Choreographic ‘Re-membering’: Dancing “In Motion” at the TSF


Seeing the two dance works The NDN Way and Greed featured at the Talking Stick Festival’s In Motion definitely stirred up the inner dancer in me. Taking place on February 26, 2016 at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, I became really immersed in making interpretations on how the choreography was speaking to the dancers’ actions and apparent narratives on Indigeneity taking place.

The NDN Way was a duet choreographed by Brian Solomon and performed with Marianna Medellin-Minke. Brian, of Anishnaabe and Irish descent born in a remote Northern Ontario village (Shebanoning/Killarney), is also a Visual Artist and Actor who trained in classical and contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre with an MA in Performance from the Laban Centre in London, UK. He is very interested in engaging with unusual spaces in communities, and is passionate about helping people relearn about their ‘forgotten bodies’ and finding ways of “taking back the space those bodies occupy”. Marianna, born in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico Mariana Gamar del Carmen, began with studying classical ballet before furthering her studies also at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She seeks to create works that are social commentaries which continually deviate within a negative and positive perspective. The NDN Way featured the voiceover of Brian reciting spiritual teachings from Cindy Bisaillon’s 1974 interview with Ron Evans, known as a Métis storyteller who grew up living in the traditional ways in one of the last nomadic Métis communities, along with a mash-up of music from all styles, and seemed to combine moments of playfulness, struggle, and ceremony.

Greed, on the other hand, had a much more dreary and sombre atmosphere which felt more challenging for me to decipher the particular narrative going on, as it drew upon issues surrounding the stock market and the influences of corporate interests and capitalism on Indigenous peoples and cultural practices. Choreographed by Byron Chief-Moon, a member of the Kainai Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy in southern Alberta who is an actor, choreographer, dancer, and playwright who seeks to explore dance as a way to incorporate nuances of storytelling through his blood memory. Alongside Byron, three other dancers performed, including Jerry Longboat (Mohawk-Cayuga, Turtle clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River in Southern Ontario who is a visual artist, graphic designer, actor, storyteller, dancer, and choreographer whose performance work is rooted in his personal history and experience and embodies a vision of understanding and honouring the diversity of indigenous culture), Olivia Davies (an independent dance artist and choreographer who honours her mixed Welsh-Metis-Anishnawbe heritage in her contemporary Aboriginal dance-theatre practice through an investigation of the body’s dynamic ability to transmit narrative through exploring shared history, personal legacy, and blood memory), and Luglio Romero (a dancer who has a classical ballet background and has trained at Costa Rica’s Compania Nacional de Danza and SFU’s School of Contemporary Dance). Greed was initially created for the 10x10x10 Dance and Music event held at the Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver during October 2011, where composers were partnered up with choreographers to create a 10 minute dance piece that integrated the composers’ music. Byron Chief-Moon was partnered with composer Jeffrey Ryan, who focused on Ryan’s work Triple Witching, a music piece that refers to “times in the stock market when millions can be won or lost”. The original 10 minute piece served as a starting point that became this version we saw, in which Chief-Moon aspired to expand the choreographic language to interweave First Nation’s concepts of greed and imbalance, and as a way to “highlight Canada’s systematic disenfranchisement of First Peoples from the land and its resources”.

REVIEW HIGHLIGHTS (from past performances of Greed):

“The challenge for the choreographer comes with being confronted with something outside of their normal range of choices—and that should provoke completely new ideas. That’s proven true for local choreographer Byron Chief-Moon.”

-Janet Smith, Georgia Straight, Oct 2011

“Longboat’s interpretation explores greed and remorse among First Nations people, addressing the imbalance created by early contact with Europeans and the subsequent loss of lands and culture. His choreography is a blend of native and contemporary dance. While sincere in performance, the dance movement itself needs more definition.”

-Paula Citron, The Globe & Mail, June 2015


Throughout the whole performance, I was writing down notes about the kinds of movements and expressions taking place as I interpreted them, attempting to reflect on found meanings that may have been rising out of movements and choreography (as I am a dancer myself). After reflecting on these notes as a whole, I found that Ric Knowles’ discussion on rape and sexual violence on First Nations women in his article “The Heart of Its Women” can also be related to aspects of choreography and context found in these performances. Knowles introduces the idea of ‘re-membering’ as a way of working together “to resist the global scope of the colonial project… to serve as agents of anticolonial and anti-imperial resistance and healing” through embodiment (137). In relation, he brings awareness to the idea of individual and community ‘dismemberment’, which he describes as “agents of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide”, and states that it “can be healed only through an embodied cultural re-membering” (136-7). Since Solomon and Chief-Moon have also stated that their practices seek to explore cultural reconnection, I found particular aspects of their choreographies in which I feel Knowles’ notion of ‘re-membering’ through embodiment has come out.

