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Coco —the film you didn’t know you needed this holiday season

Disney’s latest movie, in collaboration with Pixar Animations, is called Coco. This is a movie every child, and even every adult, should see. When walking into the theatre, I did not know what to expect. I’m a long time Pixar and Disney lover and generally find that their movies are good. It’s home to classics like Toy Story and the last Pixar movie I saw, Finding Dory. Last summer, there was Moana and I left the theatre full of pure happiness knowing such family-friendly movies are still out there.

When I decided to see Coco, I didn’t gather much from the trailer. I knew it was a movie based on the Mexican celebration for Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead. This historical holiday is based on Mexican heritage and can be traced back to Indigenous culture. It is a day where families gather and celebrate the memories of their loved ones who have passed away. Families visit graves and lay offerings and gifts to their ancestors. They also put up pictures of loved ones lost. This opportunity is to encourage the souls of their loved ones to visit.

Disney’s attempt to tackle such a historical topic in a manner that could be presented to children was bold and risky, but it paid off. The concept of death is not uncommon in Disney/ Pixar movies, but it has certainly never been highlighted in such a manner like the movie Coco.

This movie is about family traditions and values. Family dynamics in turn shape us more than we can imagine, even based on the practices of our ancestors. Without giving away too much, the story follows  a 12-year-old boy named Miguel Riviera, with his trusty side kick, a stray dog named Dante. They end up, through a series of mishaps, in the land of the dead where Miguel seeks the help of his great great grandfather. The land of the dead displayed in Coco is full of skeletons, bright lights, lots of music, lots of dancing, and lots of culture. Miguel has a love of music, but this is heavily frowned upon by his family based on the actions of his great great grandfather. Spanish music played a big part in the sounds of this movie, with original songs like Remember Me, performed by Benjamin Bratt, who played a famously ( dead) musical and film star, Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel’s musical idol. Other songs included The World Es Mi Familia and Un Poco Loco.

The role of Miguel was voiced by 12-year-old newcomer, Anthony Gonzalez. who delivered an energetic and heartwarming performance. Nothing, however beats the actual star, Coco, who is Miguel’s great grandmother. She deals with memory loss due to her age, but dreams of one day being reunited with her ‘papa’ who is now in the land of the dead.

If you decide to watch this movie, it wont be odd to start thinking about your own family ancestry and remembering your loved ones lost. Coco captures the heart and actual soul of what it means to value and pay respect to your family as generations go by.

Coco was released on November 22 and can be found at your local movie theatre. Have you seen Coco? Comment below

Backbone: dance performance inspired by the ‘spine’ of the Americas

Scores of people gathered into the dimly lit and hushed lower-theatre of Berkeley Street Theatre to see the latest production featured by the Canadian Stage, a not-for-profit contemporary theatre company. It was the opening night, on Nov. 3 of Red Sky Performance’s latest indigenous contemporary performance —Backbone. Nothing could have prepared me for the invoking performance that was presented before me.

In anticipation of the performance, I had a chat with Red Sky’s founder and artistic director, Sandra Laronde. Laronde was inspired to create Backbone using her indigenous beliefs based on the ‘spine of the Americas.’

” I wanted to show the ‘backbone’ of the Americas in dance and music, a rocky spine ( Rocky Mountains) that has life, circuitry, electricity, and impulses that are alive and dynamic—much like the human spine. For indigenous peoples, there is a strong connection between the earth’s backbone and a human one, we are inseparable.” Laronde said.

Laronde’s connection to indigenous culture and interest in indigenous mapping inspired the core of Backbone. Indigenous mapping sees the land as a live and spiritual space. Instead of seeing the mountains (Rockies and Andes) as divided by borders, as traditional western mapping does, Indigenous mapping marks it as a continuous fluid.  Many characteristics of Indigenous mapping lays respect to Mother Earth and speaks about the meaning of the land instead of naming an area after a person or a discoverer.

Laronde asked herself how she could translate this concept into movement? With a team of nine dancers and one live musician, Laronde partook in collaborative choreography training with Jera Wolfe, Ageer, and Thomas Fonua to create the contemporary aesthetic of Backbone that visually and audibly appeals to the viewers.

