Miwasin Iskwewak Kisikaw!- Happy Women's Day! As many of you probably know today is International Women's Day! A day to recognize and celebrate the life-givers, home makers, culture carriers, water protectors, knowledge holders, ceremony keepers, earth warriors! And, so much more!
My recent hoop dance at the Heard Museum 'World Championship Hoop Dance Contest' in Pheonix, Arizona was created to represent myself, as a women, who holds many of the roles mentioned above, as well as, to honor the many roles of women that go unnoticed and are undervalued in our society today.
When we are in ceremony the circle is often divided into a women's side and a men's side, representing balance, equality, and unity of male and female gender roles.
The hoop dance has historically been a male dominated dance, which is a critique some have towards the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest. Although, I have never heard teachings that explicitly say only men are allowed to hoop dance. I do not believe that women need a separate category at the World Championships. What I do wish to see is that women are valued, respected, and honored for what they bring to the circle. I think it is important to retain that balance, equality, and unity of different gender roles which had made our ancestors such healthy and strong people, as well as, their family, community and nations! Hiy-hiy! Thank you!
Watch my World Championship Hoop Dance performance here:
11/4/2013 1 Comment
In July- August 2013 I journeyed to the United States for my fourth time participating in a performance of Walking at the Edge of Water, choreographed by Rulan Tangen of Dancing Earth. We rehearsed in Santa Fe and performed two shows in New York City at the Downtown Dance Festival in Battery Park, sponsored by the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. There were ten dancers in the ensemble, and five of them I have worked with before (including Rulan) and it is always such an awesome experience to work with other Indigenous dancers. I would have to say this group is one of the best I have ever worked with, all being professional dancers, as well as, holders of traditional and spiritual knowledge and tradition. The way these dancers were brought together was nothing short of the universe flowing together in harmony. I believe we worked very well together and as a result were let out of rehearsal early on several occasions! (This in my experience is very rare) There were many instances where we came across signs that confirmed to us as a group and as individuals that we were meant to be here. We were destined to represent Indigenous dance next to dance companies from around the world, including NYC’s prestigious José Limón Company.
One of the first things we did upon arrival in NYC (after a red eye flight and a 6:00 am arrival) was visit the Two Row Wampum Gathering, which seeks honor for the original intention of the treaties, such as peace and sovereignty. The day before our arrival there was a march to the United Nations with hundreds of people who paddled canoes into NYC harbor in order to bring the message of the Two Row Wampum. The Two Row Wampum itself, which I had learnt about as a Graduate student with Dr. David Newhouse, represents two canoes paddling side by side along a river, neither interfering with the other’s vessel, but co-existing peacefully. This ideal had many implications and undertones relevant to our dance for the water. The river, canoes, peace and sovereignty is representative of many of the issues different Indigenous dancers have brought up over the years during the different explorations of Walking at the Edge of Water.
When we arrived at the gathering we heard the Akwesasne Women Singers share a song for the water and the connection between women, birth and water. This is a theme we had heard from Anishnaabeg (Ojibway) women in Peterborough, Ontario during one of the first explorations creating dance around the theme of water. This was reflected for me in the fact that I was 15 weeks pregnant when we arrived in NYC, so my participation in Walking at the Edge of Water was especially compelling. In Anishnaabeg teachings water is also associated with emotions, such as those expressed through tears. I have been known to cry real tears on stage and backstage because of the emotional power in this dance. For me this was one of the most emotionally powerful performances of this show.
Some of the Chiefs at the gathering spoke about the importance of water, and urged us to be aware of our impact on the water. An imminent and potent message as we sat next to the harbor where the canoes had paddled in and near the site where we would be dancing the next day to bring awareness to the issue. This was reflected in our performance through many images that depicted the harmful effects our actions have on water and the environment, such as oil, vanity, greed, and consumption.