The NDN Way

example 1

The choreography started off slowly with both Brian and Marianna lying on the ground, curled up in a fetal position facing away from the audience. Marianna began by making subtle gestures, turning into slow pulses, and then eventually getting up onto her hands and knees, crawling in an animal position as the voiceover stated “animal brothers and sisters share life”. There were other moments throughout their performance when these animal-like movements would be made too, and I saw these motions in combination with having heard this line from the voiceover as a ‘re-membering’ of our connected relation with the animals, and as a way of showing how this connection is rooted in our bodies through mimicking their actions.

example 2

In another scene later on, the voiceover states “we see in the nature around us our inner reality”. In response to this, the dancers, who had been holding eye contact with each other while kneeling down at opposite ends of a long box for awhile, look away to stare directly at the audience, remaining this way as they began a synchronized movement of bringing the sides of their heads together, and then sliding downstage towards the audience with their arms reaching out to us. Soon after, this connection was broken as they separated and moved back upstage into the position they once were in. Through this literal attachment of their bodies and minds coming together, I saw this as a temporal moment of ‘re-membering’ how we all share the same nature together as a form of ‘anticolonial resistance’. With a kind of cycle occurring through their return and disconnection after, I thought this could have stood as an act of ‘dismemberment’, showing that cultural reconnection is not always easy to hold on to as an effect of the strong forces of Knowles’ term ‘ethnic cleansing’.

example 3

In a scene closer towards the end, Brian goes on a vision quest. Marianna transitions the set on stage, turning the boxes into angular directions that appeared to be models of buildings, while he enacts smoking a pipe with tobacco. The voiceover states “you’ll learn something about yourself” as he closes his eyes and sits on his knees. He starts doing this pulsing motion that resembles a kind of movement in contemporary dance of suspending oneself onto the bridge of their feet, where his lower thighs were lifted up as he balanced his whole body using the strength of his toes. This action was as if he was beginning to build up strength through his body through a ‘re-membering’ of his purpose as an individual through the vision quest. After this moment, he transitioned into a deep lounge position towards us, bringing his arms up and circling them at rapid speed around his body, which illuminated a kind of glowing light in interaction with the spotlight from above. To me, this signified a complete breakthrough of finding strength through a ‘re-membering’ of his own cultural self in relation to this ceremonial practice.


example 1

Compared to having voiceovers to help describe the visual enactments of the dancers, having no verbal words in Greed may speak to the silencing of Indigenous voices as a result of what Knowles’ discusses as the ‘colonial project’, as dancers appeared to be encapsulated in this corporate dreary world and are seeking ways to escape it through attempts of ‘re-membering’.

example 2

At the beginning, the tone of the dance was established as what one of my dance teachers has described as a ‘collective consciousness’, in which the group of dancers existed in the same time and space by being with each other, with the three men lifting up Olivia into the air as she reached her arms above into a ‘V-shape’ position. I thought that this demonstrated the community aspect Knowles brought up in relation to embodied cultural ‘re-membering’, immediately asserting that each of the dancers are in this journey of undertaking struggle together. Much of the choreography that followed featured much more violent imagery of suffering and pain, of which included slow, dragging, zombie-like steps and twisted and distorted ‘ronde-de-jambe’ ballet movements (circling of the legs with feet touching ground) by Olivia, sudden collapses onto the ground, intense trembling and shaking, sharp angular distortions of the arm hitting parts of the body, and a gesture of always covering one side of the face with their hands.

example 3

I found that the choreography in this performance combined more traditional movements of Indigenous dance forms with contemporary and classical dance styles compared to The NDN Way. In one scene, one of the male dancers started doing these motions that seemed to combine split jumps and deep lounges/knee bends (as in jazz dance) with hops and steps from traditional ways of moving in Indigenous cultures. This followed by stepping turns that slightly resembled turns in contemporary dance called ‘shinay’ turns, and also appeared to be acting as bird-like hops with the opening of his arms, which immediately connected me to an image of a thunderbird or eagle. In Knowles’ article, he included a quotation from Sandra Richards, in which she states that “cultural memories and traditions passed on in unspoken, embodied, and performative ways through everyday habit and ritual can work to resist attempted erasures” (143-4). I think that the performativity of these embodied actions of a fusion of traditional and contemporary dance forms and imagery can speak to this as a moment of ‘re-membering’.

ending thought

I feel that these dancers in both performances were able to embody a place of ‘re-membering’ they may not have otherwise been able to reach through other kind of ways (such as verbally). Through their activated bodies, they were able to drive an internal force that pushed them to engage in these moments of ‘re-membering’ in light of their shared experiences of pain and struggle, and were able to release that momentum for us as the audience to become embraced by.

See more! (presentation slides): 


An Act of Medicine: From Huff to Hobiyee

On February 6th, I witnessed two performances back to back with only a 20-minute bus ride in between. Both Huff and Hobiyee were intense, with some beautiful moments, audience participation, and ceremony. Yet it was the combination of both recognizable similarities and stark contrast that struck me the hardest after having witnessed the two performances.

