A person from Alaska, raised in Edinburgh, finds a CanadaHub program in a coffee shop and flips it open to a page about a group of indigenous artists from Canada who are presenting work at the Fringe. She takes a chance, shows up in the CanadaHub beer gardens and we all think she’s someone’s family, or someone’s friend, until she opens her mouth and we are all awestruck by an Inuk with a Scottish accent. She took us to Sandy Bells, and as a folk band played in the back, we taught her all the ways in which we are a family, that there isn’t a “her” and “us”, that now there is only a “we”. She taught us local swears and about her version of home. Tucked away behind the ancient fiddles and posters of local legends on the walls, hangs a bodhrán. Looking like a moon, like our drums where we are from.
Patti is leaving Summerhall one day and sees someone she thinks she must know. But this person is a Cree girl who was raised in Scotland by parents who were hoping to avoid a life of residential schools, of systematic interference. She was raised as an Italian. I imagine them sighing, like i do when i think of all the things that could have happened the other way, preventing them from a moment like this. A halfway point moment, a reminder of some kind.
Me, a mixed race Anishinaabekwe, who can’t figure out what my Ojibwe Father considered homelands because he lived through a tragic blur of displacement. I touch down in Edinburgh for the first time, and right from the airport drive through Christorphine, the neighbourhood my Grandmother grew up in before fleeing to Canada during World War Two. A new kind of homeland to explore that I had been ignoring until now.
Four girls, emerging artists, from the plains, the ocean, the city, strangers to one another except for the skype meetings and countless emails in preparation for August, are put together into an apartment on Marchmont. They don’t have a living room, so they meet in the hallway to laugh, to snack, to cry, to fix each others beadwork, talk about what to wear. That hallway is sacred, I imagine them making a pilgrimage to that hallway every August, to combine their powers once again so they can continue to take over the world. A dusting of the flyers of yesteryear embedded in the carpet.
Those same girls go to a party, it’s late, it’s raining. Quick! Make friends with the angels in all black, Patron Saints of Hunger Induced Exhaustion, “too busy, forgot to eat-got lost, didn’t have time-late for a show, I’ll find something after”. Trays of free venison sliders and fish sticks like beacons for our dwindling post-exchange rate per diems (“bring tupperware to all the parties, fill it up”, I can hear my Mom’s voice in my head). It’s hot. The bottomless chardonnay begins to make one face in a suit look just like all the others, but in a fun way that we laugh about. It’s not a big deal, we may not remember them, but how could they forget us?
Searching for a moment, some cool air, sitting on a stoop outside, a voice yells across a group of people to compliment Tai’s earrings. Behind a cloud of smoke and a crown of curls we see two women, we’ve never met them but we fall into each other’s arms. We all talk over each other but the sentiment is the same, “so glad to have found you here”. They drag us inside and introduce us to meet their castmates, their family, and just like that we’ve found our kin from down under, from the other side of the world, and here we all are.
We tuck into a tiny theatre that feels like a lecture hall, we are aware we are in for a party because we’ve already been here once before, just had to come back. We heckle the quartet onstage, but out of love. They sing in their language, they promise to the audience only one colonialism joke tonight, but we scream for more. We toast the Aboriginal comedian on stage who is their guest when she lovingly jokes about her Father: “cheers to one white parent!”. The audience mostly glares at us, but for all we know this show is just for us.
We all ended up here, writers, actors, dancers, producers, directors, designers, hailing from all across Turtle Island*, the earth. We find each other on stage, on posters, the radio, walking the streets, finding each other at parties. We all ended up here to find one another. Edinburgh in August, a month long possibility.
When my brain begins to deteriorate from a diet of spon con Pop Chips, two pound Sainsbury’s sandwiches and late nights due to a fear of missing ‘the big connection’, these people had me.
A hand reaching out to grab mine behind a chair after a long day. A little gossip, the kind that could keep you from making a terrible decision. Disrupting the peace with full belly auntie laughs backstage. Someone your senior picking up your tab. An “I see you”. Seeing all of this and banking it for when it’s my turn to do the same. The one perfect review that makes me weep. The first bad review, and it being victoriously perfect.
Extending my family, one chance encounter at a time. It’s all my relations.
- Sage Nokomis Wright
*Turtle Island is the name used by Indigenous people in Canada to refer to the continent. In various Indigenous origin stories, the turtle is said to support the world, and is an icon of life itself.
About Indigenous Contemporary Scene
Indigenous Contemporary Scene (ICS) is a nomadic platform for the presentation of live arts, fostering dialogue and creative exchange between artists and communities. Founded by Onishka in 2016, ICS amplifies the voices of Indigenous artists internationally.
In 2019, ICS brought a group of Indigenous artists from across Kanata* to Edinburgh to present a program of live arts across the city's famous arts festivals. Onishka and O’Kaadenigan Wiingashk Collective joined forces to co-present stellar performances and creative conversations as ICS Scotland, amplifying the voices of Indigenous artists internationally and creating spaces for generative dialogue between artists and communities.
*Kanata-Before Canada, there was Kanata. The Haudenosaunee word for village, Kanata became Canada through the colonial process of dispossession of Indigenous lands, identity and language.