National Arts Centre orchestra comes to Eskasoni
Poet Rita Joe’s legacy celebrated in First Nations community.
The enduring legacy of the late Mi’kmaq poet and elder Rita Joe has lived on through the decades.
There’s no greater evidence of that than the National Arts Centre orchestra’s multimedia performance of “I Lost My Talk” which concluded a two-day visit to Eskasoni First Nation on Wednesday.
The show is based on a poem from Joe’s 1987 book “Song of Eskasoni” and speaks to her experience in residential schools.
“It’s like the story of my mother’s life and a story that our people went through in residential schools and losing their language and trying to get it back,” Ann Joe, Rita’s youngest daughter, said about the National Arts Centre orchestra performance.
“That applies to a lot of native people and it is very special because it is like you can see there is a struggle but at the end it is a hopeful ending.”
The orchestra’s performance included a film, choreography and live narration. It first premiered during the National Arts Centre orchestra’s 2015-16 season.
Joe saw the show based on her mother’s work twice in Ottawa earlier this year. After Wednesday’s showing in Eskasoni, she’s excited to know it will also be seen by audiences across the country as part of Canada 150 commemorations.
Wednesday’s program also featured several other performances from the National Arts Centre orchestra, as well as Grammy and Juno awardwinning violinist James Ehnes.
Another sign of Joe’s lasting impact came at the concert’s conclusion when “We Shall Remain” (It Wasn’t Taken Away) was performed.
It’s a new song by Allison Bernard Memorial High School student Kalolin Johnson, her father Tom Johnson and teacher Carter Chiasson.
Earlier this year, the school students were nominated for an East Coast Music Award for their song “Gentle Warrior,” which was inspired by the poem “I Lost My Talk,” through the National Arts Centre’s Rita Joe Song Project.
Before her performance, Johnson called Rita Joe a lasting part of her community and a role model for all. The song she performed Wednesday was a tribute to elders like Joe.
“I really hope the song speaks to them the way that we hoped it would,” said the Grade 12 student. “I’m hoping it touches their hearts just like it touched ours in the making of it.”
The National Arts Centre orchestra visit to Eskasoni also provided a unique learning experience for 250 school band students from across Cape Breton who had the chance to learn new techniques in workshops with nine members of the national orchestra.
Mi’kmaq artist Alan Sylliboy also interpreted the music of Johnson and Ehnes as they performed for students.
The result was three murals based on the theme We Shall Remain.
“We Shall Remain is very much the theme of this whole day,” said Genevieve Cimon, director of community education and community engagement for the National Arts Centre orchestra.
“It’s celebrating Mi’kmaq culture and Rita Joe’s legacy. We are absolutely thrilled to be here.”
When people first started talking about her work a long time ago, Rita Joe’s daughter said it surprised the artist. She thinks her mother would be humble and proud to see people still talking about it to this day.
“I said ‘it must touch a chord with people because it is about not having freedom to be who you are, speak how you want to speak and our culture.’ I guess a lot of people identify with that.”
More than 250 music students from across Cape Breton gathered in the Alison Bernard Memorial High School gymnasium in Eskasoni on Wednesday morning to receive instruction from members of the National Arts Centre orchestra.
Mi’kmaq artist Alan Sylliboy creates a mural based on the music of Grammy and Juno award-winning violinist James Ehnes as he plays a tune in Eskasoni on Wednesday.
Allison Bernard Memorial High School student Kalolin Johnson and her music teacher Carter Chiasson perform during Wednesday’s National Arts Centre orchestra visit to Eskasoni.