Native Earth Performing Arts and
Legacy Story Overview
Native Earth & Aki Studio
Native Earth Performing Arts is based in Toronto, Ontario, and was founded by Artistic Directors Bunny Sicard and Denis Lacroix in 1982. Emerging from two large gatherings hosted by the Association of Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts (ANDPVA), Native Earth remains Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous theatre company.
Native Earth’s earliest works, from 1982 – 1986, were performed at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT), The Theatre Centre, as well as on various reserves. Their role in the community grew larger with every production, most notably in the mid-1990s with Almighty Voice and his Wife, Rez Sisters, and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. While Native Earth operated out of many different spaces, there was a need to secure a permanent location accessible to the community.
Native Earth’s Board of Directors chose to move the company to a permanent space at Artscape Daniels Spectrum. Here they established a black box performing art space, Aki Studio. It is a 120-seat black box space for performance, rehearsal, and creation. Aki Studio accommodates multiple artistic disciplines, including theatre, dance, music, and more.
The studio features a well-structured technical rig and backstage with two dressing rooms and laundry facilities. It is fully accessible, equipped with flexible seating and a wheelchair accessible washroom.
Native Earth Performing Arts today
Native Earth has collaborated with various independent performing arts organizations in recent years, including Cahoots Theatre Company, Obsidian Theatre Company, fu-GEN Theatre, the Musical Stage Company, Agokwe Collective, and Paper Canoe. Native Earth works collaboratively with local Indigenous organizations such as the Centre for Indigenous Theatre (CIT) as well as individual artists, ensuring that Aki Studio is always available for use.
Native Earth supports Indigenous artists on an international level as well through their Weesageechak Festival, an annual celebration of new and developing works from Indigenous artists across the world. Most recently, Weesageechak was presented online to adapt to the restrictions of COVID-19.
Legacy Story Circle
On Friday, December 17, 2021, 10 individuals came together virtually to speak, listen, and learn about the story of Native Earth. Seven members of the Legacy Story Circle included artists and staff of Native Earth who spoke the organization’s offerings to artists and community, challenges around “measures of success” from other organizations and funding bodies, and further development in relationship-building.
What Native Earth offers: collaboration with artists
The Legacy Story Circle spoke extensively to Native Earth’s support to artists and new works. Native Earth provides the time needed for artists to develop their stories and productions. Circle members expressed they felt a sense of belonging at Native Earth, supported with opportunities to collaborate with young writers.
Restrictive deadlines around performing arts training from a Western perspective conflicts with Indigenous perspectives and a self-determined process. The Circle expressed appreciation of the Western training they experienced, however they were uncomfortable with its rigidity as the training is deadline-driven and does not give enough space for artists to create.
Not meeting “the metrics”
Discussions around the challenges that Native Earth have faced, and continue to face, often came back to a discussion point of not meeting the “metrics of success” used by funders and organizations to determine the impact of an organization. Broadening the definition of “success,” as well as re-evaluating guidelines that measure impact in performing arts organizations, can better support Indigenous arts organizations like Native Earth.
An image of Aki Studio
Vision for the future
Conversations in the Legacy Story Circle focused on the needs of the organization and Indigenous artists in general; from training artists, to the future of Native Earth’s partnerships. There are very few Indigenous training institutions that mentor and train Indigenous artists in the performing arts across Canada. With more funding opportunities, Native Earth and other Indigenous performing arts organizations can address this need and provide more opportunities to Indigenous artists.
Relationship-building is essential to Native Earth’s work. To ensure they continue to build partnerships, the Legacy Story Circle suggested the organization can create an Advisory Cultural Circle who can steward new partnerships. The Advisory Cultural Circle could broaden Native Earth’s existing network and advise on the direction of the company.