Huff, written and performed by Cree actor Cliff Cardinal and directed by Karin Randoja, was honestly incredibly hard to watch. The story of three brothers struggling to live on a reservation included insights into the prevalent issues of substance abuse, incest and sexual abuse, mental abuse used as punishment in the reserve school system, inadequate parenting, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, domestic violence, depression (in both adults and children), and suicide. In Medicine Shows, Yvette Nolan discusses this act of exposing poison (pages 7-19), and it is obvious that Cliff Cardinal is intentionally exposing these poisons to the wider public through his nationwide tour of Huff. The discomfort that the performance provoked testifies to this; there were more than a few moments when I felt my pulse racing, my face flushing, and my head become dizzy as visceral reactions to the trauma that was being revealed onstage. Nevertheless, Huff can also be seen as an enormous act of medicine (which Nolan discusses throughout her book). The humour felt in some moments of comic relief showed us that we were still able to laugh, and toward the end of the play Kokhum (the grandmother) conducts a healing ceremony for Wind (the middle brother) after his younger brother Huff’s suicide. Overall, the play can be seen as an grand act of good medicine. Cliff Cardinal, an Indigenous actor who is familiar with the traumas of everyday life for children on reserves, raises awareness of this in front of a mostly-elite audience. (Tickets cost $23; therefore, only those who could afford it attended the show.) In addition, the events that Cardinal depicts can reach deep inside witnesses for whom these traumas trigger certain memories, perhaps making them reconsider something they’ve forgotten or bringing to light repressed thoughts in need of healing. Throughout the performance, it became clear that Huff serves to bring together individuals and communities in order to find support in one another.

Upon exiting the Firehall Arts Centre on East Cordova Street in the Downtown East Side, I seemed to suddenly be aware of my surroundings. Exiting an environment full of awareness-raising and calls for healing into an area in which all of the poisons previously exposed are still very prevalent was absurd. I could not help but feel an enormous discomfort whilst walking to the bus stop and riding the bus for 20 minutes on my way to the PNE for Hobiyee—the Nisga’a New Year celebration.

When I arrived at the PNE, I was still feeling some leftover visceral reactions from Huff. Yet upon entering the great hall and finding myself in a crowd of thousands of people—all revelling and celebrating the largest annual gathering of Northwest Coast First Nations dance groups—my spirits were lifted. I remember feeling absolutely in awe whilst witnessing a group of hundreds of drummers (amongst whom was Professor Dangeli) perform a set of songs with synchronised movements to what truly felt like the heartbeat of the Earth. Soon afterward a friend of mine arrived, so we found some seats in the bleachers and watched a number of dance groups perform. My favourite performance (both because of my connection to Professor Dangeli and because of the inventiveness and elegance of their choreographies) was her group, the Git Hayetsk Dancers. I especially enjoyed their innovative “Photographer Dance”, which I suppose was inspired by Professor Dangeli’s PhD research. I was also very impressed as to how quickly the dancers, especially Professor Dangeli, changed regalia in between each dance. Revelry surrounded us, as seen by the food, the packages of fresh fruits handed out to guests, and the smiles on people’s faces. Between many of the songs, a leader with the microphone would sing a joyous “Hooobiyeeeeeee”, which was then echoed by all of the witnesses in the stadium. What a change to the tears, shivers, and headaches that we had experienced earlier at Huff.

Huff and Hobiyee can, on one hand, be seen as performances on opposite sides of a spectrum: one exposing the extreme difficulties of everyday life for Indigenous residents of reserves, and the other celebrating an occasion that has taken place annually for thousands of years (the enormous number of attendees more than testifying to, but rather shouting: “We are still here!”). On the other hand, both performances are acts of medicine. Huff brings together those in need of healing, and Hobiyee can provide that healing through community, tradition, and celebration. Witnessed one after the other, these two performances together told an incredible story of struggle, healing, and resurgence.

Jack Charles vs. The Crown – Witnessing

On January 23rd I attended the theatre performance, “Jack Charles vs. The Crown.” This production is part of the PuSH festival in Vancouver. This festival was introduced as a festival to bring in performing art productions from around the world to Vancouver. Jack Charles vs. The Crown has been performed around the world and has received positive reviews everywhere it goes. Jack Charles wrote his piece with the help of John Romeril. The inspiration to make his story a theatre production came from the positive response he received from his documentary, Bastardy, which was released in 2008.

Jocelyn Macdougall, from the PuSH international performing arts festival, gave the opening remarks to the production “Jack Charles vs. The Crown”. She spoke about the festival it self and then she recognized the land we were on. This acknowledgement of the land was both thorough and heartfelt. She talked about all the territories that the theatre was located upon and went on to describe the meaning of unceeded and stated, “this is land that was not freely given.”

The space itself was set up much like that of a living room on the far right, with a band on the far left side of the stage. In the back center of the stage there was a pottery wheel. This wheel was used at many different times throughout the production. The set made you feel as though he was simply telling you a story and you were in his living room with him, or beside him as he worked in his pottery shop rather than being in a theatre. This lighthearted atmosphere helped people feel at ease as he told his life story and the hurt and pain within it. It reminded me of sitting with my grandmother as we had tea and she talked about when my dad was a little boy. Listening to her stories has been a big part of my life and hearing Jack’s stories reminded me of sitting in my grandmother’s living room and listening to whatever she wanted to share with me.

As the lights dimmed the band members came to the stage and started playing a slow, melancholy piece. Jack came out to the stage and sat behind the pottery wheel. He proceeded to work with the clay on the wheel and mold it into a beautiful piece of art. While he was working on his pottery there was a clip rolling behind him from his documentary, Bastardy. The clip was of him taking drugs. It was a very powerful clip that caused many in the audience to divert their eyes, cringe and squirm in their seats. I initially looked away as many around me did. Then I realized the courage he had to share this part of his life, this reality that I couldn’t personally relate to, but wanted to try and understand. So I watched as he put a needle in his arm and talked about the way the drugs don’t’ effect him as much anymore. He had used them for so long that people around him couldn’t tell if he was high or not.

