Ontario Presents and its member presenting organizations recognize the importance of presenting Indigenous artists, stories and culture as part of their presenting practice. As we continue to encourage the respectful presentation of Indigenous art, we will be featuring an Indigenous artist each month in our e-newsletter and blog. Spotlights are developed with the artist, and are intended simply to share the artist’s work and foster greater awareness and understanding of the strength and diversity of Indigenous art available in Ontario and beyond.
This month, we sat down with choreographer and contemporary dance artist Christine Friday.
To get us started, can you share a bit about yourself and your work?
My name is Christine Friday. I am Anishinabbe kwe from Friday’s Point on Lake Temagami in Northern Ontario. Temagami First Nation. My father is Irish and Romanian, my mother is Algonquin and Cree. I am very connected to my community and the cultural wellness of my people. I take pride in my family’s connection to the land and work hard to continue our traditions of hunting and ceremonies within our family territories.
I am a proficient, persevering and resilient professional Indigenous Contemporary dance artist. Since I was a little girl I have created dance performances, using choreography to perform and let go of whatever was going on in my life. I believe this a way to work through the development and evolution of my own character as a person. I began my career with In the Land of Spirits in 1992 and have been performing as an artist since then.
I have always been a choreographer creating solo work, youth performances, and full- scale productions, and have been a guest choreographer for three Aboriginal Achievement award shows. Although I have achieved success in the mainstream dance scene, I continue to work continually with the development of youth in our First Nation communities. The inspiration for my choreography stems from my culture and life experience living on this earth as an Indigenous woman. I started in classical dance, moved into contemporary, dance and am now part of the pow-wow circle as a fancy shawl dancer working towards being a jingle dress dancer.
My intention is to awaken people within themselves, creating a shift change in the world by reflecting reality and the human experience. It important for me to educate and share with others that our culture is strong and thriving in this century. Throughout my career and the revitalization of our culture I have received and upheld many teachings. I create work in the present with roots and connection to the past. This is how I bring change in my life and to those connected to it..
What would you most like presenters and audiences to know about your artistic practice?
As we walk in our own truth, we must tell our own stories.
This is our own story, a story not allowed to be told by others – and to walk in our own truth of who we are and where we come from, in order to correct history and to move forward together, we must create opportunity for our oral traditions and ceremonies to happen. We then become vibrant, significant and very much alive in this present day.
There is, without doubt, no mistake that I was born into my family as a dancer/performer/storyteller to uplift and move negative experiences and forces to help my family overcome the effects of colonization and to take back our power and place on this land of our people.
We as First Nations’ peoples have a powerful connection to the land. As keepers of the land it is our responsibly to look after our ancestors and prepare for our children. We need to witness the action of creating more opportunity in training and performance with an emphasis and focus on Indigenous arts.
Look deeply to see what is out there, look to surprise and entice your audience with a variety of Indigenous perspectives, look for people who have a grassroots connection to the land, to their communities. We as First Nations people are as diverse as the landscape we come from.
We must work together to create positive change, and by working together we heal ourselves, our families, our communities, our Nations.
Maggie and Me, your most recent piece, brings together your experience with those of two real women from the past- how does the past continue to guide and inform your work?
Maggie & Me shares how the story of a healing dance can strengthen communities and help us to better understand our own cultural experience within our own territories by linking stories, inspiration, and the origins of a dance.
As a dance artist I have become a healer in my community and beyond. I am often asked to dance in honor of those who suffer as part of the transformation and revitalization of our culture.
I continue to uphold the responsibility to awaken and create a change in this world as an Indigenous contemporary dance artist with the connection to our land. Reflecting the importance to uphold our traditions of ceremony and deepen the understanding of our gifts as Anishnabe people – as healers and storytellers - drives my creative process. By being present and connected we are still able to receive our teachings.
It is through this intention that I am still being carried and directed through “Maggie,” and she is shaping and pushing me to the next level of my artistic expression..
Even within this spotlight series, we have grouped a very diverse group of people under the umbrella of Indigenous artists, but we recognize that each artist has not only unique experiences and practice, but cultural backgrounds. Can you speak to your own background and the importance of recognizing this diversity?
We as Indigenous people are as unique within our culture as the landscape we come from.
Part of our family is Cree from the James Bay area. During the 1800s our Anishshinaabe People would still travel in seasons hunting and gathering. A popular gathering place in the summer was Lake Temagami; our Friday family travelled to Lake Temagami and when my great-great-grandfather died the Chief of the area Wabi Makwa adopted our family and gave us our traditional territory called “Friday’s Point.” My mom was raised in the bush and her parents raised her and her two siblings at the camp. When she was 5 she was taken away from her family and placed in a residential school. In the late 60’s the government burned down my family’s hunting and fishing lodge, saying we owed back-taxes. This has always been the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin/Anishshinaabe (people). We have never signed our rights over to the crown.
It takes time and many forms of healing to create positive impacts. Culture and arts is a large aspect of this. The healing, wellness and mental health of the youth and of this country is directly related to artistic expression in the arts.
We have a responsibility to emphasize the importance of arts and culture in our lives, to continue to create platforms and opportunities, to Walk in and express our truth
Colonization made us to be small. Give us the room to be big, to carry our culture in our everyday lives
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share about?
There is so much to reclaim. This includes our stories, defining our existence and emergence. I have worked relentlessly to achieve the dance level that I am at today. Now I am ready to take the step to establish a dance company, Pukawiss Performance. I received a Chalmers Arts Fellowship from the Ontario Arts Council to renew and revise elements of my dance career, to enhance my repertoire in classical and traditional dance, becoming a unique creative force.
I am preparing for a full scale production of my work to be presented at the Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa, 2018. As well as the development of a new creation, I have a short dance film coming out entitled Ecstasy.
I also run an annual dance camp for the youth in my community, this will be the 11th year. I will be touring Northern communities to create inspiration and develop audience with my performance and workshops to community and youth. I am also looking to build an arts hub on Lake Temagami..
Where can people learn more about your work or get in touch?
I am working on a website, which will be launched soon. You may contact me for bookings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our sincere thanks to Christine Friday for sharing her story and her art with us.
Photos courtesy of Christine Friday. Photos by Cylla Von Tiedeman (Photo 1), Fredric Chais (Photo 2), and Nathalie Duhaine (Photo 3)