Born during the pandemic, Manaadjia is evolving. In December of 2022 I was awarded an Individual Artist Grant from First People’s Cultural Council grant to take the time to decolonize my creative process as I write stories and songs to be shared in a short one act show, with accompanying workshop. The vision I have is to support the next generation from my Métis community to embrace their identity and revitalize our people by writing new stories and songs. You can learn more about this creative journey on the blog.
A brief history of how I got to this point:
Working with a small creative team, before the pandemic, in 2020 I was engaged in supporting emerging urban Indigenous theatre makers on a theatre project called ‘Mother.’ Conceived by Lindsay Delaronde (Mohawk and my distant cousin) it was to offer reflections on our relationship to Mother Earth, and include pieces embracing the activism 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 deconstruct 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 owe him so much and a debt of gratitude for our explorations.
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 sister, Lindsay Delaronde, for her mentorship and collaboration on this vision. You can view it here. https://youtu.be/wfvAzDgfNyw
‘Mother’, a collective film project, was shared in October of 2021 at The Belfry with many of the artists in the house. My short film was shared with other video elements and songs, as part of the ‘Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival 34 in November of 2021.
And this journey couldn’t even have begun without Rene Meshake, who continues to share teachings, language and creative joy with me. And it couldn’t continue without his vision of what we can create together.
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.