The spirit re­turns for Cel­e­bra­tion of Na­tions

The Niagara Falls Review - - Front Page - JOHN LAW

Michele-Elise Bur­nett has a dream of some day see­ing a Cel­e­bra­tion of Na­tions in ev­ery com­mu­nity across Canada. And she’ll be able to say “This all started in Ni­a­gara.”

As the In­dige­nous gath­er­ing gears up for its sec­ond year in down­town St. Catharines Sept. 7 to 9, the artis­tic direc­tor re­calls stand­ing on stage last year at FirstOn­tario Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre when she was told there would be Cel­e­bra­tions of Na­tions pro­gram­ming through­out the year — not just one week­end.

“I re­mem­ber on stage I started to cry,” she says. “I thought, this is in­cred­i­ble. Those are leaps and bounds for us.”

Now Bur­nett, the daugh­ter of found­ing Metis Na­tion of On­tario cit­i­zen Suzanne Ro­chon-Bur­nett, hopes to use Ni­a­gara as a “tem­plate” for sim­i­lar cel­e­bra­tions across the coun­try.

“Right now we’re trail­blaz­ing this,” she says. “I’ve gone to Ot­tawa, spo­ken with sev­eral MPs as well as the min­is­ters and the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice. What we’re do­ing in Ni­a­gara, we want to em­u­late right across Canada.

“The way we’re go­ing to change into de­vel­op­ing a stronger, uni­fied coun­try is by start­ing with grass roots and by com­mu­nity. It’s so im­por­tant to bring com­mu­ni­ties to­gether … to be proud to be In­dige­nous and to share that with non-In­dige­nous peo­ple.”

Co-pre­sented by FirstOn­tario Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre and Kakekalan­icks In­dige­nous Arts & Con­sul­tancy, this year’s event again gath­ers In­dige­nous arts, cul­ture and tra­di­tion. Con­certs, lec­tures and sem­i­nars will take place in four venues in­side FirstOn­tario Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre, along

with the Mar­i­lyn I. Walker School of Fine & Per­form­ing Arts and the out­door Mann Race­way Plaza.

Se­lect events in­clude Martha Red­bone on Satur­day; the Fire­side Roundtable with Oren Lyons, Rick Hill and Larry McDermott Sun­day; and co­me­dian Howie Miller Fri­day.

With sev­eral se­ri­ous top­ics bring ad­dressed all week­end, Bur­nett wanted the fes­tiv­i­ties to be­gin on a lighter note with Miller.

“With ev­ery­thing go­ing on, from Trump to Ford to some of the trau­mas we’re still go­ing through, com­edy to kick it off would be a good thing,” she says.

“We strate­gi­cally said, we want to kick off this week­end with a lit­tle bit of laugh­ter. Be­cause there’s so much in life right now that’s just so heavy.”

Events through­out the week­end in­clude sun­rise cer­e­monies all three days at 6 a.m., a Satur­day night dance party with Clas­sic Roots and the Sun­day panel dis­cus­sion Our Teach­ings and Trau­mas Are Real with Dr. Deb­o­rah Slo­boda, Dr. Anna Ban­erji and Re­nee Thomas-Hill.

This year’s theme is ‘Heal­ing Through the Arts,’ with a fo­cus on pos­i­tive ac­tions to ad­dress the trauma spread across gen­er­a­tions by Canada’s res­i­den­tial schools and The Six­ties Scoop (in which In­dige­nous chil­dren would be taken from fam­i­lies and placed in fos­ter homes or adop­tion).

Most all events are free. Tick­ets for se­lect per­for­mances and screen­ings are avail­able at FirstOn­tario Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre box of­fice.

Last year’s Cel­e­bra­tion of Na­tions made an im­me­di­ate im­pact when Buffy Sainte Marie agreed to per­form. While it pro­vided a jolt, Bur­nett says the event was de­fined by its com­mu­nal spirit.

“When I put this vi­sion to­gether a few years ago, the vi­sion was all about bring­ing com­mu­nity to­gether,” she says. “Hav­ing a big head­liner does help, but hav­ing a whole week­end based on bring­ing dif­fer­ent Na­tions to­gether — to share each other’s di­verse cul­ture and tra­di­tions — that doesn’t hap­pen nor­mally.

“It gave us a sense of be­long­ing. It gave us a sense of … cel­e­brat­ing us.”

JULIE JOCSAK THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

The In­dige­nous fes­ti­val Cel­e­bra­tion of Na­tions re­turns to down­town St. Catharines Sept. 7 to 9.

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