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Report from Petapan: First Light Indigenous Arts Symposium 2016

Back when the inaugural Petapan: First Light Indigenous Arts Symposium took place, it concluded with a ‘next steps’ session that outlined a widely shared desire for the Atlantic focused event to reoccur every couple of years. At the time, it was very clear that everyone felt strong hope that the goal would be reached because of how beneficial participants found the various workshops, demonstrations, showcases, and networking sessions.

The aspiration and will was strong, and those fronting the Atlantic arts councils which make up the Atlantic Public Arts Funders (APAF) started the movement to make it happen again, and happen it did. 

Basket making workshop

Basket making with Sandra Racine at Petapan 2016

From June 16 to 19, 2016 in Dieppe, New Brunswick, Petapan: First Light got a second installment and participants convened for a packed four day program of activity, knowledge sharing, and connection with one another. In artsnb’s executive director Akoulina Connell’s welcome message, she distilled the value of the indigenous arts symposium exceptionally, saying:

“It is the second time we have been able to gather in this way: Passamaquoddy, Wulastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq, Innu, Inuit, and Metis. It is wonderful to see what can be accomplished when we all put fuel on the same fire together, and exciting to see how many new projects, shows, performances, exhibitions, and collaborations have taken place since the first Petapan: First Light Symposium in Millbrook, NS (2014).”

APAF’s members include ArtsNL, artsnb, ArtsNS, and the Prince Edward Island Council for the Arts – they worked in concert with a steering committee of nine, and Genevieve Allen Hearn who returned as event coordinator. The APAF members, alongside Canada Council for the Arts, each of the Atlantic provincial governments, TD, and MusicNB were public funders or supporters for the symposium.

Petapan Opening Keynote

David Garneau giving the opening keynote address at Petapan 2016

An opening reception and gallery viewing opened the multi-day series of events. The exhibition was called The Land is Our Story and We Are the Land, curated by Raven Davis and Aiden Gillis. Both individuals are multidisciplinary visual artists, currently living in Halifax. Davis originally hails from the Anishnawbe (Ojibwa) Nation in Manitoba, and Gillis’ roots are in Port au Port, NL with a Mi’kmaw and French ancestry. The two curated a show that aimed to exhibit various encapsulations of what LAND means to seven different indigenous Atlantic artists.

The following day started with a sunrise smudging ceremony before participants heard from David Garneau who brought the opening keynote address. Garneau is Métis and an Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Regina. His work appears in the Canadian History Museum, the Parliament buildings, and the Musée de la civilisation to name a few. One of the things he’s currently working on is a five year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded curatorial research project called Creative Conciliation.

Workshops followed Garneau’s keynote, and offered participants choice between three topics, which included: Arts Funding Basics, facilitated by Canada Council’s Steven Loft and included representatives from all four Atlantic arts councils; Having What You Need to Succeed as an Artist, facilitated by France Trépanier and focused on work space, artistic agenda and inventory, professional association memberships, and portfolios; or Has the Artist Been Paid? facilitated by Susan Tooke who discussed fair dealings with artists and how CARFAC can help.

Beadwork Workshop

Beadwork with Bernadine Perley at Petapan 2016

After lunch, sessions resumed and again offered a trilogy of choice. The afternoon was focused on various artistic disciplines, and presented sessions such as the Critical Mass Project led by the Indigenous Performing Arts Association, Story Circle facilitated by Shalan Joudry, and Inuit Throat Singing featuring Newfoundland and Labrador’s own Susie (Debbie) Lyall and Elizabeth (Sophie) Angnatok.

The day concluded with a table networking session that ran before dinner, and the opportunity for symposium attendees to browse pop-up shop tables set up by fellow participants. The evening entertainment offered a line up of curated short films, which were screened with some of the filmmakers in attendance.

The next day followed a similar approach, with three workshops to choose from in the morning, followed by three options for disciplinary focused sessions in the afternoon. Demonstrations were also featured in the afternoon to pass on skillsets in Beadwork (facilitated by Bernadine Perley), Basket Making (with Sandra Racine), and Birch Bark Container making (with Robert McEwan).

Nunatsiavut Throat Singers

Newfoundland and Labrador's own Susie (Debbie) Lyall and Elizabeth (Sophie) Angnatok performing in the Petapan 2016 showcase!

The workshops offered included one on the National Engagement Strategy for Indigenous Artists with Clayton Windatt who looked at how artists can benefit by widening engagement and what new allies can be discovered through that effort; Aboriginal Artists and the Canadian Art System with France Trépanier where participants learned how to locate their practice in the spheres of the Canadian art world; and Getting Export Ready facilitated by Jean Surette of MusicNB, who looked at the tools and content required to explore new markets.

The afternoon artistic discipline sessions featured one on film called Point of View Documentary Filmmaking with Sonia Boulieau, Getting Published facilitated by Julie Scriver of Canada’s oldest independent publisher - Goose Lane Editions, and There’s Always a Workaround which discussed how to overcome barriers and create group experiences with Cheryl L’Hirondelle.

Nunatsiavut Throat Singers

Eastern Owl from Newfoundland and Labrador perform at the closing ceremony for Petapan 2016

After a busy day, pop-up shops returned for the dinner period and all participants dispersed to prepare for the evening performance showcase. The entertainment line up was bursting with talents like Hubert Francis and Eaglefeather, the Mi’kmaq Legends, Deantha Edmunds-Ramsay (originally from Newfoundland and Labrador), Rebecca Thomas, as well as Susie (Debbie) Lyall and Elizabeth (Sophie) Angnatok.

The symposium wrapped up on June 19 with a morning presentation from Canada Council for the Arts on the new funding model and specific opportunities that have been created for indigenous artists. The all important next steps discussion took place, to ensure new ways forward to continue building on success were identified. The symposium’s finale came with a closing keynote delivered by Mi’kmaw First Nation performance and installation artist, Ursula Johnson.

The second Petapan: First Light Indigenous Arts Symposium sought out to continue building a community of indigenous artists that feel more connected, informed, supported, and understood.  All four of these pillars were met, as participants left with new contacts, knowledge, and ambition. The indigenous artists from throughout Atlantic Canada all returned to their respective communities, carrying home new skills, techniques, and information to share with others.