- Experiencing Indigenous Work—Developing Critical Voices: Three Views
- 1. Reconsider, Reconfigure, Reconcile
Cole Alvis, Carol Greyeyes, and Brittany Johnston provide three perspectives on Experiencing Indigenous Work—Developing Critical Voices gathering held at the NAC in June 2017. They discuss the future of Indigenous critical practice, performance in the context of reconciliation, and challenges to the development of Indigenous criticism in Canada.
Children of God, Corey Payette, critical voice, Indigenous theatre, Indigenous theatre criticism, Lindsay Lachance, National Arts Centre
15 June 2017. The NAC Salon was buzzing with the long-awaited announcement that Nlaka’pamux playwright, actor, and teacher Kevin Loring would take on the historic role as the first Artistic Director of Indigenous Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre.1 Following congratulatory speeches, the Salon was converted into the venue for the gathering: Experiencing Indigenous Works—Developing Critical Voices. Algonquin Anishinaabe PhD candidate Lindsay Lachance facilitated the symposium, in collaboration with Lesley Parlane and Sarah Garton Stanley. The English-language event was presented by NAC Indigenous Theatre and suitably complemented the 2017 Canada Scene Festival program, which on the same day was kick-starting First Scene, a week-long showcase of Indigenous music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.2 The stars seemed to be aligning for this vital community conversation, which felt like a positive step toward a sustainable future for Indigenous theatre in Canada.
When the stars align, they bring all the right people to the right place at the right time. Gathered in a sharing circle, the two-day symposium began with the introduction of Lachance’s big questions: what is “critical voice”? How do we look critically at the work that we are seeing on the stage? Lachance had invited a panel of five professional artists, all strong Indigenous women, to share their insights on the past and present environment along with their hopes, worries, and suggestions for the future. Jill Carter, Sylvia Cloutier, Margo Kane, Muriel Miguel, and Monique Mojica embodied their roles as “Conversation Leaders.” Much of the circle’s responses reflected a need to find balance. Indigenous theatre is a young seedling. To promote growth, the community is looking for a healthy methodology, true to Indigenous cosmologies, as a means to talk about the art critically and responsibly. This further results in perhaps challenging the status quo.
In the circle was the spirit of solidarity, a need to hold one another up to nourish our community, but also an understanding that the current environment needs to be addressed (or redressed) to ensure a sustainable place for the next generation of Indigenous artist-practitioners, and scholars. Critical analysis does not necessarily mean criticism. The methodologies of Euro-centric Canadian reception and criticism which have been forced upon Indigenous art-making practices correspond with the colonial project; these have crippled our voices and our stories. Critical analysis refers to the responsibility of reconsidering and reconfiguring old forms and to create new forms—of both artistic practice and criticism—that reflect Indigenous ways of being and working.
Nishinaabeg teachings place us in relation with all things, the animate and the inanimate; the Seven Grandfather Teachings guide us in our interactions on Mother Earth. Songs, dances, and story-telling have all contributed along the road towards mino bimaadiziwin, the good life. So, how much do we believe in the power of our stories? After all, we know stories are never just stories. Indigenous Experiences addressed this question; the circle challenged Indigenous artists to consider not only which narratives they choose to present to mainstream Canada, but also how (a challenge with particular relevance to discussions about the problematic musical form used in Corey Payette’s Children of God). The history has been a dark one for Indigenous peoples, and for a long period of time, the narratives we shared naturally were those that reflected and aimed to expose those poisons (Highway 6). In this time of reconciliation, and in the spirit of the Two-Row Wampum friendship belt, we have the opportunity to move beyond the dark and into the light by celebrating the richness of our stories, our teaching, and our...