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Indigenous fests of film and performance

Rubaboo and Dreamspeakers are hitting major milestones this year with two weeks of live performances, film presentations and active engagement with Indigenous culture.

It’s a wonderful breath of fresh air to see how Indigenous arts is hitting mainstream more and more as the years go by. It’s even more refreshing to realize that two major local Indigenous arts festivals are both hitting milestone anniversaries that cement their places on the cultural calendar and in the public’s mind.

The Rubaboo Arts Festival is marking its 10th year, while the Dreamspeakers International Film Festival records its silver anniversary with 25 years under its belt.

Dreamspeakers Festival Society’s executive director Christine Sokaymoh Frederick said she cannot believe how the time has flown.

“It took me a couple of years working here to remember that back in 1993, when Dreamspeakers started, I was on the youth council,” she recalled. “This has come like a gigantic full circle in terms of what community does – not just myself, but what the whole community does to fuel these kinds of events and festivals.”

Thinking back on all those years reminded her of not only how far things have come but also how firmly rooted Dreamspeakers’ place on the global stage too.

“I do remember that when I was doing all the research about what was the milieu, what was the scene like back in 1993, there were only two Indigenous film festivals in the world: San Francisco’s and Dreamspeakers. So it’s really outstanding, not only in terms of being a leader in creating an opportunity for filmmakers and film lovers, but also the longevity certainly making us reflect on how much the community has changed over the past 25 years. Now there's like 40 different Indigenous film festivals the world over. I think that's something absolutely to celebrate.”

Dreamspeakers and Rubaboo both run from Friday, April 26 to Tuesday, May 7. For tickets, details and full schedules of both festivals, please visit

Dreamspeakers at 25

Dreamspeakers is all about celebrating the latest and greatest works by Indigenous peoples in film, video, radio and new media from the local focus all the way to the worldwide perspective.

There is no shortage of these works to behold, either. Starting this weekend, this year’s festival brings more than 40 films to Edmonton audiences including director Carla Ulrich’s adaptation of Richard van Camp’s graphic novel Three Feathers filmed in four different languages including three Indigenous ones (see the April 17 edition of the Gazette for preview coverage of the film). A panel discussion will follow its English version screening Sunday evening.

Many of these films come from all across Canada and they’re so distinctive that you can hear it in their voices. A small overview reveals Etatshimakant Aiasheu (The Legend of Aiasheu), a version of an Innu legend about love and revenge from Northern Labrador as told in Inuktitut (with English subtitles). There’s an animated Inuit legend (also in Inuktitut (with English subtitles) called ᓇᓄᕐᓗᒃ /Giant Bear, which tells of a man and a bear in battle with each other. There’s also SG̲aawaay 'uuna (Edge Of The Knife), which offers the classic Haida story of a traumatized and stranded man who transforms to Gaagiixiid, the wildman. Remarkably, it’s the first feature film spoken only in dialects of the Haida language.

Elsewhere, you can find the creation myth depicted in animation in Hant Quij Cöipaxi Hac (The Creation of The World) filmed in Mexico’s Indigenous Seri language. Akornatsinniitut - Tarratta Nunaanni (Among Us - In The Land Of Our Shadows) offers a Greenlandic tongue to a feature-length sci-fi suspense adventure that’s based on folklore and culture while still being family-friendly. Sembradoras De Vida (Mothers of the Land) follows women in the Andean highlands as they struggle keep their traditional ways of working the land. The Peruvian documentary was filmed in Spanish and Quechua, while The Crossing is a short Tibetan animated film about the hundreds of people every year who cross the Himalayas into India to flee Chinese persecution.

Another standout movie is Falls Around Her, which offers Tantoo Cardinal’s first starring role in her 40-plus year career. Director Darlene Naponse’s movie is about a renowned Anishinaabe musician (Cardinal) who returns to her home Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation in northern Ontario to restore herself. Her fame, however, doesn’t release her from its demands, however. It’s a grand story of resilience, survival and how family and community can counter the trappings of success.

“We have some really hard-hitting films that talk about the issues within the community. Some of them are about the successes of people in sports, some that talk about the complexities of being a woman,” Frederick offered. “Falls Around Her ... is just an incredible film.”

Tickets range in price from free to $20 and are available at

Rubaboo at 10

Film is great but sometimes you need living people to get a better sense of a culture through live performances. At least that’s what every stage actor, musician and spoken word poet says.

This year’s Rubaboo has a dozen programs for the offering, starting with Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land, writer/performer Josh Languedoc’s play about the power of story, previously reviewed by the Gazette (see the January 11 edition of the paper for that coverage).

Making Treaty 7’s Kaahsinnoniks comes on May 1. Justin Many Fingers, artistic director of Making Treaty 7 productions, describes the works as a mix of dance, theatre, music and poetry created with the foundation of stories and guidance from Treaty 7 Elders, and ancestors.

“It was our point of view of the making of Treaty 7. A lot of the accounts and a lot of the history doesn't come from any history book. It comes from the community, from those bloodlines and the stories in the songs that have passed down. It was a group of Indigenous artists and non-Indigenous artists who took that information and had the opportunity to be creative and tell the story through a theatrical point of view,” he said.

The performance takes its audience on a journey through history to better understand the true spirit and intent of the treaty, while offering an honest examination of its repercussions in contemporary Alberta.

“It just became so big because there wasn't really anything out there yet at that time to really bring people together to start a conversation and really bring light to the truth of our point of view of what happened at the signing of the treaty, what happened before we joined the treaty, and the result of signing it.”

Other performances put 'Woman' on centre stage.

“When we end up with actually the art and programming the art within the festivals, what has really come out is this very strong, feminine power: a celebration of womanhood, a celebration of that complexity of who we are as Indigenous women both within our own traditional communities but also within these colonialistic structures that we live in contemporarily,” Frederick said.

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s Blood, Water, Earth brings performance dance artist Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith back to the stage on May 3 and 4. Rubaboo’s website describes it as a combination of performance, video and music where “the imagery and energies span the wide range of what is woman: warrior, leader, mother, transformer and huntress.”

Sovereign Bodies on May 4 is a different celebration of the feminine, this time exploring Indigenous sexuality through burlesque performance by Virago Nation. A workshop with the performers is also scheduled for May 5.

There’s far too much to encapsulate in any feature. Expect visual art exhibits, play readings and dramaturgy, tattoo medicine for land defence, and a fusion performance, not to mention a gala party or two.

“We have so much programming and it's spread out over the 12 days. I really encourage people to take a look at the program and find things that they're very excited about, not be overwhelmed by the breadth of everything, and make their way out and try and check some things out. There's a lot of different opportunities to continue to explore the things beyond the festival. This is a great sort of conglomerate of some of the coolest stuff that's happening across Canada right now in Indigenous arts,” said festival director Barry Bilinsky.

Rubaboo tickets are available at the door.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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