In a recent professional development opportunity, training in the’7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ we learnt about empathy. What we were taught was that reflecting is one of the highest forms of empathetic listening. The best way to show empathy towards others is reflecting back to them their words, thoughts and feelings. In this way we do not make assumptions, place judgement or focus on ourselves. We are simply reflecting what we hear or see. For me this resonated with my experiences in Walking at the Edge, of Water throughout this piece the dancers simply reflect... Reflecting water itself, reflecting Indigenous stories and teachings around water, reflecting how we all contribute to the destruction of water, reflecting the sacredness of water and the healing of water, thereby demonstrating the greatest form of empathy, one that makes no judgement or assumptions… And if the title of the training is accurate this is a ‘highly effective’ way to bring awareness to and show empathy for the sacred waters 'of our bodies and of the earth’ (as Rulan would say). We can only hope that this passion for the environment will continue to be reflected back to us through the people we meet, leaders that speak out, women that sing for the water, and is joined by the actions and voices of many more…
Currently, I feel a great sense of pride as I follow Dancing Earth: Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations on their tour to New Zealand, bringing this important dance and message to the world. You can read more about this journey at www.dancingearth.org or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
My participation was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. Dancing Earth's U.S. dancers sponsored by the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in NYC.
A few months ago my sisters and I were invited to be part of the Grand Opening of the brand new City of Lethbridge, Community Arts Center (CASA) consisting of a week-long celebration. Our collaborative, multi-disciplinary hoop dance performance titled, The Sacred Hoop, was on May 14, 2013.
The main piece in the show was Sagowsko (Bush Woman), a nickname given to me from my mother because I enjoy picking medicines in the forest. Sagowsko was inspired by the hoop dance story I was taught when I first started learning to hoop dance in 2005. It is a Nishnaabeg story and can be found in Basil Johnston’s book “The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway”. The story is about Pukawiss, the disowned one, who was fascinated with nature. He became disowned by his father who wished he was more like his older brother a great hunter and warrior. Pukawiss leaves his family and does performances for different villages and eventually creates the hoop dance.
This was the fourth time this piece has been performed and has continued to grow and evolve. We added a new opening scene that expressed the sacredness and strengths of Native women. This was followed by the exploration or discovery scene in which the main character, Sagowsko, is seen exploring in nature and mimicking the animals around her. The third scene is being lost and alone and represents the disconnection we have when we do not fit into the expectations of society. In this case Sagowsko was supposed to be picking berries like her sisters, but instead she wanted to explore the world around her. As a result she finds herself alone and lost… The final scene is about re-connection and the gift of the hoop dance. From being alone and afraid Sagowsko finds herself on the ground, where she very literally feels ‘the heartbeat of the earth’ and is able to re-connect with the world around her. The ‘hoop spirits’ enter and imbue her with their spiritual energies, the energies of creation… birds, butterflies, eagles and dance. It represents a sort of healing ritual one may experience when they are able to be themselves, to live in a connected way with their identity and the world around them. Through re-connection there is also a process of re-creation. Each time this piece has been performed it has brought audience members to tears, even though people comment that it is beautiful and uplifting.
Sagowsko was very much an exploration of Resurgence Theory, which is a relatively new theory in Indigenous Knowledge although based in very ancient stories and traditions. This theory is explained by Dr. Leanne Simpson in her book, “Dancing on Our Turtles Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence” where she talks about the Seven Fires Prophecy of the Nishnaabeg. There are similar stories found in other First Nations cultures, including Blackfoot and Cree, although the details are slightly different. It often begins with conflict or war followed by a great flood and finally the re-creation of the earth by the ‘trickster’ (Waynabozhoo/ Weesagechak/ Naapi) with the help of the animals. Simpson explains that this is not a creation story, but a re-creation story. She describes it as a cycle of creation – destruction – re-creation found in Nishnaabeg thought.
After interpreting the hoop dance story of Pukawiss through the lens of resurgence theory I began to see the cycle identified by Dr. Leanne Simpson as one of connection – disconnection – re-connection. This reflected the teachings of the hoop dance and represented the re-connection with identity and with the self, which is reflected in the story of Pukawiss and Sagowsko as well as in my own life. For me, it was the hoop dance that allowed me to find a re-connection with myself, my identity and the world around me.
