DAREarts Aboriginal First Roots (Nee-tum-ochi-bek) Program Leader Cathy Elliott, had the opportunity to attend Stratford Festival’s inaugural hosting of the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium. Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and author John Ralston Saul for the Institute for Canadian Citizenship headed the discussions.
Artistic Director Antony Cimolino spoke about the Stratford Festival’s commitment to work with community and ask the difficult questions. “I put together a season that centres around communities and what happens to the Outside when that community divides?”
The “Adopting” One’s Culture was a lively exploration of “Aboriginalness” and art, with guests Tara Beagan, (Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts and award winning playwright), Graham Greene, (narrator of DAREarts documentary Fill My Hollow Bones, stage and screen performer renowned for his portrayal of Shylock in Stratford Festival’s Merchant of Venice, and film Dances With Wolves,) Thomas King, (Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour, The Inconvenient Indian) This article concentrates on the ICC address by Shawn A-in-chut Atleo.
The Foundations of an “Inclusive Society.”
LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium is named after two great Canadians, Louis Hippolyte Fontaine and Robert Baldwin. In the 19th century, through political reform, they forged what is now called Canada. Their discourse was about French-English, Upper and Lower Canada, uniting us all in pluralist ideas and moral platforms. This was great for Canadians.
That is, excluding the Indigenous Peoples of this country. National AFN Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, addressed this omission: “We can all agree that Canada needs a new story. Canada is more than two founding nations. Canada is more than a multi-cultural mosaic. Canada is more than a nation of immigrants. Canada is a country built on a proud heritage of strong, vibrant Indigenous Nations. And Canada is built on the fundamental foundation of partnership.”
Mr. Atleo and John Raston Saul reminded Canadians that Aboriginal societies had something to contribute to this country, and that we have a responsibility to recognize that they still do. See John Ralston Saul’s timely article in the Globe and Mail: Wake up to the Aboriginal Comeback The distressing news about medical experiments on Aboriginal children in Residential schools had just been released. During the Q&A session someone from the audience asked Mr. Atleo, “What can we do now, other than whine about it in the car on the way home?” Now, in one room, over two hundred souls were engaged in a frank discussion on how to proceed.
Mr. Atleo replied, “We all have a role to play in realizing this opportunity. No one of us here created the current malaise, no one of us here broke the promises of Treaty. Yet still, we can all take responsibility for sparking change, for we are all Treaty peoples – we are all part of the Crown-First Nations relationships that were and remain central to Canada. We are all products of partnerships built on respect and recognition. We can all live the vision of our ancestors and act today for a better tomorrow.”
How does DAREarts fit into this discussion?
How, as Canadians, are we helping to close the gap of possibility? DAREarts has always implemented Aboriginal ways of learning in its educational criteria. Increasingly, DAREarts is acknowledging First Nations’ contributions in Canadian History and Art in its All-The-Arts Core Program. DAREarts is working in kinship with other organizations and initiatives to work with Aboriginal communities and schools to further the educational and life skills to close the “gap in life chances*” that Aboriginal children and youth are facing today. We are proud to be working with Noront Resources in their summer film camps,(occurring as this blog is posted) and with Paul Martin’s announcement this spring about working in partnership by sharing resources and knowledge, we hope to serve more Aboriginal communities who are asking for our collaboration with their youth. (Ten in Northern Ontario alone, which will cost at least 500,000.00)
In 2013, in our pilot program Dream Catcher Project, we worked with the TDSB Principal Lisa Williams George and Broadacres Junior School to bring Aboriginal teachings to students in grades 4 and 5. In Our Dreams – Full Circle. darearts.wordpresscom/2013/04/04in-our-dreams/
We continue to collaborate with artists, Elders and school professionals to bridge Aboriginal with non Aboriginal, north and south, rural and urban children together with projects that include history, arts, financial literacy and culture.
DAREarts is moving into its seventh year with the DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Program. Working in consultation with Webequie First Nation councillor Bill Jacob and school principal Mary Gardner, DAREarts artists created a program that is culturally appropriate according to the territory it visits, run by Aboriginal artists and taught by world-class artists and teachers.
