Looking to the Past to Heal the Problems of the Future


One of the biggest global crises in today’s rapidly developing world is sustainability. Between water pollution and global warming, the planet is gradually turning into an uninhabitable wasteland. Phrases such as “going green” are ineffectually thrown around while large companies continue to pollute water sources. But there is another equally important resource that it often overlooked: the human resource.

Today human beings are more connected than ever before, and yet we still fail to communicate. Many groups go without visibility in the public eye. When it is finally given, it is often attached to a stigma that make connection even harder. In the midst of all this a simple solution has often been overlooked: respect. Respect for oneself, others, and most importantly nature.

On November 1, at the Market Hall Performing Centre, an artistic piece that addressed these two themes premiered. Wisakedjak employs indigenous narrative to tell the story of the original Anishnaabe man, Wisakedjak (also known as Nanabozho), who wakes up to find his home has been replaced with unfamiliar structures and that no body recognizes him. He then travels back in time to confront Samuel de Champlain and recover his history and connection to his homeland.

champlainFirst conceptualized during the 2012 Ode’min Giizis Festival, Wisakedjak is as much an academic triumph as it is an artistic representation of modern day issues. It is based on Dr. Paula Sherman’s 2007 PhD dissertation chapters entitled “Wisakedjak and the Explorer/Colonizer”. Sherman joined forces with accomplished director Alanis King to co-write the script for the final perfomance. King has worked on numerous indigenous projects prior to this such as If Jesus met Nanabush and The Heart Dweller. She was able to use this experience to draw the story away from its more academic origins and adapt it to a more general audience.

However, Wisakedjak still holds true to it academic origins by raising some pretty thought-provoking questions about the effect of human choices on the environment.

Wisakedjak is a rich character packaged as the classic tragic hero. He battles to find balance between holding the power of spirit and the weakness of men while being encapsulated in a genderless human body. He also had the ability to communicate with animals and transform into any shape. In a play shrouded in symbolism, he is perhaps the most powerful symbol of all, representing the reciprocal nature of genuine communication and a connection to the animal and natural world that we all have, regardless of gender, race, or status.

This play is meant to be many things, but above all it is supposed to encourage a peaceful raising of voices for important issues. Few have embodied this mentality better than the inspiration for the play, the late Grandfather William Commanda, former chief of the Kitigan Zibi community. He travelled the world speaking about the importance of peace and all of the people on Earth coming together to solve the problems we face as a result of past human actions. He created the Circle of all Nations as a mechanism to make this happen.

When asked what she hoped the main feeling shared by the audience would be, Alanis King mentioned that she hoped that it would draw attention to the vitality of water and inspire the peaceful raising of voices that was so often encouraged by Grandfather William Commanda.

All these components combined to form a performance that promised to be “part ritual, part ceremony with lots of humour, a captivating story of the Anishinaabeg people,” and it did not disappoint. It was an amazing mix of passion, drama and comedy. This stellar performance was complimented by beautiful music composed and performed by cellist Cris Derksen.

Although the music was beautiful, the highlight of the night was the amazingly funny and sometimes tear-jerking monologue delivered by Cherish Violet Blood.

If there is anywhere I might fault the performance, it would be in choreography and stage design. Both could have been more clean and polished, and more attention should have been given to explaining the background of the performance. Other than that, I have no complaints. It was a magical night that was everything it promised to be.

It is a beautiful piece that calls out to all groups of people, regardless of their origin and, with a little more work and polish, Wisakedjak could become a great Canadian classic.