In the Nishnaabeg story a piece of earth is placed on the turtle’s back and, “Waynabozhoo began to sing. The animals danced in a clockwise circular fashion and the winds blew, creating a huge and widening circle. Eventually, they created the huge island on which we live, North America” (69). Dr. Simpson’s interpretation proclaims, “Together, we have all of the pieces. In Nishnaabeg thought, resurgence is dancing on our turtle’s back; it is visioning and dancing new realities and worlds into existence” (70). This was especially meaningful for me because inclusiveness and working together is embodied in the hoop itself. Also, the image of ‘dancing new realities and worlds into existence’ was re-affirming as a dancer and emerging choreographer, because I intentionally focus on healing and Nitonahk Miyo Pimadisiwin- Seeking a Good Life in my choreography. Dance is one of the ways that we can re-connect the sacred hoop which has been broken through colonization and assimilation as we re-create our reality to benefit all of creation. Hiy-hiy.
This performance sponsored by the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge.
On December 16, 2012 I was asked to do a short hoop dance at the World Cross Country Ski Championships in Canmore, Alberta. The event would be televised around the world.
Meanwhile, a movement was happening all over Indian country and beyond, a movement sparked by a people’s continued oppression, a movement based in the cultural values and traditions of First Nations. A movement that continues to bring people together on a worldwide scale in the name of unity, peace, justice for all people, for all beings, for all of the earth.
As I prepared to take the world stage for a few short minutes, I was reminded of the history of Indigenous dance that I have been researching. I thought of the early to mid- 1900’s, when our dances were made illegal in Canada and the U.S. as they were thought to be a hindrance to colonization and assimilation. Yet, during this same time, Wild West shows prevailed where dancers were put on stage to depict the colonial view of the west. Our ancestors continued to dance, whether on stage or in secret, knowing that the most important thing in the face of colonization was to continue to be ‘indian’ and continue to dance, pray, speak the language... simply being is decolonizing.
For a moment I felt I understood them. I understood the need to dance, no matter what. I had a glimpse of what our ancestors went through as they battled colonization. Even in the most subtle and humble ways as simply dancing, even in Wild West shows.
My heart was heavy that day with the burden of responsibilities that come with dance and knowledge. I wanted to go on stage and shout at the injustices that were being committed against our people, our land... Instead I did my hoop dance. A subtle and humble resistance. Simply being, being myself, being Nehiyaw (Cree) was an act of decolonization.
This experience awakened me to something I have always known – I am my ancestors. WE are our ancestors. Not just descendants of our ancestors, but we are experiencing the same things they have experienced for years! We are fighting the same fight. We are being our ancestors, by being ourselves.
As I thought of Idle No More and the goal of protecting the land I was also reminded of the signing of Treaty 8 (1899). It was the Nehiyawak who asked for a treaty after settlers had been coming into Nehiyawak territory and exploiting the land and resources without permission. I was again reminded that yes, WE ARE OUR ANCESTORS. Here we are 2013 still fighting for the same recognition, still against the exploitation of our land and resources.
It’s still the same... but there is one difference. In 1899 it was 500 Nehiyawak who gathered and stopped the settlers from entering their territory until a treaty was signed... Today, thanks to technology and social media, it is millions, if not billions, of people worldwide who are gathering. When one person does a subtle and humble resistance it is indeed admirable... but when millions of people participate in the same subtle and humble resistance around the world? Not so subtle and humble anymore... This unity of people, voices and actions have created an unparalleled and far reaching transformative movement... What is now being called a Global Super-Movement. Idle No More has swept the globe being one of the top news stories a top trending hash-tag on social media. All over the world people are being awakened to the fact that WE ARE OUR ANCESTORS – WE ARE IDLE NO MORE!
'Cree Woman Speaking' is a space to share my voice. My goal is to spread awareness and share wisdom as I learn and grow as a dancer, choreographer, and woman. My passion is to show the healing power of dance and culture. I love learning from elders, experience, and research and being able to synthesize Native and non-Native ways of knowing!
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