Besides taking him around the world, Graham Thompson’s inter-cultural video and film projects have directly exposed him to the issues that threaten indigenous peoples in many countries. On Valentine’s Day 2005, at the start of a planned inter-cultural exchange sponsored by the Canadian Embassy in Manila, one of several bombs was detonated two blocks from Thompson’s hotel room. The bombings were what rebel group “Abu Sayyaf” called retribution for government assaults in the southern Philippines, a flash point of resistance since Spanish colonial efforts in the 1500s. In the bombings, 11 people were killed and 160 injured.
A member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia (of Cree and Scottish heritage), Thompson sought to share and explore his Aboriginal experiences closer to home when he directed the first Métis Media Fest in August of 2007 at Club SAW. The success of that effort led to an expanded 2008 festival that took place September 6 and 7. Guerilla asked Thompson to write about the development and success of his Métis Media Fest—an intriguing mix of age-old cultures and leading-edge technology.
by Graham Thompson
Métis Media Fest 2007 featured 50 videos, 25 digital images and 10 audio tracks from Aboriginal artists in Canada, the U.S., Australia, Peru, and the Philippines. The event was an immersive installation of computers and video displays, where excerpts of the works were shown on the main screens and unedited versions archived on the computers within the installation. Audiences gathered at tables in the darkened space, lit only buy the glow of 13 video displays, to view a collage of works that ranged from traditional to experimental.
This year’s festival followed a similar format, but the Aboriginal artists were all from the local region. The thrust this year was to explore social media and build a strong sense of local artists that belong to our growing Aboriginal urban population. The 50 videos depicted local fiddle players, jiggers, sculptors, painters, elders, lodge keepers, and poets.
Many of the videos were developed as collaborative projects, where I would interview local artists, elders, and writers in their studios, homes, or places of work. Often the artists would perform or otherwise share their work as we filmed. We developed 50 short videos ranging from one to 10 minutes in length, appropriate for viewing in an installation or on web sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and MétisFestival.com—the final destinations for the content after the festival.
Métis Media Fest is largely a social networking experience: people gather around computer nodes to compare choices and experience the work. In keeping with an informal Métis gathering where people of many cultures and traditions come together, the festivals unfold in “Indian time”—in unscripted fashion, without strict adherence to a fixed schedule. The festivals begin and end with the ebb and flow of its participants.
Inspired by the 400-year-old Métis society involving the Cree, Scottish, Ojibway, French and Saulteaux (to name only a few of the participants in the historic fur trade that shaped early Canada), the festival celebrates a unique culture that is a hybrid of European and Aboriginal civilizations.
The festival adheres to the Métis sense of adventure and innovation whereby European technology was adapted to the Canadian wilderness, leading to new forms of transportation, hunting, clothing, music, dance, art, and spirituality. Examples of such adaptation include the York boat, the Red River cart, the Métis buffalo hunt, flower design leather clothing, Métis fiddle music, and Métis dance known as jigging.
In further keeping with Métis tradition, the 2008 festival incorporated the traditional use of the circle (in this case, a ring of video displays) found in Aboriginal ceremonies such as the sweat lodge and the talking circle. The mix of technology included digital DVD players, hypertext interfaces, microcomputers, and video projectors.
Juxtaposition of technology and Aboriginal traditional knowledge is not unusual in today’s indigenous digital culture. In the remote southwestern edge of the Filipino archipelago, for example, the work of Aboriginal video artist Kanakan-Balintagos documents the most sacred rituals of his Palawan tribe in an effort to secure their ancestral domain claim in the Philippines.
In a sense, the Métis Media Fest was designed to incorporate traditional knowledge to help satisfy a growing need for spiritual unity on our shared planet. The experience of art seated in ancient tradition becomes a doorway to the experience the “oneness” of the universe—what Carl Jung described as the couplings of the inner subjective and the outer objective reality evolved through the influence of the archetypes, patterns inherent in the human psyche and shared by all of mankind.
The festival could not have happened without the generous support of Club SAW, SAW Video, the Government of Canada’s Canada Heritage Department, the City of Ottawa, P4 Social Venture Entrepreneurs, and Dakima Marketing and Communications of Ottawa.
Métis Media Fest 2008 depended heavily on volunteers for everything from video shoots to installation set-ups to internet marketing and has been blessed by supporters from Francophone, Aboriginal, Pakistani, East Indian, African, and Yemen communities in the local region.
Asifa Akbar, a lawyer from South Africa, captured the feeling: “I think it's great and so Canadian that we have people from such diverse backgrounds working on helping to preserve and promote one of the cultures unique to Canada, and that in effect spells out what it means to be Canadian.”
Some of the Ottawa-based artists featured in Métis Media Fest 2008
- Jaime Koebel, from Lac La Biche, Alberta, is a Métis dancer (jigger) with the dance group “Jig on the Fly.” As an MA candidate at the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University, Jaime has a strong focus on Aboriginal youth issues in the context of indigenous knowledge, arts, and culture.
- Raymond Girard, a Francophone composer and performer from Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, has performed on the Easter Seal Telethon on CBC and hosted numerous episodes of the line-dancing show “Dancer, Dancer” on Rogers Television. From his roots-music CD entitled Êtes-vous prêt pour, the “Lumber Jack” song has become the most-played Franco-Ontarian video on YouTube.
- Paul Brunneau, an Ojibway sculptor, has sold pieces to collectors in Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Bahamas, Germany, and the United States. His work has been featured on CTV’s Regional Contact, at the Muskoka Fine Arts Summer Show, and at the Stone Carver’s Show in Bancroft Ontario, where he exhibited a 4,000-pound piece made entirely of marble.
- Anita Tuharsky, a Métis poet from Regina, Saskatchewan, is often compared to Lily Tomlin for her use of humour to express the absurdities of life. For Tuharsky, “Problems are challenges are lessons are opportunities are gifts.”
- Willy Bruce, an artist of Anishinabe and Scottish descent, is a native veteran, a pipe carrier and a carrier of the Aboriginal Veterans’ Eagle Staff. Willy is currently lodge keeper at the Circle of Nations Learning Centre at Natural Resources Canada. His traditional works are conceived as vehicles for Aboriginal teachings.