By providing the methodology and DAREarts principles (Discipline, Action, Responsibility, Excellence) and the inspiration of multi-disciplined workshops, DAREarts ignites change and creates an inspired workforce for Canada’s future. DAREarts delegates stay in school, become leaders and graduate in larger numbers than before. Chief Rufus Copage, of Indian Brook, Shubenacadie FN states, “I feel that Aboriginally sensitive arts education has a ripple effect on the entire community. The students have an opportunity to engage their community and the community is encouraged to help with the planning stages as well as the execution of the projects. The children are the inspiration for us all. They are our leaders now, not just in the future. DAREarts is working with us to ensure that those future leaders have a great start.”
This year is the 400th anniversary of the passing of the Two Row Wampum Treaty – two canoes that run side by side. Not touching, not interfering but as brothers. It’s significant that this year, there is an emphasis on renewing those partnerships to build a stronger relationship between First Nations and Crown.
“A focus on disadvantaged groups, especially Aboriginal peoples, will be critical in realizing Canada’s full potential.” – The Canadian Council of Chief Executives**
Cathy’s question to Mr. Atleo was about the bridging of Canada’s Indigenous children with everyone else: “Our big thing is igniting change not only in Aboriginal youth and kids but bridging them with non Aboriginal youth and kids. In urban and rural areas what are your thoughts on making those bridges stronger and earlier, in the education system? Say in Toronto, kids in grade 4 learn about all the different languages, treaties and agreements in this country so that it’s ingrained in them at an earlier age?”
Mr. Atleo’s answer: “It is one of the great tragedies of the teaching of history in this country that this history too often begins only with the arrival of Europeans, thereby denying all our students the rich, powerful and important chronicle of the Indigenous societies, governments and peoples of this land. I’d like to encourage all of you to dig deeper than what we can cover here. Thankfully, there are tremendous new academic works from Indigenous scholars that are making a major contribution to our collective understanding and I am very pleased to say we are starting to see changes in the school system as well.”
He also reflected what DAREarts teachers also know: “Unlike what maybe we were told, there is genius amongst us. We have just as much potential for foolishness but just as much for genius. We have genius amongst our people. We are privileged to be in the trenches that have been dug by others…The Canadian Council of Chief Executives reported in July 2012 on the opportunity among First Nations to develop a skilled and trained work force, which would in turn create economic spinoffs and capacity-building at the community level. The same report makes clear recommendations on the benefits of recognizing rights and effective and meaningful partnerships with First Nations. This echoes what First Nations have been saying for decades.”
On behalf of DAREarts, Cathy Elliott gifted Dream Catcher inspired works of art to John Ralston Saul and Shawn a-in-chut Atleo, complete with a child’s wish. Cathy was thrilled to meet them and pass on the children’s messages. “It’s gratifying to see a child’s wish conveyed to two of Canada’s greatest thinkers and leaders. It’s up to all of us to become leaders, to do the right thing, to invest in the hope of Canada’s future.”
Continuing the Conversation
What’s your take on Canada’s Two Row Wampum, treaties and Canadian Identity? Where do New Canadians fit into this confab? How do we piece together the ideas and create a new path for all Canadians?*“Opportunities are limited for Aboriginal children, such as those living in rural communities and on reserves, to participate in recreation activities and sports. Poverty, poor facilities and the absence of a national Aboriginal sport and recreation policy pose barriers for these children who require access to healthy living initiatives equal to other Canadian children. Historic trends in education demonstrate that, with some exceptions, consistently poor outcomes have not been addressed through innovation, attention to these outcomes or measures to support achievement over the past few decades.”- The Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates, in their special report Canada Must Do Better: Today and Tomorrow, (pg 36) submitted to the United Nations in 2011 http://www.rcybc.ca/Images/PDFs/Reports/CCCYA_UN_Report-FINAL oct 27.pdf **“Aboriginal youth face chronic underemployment and are the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population,” said The Honourable John Manley, the CCCE’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Meanwhile, Canadian companies, particularly in resource industries, are facing skills and labour shortages. Business, Aboriginal leaders and governments should work together to find solutions that will benefit Aboriginal communities and strengthen Canada’s workforce.” – Canadian Council of Chief Executives http://www.ceocouncil.ca/news-item/aboriginal-communities-must-be-true-partners-in-energy-projects-canadas-business-leaders-say http://www.ceocouncil.ca/issues/human-and-community-development