Manaadjia was born from my time working with a small creative team, before the pandemic, in 2020. The project at that time involved working with emerging urban Indigenous theatre makers on a theatre project called ‘Mother.’ Conceived by Lindsay Delaronde (Mohawk) it was to offer reflections on our relationship to Mother Earth, and include pieces embracing the activisim needed to protect her. We were well into rehearsals when the pandemic arrived, and shut it all down. Realizing the live theatre version was not going to happen, and wanting to honour the work of these artists, the project pivoted (the pandemic word I hate to use, but it works) to a digital project. In the previous theatrical version, I was out of town for the performances, and was not going to be able to contribute a piece. I had been working with one of the team, Johnny Aitken, on using video, pre-recorded song from me, to realize the story I wanted to tell. He was to embody trickster and other characters to tell the story. When the show moved to digital, there was an invitation for me to contribute a piece. I opened myself up on my walks, to ask Creator and Mother Earth, about the story I was here to tell. What song needed to be sung? What arrived surprised me. While thinking about a very famous opera aria I had sung as a student, Ombra Mai Fu (an aria that celebrates a tree and its shade) a song from my ancestors peeked through. As I walked, I began to desconstruct the aria I knew so well. What revealed itself was a drum song that connected me to the trees, the cedar, the sweetness of their smell, and a message to remember they are my family. I got home after that walk and called Lindsay right away. Sang it to her, played her the voice track I had recorded on my walk, and told her the vision I had of this as a short film. It is a moment I will never forget. As a classically trained opera singer, it has been terrifying to sing drum songs and to approach my music through heart and cultural teachings, rather than my head and an idea of perfection. I have never felt like I was ‘Metis’ enough to do this. To trust what came. This song was my break through moment, where I realized I could walk in both worlds, with honour and respect. That I didn’t have to reject part of myself to do this. That the loss of my culture because of colonization, and the racism my family had endured that led them to hide our identity, was not a shame I should carry. This song was my moment to truly at home with who I am. What resulted is such a vulnerable offering. It holds my own deep personal sense of cultural loss and my joy at what I can now connect to and claim.
I’ve never produced anything like this as an artist. To express my heart on the land, through language and music I hear from Mother Earth, is transformational for my practice. Manaadjia was in workshop in August of 2021, on Mayne Island with Johnny Aitken. I continue to meet most weeks with Rene, to decolonize my process, and for us to share our knowledge of language, music and creativity as we create this new form.
My aria/drum song culminated in a short film- The Earth Sings, which shares the aria transformed into a traditional song, and is part of the digital offering ‘Mother’. My immense gratitude goes to my cousin and sacred sister, Lindsay Delarode, for her mentorship and collaboration on this vision.
‘Mother’, as a collective film project ,was shared in October of 2021 at The Belfry with many of the artists in the house. My short film will be shared next with other video elements and songs, to show my work in progress, as part of the ‘Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival 34 ‘https://www.nativeearth.ca/weesageechak/ in November of 2021.
I am continuing to vision this piece of reclamation of my lost culture and heritage, as an urban Indigenous Metis, and look forward to sharing its continued evolution as a digital and theatrical piece.
Johnny Aitken is an actor, scriptwriter, writer, carver, filmmaker, educator and activist. Johnny’s mixed
ancestry includes Coast Salish, Scottish, Haida and Hawaiian. Johnny, self identifies as a gay 2Spirit
First Nations Interdisciplinary Artist.
As a wood carver, Johnny’s highlight has been carving a twenty-foot figure called a Honouring Figure
which is based on a traditional Coast Salish Welcome Figure.
Johnny’s love of performing on stage began while dancing with Lynda Raino back in the 1980s in
Current projects include, the touring potential of a theatre production titled the Gift. The Gift is
based on Johnny’s challenging childhood and overcoming severe adversity. Johnny is currently
co-writing a series of children’s books with his friend Jess Willows which has a focus on
reconciliation and friendship. He is also of writing his first novel which explores his complicated
mixed lineage titled “Mixed-up!”.
Johnny also has an interest in heightening awareness on the topic of the disproportionate
number of missing and or murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans and 2spirit folks in Canada.
On this topic, he is currently working on his second short video utilizing the theme of ReDress
which was started by Jaime Black, Metis artist.
Johnny’s latest endeavor, “Fumbling towards Reconciliation”; is a project in collaboration with
Marie Weeks, a member of the Settler community. “Fumbling towards Reconciliation” explores
the possible ways for non-Indigenous people to work alongside Indigenous people towards
Johnny considers himself a cross cultural bridge builder, a lifetime occupation he takes very
seriously with a lot of humour!
An Ojibwe funky elder, visual and performing artist, award-winning author, storyteller, flute player, new media artist and a Recipient of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. He works to fuse Ojibwe and English words into his stories, poetry and spoken word performances, Rene communicates his Ojibwe spiritual heritage to the contemporary world. He was born in the railway town of Nakina in Northwestern Ontario and was raised by his Okomissan grandmother. His education includes: Anishinaabe oral tradition, language, arts and culture. Rene has a diploma in Graphic Design from Sheridan College and a certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers. Rene’s body of artwork, stories and his flute improvisations create a strong, expressive, and entertaining presentation for an ever-increasing audience. He also has an active on-line and performing presence as a Funky-Elder and his 'virtual' band, The Firebolt Ensemble.