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Olivia C. Davies, Sophie Dow, & Samantha Sutherland. Photo via Peterborough & The Kawarthas

Zaagi’idiwin: Our Mother Heart Comes to Trent University

Written by
Abbigale Kernya
and
and
November 5, 2023
Zaagi’idiwin: Our Mother Heart Comes to Trent University
Olivia C. Davies, Sophie Dow, & Samantha Sutherland. Photo via Peterborough & The Kawarthas

On the evening of November 3rd, Nozhem First Peoples Performance Space held Zaagi’idiwin: Our Mother Heart with performances by Samantha Sutherland and Sophie Dow, co-presented by Nozhem First Peoples Performance Space, O.Dela Arts, and Public Energy Performing Arts.

Our Mothering Heart centers around stories of love and loss, highlighting three womxn’s experiences reflecting on “the Mothers who carry us, the Mothers who raise us, and the MotherLand and Mother tongue that nourish us and fill our hearts full of hope.” 

Olivia C. Davies who brought the night’s performers together is the founding Artistic Director of O.Dela Arts, with Sophie Dow and Samantha Sutherland as O.Dela Arts Artistic Associates.  

The event ran for 50 minutes, with three performances, a talkback, and a dinner reception held afterward. 

The first performance, Rematriate XX23 was originally created by Olivia C. Davies in 2018, but performed and interpreted by Samantha Sutherland. This performance focused on a return to Contemporary Indigenous feminism in response to the vapid disconnect of an increasingly technological world. 

In a stunning display of empowerment through the exhaustive struggle to break the mould of today’s restraints, Sutherland set the tone for the evening’s performances with a transformational demonstration of connectivity to the Earth, and the strength of femininity.  

Sophie Dow performed next with Journals of Adoption, a spoken word performance detailing her mother’s decision to give Sophie up for adoption as an infant, and her discovery of her mother’s journals at nineteen inspiring an incredibly moving and powerful display of maternal love transcending physical boundaries. 

“In my heart I know I love you,” read Dow during her performance.

Sophie Dow performing Journals of Adoption. Photo by Chris Randle.

The performance saw Dow reenact her mother’s pregnancy through conception to birth, then to Dow as she came into adulthood—finding connectedness in her identity as an Indigenous woman and as a daughter to two families, and a healing journey while Dow narrated her mother’s journal over her performance. 

Sutherland closed the evening with a final performance titled Slip Away, a story demonstrating her struggle to learn the Ktunaxa language which is at risk of disappearing. The solo featured sound bites from Sutherland and her grandmother as Sutherland began to learn her language. In an incredible scene, Sutherland and her grandmother were heard conversing in fluent Ktunaxa which was emphasized at the height of Sutherland’s dance performance. The scene detailed a beautiful sense of hope and the important preservation of language. 

I caught up with Dow and Sutherland during the dinner reception and asked them about their connection to physical movement as an avenue for storytelling.

“I mean, for both of us, we've both grown up dancing, so it was kind of our first opportunity to work on storytelling and share stories in that way. For me, it's just that stories are so much bigger than what my mouth can do, and what my thoughts can do, and what my brain can do. And so it's an opportunity for me to get these things that are stuck inside of me, and it really gives me a chance to get really far into it. There's only so much the brain can do. Like there's only so much talk therapy can do, there's only so much we can tell verbally and through oral tradition. And I know that there's a lot of oral tradition that is told physically as well. For example, I was doing a little bit of jigging in there and there's so many stories attached to your traditional image of Michif and Metis dancing and so to weave that into the whole mix and layer it into the body—the body is so much, so much more. So I think that's why,” said Dow.

Sutherland shared the same sentiment, sharing the impact of her classical dance background in sharing Indigenous stories. 

 “Yeah, I feel that. I also came from a very classical dance contemporary background, and that has now been seeped in Indigenous performance and Indigenous values. And, and a big part of that is storytelling, where I think that's not always a big part of like, contemporary dance. But that's where I think it was almost like a dream for me to be able to bring a story to dance, and not just do combs on stage like I can actually put a purpose to the movement and not just make it look cool and look good. It gives it way more substance. And like, it's more interesting to me as a choreographer and as a performer.”

She also relayed to me and fellow Arthur journalist, Abbigail Lewis-Maher, who joined me for the performance, on how this helped her convey the story behind her final performance Slip Away.

“Like I said, I've been learning a language for three years and it's been really fun to learn. But it's also very scary. That's a very hard language to learn. And I constantly put myself down, I tell myself, I’m not learning enough, or I should be doing more. That's where kind of like the fear and anxiety came into the piece. And also to the passing of elders means the passing of speakers. So, that chance to like to learn kind of disappears. I wanted to share the joy of both language, but also, that it was not always super fun, but at least it scares me as well to take on the task,” she said.

The pair also spoke on the emergence of contemporary Indigenous dance and how they are sharing it with the community.

“Olivia started chairing a workshop called Introduction to Contemporary Indigenous Dance Form so that we can share with dance educators and other students and so on. And we sort of started taking on some of those classes a little bit. And one of the components of that is definitions because what the heck is contemporary Indigenous dance forms, right? It's something that we're always trying to figure out in terms of our own traditions and our Elders talking about, ‘Oh, you have to stick to tradition,’ it's got a real chord, but it has to evolve but it has to stay true, how do you do that? So one of the components of that is storytelling through the body,” said Dow.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Retraction (November 15, 2023): A portion of this event featured a talk-back Q & A circle which was reported on in the initial publication. After being made aware of the miscommunication surrounding the nature of the talk-back circle, it has been retracted to respect the performers' privacy.

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