This is the eleventh year that Terres en Vue or Lands In Sight has hosted the First Peoples Festival. The Festival looks at Aboriginal films, art, music and culture from across the country. You will see traditional influences as well as western in the shows put on by Lands In Sight. Each year they seem to add more facets to this festival. It just gets better and better. This year I was surprised to see the Whapmagoostui Art Factory had a table. They also unveiled their tribute to the chiefs and the Cree Nation. A gigantic piece as you can see in the picture.
Andre Duemaine said “I am very proud of what we have accomplished.” As he should be. The Montreal First People’s Festival feels that its role is to be a meeting place where people can gather to look at life, in this case Aboriginal life.
I loved it. I went to see the art of aboriginal artists, films of Aboriginal artists and a concert featuring music played and often written by Aboriginal artists.
Transistions II is a showing of contempory Indian and Inuit art as done by 16 artists from across Canada. A Cree artist by the name of Sheila Orr, from Chisasibi, was included in this showing. She incorporates such traditional materials as beads, quills, and leather, while using Acrylic paints and fabrics.
The Great Peace Parade of Ambassadors saw kids coming from schools across Quebec. Three schools from the Cree communities of Eastmain, Waswanipi and Whapmagoustui participated, but strangely enough, none of the schools from Kahnawake did – and the Mohawks were the ones who signed the Great Peace Treaty. Greg Horn, a Mohawk news hound told me that the actual Great Peace lasted only about thirty or so years, rather than the 300 that was being quoted by politicians everywhere. He also said that the Oka Crisis was just the latest example of the Great Peace being disturbed.
Rez, White and Blues
A showcase of musical talent that featured Claude Dubois, spokesperson for the Festival. One of the first acts I noticed was Tara Louise Montour. This Mohawk is a classically trained violinist. She played beautifully and wore a traditional Mohawk headdress while doing so.
There were traditional drummers and performers next. The two women and one man played and acted out the story of the Northern Lights. In the story, if you tease the northern lights they will cut off your head and play ball with it. Great audience interaction with this number. Up next was throat singing. It built the audience up so they were ready for Claude Mackenzie who did three songs. Then it was Claude Dubois who explained he had some Native ancesters and felt good being a link between two cultures. After his set all the performers got on stage and sang one last song.
Redskins, Tricksters and Puppy Stew by Drew Haden Taylor
Attach this man’s name to a project and it’s almost a guarantee it will go somewhere. Just where is always interesting, and that’s what drew (pun intended) me to see his latest work. A documentry, or is that mockumentry considering the subject matter? No matter what you call it, it is a look at Aboriginal humour across the country. Drew introduces us to the crew at the immensely popular radio show The Dead Dog Cafe. Fans will love the inside look at how this show is created.
I had a chance to see an old friend, Don Kelly of the AFN. Serious by workday, but still a joker on the weekends and occasionally the nights. He proudly proclaims his Indian name is Runs Like A Girl. I have no comment to that as Kelly seems to have covered all the bases albeit running like…
Oh so much time, so little space to trash so many people. Just joking in that self-mocking way that people seem to have in Native country. That seems to be one of the discoveries in the documentary – that Native humour is self-reflecting and dark. It is worth a look, but to tell the truth I expected a little more. I found it cheesey that Haden Taylor promoted his upcoming comedy show on APTN, but I probably wouldn’t have found out about it otherwise.
Jay Silverheels: The Man Beside the Mask
review by Brian Zelnicker
Produced by Edmonton-based Great North Productions, and co-directed by the team of Maureen Marovitch and David Finch, Jay Silverheels: The Man Beside The Mask (2000) offers a rare glimpse into the life of a man many of us only know as a pop-culture sidekick.
Through interviews, photos, and archive film footage, we learn that the legendary television icon was born Harry J. Smith, on the Six Nations reserve at Oshweken, Ontario, May 26, 1912. His father, who was the most decorated native Canadian soldier during World War I, farmed 100 acres of land on the reserve, where Jay discovered he had a way with horses.
