Manitoulin Island, Ontario.
Community Gathering Circle
On Thursday, January 27, 2022, individuals came together over Zoom to speak to the needs of Indigenous artists regarding creative spaces in communities across Manitoulin Island and its surrounding northern communities. The Community Gathering was hosted by Lynda Trudeau, General Manager of Debajehmujig Storytellers, who invited Indigenous artists and community members from northern Ontario into the Gathering Circle.
About Debajehmujig Storytellers
Debajehmujig Storytellers is a professional theatre company located on reserve in Wiikwemkoong, Ontario, with their Creation Centre in Manitowaning, Ontario. ‘De-ba-jeh-mu-jig’ translates to ‘storytellers’ from the Ojibwe and Cree languages. The core of Debajehmujig’s work stems from the creation of unique productions and support for community events in Wiikwemkoong and Manitowaning, such as the Wiikwemkoong Arts and Music Festival, and the Six Foot Festival. Their Cultural Arts Animator Program is another foundational part of Debajehmujig’s work, being a multi-disciplinary arts program dedicated to providing young artists with artistic skills and knowledge based in foundational Anishinaabe teachings.
An image of Debajehmujig’s Creation Centre.
Beginning the conversation
Lynda Trudeau began the conversation by posing several questions to the Gathering Circle around defining “creative space.” The Circle understood that creative spaces can be anywhere where an artist wants to create, and that a creative space can come into existence based on artist’s needs. Questions around safe spaces for Indigenous artists and community members’ need for space access, and sustainability were also addressed.
Access and transportation to creative spaces
There is a need for increased access to Indigenous creative spaces with a reliable transit system. It can be dangerous traveling alone by bike or by car in the dark among natural wildlife in Manitoulin Island, and a reliable transit solution can alleviate this issue. From the experiences of Debajehmujig staff in the Gathering Circle, it is difficult to arrange for transportation to Debajehmujig’s Creation Centre from reserves and other communities as there is no public transit system in place.
Physical, emotional, and spiritual safety
There is a need for emotionally, physically, and spiritually safe spaces. Organizations can support the emotional well-being of artists and staff with regular check-ins and establishing an emotionally supportive environment. Physical safety can be managed by ensuring the space’s security is in check, including door locks, key access, and security systems. Spiritual safe spaces nurture healing and ceremony for Indigenous artists and community members in all that they offer, be it through programming or activities in the space.
Temporary housing for artists
Temporary housing can support artists who need to live near the facility for an extended period of time. Debajehmujig owns and manages several apartments for artists. The Circle shared how providing accommodations to artists can bring them closer to their work.
Creative spaces as a means to come together
Indigenous creative spaces can bring communities together in different capacities: the Gathering Circle highlighted that Indigenous people in some surrounding northern communities feel isolated and disconnected in their own community. Having a central creative space for community to easily access can discourage a siloed way of thinking among artists and organizations.
Those who manage a space can also use traditional land-based teachings to environmentally sustain a creative space. It is important for the space to be linked to the land, where artists can access natural resources; the creative space lives in tandem with what the land provides. The Circle called for more strategies around environmentally sustainability and creative spaces. This interconnectedness with nature is often removed in urban settings, where there is a lack of natural land for the community to access.
There is a need for mentoring and training opportunities to support artists in northern Ontario communities, and the programming offered in a space can address this need. There are few training facilities based in traditional Indigenous knowledge and arts across Canada; it is important that these teachings continue and are included in the mandate of future Indigenous spaces. Developing programming to teach Indigenous artists, especially youth, multi-disciplinary creative skills can support their career path can serve the community in the long-term.