Throughout the production Jack tells stories in chronological order of his life. Within each part of his life he has faced racism, oppression, and pain. When he was in boarding school he had a few pictures to share. One of these pictures was in the winter where he had a chunk of snow on his head. This snow was a metaphor for the world he had inhabited. His world was filled with white all around him, and there was him, the only dark skinned student. During his time at the boarding school he was also asked to sing a song. This song was about how the white man had helped the Aboriginal peoples on the land, and without the white man they wouldn’t be successful. At the time he didn’t realize what the song was about and why he was asked to sing it. He was simply proud of himself for being asked to sing a song. The school had taken advantage of the colour of his skin and asked him to perform a song that was demeaning and hurtful towards his people.

Watching the production you can already tell that the pottery wheel is an important aspect of Jack Charles’ life. He repeatedly returns to the pottery wheel throughout the piece and seems to be very comfortable talking about hard issues when he is behind the wheel. He speaks of pottery as his way of finding freedom. Pottery was his release. He expressed his feeling when working with pottery as a way of setting him free, making him feel like a child playing in the mud. His life was determined by the crown, it was shaped and molded by the crown and all he was, was a number to them. His prison number was how he was seen. His past followed him wherever he went and was described by him as something that shadowed and stalked him. When he was molding the clay he had control of his life. He could mold it in anyway he wants. He created 3 different pottery pieces throughout the show and added them to a shelf behind him. They were all different shapes and sizes and each one unique and beautiful.

Hobiyee- The Nisga’a Lunar New Year

On February 6th 2016, I attended Hobiyee- the Nisga’a Lunar New Year at the PNE. I was able to witness about 6 different dance groups as well as the drum drill. Each group was incredibly unique, talented and exciting to watch. While in attendance I paid specific attention to protocol: the entirety of the dance floor was designated for whichever dance group was performing at the time and we were explicitly told not to cut across the back of the dance floor. The audience was told to rise as dancers entered and as they exited the dance floor, additionally there were seats designated at the front for elders. Every dance group began their performance by thanking their Coast Salish hosts and detailed the communities and territories they were coming from. Every song and dance was introduced and the story attached to the song was told. Performers stated whether the song was contemporarily created or if it has been passed down and by whom.

Aside from protocol there were a few notable phenomena that I wanted to include in my witnessing account of the event. First of all, I noted that there were a number of dancers in wheelchairs. I appreciated that the presence and seeming acceptance of such dancers who subverted notions of ableism that stem from colonial norms distinguishing desirable bodies from tolerated and deviant bodies. This act of radical inclusion did not seem radical at all and from what I could perceive was incredibly normative in the space.

Additionally, I found after spending a full day at the Hobiyee celebration I was able to recognize the various dances from the Coast Salish clans in attendance. A member of the Iswalh dance group said earlier on in the day that “our songs and dances tell the stories of who we are as people”. By the end of Hobiyee I felt I had a much better grasp of who the coastal nations were, as well as certain aspects of their cultures that were portrayed through dance to hold significance.   


Huff: Biography, Synopsis and Witnessing


Biography- Cliff Cardinal

Cardinal was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, but has spent most of life in Toronto where he currently lives. His love for acting started at a young age as result of his mother, Tantoo Cardinal, being a well credited actress. When he was 15 years old, he took a semester off of school to focus on theatre.

Cardinal performed in Freeman’s Wake by Yvette Nolan, authour of Medicine Shows,  which showed in the Rhubarb Festival in 2005. After this, Cardinal started taking acting classes and workshops. As mentioned in Medicine Shows, Cardinal acted in “an adapted version of Tales of an Urban Indian that toured BC secondary schools in a Green Thumb production in 2007” (Nolan, 2015, 28) where he received a Jessie Richardson Memorial Theatre Award nomination for Outstanding Performance.

Cardinal only started to write after joining Native Earth’s Young Voice program where his work was influenced by George Carlin and Richard Pryor. His first play, Stitch, was shown at SummerWorks 2011 and won the Theatre Passe Muraille’s Emerging Artist Award.

The next year, Huff was shown at SummerWorks 2012 where Cardinal received the 2012 Buddies in Bad Times Vanguard Award for Risk & Innovation. The play was inspired by and based on a short story Cardinal wrote in 2005 called  “Huff”.

In 2013, Cardinal’s Maria Gets A New Life, debuted at SummerWorks 2013.


The performance started with the main character, Wind, trying to killing him. He is lying on the ground with a plastic bag taped around his head and his hands handcuffed behind him.  He is talking to the audience as if he is narrating what is happening. The audience then understands that the play is going to be about how he ended up in the situation.

The play only has one performer who is acting multiple people. He describes how his parents met, referring to them as “the warrior and the princess”. He then states how after having three boys, his mom committed suicide , leaving his dad to look after them. The performer acts out what life was like for Wind and his brothers, Charles and Huff, growing up on the reserve. The audience witnesses the mischief, and drugs the brothers get into, as well as the abuse they face.

After accidentally burning down an abandoned motel they used as a club house, the brothers get sprayed by a raccoon. In order to get rid of the smell, they have to bath in tomato juice. The oldest brother then threatens to tell their dad that the younger brothers burned down the motel if they do not do him sexual favours and he then proceeds to sexually abuse them. It then becomes clear that the younger brothers are doing drugs and playing the “pass out  game” in order to numb themselves from their reality.

