Na­tional Arts Cen­tre orches­tra comes to Eska­soni

Poet Rita Joe’s legacy cel­e­brated in First Na­tions com­mu­nity.

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY GREG MCNEIL gm­c­neil@cb­

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.


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