Aboriginal arts and culture – the roots of Canada
Artistic expression is at the heart of Aboriginal culture, and Canadian artists and arts organizations are reaffirming the relevance of Aboriginal art forms to enthusiastic audiences both at home and around the world. These successes are especially important for Canada’s Aboriginal youth – having authors, singers, filmmakers, dancers, actors, actresses and visual artists as role models and mentors who strive to protect, nourish and interpret Aboriginal cultures.
The Government of Canada has also established a Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures to advise the government on creating an Aboriginal Languages and Cultures Centre. This initiative stems from a commitment in 2002 of $172.5 million in funding over eleven years to develop a sustainable national strategy for the preservation, revitalization and promotion of Aboriginal languages and culture, as recommended by the 1995 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. According to 1996 research, close to half of the 50 to 70 Aboriginal languages in Canada are near extinction or endangered, and currently, only three are considered viable – Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut.
Canada Council highlights
The development of programs that meet the particular needs of Aboriginal artists is a priority of the Canada Council. The emphasis on Aboriginal arts was increased significantly beginning in 1998-99 with additional funding for dedicated programs in media arts, dance, visual arts and the Aboriginal Arts Office. While all Council programs are open to Aboriginal artists and arts organizations, the Aboriginal Arts Office provides a targeted and meaningful focus, and it works with the Aboriginal Arts Advisory Committee and other sections to develop specific policies, programs and budgets.
- The Council’s Capacity Building program for Aboriginal arts organizations awarded a total of $587,000 to 24 arts organizations in 2006-07.
- To help determine which grant applications to support, Aboriginal peer assessors took part in Council assessment committees. This represents about 11 per cent of the total assessors, while Aboriginal Canadians constitute 3 per cent of the entire Canadian population.
- The national Aboriginal arts scene is beginning to flourish and reach out to the rest of the world. Council support for the Native to Canada showcase of Aboriginal music at the 2000 Worldwide Music Expo (WOMEX) in Berlin, for example, enabled five artists and music groups to impress audiences, book other international festival engagements and sign contracts with European record labels.
- The Council also coordinated the highly successful Showcase of Culturally Diverse and First Peoples Music Artists across Canada in 1998 and provided assistance to 16 Aboriginal and world music artists to participate in Exposed Roots during the CINARS Forum and Rendez-vous Folk Conference in Montreal in 2003.
- The Council supported the first-ever Honouring Words celebration and tour in 2002 which included prominent Aboriginal authors from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and five Aboriginal authors from Canada received Council assistance to attend the second Honouring Words tour in Australia in 2003.
- To further assist Aboriginal visual artists, the Canada Council Art Bank helped celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2002 by purchasing $100,000 worth of Aboriginal art – to not only enhance its collection but to also help satisfy the growing demand for Aboriginal art among rental clients.
Other highlights of Council support to Aboriginal artists and arts organizations include:
- Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, who received a grant to produce his award-winning film Atanarjuat;
- Louis Bird, who received a grant to collect and transcribe traditional Omushkegowak stories of spiritual beliefs and practices;
- the Ivartaq Cultural Institute of Montreal, which received a grant to help organize a Throatsingers’ Gathering – a festival of Canadian Inuit music;
- Tom Poulsen, who received a grant to learn the legendary techniques of the Fire Bringer, a threatened tradition of basketry from Cherokee tribal elders in Georgia;
- CyberPowWow 2K, a Council-supported online project that addresses issues of contemporary First Nations art, politics and digital technology; a gathering of eight Chilkat weavers in Prince Rupert, enabling the weavers to collaborate with one another and to share their ancient art practice with the public; and Bones: An Aboriginal Dance Opera, developed by Canadian choreographers Sadie Buck and Alejandro Ronceria, involving Aboriginal singers, dancers and actors from three continents and six countries. In the words of Sadie Buck:
“I believe in our people and that this is who we should be and that our kids need to realize that we can do anything. We have to open those doors. It is a part of our lives, our cycle to do so. They have all the skills and culture to reaffirm and confirm that we can live the life that we choose. It is important for them on many levels, employment too.”