When the dad sees that what a mess they have made with the tomato juice, he beats the boys and Wind runs away. The youngest brother meanwhile plays the “passed out game” and ends up killing himself. The result of all those factors is why Wind tries to kill himself, but he doesn’t fall through with it. The spirit of his little brother helps him free himself.


The organizers around Huff did a great job of making sure that it was known that the contents of the play were going to be heavy and that some people might find it difficult to watch. I went into the play knowing and accepting this, so I was surprised that when I left the performance, I had felt under-prepared for what I had just witnessed. I feel like no “trigger warning” could have prepared someone for the violence that was portrayed.

My first thoughts of the play were that the overall performance was very well done. Cardinal did a fantastic job of acting so many different characters and making me forget it was all one person. I enjoyed the simplicity of the set and I felt that the minimal props complimented the the minimal or lack of multiple actors. I found it interesting the way Cardinal interacted with the audience. Rather than just purely “breaking the fourth wall”, I felt that the audience was an active role in the play. But, as with Jack Charles, I am not sure what that “role” was that we were playing. Were we witnesses? The enemies? Other? Making medicine?

While I did enjoy the play, it left me with a lot of thoughts and questions. I was not sure if the play emphasized enough that these awful realities are direct consequences of colonialism and its on-going effects. I wonder how I would have perceived or understood this performance if I did not have any context about colonialism in Canada. Might I have just thought that that First Nations have difficult lives on reserves? At the same time, maybe this play is not intended for someone who does not have any context. This leads me to thinking about who was the attended audience and what was the purpose of the play?

Nolan reminded me in Medicine Shows how after all the trauma and abuse Wind is face with, Wind does not commit suicide (31). Nolan states how “the telling of these stories…is a political act of resistance” and how these stories are based on the fact that “in spite of everything [Indigenous people] are still here” (31).

Jack Charles: Synopsis and Witnessing



Protocol: Acknowledgement that this performance was taking place on unceded Coast Salish land.

The performance started with Charles moulding clay on a pottery wheel while the three membered band, who remained on stage from the length of the play, played music. Projected behind him was footage from the documentary Bastardly that showed Charles shooting heroin. When the footage ended, the lights came on and revealed the stage. The stage was set up as if it were Charles’s house or living area. There was a pottery area, a living room, and a kitchen area with a tea pot and kettle.

Right after the footage end, Charles stood up and started talking about his life. He started with his heritage and childhood and slowly went into talking about his acting career and his life of substance abuse and crime.

The play ended with Charles changing into formal clothes and addressing the audience as if he was in court and the audience was the judge. He was arguing for the right to have his criminal record cleared due to the fact that what led him into his life of crime was the physical, sexual, and mental abuse he faced from being taken from his family and put into residential school where he was isolated from his culture.


I attended the last performance of Jack Charles v. the Crown that showed in Vancouver on January 23, 2016. I really enjoy watching plays, but I did not know what to expect for this one because I have never watched a play where there was only one actor. From the first word Charles said, I knew that I would not have any difficultly watching only him for 75 minutes. Charles is a very animated, and captivating performer who has a stage presence that demands the attention of the audience. While he was talking about serious and upsetting issues, he did a brilliant job of bringing in humour without trivializing the topics being discussed.

After reading Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, I was interested in listening to how Charles’ experienced residential school in Australia, and how it compared/contrasted to residential schools in Canada. Yet, I learned very quickly that this play was not a history lesson. Charles gave a brief, but personal, account of his life and he did not dwell on the details of the abuse that he was subjected to in his past. In Medicine Shows, Nolan states how “good medicine” is about making connections and community (2) and it seems that Charles did this by making connections with Indigenous people in Australia and Canada.

The part of the play that intrigued me the most was the last section when Charles addressed the audience as if we were a judge or jury and he was arguing to have his criminal record erased. Due to the fact he was addressing the audience as if we were the Australian state, I could not help but feel uncomfortable and I was not sure why. When reflecting on this, I think it is because he broke the “fourth wall” and was speaking to us saying how “you did this”. While he was talking about Australia, I could not help feel guilty as a settler here in Canada.

Overall, I really enjoyed this performance. I found it to be not only interesting and educational, but entertaining and beautiful to witness. I do wish that I could see it a second time though because I feel that I would get more out of it. There was a lot of speech through the play and it was difficult to catch everything.

Rainbow Creek Dancers (Haida)

On January 17 2016, I attended a performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The performers were the Rainbow Creek Dancers (Haida), led by Robert Davidson. The group is named after a creek that runs behind Masset, Haida Gwaii and was founded 1980 by Robert and Reg Davidson. In addition to founding and leading the Rainbow Creek Dancers, Robert Davidson is a highly acclaimed visual artist who produces the dance group’s regalia and masks. His art has been exhibited in many public and private exhibitions and he became a master carver at an early age.

Before the performance began, Musqueam elder Debra Sparrow welcomed the performers and the audience to her territory and discussed. She briefly touched on the ancestral and historical connection to the Vancouver city space, and stated: “the city of glass was once a city of forest”.  

