PSi #21 Fluid States - Canada, Post Cards from Performing Turtle Island, by Anne Smith, Canada Correspondent


Post Cards:

Performing Turtle Island

by Anne Smith

1 October 2015

PSi#21 Fluid States – Canada: Performing Turtle Island


The Performing Turtle Island Conference was held September 17, 18, 19, 2015, conjointly at the University of Regina and the First Nations University of Canada, on adjoining campuses in Regina, Canada, located on Treaty Four land, of the Starblanket First Nation.  The name, “Turtle Island”, referring to North America, comes from the Iroquois Creation Story; Sky Woman falls to the ocean and the animals work together to make a place for her on the back of Turtle.  This story is shared by many Aboriginal peoples from the east coast woodlands of North America.  It is now a commonly used term by Aboriginal peoples across North America.

The conference has brought together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists and researchers who are exploring how idigeneity has been performed over the past four or so decades, how indigenous artists are expressing themselves now, at the beginning of the 21st Century, and how indigeneity will be performed in the coming decades. 

Where does Indigenous identity and community fit in to the construction of the country’s identity?  Indeed, what do we mean by Indigenous identity, and, given the proliferation of newcomers, what do we mean by Canadian identity?  In the face of growing international mobility and a radically changing Canadian demographic, it is important to take another look at how identity is constructed on Turtle Island within the ideational borders that designate Canada.

While we are concerned with traditional performance, we aim our focus more on contemporary forms that express Indigenous identities across diverse cultural and social contexts.  In this way, we hope to engage Indigenous theatre and performing arts through a multidisciplinary perspective that helps promote Indigenous cultures as valuable sources of knowledge and identity inclusiveness.  Performing Turtle Island Website

The art forms brought to the conference focus on theatre and written arts, visual and performance art, music, dance, film and video.  Indigenous performance is very often interdisciplinary and mixes traditional forms with contemporary forms. Video footage of the many live presentations and links to the films and videos will be made available to the Fluid States website.

Earlier this year, two theatre artists who have had a great influence in the Aboriginal community in Saskatchewan and Alberta, were tragically killed in a car accident.  The conference was dedicated to Michelle Sereda and Lacy Morin-Desjarlais.  Throughout the conference, many references to these women were made by local artists and the university community.

The collaborative nature of the conference, in its conception and realization, made for a rich tapestry of provocation from and for the artists and researchers who presented.  There is an awareness of the history of indigenous art and performance in Canada and that the its progress has been a long struggle both for support in the Aboriginal community from its political leadership and within the larger arts community in terms of funding, access, and visibility.  The practice of all art forms may be seen as “medicine” in bringing forth the creative spirit and healing from the legacy of the residential schools.  The removal of Aboriginal children from their families and incarceration in institutions – schools and TB hospitals - sometimes over four generations has had enormous impact on individuals, families and communities. There is also a tension between the colonial practice of elevating art and the Aboriginal practice of rooting art in community.  The strength of Aboriginal artists comes from their connection to the land and to their peoples. 

As local correspondent, I am sending postcards of the events of the conference, with photos and short video excerpts. 


Annie Smith

Theatre Artist and Researcher

Please view Anne Smith's Postcards here.

Copyright –  Anne Smith  (2015) “Post Cards: Performing Turtle Island”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available

For more information from Performing Turtle Island please visit ...

Tags: Community and Performance  Daily Life Daily Rituals and Performance   History Tradition and Performance  Identities Bodies Corporealities in Performance   Indigeneity and Performance  Performance Studies in the Americas   

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