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Indigenous youth inspired by Ryerson-led Creative Native arts program

Six Nations youth produce music festival Nov. 9 with Juno Award-winner Buffy Sainte-Marie
By: Lindsey Craig
November 05, 2019
Creative Native participants pose with program founder, Buffy Sainte-Marie, in front of a sign with a logo they designed

Creative Native participants pose with Buffy Sainte-Marie, standing in the middle row third from right. Thanks to the arts program, led by Ryerson University and Sainte-Marie, the group, from Six Nations, Ont., is producing a music festival in which they’ll take part in everything from the sound and lighting to the marketing and event program creation. Photo credit: Laura Heidenheim.

Youth in Six Nations, Ont., have a unique story to tell.

And on Nov. 9, thanks to a new arts program called Creative Native Project, they’ll have a chance to share that story in a music festival they produce, called “The Space Between.”

Ryerson’s FCAD, Sainte-Marie join forces

Launched in Six Nations this past summer by Ryerson University’s Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) and multiple Juno award-winning artist Buffy Sainte Marie, external link, the program was created to empower and inspire Indigenous youth in the field of creative arts and live production. 

“I was looking for a way to train and bring on board more Indigenous youth in the area of arts and live entertainment, and I hoped that with FCAD’s background as educational leaders in the creative industries, they would be the perfect partners with whom to collaborate,” said Sainte-Marie. 

Through Creative Native, Sainte-Marie and other well-known Indigenous artists work with First Nations communities, together with Ryerson faculty and students, to provide mentorship and training to Indigenous youth. 

“Creative Native is an exciting opportunity for young First Nations people and Ryerson students to become part of an ongoing, touring production crew,” said Lila Pine, director of Saagajiwe, external link, an Indigenous centre in FCAD, which was awarded more than $100,000 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Bell Media Fund and the Donner Canadian Foundation to support the project.

New skills in theatre, production, sound, lighting and more

Program participants – who sign up at no cost – learn new skills in workshops and training in theatre arts, curation and documentation techniques, along with learning about stage and gallery preparation, concert production and performing, sound, lighting, signage, publicity and hospitality.

The program culminates with a production created and produced by participants.

“In Indigenous communities, kids go through a lot very young…These kids need somewhere to let these experiences out.” -Connor Martin, Creative Native Project Manager who grew up in Six Nations

Program fills important gap

Creative Native Project Manager Connor Martin, who grew up in Six Nations and is a fourth-year student in Ryerson’s RTA School of Media, says the program fills an important gap.

“I find that in Indigenous communities, kids go through a lot very young…These kids need somewhere to let these experiences out,” she said.

Martin says that while Six Nations offers youth sport and recreation opportunities, kids don’t have the same exposure to arts-related activities and need more healthy outlets.

“You know, for a lot of us, our grandparents were in residential schools, and that trauma is still with us,” she said.

“One thing Buffy has said is that art is a form of medicine, it’s a healing practice, a form of expression. We wanted kids to speak through their art,” she explained.

‘The Space Between’ stems from their unique position in the world: while they face typical challenges of many teens and adolescents, they also face unique struggles as Indigenous people.

‘The Space Between’ reflects unique life experience

Roughly 20 youth, aged 13-26, are participating in the Six Nations program.

Martin says they could have chosen a production of any kind, from a fashion show to a theatrical production, and chose to put on a music festival.

The title, “The Space Between”, she explains, stems from their unique position in the world: while they face typical challenges of many teens and adolescents, they also face unique struggles as Indigenous people. 

“Since they aren’t immersed in either one of those sides completely, they’re in the space between,” Martin said.

DJ with powwow music

Performances at the upcoming event will include everything from folk music and spoken word artists to a DJ incorporating powwow music. And of course – a performance from Sainte-Marie and her band.

At the helm of everything, from sound and lighting to marketing, will be the Six Nations youth.

“Every Indigenous community has talented artists and musicians, but they never get the opportunity to be involved in actual professional events, and this opportunity will give them a chance to see this as a potential career path,” Sainte-Marie explained, adding that she hopes the program will “provide an on-ramp to Indigenous youth who are interested in developing a career in the arts.”

Creative Native workshops will continue in Six Nations until Nov. 10. The program hopes to expand to other Indigenous communities in Canada, with graduating youth mentoring participants in other Indigenous communities. The connection between Indigenous artists and grads will continue too, helping them as they build their future careers.

“Artists mentoring artists and youth mentoring youth is a unique Indigenous model that offers hope for a sustainable future,” said Pine.

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