Letting their spirits sing

Inuit, Mi’kmaq, Métis and Innu join for cultural showcase at the LSPU Hall

Published on October 5, 2013

With glow-in-the-dark hula hoops, jingle dresses, throat singers and drums, Oct. 18 and 19 won’t be your typical evenings at the LSPU Hall.

Members of each of the province’s aboriginal communities — Inuit, Mi’kmaq, Métis and Innu — are joining together to present “Spirit Song,” a variety show, exposition of local culture and fundraiser for the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre.

Originally established by a group of volunteers in a small office on the MUN campus in the late 1970s, the centre is a not-for-profit organization offering programs for native people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Today, from its facility on the west end of Water Street, the centre offers programs specific for women, youth and health-care patients, as well as arts, child care and employment services. The Shanawdithit Shelter, which operates without outside funding, provides temporary housing for up to 23 people.

Coming up with a fundraising idea for the centre, workers wanted to create something that would showcase the cultures of all the province’s native people.

“We decided that there was nothing in Newfoundland and Labrador that brought aboriginal artists together to showcase in one venue,” explained Jenelle Duval, a youth projects officer at the centre and artistic director of “Spirit Song.”

“You can see the First Nations dancers and drummers at the pow wow or around the city at different education events, and the same thing with the Inuit drummers and throat singers, but nobody had actually gotten together to collaborate before. We wanted all the different bands in Newfoundland and Labrador to be represented, so there are people from the Qalipu band, the Miawpukek Nation, and the Inuit. We wanted to show the diversity.”

Performers include Jasmine Drew, a jingle dress dancer (a jingle dress includes rows of small metal cones which make a jingling sound as the dancer performs); fancy shawl dancer Robin Benoit; throat singers Stephanie Fost and Andrea Andersen; and Terrance Littletent, a world champion hoop dancer from Saskatchewan who often works locally with Wonderbolt Circus.

Littletent will perform two pieces at the show, a vocal piece and a black-light hoop dance to an original aboriginal-techno fusion piece of music.

Two drumming groups from different native communities will perform: Kilautiup Songuninga drum dancers, consisting of Stan Nochasak, Sol Semigak and Sopie Angnatok; and Eastern Owl drummers and dancers, including Duval, Stacey Howse, Rebecca Sharr, Erin Piatt, Stephanie Pile, Danielle Benoit and Natasha Blackwood.

The two groups have been working together as part of an all-inclusive drum circle, run by Duval, sharing their drumming techniques.

“Basically, the Inuit drummers will teach us about their drumming and traditions and teachings, and we’ll teach the Inuit drummers First Nations drumming and dancing,” she explained.

“We all have a forms of drumming. There’s obviously variations in the different styles and stuff like that, but we do have that in common. It’s really cool when the two groups come together to collaborate. In the fall we built 12 Inuit drums, and now they’re teaching us how to use them. There are so many differences, but at the same time, there are similarities, like the reasons for the songs and the stories behind the songs often share a commonality.”

Drumming, singing and dancing is a huge part of aboriginal culture, Duval said, no matter what band.

The local aboriginal communities can relate when it comes to the loss of their culture and attempts to preserve it for future generations.

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to revive our cultural practices and drumming and dancing is a big part of that. Learning about it really brings us back to our roots and back to our culture, when it was lost for so long,” she said. “Language comes into play because you’re learning the songs in your native tongue and learning about your traditions.

“This show is a great opportunity for people who are searching for that identity or looking to connect with their culture to come out and get exposed to that.”

For people with no aboriginal background, “Spirit Song” will be an eye-opener as to how rich and beautiful native cultures are. In addition to taking in drumming and dance, those who attend the opening night of the show will be treated to a feast of contemporary aboriginal food, included with their show ticket. Dishes to be served include smoked char, flipper tarts, berry dishes, and something Duval calls “Indian tacos,” tacos with minced moose meat.

After both shows, the centre will hold a reception in the Hall’s Second Space with information about its services and a display of local arts and crafts for sale.

A school matinée of “Spirit Song” will be held during the afternoon on Oct. 18, with a change of format, making it an educational event for students.

“We often do public education pieces for youth, and instead of going to the schools, we thought  we’d invite the schools to the LSPU Hall so they can get the experience of going to a theatre,” Duval said. “We’re going to be explaining the songs, traditions, medicines, smudge, all that stuff. They’re going to get the opportunity to get up on stage and try some of the dances as well.”

Tickets for “Spirit Song” are $25 and are available at the LSPU Hall box office, by calling 753-4531, or online at rca.nf.ca.

All proceeds raised from the shows will go to help fund the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre’s various programs.


Twitter: @tara_bradbury