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 is often overlooked: the human resource. Today human beings are more connected than ever before and yet we still fail to communicate. Many groups don’t have visibility in the public and when they are finally recognized, there is a barrier of stereotypes and stigma which makes connecting with them even harder. In the midst of all this is a simple solution that 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 addresses these two themes shall premier. Wisakedjak employs indigenous narrative to tell the story of the original Anishinaabe man, Nanabozho, who wakes up homeless to find his home has been replaced with unfamiliar structures and that nobody recognizes him. Isolated and unknown, he journeys back in time to confront Samuel de Champlain and recover his history and connection to his homeland.

First 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 performance. King had worked on numerous indigenous projects prior to this such as If Jesus met Nanabush and The heart Dweller, and 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 stays 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 has 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, regardless of gender, race, or status.

The late Grandfather William Commanda, former chief of the Kitigan Zibi community, is the inspiration for the play. 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 form a performance that promises to be “part ritual, part ceremony, with lots of humour, and a captivating story of the Anishinaabeg people.”

Every audience member will take something different from the performance. With a rich storyline complimented with dance and live music, Wisakedjak is definitely a cultural experience that cannot be missed.

The performance will be premiering at the Market Hall on November 1 at 8pm. Tickets will be available online at markethall.org or the Markethall box office for $15 each. For more information please contact Elizabeth Fennell at publicenergymedia@gmail.com.


Photos by Elizabeth Fennell.