Following Sparrow’s words, one of the museum curators introduced Robert Davidson as a visual artist, detailing the collection of masks that reside in the Vancouver Art Gallery itself, that would be danced to life throughout the performance. After finishing her introduction the Rainbow Creek dancers entered and Robert Davidson made his introduction. He began by giving thanks to the Musqueam, and then proceeded to explain that the performance would be a fusion of both traditional and newly choreographed or altered traditional songs and dances. He then announced the healing song and contextualized it’s need – to heal the traumas of colonialism. Following this sombre performance the group went on to perform a series of dances, each introduced by Davidson. The context of the dance, what the dance was depicting, whether the song and choreography was new or had been passed down for generation, was all re-stated at the beginning of every number. As Dr. Dangeli pointed out in lecture, Davidson’s recurring introductions to performance pieces were not meant to be a translation but an oral history, a strategy to situate Haida culture in the past and present.

There were a few aspects of the Rainbow Creek Dancer’s performance that I especially took note of. Firstly, the majority of their dancers involved them depicting animals that had specific cultural significance and meaning. Secondly, every member of the dance group played a role in every single song. Whether that would be to hold a sheet of fabric to camouflage dancers, drumming, singing or dancing – the performance was the result of a collective effort and all members contributed to the final product. Another notable aspect of the performance was the large age range of the dance group, from elders to toddlers, a community formed on stage that truly emphasized kinship and teaching, or more specifically, the passing on of tradition.

Watching the Rainbow Creek Dancers I began to reconceptualize what it means to be ‘professional’. Though many interruptions (such as a child crying and running off stage) took place throughout the performance and a relaxed atmosphere was seemingly encouraged, the performance group was undoubtedly professional and were clearly extremely practiced and poised, able to share themselves and their culture with immense feeling and precision. Throughout the performance I began to understand how conceptions of professionalism are incredibly linked to victorian colonial standards and how the Rainbow Creek Dancers exemplify what decolonial professionalism can look like.    

“People might pay attention and hear our message”

While on this day we invoke our culture bringing forward a copper ritual, seldom seen outside of our homelands. We bring this copper from the great Pacific where it was washed and touched by people of the ocean and then in a journey across this land touched by elders and children, washed in the rivers and lakes, blessed in Sundance and ceremonies, carried by Powwow dancers, and touched again by the people of the land. It has been cleansed with smoke and brought here to be broken. This is our wealth of place, of culture and everything that is dear to us including life itself and all that the great nature provides. We name the copper Taaw in respect for the great life-giving oolichan oil, in contrast to the poison from the Oilsands. With this in mind we break this copper. We break it at the doorstep of the Government of Canada with a great sense of celebration. We break this copper not as a slight to Canada or an insult to Canadians who have shown us nothing but support and encouragement. In breaking this copper we confront the tyranny and oppression of a government who has forsaken human rights and turned its back on nature in the interests of the almighty dollar, and we act in accordance with our laws.” –Guujaaw, prayer from Parliament Hill quoted in the Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 21

“Beau thinks that traditional indigenous culture is something we can all learn from as a way of being with, dealing with, and dialoging with nature that would lead us away from resource extraction and domination model.” –Scott Watson, quoted in the Vancouver Sun article “Lalakenis recounts indigenous journey that shamed the federal government”, published the 14 January 2016,

“Of course, being Beau Dick is an advantage sometimes! Being a well-known artist as well as Hereditary Chief meant that people might pay attention and hear our message.” -Beau Dick, Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 8

Beau Dick/ Walas Gwy Um

Beau Dick (Walas Gwy Um) is a Kwakwaka’wakw Hereditary Chief and artist. He was born on Village Island, Kingcome Inlet, BC and raised speaking only Kwakwala. When he was six years old, Beau was relocated to Vancouver where he spent the rest of his childhood. Beau began carving at an early age under the tutelage of his father (Benjamin Dick) and his grandfather (James Dick). Beau later studied under the renowned artists Henry Hunt and Doug Cranmer. He now resides and works in Alert Bay, and is currently in his third year of residency at UBC.

Beau’s work is known for its power, emotion, originality, and creativity. He not only explores traditional Kwakwaka’wakw artistic styles, but he also incorporates a wealth of other Indigenous and Western practices and media. In 2012 Beau received the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA Award for Visual Arts, and his work is exhibited in numerous museums and galleries around the world including the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, QC), the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

In 2013, Beau and an entourage comprising his daughters Linnea and Geraldine and other community members walked from Quatsino, BC down Vancouver Island to Victoria in order to break a copper (named Nunmgala) on the steps of Parliament. In 2014 they magnified their previous journey and travelled cross-country to break the copper Taaw, made by Haida carver and former president of the Haida Nation Giindajin Haawasti Guujaw, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. They thereby conducted traditional copper-breaking ceremonies, “marking a ruptured relationship in need of repair [in this case, between the government and the First Nations of Canada], and passing the burden of wrongs done to First Nations people from them to the Government of Canada” (Watson, Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 3).

Now is an exciting time for First Nations of the Northwest Coast. Through media coverage and a new exhibition at the Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, Beau Dick’s journeys to Victoria and Ottawa are just now being published and spread in order to raise awareness about the vast range of injustices committed by Parliament to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. As a part of this awareness-raising, Beau decided to host a public feast on the 15 January to honour the opening of Lalakenis/All Directions, the premiering of the Great Hall at the new UBC Student Nest, and the third year of his residency, and to spread a strong message about the current state of Canada and the necessity for change.


The Lalakenis Feast, 15 January 2016

I am trying to think of how to write a short blog post about a feast that lasted for at least 12 hours and that incorporated a plethora of presenters, speakers, ceremonies, dance and music, food, and community engagement, in addition to profound silence, tears, laughter, love, meditation, self-reflection, and a tremendous sense of communal support. Because there were so many individual elements of the feast that merit their own blog post, I will focus for now on the overarching message that the event sought to spread.

I was volunteering to help prepare food (“for 1000 people”, we were told two nights prior to the event), and I came out of the kitchen in the middle of the pipe ceremony conducted by Gyaaustees. Although my seat toward the back corner of the hall prohibited me from viewing what was happening within the circle of participants around the central altar (which displayed belongings that Beau and his entourage had taken with them to Ottawa, in addition to the coppers and other ceremonial items), I nevertheless felt the silence and the overbearing emotion of the participants. This testified to the pipe ceremony’s ability to heal individuals and to bring together communities through the sharing of both sacred tobacco (as Yvette Nolan discusses in Medicine Shows, pages 2 and 61) and profound communal experiences and understanding. The sense of community that was thus established served as a basis for the rest of the evening’s events as we welcomed guest speakers, dance groups, and music performances and enjoyed food and drink, a fashion show, photography, and the Grand Finale.

Some of my favourite portions of the event included the Fancy Dances performed by Rebecca and her family, during which one could observe how their regalia were designed to be danced. The Haida Procession was also fantastic with their dramatic entrance, their incredible masks and regalia, their animated movements embodying the characters of the masks, and the confidence, heavy footsteps, and powerful eye contact of each member of the group. The Grand Finale was enormous—with the amount of beautifully-crafted masks (more than $2 million worth, as Gyaaustees had informed me earlier in the evening), the number of participants who took part in embodying and displaying the masks to the witnesses, and the energy involved both within and leading up to this moment— and was well worth the wait until the end of the feast.

The range of speakers at the event included Jasmin Starrchild (who spoke emotionally about world peace), David Suzuki, guests from the Oceans and Fisheries Research Centre and Greenpeace promoting sustainable resource extraction practices, the curators of the Belkin Art Gallery, Chief Bob Joseph on his work as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the planned TRC research centre, and Dr. Mique’l Dangeli. As one of the last speakers, Dr. Dangeli stated that when she first saw the feast’s proposed schedule, she could not see the through line between the different elements and topics covered by the presenters and performers. However, now that the event was drawing to a close, we all understood the message implied in the links between the artists, dancers and musicians, lawyers, activists, and leaders in environmental science and policy. Dr. Suzuki seemed to have summed it up well when he stated that the lifestyles that settler colonialism has attempted to eradicate are actually those that we must assume for the sake of sustaining our planet and supporting ourselves. Yet every speaker, performer, dancer, artist, helper, participant, and witness contributed to the grand message of the evening, reinforced by the ongoing support of the community and finally heard (judging by the amount of witnesses in attendance at the feast) by the wider public: We must stop the mass exploitation of the earth’s resources and the abuse of Indigenous peoples!

Transcendence Space in Dana Claxton: Made To Be Ready Exhibition


Claxton was born in Yorkton Saskatchewan and comes from the Lakota Heritage- Wood Mountain reserve. Most of her practice works in film, video, photography, and single multi channel video installation and performance art. Claxton investigates beauty, the body, the socio-political and the spiritual. She is well known as her works have been shown internationally. Claxton currently lives and works in Vancouver, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia.

Made To Be Ready

The exhibition composes a total of four works that includes photographs and a video work focusing on indigenous womanhood and sovereignty. The subject of these pieces includes indigenous women “[captivating] the life force of Lakota cultural belongings that are actively used in domestic work, warfare, social space, ritual and the ritual.”

Prior to entering the gallery space, I was huddled amongst other visitors at the foyer of the building where the opening reception was held. The reception began as the curator, Amy Kazymerchyk, introduced and welcomed visitors. Next, Claxton spoke but before she briefly explained the exhibition and expressed her thanks, she first acknowledged that we were on unceded territory of the Coast-Salish people. After the opening remarks, viewers entered the gallery space.

Inside the gallery space, the lights were turned down low as the only lights visible were from the displayed works.

‘Uplifting’ is a digital video that stretches across the one whole wall in the gallery space. It is a silent piece. The video contains one light source coming from the right side diminishing towards the opposite side, creating an even line of light. The other spaces are dark making it hard to determine where the surfaces start and end. It was interesting to where this particular piece was placed within the gallery, as visitors too would enter from the right side of the gallery where the main light source space was lit.

An Indigenous woman enters the scene from the right slowly crawling towards the left wearing a bright red jumpsuit. She crawls slowly in a pattern, one hand in front of the other and one knee at a time. As she reaches the opposite side, she gradually stands on her feet while struggling to pull out something from her jumpsuit. What is eventually revealed is a cultural belonging of hers. The regalia what is known to be a necklace, hangs around her neck as it has long beads. Shortly after she stands, she quickly disappears and the video restarts.

Cultural Belongings 96 x 72 inches, LED light box

An Indigenous woman makes way to lit light with a wooden rattle. There seems to be a division or a clashing as she wears traditional regalia, like the intricate headpiece with assortment of beading and the cape but, also wears modernized fashion pieces like high heals and a beige cocktail dress. Behind her, there is a trail of cultural belongings scattered on the ground. It is hard to tell if she is leaving these belongings behind or if she is hauling them with her.

Headdress 32 x 48 inches, LED light box

The image is of the same woman from ‘Cultural Belongings’ wearing her headdress. Her face is not visible as the colourful beads cover her face. The main focus is on details of the intricate assortment of beading. Personally, I saw this image of a self- portrait of the woman, the regalia, and or her Indigeneity.

The placement of  both ‘Cultural Belongings’ and ‘Headdress’ are hung across from one another. This display works well as it creates a sense of dialogue between the woman and the regalia.

Buffalo woman 1 and 2, 108 x 42 inches, ink on silk windbox

Two 108 x 42 inches of silk hang from the ceiling as a woman is imprinted on both of them. The same woman wears a blue dress but posses differently in the two images. In one posture she holds what is believed to be a skull of buffalo close to her as her eyes are closed. The other is her holding the skull up high as she looks up into the distance. It is hard to determine which position comes first as the artwork moves depending on where the viewer observes it from.

Dana Claxton: Performing with ‘Indigenous Motion’

A bit about Dana Claxton from her opening of Made To Be Ready:

Dana Claxton is a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux performance artist, photographer, and filmmaker from the Wood Mountain reserve in Southwest Saskatchewan. Through her practice which she situates within a contemporary art framework, she critiques the representation of Indigenous people within Western anthropology, art, and entertainment. In particular, she is interested in exploring notions of Indigenous womanhood, beauty, and sovereignty. During her remarks at the opening of her exhibition Made To Be Ready at SFU Audain Gallery, she acknowledged the Coast Salish peoples for having shared their knowledge of the land with her and for the welcoming she has received from them to have pursued her practice here for over 30 years. She thanked the woman who has been working with her for over 25 years as the performer who often appears in her film and photographic work, as well as curator Amy Kazymerchyk for working closely alongside her with this exhibition.

read her exhibition statement here

Uplifting, 2015, digital video

Photo from CBC review:
Uplifting, 2015, Photo from CBC review:

In particular, I discussed my experience of her film performance Uplifting, which I found to have had quite a resonating effect for me through the motions made by the Indigenous woman performing in it. The film was set up next to the entrance of the gallery and featured a spotlight cutting across the screen horizontally in the center. A woman dressed in a red jumpsuit appeared from the left side, slowly crawling in on her hands and knees. She moved in a pattern of putting her left hand down, then pulling her right knee forward, lifting up her right hand and placing it down on the ground, followed by her left leg dragging in from behind. The whole time she moved, she appeared to be struggling and in pain, but she seemed empowered by a determination to keep going despite her weakness. Her movement can be related to Karyn Recollet’s notion of the ‘in between spaces’ and ‘Indigenous Motion’ that she describes in our readings “For Sisters” and “Dancing ‘Between the Break Beats’: Contemporary Indigenous Thought and Cultural Expression Through Hip-Hop”, of which she states as spaces that are “linked to an impulse that forms the base of all movement and creation” as a way to release the weight of colonialism felt within one’s body (420). The slow pauses of the woman picking her body back up into motion between her sudden dropping of hands and legs back onto the ground as she completes each step seems to illustrate this idea.

As the woman reached the end of the right side of the screen, she collapsed down from her hand and knees onto her stomach, rolling over on her side into a fetal position. She turned over onto her back, breathing heavily, and started tugging at the red jumpsuit material on her chest. Her pulling of the fabric became more aggressive, acting as a moment of climax within the performance, until she suddenly was able to use this force to sit right up into a V-shape position with her legs pointing outwards. She paused to catch her breath, and then slowly starts pulling out a cultural belonging that appeared to be a neck piece of a fringed pouch out of her chest. She slowly rolled up to stand with the neck piece, until she became grounded in her stance as she raised it above her head. This journey the woman undertook and her moment of overcoming her struggle seems to further illustrate Recollet’s explanation of ‘Indigenous motion’, which she views as the idea that there are portals into other worlds where one can connect with to undergo a transformation of self-identity (418).


Dirt Worshipper, 2015

Dirt Worshipper, 2015, Photo: Rebecca Ou

As another performance example of Claxton’s work apart from her Made To Be Ready exhibition, I introduced Dirt Worshipper, a live performance I got to see at the Slippery Terms faculty exhibition held at the AHVA Gallery on campus last September 2015. In this work, Claxton performed repetitive actions of ripping the fabric of a large printed sign that read ‘Dirt Worshipper’ in bold purple letters with a vibrant teal background up on the wall at the back of the gallery. She progressed in a linear direction from left to right, ripping a strip of the fabric in intervals of eight with her hands. It made a tearing sound that seems to resonate as another form of pulsation with the ‘in between beats’ that Recollet discussed taking place. In keep with her practice, this work was an act of engaging with cultural racism and the releasing of terms such as ‘Dirt Worshipper’ that have been imposed as stereotypes onto Indigenous peoples.


Thinking about digital media, performance, and cultural belongings:

How might the use of mediation in Claxton’s exhibition through the projected video, illuminated lightboxes, and theatrical lighting in the exhibition space extend or diminish the performativity and liveliness of the cultural belongings? Since this was not a live performance, how might this alter or affect our experience of the cultural belongings as a ‘lived force’?