Admittedly I was not super looking forward to a walking tour in this frigid hell we call the Capital City; however, Indigenous Walks marks an almost necessary experience for any individual in Ottawa- local or otherwise. Taking us around the Byward Market, our guide (re)introduced us to many Indigenous artworks seemingly hidden in the area and re-contextualizes our idea of Canadian history and Canadian art. Though it ends a bit abruptly, this is such a lovely experience and I really recommend taking part.
First off, I want to note that even though the program states that the tour is 120 minutes, it is, in fact, just over an hour. I imagine they have built in some extra time for questions, larger groups, rest stops during colder days etc; so, try not to be too thrown off by the idea of being outside for 2 hours. And, of course, you are almost constantly moving so the tour does it’s job of keeping your blood pumping.
Indigenous Walks is a nice supplement to the other live stage performances in Arts Court Theatre. It gets you out of the space and encourages you to adopt a new perspective about what you’ve been taught about Indigenous art history- which, I’m going to go out on a limb here, is probably fairly miniscule. For example, we learned about how the art of the West Coast Indigenous peoples was regularly stolen from them and proliferated for mass profit while disregarding the pieces’ oftentimes symbolic nature.
One story that stuck with me was the experience of one family who had to hide a ceremonial mask in the walls of their home for over 20 years because it was constantly under threat of being looted from them. So, when White People feel the need to ask why wearing a headdress is such a big deal, we should remind them that we, as white colonists, have never had to be afraid that our artistic practices and ceremonial garb were going to be literally stolen out of our very hands at any moment.
It’s difficult to review this as a piece of theatre because it’s really not a theatrical event, in the traditional sense. It is more or less a walking tour that allows its Indigenous creator-guides to reclaim their history while simultaneously having 100% control over their narrative while imparting this knowledge on their spectators. This, I feel, is the most important and necessary aspect to this work.
I will say that the tour seems to end rather abruptly on St. Patrick Street in front of the Valade House which, for those who don’t know (I sure didn’t), at one point in time housed Dr. Francois Xavier Valade, one of the physicians who declared Louis Riel mentally stable before his infamous 1885 trial. This is the last stop on the tour which feels a bit odd given that the majority of the tour is focused around visual art and sculptures.
Since the tour does not technically return to Arts Court Theatre, you are pretty much left to your own devices at this point. This seems a little worrisome for anyone who isn’t an Ottawa local as I, personally, would feel rather lost and perhaps unsure of where to go next; and at the same time, feels a bit like a missed opportunity for the benefit of the undercurrents festival as a whole. What I mean by this last part is that, as fate would have it, we had an individual who decided to join in on the tour while we were at our second or third stop. Had the tour circled back to Arts Court and wrapped up there instead, that particular individual could have been inspired to attend the rest of the festival.
That being said, Indigenous Walks is a truly enjoyable and enlightening experience that stimulates your brain while keeping your body moving.
Created by Jamie Koebel
Guided by Jamie Koebel, Alannis King, and Jennifer David