Young Harry J. Smith picked up the nickname “Silverheels” while playing lacrosse for the Mohawk Stars at age 16. Gifted with a natural talent for sports, Jay had gone to Buffalo to look for work at age 17 and wound up playing semi-professional lacrosse and getting involved in boxing. The hunt for employment was always on for Jay, but finding steady work during the great depression was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Back on the reserve after his stint in Buffalo, Jay resumed his lacrosse career, playing on a team with three of his brothers. With lacrosse enjoying a degree of popularity back in the day, Jay’s team toured all across America. Eventually, Jay headed for Hollywood encouraged by comedian Joe E. Brown, a friend who thought he could make it in the movies with his atheticism and good looks. The struggling young actor, who took whatever bit parts he could find, had to bus tables and work in bars to get by. Money was short and the bills were high. His evolving Hollywood lifestyle led to a divorce, after which his wife and daughter moved back east to Buffalo. His three year old daughter would not see her father until she was nearly an adult herself at age 17.
Gradually, Jay started getting more roles, always as a bit native player. The biggest native parts were still going to white actors in make-up. Finally, in 1949, Jay got the call to audition for the role of Tonto. He became the first native actor to star in a television series. The Lone Ranger was an immense success and Jay became the most recognizable Native face in America – almost overnight. Though the role of Tonto brought steady work and instant fame for Silverheels, he was frustrated by the limitations of his character. Tonto was portrayed as stiff side-kick character who could only speak in a clipped pidgin English. The role allowed little leeway for more dynamic acting on the part of the native star.
The Lone Ranger was cancelled in 1956. After playing Tonto, Silverheels would discover that Native actors could only get roles playing Indians in westerns, regardless of their acting ability and experience. He founded the Indian Actors’ Workshop in 1966 with fellow actor Will Sampson. Free nightly classes were given in a Los Angeles church basement to aspiring native actors, with the goal of helping them get better parts in films.
In 1975, just as his luck was turning again and he was being offered a number of acting roles, Jay Silverheels suffered a massive stroke and was left depressed and debilitated. He was seldom seen in public after this episode. In 1979, he made a public appearance in Hollywood, where he was honoured with a star on the walk of fame. On March 5, 1980, Jay died in hospital at the age of 68, after a bout of pneumonia.
A new generation of native actors owe a debt of thanks to Jay Silverheels for helping to pave the way in an industry that has been nothing short of exploitative. Aboriginal actors Tina Keeper, Michael Horse, Peter Kelly Gaudreault, and Tom Jackson all give testimonial to the positive influence that Silverheels had upon their careers. The documentary shows that he managed to transcend the limitations of his role as Tonto to become both an icon and an inspiration.
Buffy Sainte-Marie in concert
If you ever had a chance to see Buffy Sainte-Marie live in concert, you will have had the chance to see greatness. As far back as I can remember, Buffy Sainte-Marie has been providing us with a distinct musical quality that inspires all hearts and souls.
Buffy Sainte-Marie was born in 1941 on a Cree reservation in Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan. She was adopted and raised in Maine and Massachusetts.
Buffy Sainte-Marie became known as a writer of protest and love songs in the early 1960s while she was a college student. Hundreds of artists such as Janis Joplin, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, and Tracy Chapman have performed her huge hits, which are considered classics of the era.
In 1976 she quit recording to devote time to her son Dakota Wolfchild Starblanket. They both became well known for their five-year stint on Sesame Street, where they taught us that “Indians still exist.” Her song “Up Where We Belong” as recorded by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes won an Academy Award in 1982 for the film “An Officer and A Gentleman”.
Buffy re-entered the music scene in 1993 with her comeback album “Coincidence and Likely Stories”. She has recorded over a dozen albums. She also helped establish a new Juno Awards category for music of aboriginal Canada.
A drawing act of the First People’s Festival, Buffy’s concert on June 21st at the Spectrum gave all present a moving experience. This versatile artist played acoustic guitar, keyboards and mouthbow on different styles of songs ranging from ballads to children’s songs to rock. Engaging the audience during every minute of the concert with powerful chanting and rhythms, an imprint will be left within us all. We could not let her go. The crowd roared and demanded two well-deserved standing ovations.
Buffy commands respect and has certainly become a legendary folk hero of our time. She is an inspiration and a role model for aspiring native and non-native musicians alike and for female musicians as well.
Buffy lectures at colleges and venues on a wide variety of
topics such as film scoring, electronic music, songwriting, Indian women’s issues, the Native genius for government, and remaining positive amidst tough human realities. She is currently Adjunct Professor in Canada at York University in Toronto and Indian Federated College in Saskatchewan, and in the U.S. at Evergreen State College in Washington State. She also teaches Digital Art as Artist in Residence at The Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA).
For more information on Buffy visit http://www.creative-native.com/biograp.htm