Indigenous Arts Festival 2015

Fort York celebrates indigenous culture with free crafts, theatre and Tanya Tagaq

This Sunday (June 21) is National Aboriginal Day, and Fort York is celebrating with the third annual Indigenous Arts Festival: three days of music, theatre, talks, crafts and food on the grounds of the historic site.

“Indigenous peoples are such a fundamental part of our land, and their creative work is quite remarkable,” says Robert Kerr, supervisor of special events at the Fort. “I don’t think it gets enough attention in the arts and cultural scene in Canada at large.”

Kerr notes that there are great companies showcasing indigenous art year-round, including Red Sky Performance who are participating in the event, but says there is definitely more room to put a spotlight on indigenous work and traditions.

That’s something that a lot of people have been thinking about in the recent report on residential schools by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “There’s no denying that many indigenous artists are dealing with challenging issues,” says Kerr. “I think it’s probably only natural to expect that that would play out in the work.” He says that his approach is to give the artists, many of whom include strong political messages in their work, a platform.

Since most of the event is free — only three events, at 8 pm on Thursday and 9:30 on Friday and Saturday, are asking for a pay-what-you-can donations — Kerr hopes that the surrounding neighbourhood, families and art enthusiasts of all kinds come out to learn more about indigenous culture.

The event was created in collaboration with a number of community groups, including the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, whose traditional territories include the Fort and Toronto. “We work with them particularly on the traditional content and the ceremonial content,” Kerr says.

There are also collaborations with Philip Cote and Rebecca Baird of the Tecumseh collective to create a mural spotlighting the issues of murdered and missing indigenous women, girls and men, and a poetry slam showcase curated by spoken word artist Mahlikah Awe:ri.

The festival is being closed out by the remarkable, award-winning Tanya Tagaq, though there is lots of multidisciplinary art to take in before she brings her unique style of throat singing to the stage. Crafts ranging from moccasins and beadwork to iPhone cases will be on sale, and other performances include a new theatre/dance piece from Red Sky Performance, a reading from author Joseph Boyden and the Toronto debut of Yukon-based pop folk singer Diyet.

Find out more here. | @elenagritzan

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