The sounds that accompanied the dancers movement on stage was crucial to create visuals and situations that allows your mind to imagine and feel the moment. In the opening sequence of Backbone, dancers present themselves as a spine, with each movement in cohesion with the cracking  and popping sounds of human bones. The spine coming to life, unfolding, separating, and eventually merging together again.

This stunning performance was only possible through the use of talented dancers using every bit of their intense training. On average, the dancers trained from 10 AM to 6PM, Monday to Saturday, their training is akin to a high-level athlete, with many training since childhood.

With music being such a big component to this performance, Laronde turned to percussionist and composer, Rick Sacks, a long-time collaborator with Red Sky. Sacks was the 10th, but most crucial performer on stage, delivering sounds to accompany the dancers.

“Most of the music was performed live except for about 10 ambient cues from a computer in a booth. Rick played and/or triggered all the music. He triggered sounds from an electronic drum set and an electronic MalletKAT. The composition is made vital by ornamentation and punctuation that he could change each night depending on the dancer’s movements and the energy of the performance. This could only be the result of a live performance— it keeps it spontaneous,” said Laronde

Backbone marks the third back-to-back Toronto premiere that Red Sky has had since August. This is also their first collaboration with Canadian Stage, where Red Sky will be in residence for two years — the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons. Red Sky Performance was founded in 2000 and for the past 17 years they have focused on highlighting different traditional areas of indigenous dance theatre and music in a contemporary form.

Backbone runs from Nov 2-12 at the Berkeley Street theatre in Toronto. Red Sky Performance has also been invited to perform Backbone at Live Art Dance in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Nov 17. they will tour to Europe and Asia in January and February 2018-19. For more information visit redskyperformance.com.

 

Are you watching the 2017 North American Indigenous Games?

The opening ceremony for the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games took place on July 16 and marked another milestone for the celebration of Indigenous culture and heritage in North America.  The opening parade was held at the Aviva Centre at York University in Toronto and featured Indigenous athletes from the various regions of Turtle Island.

Turtle Island is a reference to North America, based on an Indigenous story of creation. The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) is the largest gathering of Indigenous people in North America for the purpose of sports and cultural activities.

There are 14 core sports that will be featured during the games and they include: Archery, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball, Canoe, Golf , Lacrosse, Rifle Shooting, Soccer, Softball, Swimming, Wrestling, and Volleyball. There will be 13 participating teams from all  the provinces of Canada as well as 13 teams from the United States. The games offer an opportunity for Indigenous youth to showcase their athletic abilities in a series of competitions.

Youth aged 13-19 are eligible to take part in the games. There are expected to be over 5000 participants and over 2000 volunteers for the games. The activities will take place in Toronto and various locations within the GTA, and Six Nations of the Grand River. The games were founded in the early 1970s, but this is the first time in over 25 years that the games will be held in the Eastern Region of Canada.

Lacrosse is one of the 14 sports categories and holds special significance to Indigenous peoples. The game of lacrosse is a traditional game in Indigenous culture. It is often referred to as “The Medicine Game”  and it was believed to be a game gifted to the Indigenous peoples by the creator to encourage fun and active movements and the healing of people. The game is often played by the men in Indigenous culture and was used to train warriors and settle tribal disputes. However, the 2017 NAIG will proudly feature the women’s debut of box lacrosse with teams from six provinces in Canada.

The games will also host various cultural events to celebrate Indigenous heritage at York and McMaster University. The cultural festival is a week long celebration ending this weekend and the festival features Indigenous cuisine, craft, and nightly entertainment. All cultural events are free and open to the public. The festival is also a chance to showcase the award winning talents of Indigenous performers.

The games support Indigenous unity and is a chance to strengthen Indigenous bonds throughout the region. The games run from July 16-23 and will be broadcast via live stream on cbc.ca/sports and the events are free to attend and open to the public. For more information visit NAIG2017.

In Her Voice: reflecting on female writers

Looking for something to do this week? Head to the Scotiabank Community Studio to listen to a number of strong women speak about their experiences writing a variety of fiction and non-fiction works. The conversation promises to be stimulating and controversial, touching on a number of topics varying from the realities of writing and publishing to the struggles of Indigenous peoples in light of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

In Her Voice is a festival that runs from June 15th to June 17th and features three-days worth of talented and inspirational female voices. The event, hosted by independent bookstore Ben McNally Books, is designed to showcase various female identities and perspectives. Each author will be given the opportunity to discuss the themes of their latest works.

Here is the schedule:

June 15
7 p.m. – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The Fact of a Body Presentation.

June 16
7 p.m. – Durga Chew-Bose and Scaachi Koul, interviewed by Fariha Roisin.

June 17
12 p.m. – S.K. Ali, Cherie Dimaline, Jane Oxkowski. Young Adult Writers Presentation
2 p.m. – Patricia Lockwood. Priestdaddy Presentation.
4 p.m. – Myra Tait, Kiera Ladner. Surviving Canada Presentation.

For more information or to get tickets to these presentations, click here.

 

Do you have a favourite female author? Let us know in the comments below!

Can we now agree the appropriation prize was absurd?

It’s been a few weeks since the proposal of an appropriation prize destroyed a number of journalists’ careers. I’ve held my tongue this long because I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling. I also didn’t know if, as the editor of Women’s Post, this was an issue I should address. I am a white woman in an editor position after all.

As I followed the story and watched as writers and editors that I trust wrote on social media in support of an appropriation prize, my first thought was ‘how could they be so stupid’. I know they were frustrated and worried for their colleague, who had just been forced to resign his position, but I couldn’t believe they would go so far as to actually support the creation of an appropriation prize. I was disgusted at the thought, utterly confused as to their motives, and honestly embarrassed for my profession.

I asked one of our writers at Women’s Post — a woman of colour —if this was an issue she wanted to tackle. Her response surprised me. Feeling like a broken record after having written on appropriation and other PoC issues countless times before, she thought that it might make more sense for me to write it this time. “It would be one white person telling another white person what they’re doing is wrong in a relatable way, rather than a person of colour trying to reason – once again- that we’re not being over dramatic.”

It all started when Hal Niedzviecki, former editor of Write, said that people should be encouraged to imagine other people’s culture and identities. “I’d go so far as to say there should even be an award for doing so — the Appropriation prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.” Niedzviecki later said he didn’t think such a prize should actually exist. Maybe it really was an unfortunate and insensitive turn of phrase, but it was enough to get the rest of the media riled up.

Afterwards editors, journalists, and managers from big Canadian news publications pledged moral and financial support towards the creation of the appropriation prize on social media. Many of them have since been forced to resign or were reassigned to other positions.

The first question I had after reading this story is this: why any journalist, editor, or member of the press, would support such an idea in the first place?

Cultural appropriation is when someone adopts or uses elements of someone else’s culture to the detriment of that culture. This, of course, is an overly simplistic definition, but somehow even the root of cultural appropriation was lost as these editors jumped on the appropriation prize bandwagon, pledging money to make it a reality.

To be clear: No one is arguing that a white reporter, editor, or artist can’t learn about other cultures. No one is saying they can’t cover an issue that matters to a person of colour or take part in cultural activities with the intent of listening with earnest and broadening their horizons. But, the idea that these same people should be able to pretend to understand the trials and tribulations other cultures face on a daily basis is, frankly, absurd.

As a journalist, I pride myself on my ability to listen and learn. It’s actually what I love about my profession. Every day I get to learn something that I didn’t know before. But, there is a line between ‘learning’ and ‘understanding’.

Let’s take an example from last weekend, from when I attended a dream catcher workshop — quite the sensitive topic in the news right now. Is this cultural appropriation? Frankly, yes; however, I was taught by an Indigenous Ojibwe person. He explained what each element of the dream catcher meant, showed us some sacred objects, and taught us about his struggles as a young man from an Indigenous culture. It was fascinating and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

And yet, I would never claim to be able to write about those same experiences myself, pretending that after one afternoon I can interpret his struggles. I wouldn’t take the stories this Indigenous man told us and use them (or something similar) in my own work. And to the extreme, I wouldn’t buy a headdress at a festival because it looks ‘cool’ or dress up like Pocahontas on Halloween.

In the end, it’s about respecting what you know — and what you cannot begin to understand, despite the research you may have done. In a multicultural society like Canada, the voices of Indigenous people, people of colour, and other minorities are incredibly valuable, not just to the media, but to everyone who lives in this country — how can anyone support a “prize” that essentially eliminates it?

It’s time for a little honesty and a lot of reflection. The one positive consequence from this whole scenario is it opened up a necessary dialogue about the lack of diversity in newsrooms and forced people within the media to recognize their own faults. This is a good thing.

