Plains Indigenous tradition called the Sun Dance ceremony was later banned in 1885. By 1925, Indigenous dance was banned completely, with the bans on these traditions not fully repealed until 1951. In addition to prohibiting dance and gathering where dancing might occur, other forms of state-sanctioned abuse contributed significantly to the loss of cultural heritage, language and identity.