Indigenous artists in the spotlight at NAC's Canada Scene festival

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Indigenous artists in the spotlight at NAC's Canada Scene festival

Indigenous artists in the spotlight at NAC's Canada Scene festival

Indigenous musicians, actors, artists, dancers and filmmakers will be in the spotlight at the National Arts Centre's major multidisciplinary Canada Scene festival this spring and summer.

The festival will feature more than 1,000 artists performing in more than 100 events from June 15-July 23 at the NAC and other venues across Ottawa and Gatineau.

Indigenous artists will headline many of the shows on the bill in disciplines including music, film, theatre, dance, and visual and media arts.

"It's empowering. It's exciting," said singer-songwriter IsKwé, who performed to open the festival announcement at the NAC Tuesday. "There's a lot of strong, strong, powerful people that represent Indigenous arts, and I think it's important to have those voices be present, and I think it's about time."

The Cree-Dene vocalist, originally from Manitoba, is part of a Canada Scene showcase of Indigenous women musicians called Anishinabekwe on July 22.

Curated by ShoShona Kish of the roots-rock band Digging Roots, the concert also features Polaris Prize-winning Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq and Métis singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume, and more.

"We're going to have six real powerhouse women on the stage," said Canada Scene producer and executive director Heather Moore.

Theatre, film, visual arts

Moore said programming strong Indigenous components for each discipline was an important goal of this year's festival, which is triple the length of past NAC Scene festivals and coincides with Canada 150 events.

"There are a number of artists in the Scene that we've intentionally programmed because they're provoking us. They have interesting questions, and tough questions that they're asking with their work, and I want people to experience all of that," she added.

Taken is another music event highlighting Indigenous artists and their work. The June 17 concert features Jeremy Dutcher, Lindsay "Eekwol" Knight and Andrew Balfour performing on the theme of being "taken."

Legendary singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie will also play a concert on July 3 in the festival lineup with special guest Leela Gilday.

Canada Scene theatre events by Indigenous artists include Making of Treaty 7, a show that explores the making of modern southern Alberta (June 20), and Kiviuq Returns, the story of a legendary Inuit hero performed entirely in Inuktitut (July 21-22).

Film showcase A Nation of Nations will show 10 short works by Indigenous filmmakers on June 19, and a visual and media arts exhibition called #callresponse highlights the work of Indigenous women on June 16.

Art crucial to reconciliation

Moore called the entire Canada Scene festival "an opportunity for people to learn about their country through artists' stories."

IsKwé believes having a strong Indigenous presence in the festival will help start some important conversations about Canadian history and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

"When we think of reconciliation, and we have these chats of reconciliation — because that's the time that we're in right now — it's not a one-sided conversation," she said. 

"We've been sharing our stories for however long, and reconciliation will never happen until there's active listening on the other end."