But, if so many high-profile people within the Canadian media think an appropriation prize is okay, there is a lot more educating to do. There are still people who think this is an issue of freedom of speech or that it’s some sort of racist endeavour against white people (which is complete bullshit).

The media, including Women’s Post, still has a lot to learn about cultural appropriation and why this kind of conversation is not okay. I urge all editors to reach out to other cultures for THEIR perspectives on stories that affect them. Allow people of different races, ethnicities, and religions to write freely in your publication so their voices and opinions can be heard.  Let’s not pretend that we know everything. This is about accepting there are issues we do not, and cannot, understand. As journalists, this should be second nature.

Appropriation is complex and I recognize that, for artists and journalists alike, it can become even more complicated. But, can we all agree the idea of a prize celebrating people for appropriating someone else’s culture is absurd, disrespectful, and just plain wrong?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Woman of the Week: Jennifer Flanagan

Jennifer Flanagan, co-founder and CEO of the non-profit Actua, was exposed to science and technology at a young age, more so than other young girls in her class. Her father and uncle were both engineers, and as she says, “kids that grow up with engineers or scientists as parents are typically the ones that pursue it themselves.”

Flanagan’s plan was to go to medical school, combine her love of science and her affinity for helping people into one career. But, all that changed when she saw a poster on the wall asking the following question: Do you want to start a science or engineering camp? Her answer was a resounding yes.

That small group of students started up a few camps locally, but soon the model spread nationally among engineering programs at different universities. As of 1994, the camps had a policy for gender parity, with an equal 50 per cent divide between girl and boy participants. “That was unheard of,” Flanagan said.  “It was controversial, amazing, and it worked.”

The programs became more popular, and eventually the students started to receive funding from university chairs and Industry Canada. And that’s how Actua was formed — a national charitable organization that engages young kids and marginalized communities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “We [engage] about 225,000 youth a year – that includes a huge focus on those underrepresented audiences, or the hardest to reach audience in Canada,” Flanagan explained. This includes a program called InSTEM, a customized, community-based educational program that engages First Nations, Metis, and Inuit youth, as well as a digital literacy program that transforms young people from passive consumers into real innovators capable of using and creating future technology.

Twenty-five years later, Flanagan is just as excited about her role in Actua as she was when she saw that poster on the wall. She says she has seen progress since the program went national.

“Big evidence of that progress is Actua,” she said. “When I first started doing this work, we had to convince people it was important. A summer camp was one thing, but no one saw the link to the future work force or economic development.”

More woman are getting involved in certain science, like medicine for example, but Flanagan says there is still a void in research and in technology-based industries. “Whether its health-based research that’s skewed because no women were involved — it affects research outcome. It’s really important to have those voices at the table. And so, that starts really early. Talking to girls – telling them that they can do science and we NEED them in science. We need to make sure women are designing the world of the future.”

Flanagan is working with a team on a special project meant to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary next year. Actua is building a “Maker Mobile”, a mobile workshop that will travel from one end of the country to the other in just over 18 months, stopping at schools and community centres along the way. “A maker space is a workshop that is filled with technology tools that allow you to build prototypes or allow you to build products,” Flanagan said. “We are celebrating past innovation by building skills for future innovation.”

The idea is to inspire young people to not only learn more about science and technology, but also to inspire them to innovate. The maker mobile will empower these young people and shift their attitudes. Too often, people tell kids to pay attention to math and science so they can do great things in the future, Flanagan explained. Instead, why not encourage them to do great things now?

“Today’s youth are incredible innovators already. They are amazing problem solvers and have natural abilities with science and technology.”

Flanagan’s passion often follows her outside of her work with Actua. She sits on the board of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization that has a wide mandate, which includes empowering women, helping them escape violent situations, and ending poverty.

“The work with the Canadian Women’s Foundation is so fundamental — doing work that is creating the first generation of women free of violence requires more passion. The work that we do, engage girls in science and technology goes far beyond knowing there is enough female participation in these subjects. It’s about raising confidence.”

Flanagan is also a finalist for the Social Change Award for the 2016 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards. She is reading a newly released book called “Girl Positive”, which tells the story of hundreds of girls across North America and finds out what they need, something Flanagan says is critical reading for parents and policy makers.

 

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