Undercurrents festival has for two years now included events with Indigenous creators and stories. Last year’s Indigenous Performance Reaching Critical Mass one-off panel celebrated the NAC’s decision to expand its mandate to include an Aboriginal theatre stream along side it’s French and English departments, while also reminding us that there is still and always will be more work to do. This year, the festival features a regular event Indigenous Walks, a guided walking tour of downtown Ottawa through Indigenous eyes.
The tour departs from the Arts Court Theatre Lobby at the scheduled show time, and takes participants outside, across the canal, through the Chateau Laurier, and down to Confederation Park. Our guide told us stories about her parents attending the celebration following the day that the first Indigenous Silver Cross Mother laid a wreath on Remembrance Day. She told us about the Indigenous artists whose work is for sale at the Chateau gift shop, and at the NGC. From a vantage above the Rideau Canal, I learned that the Museum of Civilization was designed by Joseph Cardinal, an Indigenous architect. So despite the fact that I’ve lived in Ottawa for a long time, I discovered a new layer of significance and stories to the land and city.
I am glad that I went on this walk. That said, there are some areas that I think the experience could be stronger. This tour seems to be a step in the direction of centering our present culture on the historical relations of Indigenous and Settler peoples. In order to accomplish that, we learn a lot of facts about the people responsible for various decisions and how those decisions negatively impacted Indigenous peoples. I wished for more specific stories about how individual Indigenous people had been affected by settler culture’s blatant oppression. For example, in the tour, we learn about the significance of Victoria Island to Indigenous people, and how it was used as a trading and resting place on their canoe routes for thousands of years. We never hear about what Victoria Island is to Indigenous people in the recent past, or about how its traditional use has ceased (if it has ceased) or continued (if it has continued in any respect). Learning more details about these sites, and the stories that take place in them would have made the facts more real and present for me.
I acknowledge that is not my place to tell Indigenous people how they ought to represent themselves and their stories. I am not attempting to do that. I am merely stating my feeling that this tour is a celebration of the steps that have been taken in the recent past in the direction of reconciliation between Indigenous and Colonist peoples. It did not put a lot of focus on the continued oppression of Indigenous peoples and the long road that still lies ahead of us as we work collectively to enable Indigenous people to reassert their sovereignty and rights.