Since its beginning in 2002, the New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts has brought together in a public forum individuals from various First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities, as well as from the non-Native community. Presenters have included those with expertise in photography, painting, sculpture, film making, acting, musical performance, curating, arts education, literature and the culinary arts. Themes such as “healing through the arts,” “transforming traditions,” “engaging authenticity”, and “inspiring resilience” have been explored in a collegial and communal atmosphere that encourages dialogue on important cultural and artistic issues. The conference honours, and seeks to raise public awareness of individuals whose work affirms contemporary Aboriginal experience and contributes to increased cross-cultural understanding. All conference presentations have been videotaped and archived on DVD in the Carleton University Library.
New Sun: Continuing the legacy of her father, who was given the honorary name of “Old Sun” in 1962 by the Blackfoot Nation in Alberta, Joy Maclaren was given the name “New Sun” in 1995 by elders from the Blackfoot, Mohawk and Ojibwa nations at a special naming ceremony at Carleton University, to recognize her commitment to promoting Aboriginal culture and education across Canada. In 2011 she was made a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of her philanthropy and ongoing support of post-secondary education.
Allan J. Ryan was appointed as the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture in 2001. The first of its kind in Canada, the Chair is situated in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton. It was made possible through the support of the New Sun Fund, administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa.
This is Anfield
There are not many things that would induce me to leave the house on a Saturday morning when my two favourite football teams (Liverpool and Arsenal) are playing each other, but the annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts is certainly one. The first Saturday in March has long since become a fixed point of reference in my annual calendar.
“Conference” is perhaps the wrong word. Each year, the event organizer, Allan Ryan, invites wonderful individuals who have achieved something remarkable in some field of the arts, and invariably they have a compelling story to tell. He promises that we shall be entertained, enlightened, challenged, surprised, and above all inspired – and he never fails to deliver! I have never made it through the day without being moved to tears at least once.
This year’s speakers were, to put it simply, awesome. I was certainly surprised, impressed, and challenged by the very simple message of John Kim Bell, pianist, composer, conductor, consultant, and founder of the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards. He argued that indigenous peoples must overcome what he called the “culture of victimization”, and proposed that the arts could be a vehicle for transformation to a “culture of success”. In his view, we need to be more concerned with where we are going, rather than where we have been. As an historian, I am not sure that I agree completely. We need to understand the past in order to understand the present, and then to avoid the same mistakes in creating our future. But I agree that we shouldn’t be imprisoned by our pasts, be they individual or collective. Healing must take place or else there is no future. And I can think of no better role model for someone who has dreamed big, and then transformed those dreams into a reality.
But the show was “stolen” completely by Stephen Leafloor (a Carleton graduate!) and his BluePrintForLife hip hop troupe. This amazing group of individuals offers intensive but transformative social programs for First Nations and Inuit youth, programs which combine traditional cultural elements, for example Inuit throat singing, with the global culture of hip hop. Sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it … but believe me it works! The passion and energy which Stephen (a.k.a. Buddha), Creeasian, Evie Mark, and the others brought to their performance had us all aching to get up and dance; and Stephen brought those same elements to his talk later in the afternoon when he spoke eloquently about his work to overcome the social ills which afflict modern youth: bullying, physical and sexual abuse, discrimination, despair, suicide. In her morning presentation, documentary filmmaker Christine Welsh had posed the question “What does hope look like?” Well, there are now about 200 of us who know the answer: it looks like a group who operate under the name BluePrintForLife . Check them out at http://blueprintforlife.ca
In his introduction to the event, Allan Ryan spoke of the sense of community, the “New Sun community”, which has developed over the past decade. And it is the opportunity to be a part of that community that is perhaps the thing that I value the most about this very special day. On most days of the year, life seems like a roller coaster that is speeding out of control. But there is always one Saturday in early March when the “New Sun community” comes together, to celebrate our humanity and be thankful together, to dissipate the rage and to heal, and to express our collective hope for a future that will help overcome the memory of the past.
“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone”