Pamela Sevigny and Qatsuu Evis after their Inuit throat singing performance.

On Thursday I attended the opening evening of the Truth and Reconciliation Event in Toronto. Like many of these events, the evening included statements of support and challenge as well as musical and artistic performances. Lt. Governor David Onley pledged his ongoing support for the work of the commission while Chief William Montour of the Six Nations of Grand River called the TRC toothless, pushing for more recognition of ongoing issues facing First Nation communities such as land, health and housing.

As always, the evening focused on some difficult truths, about Canada’s colonial history and about a challenging road ahead. But the event was also a celebration of sorts, a celebration of resilience. The MC for the evening, Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, noted that even in the face of incredible obstacles and hardship, “we have not forgotten how to dance and we have not forgotten how to laugh.”

Two young Inuit throat singers were a great example of this laughter and resilience. The two young women stood on stage, holding each other by the arms, standing face to face. They began the rhythmic humming and deep gutteral sounds of throat singing. An exercise in both competition and collaboration, each song ended in laughter. I am by no means an expert in Inuit throat singing, and so all I will say about their performance is that it was beautiful, and that their laughter was inspiring.

North of North

April 13, 2011

On a recent visit to New York, I was talking with an American friend about my upcoming trip to Inuvik (to attend the IRS TRC’s second national gathering at the end of June). This is how our conversation went:

Friend: How are things going in Toronto?

Me: Good. I’m planning my trip up to Inuvik.

Friend: Inuvik? Is that like 5 hours north of Toronto?

Me: No way – it’s way further. It’s like…way north. North of north.

But at that point, I realized that I didn’t really have a good grasp on exactly how far north it was. So we google-mapped it. The first image that comes up doesn’t give you a good sense of anything except that there isn’t too much around Inuvik.

If you zoom out a bit, you start to get a sense of how far north it is.

If you zoom out a bit more, you see that it is certainly farther than 5 hours north of Toronto!

The conversation made me realize just how much of Canada, especially up north and outside the urban centers, I have yet to see.

On my way up to Inuvik, I’ll be stopping in Yellowknife too. Looking forward to exploring this part of Canada!

NOTE: The IRS TRC has announced that it will be holding a statement gathering event at the Multiplex in Yellowknife on April 14, 2011. And will then be traveling to some of the other communities in the Northwest Territories until May 12, 2011. More information can be found here.

The last couple of weeks have been crammed full with interesting events. Recently, I posted about the Memory Studies conference in New York. The event, which started off with a fascinating opening night screening called A Film Unfinished, brought memory scholars from around together to discuss their research. It was the first time I was able to present some of my research on the IRS TRC’s national gathering in Winnipeg, Manitoba last summer, and I think (and hope) it went well.

Still from "Canned Meat". Image from Harbourfront Centre website.

Back in Toronto, I attended two other wonderful events. On Wednesday, March 30th, the Harbourfront Centre hosted Aboriginal Women in the Arts: Using Art to Reclaim Traditional Roles with Terril Calder, Lee Maracle and Cheryl L’hirondelle. Calder’s film, Canned Meat, was a jarring and beautiful film that spoke to themes of isolation, memory, and community. Maracle’s poetry, as always, was moving. Her responses during the Q and A were insightful and inspiring. And L’hirondelle’s songs were heartfelt and beautiful. (One of the songs was written in collaboration with Aboriginal women in prison in Saskatchewan.) My favourite song was “Wishful Heart,” written while walking through Vancouver’s downtown east side.

Image of the exhibit's book cover from the AGO website.

And last but not least was the Art Galley of Ontario’s symposium called Inuit Modern. The symposium, on April 2nd, brought together Inuit artists and curators to discuss the new exhibit at the AGO: Inuit Modern. As one of the moderators noted, it was the first time so many Inuit artists were gathered together in “the south.” (I learned that Toronto counts as part of “the south” when the point of comparison is so far north.) The participants discussed the tensions between concepts like traditional and modern, north and south, and art and authority.