November 11, 2019

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New name, but same spirit behind Indigenous festival

Last spring, Aboriginal Music Week adopted a new name: the Sākihiwē Festival.

There are a few reasons for the title change; the first is the organizers at Aboriginal Music Manitoba were feeling the strain of putting on a week-long festival, and decided it was in everyone’s best interest to reduce it to three days. Thus, a "music week" was no longer a fitting description.

Panniqtuq, Nunavut, songstress Riit is one of 21 acts. (Jen Squires photo)

Panniqtuq, Nunavut, songstress Riit is one of 21 acts. (Jen Squires photo)

The second reason?

"It was a name that didn’t limit us in any sense, whether that’s in music or the discipline of arts we’re working with, and also just something that we could use to normalize Indigenous languages within the community here in Winnipeg," festival director Alan Greyeyes says, adding there isn’t a pronunciation guide on their website, as sākihiwē is a Cree word (meaning "love another") and has different pronunciations in different dialects of the language.

Bear Witness (Matt Barnes photo)

Bear Witness (Matt Barnes photo)

This year marks the 10th edition of the festival, celebrated the third weekend in June each year, and though Sākihiwē has evolved a lot during the past decade, the core of what the event was meant to be has remained the same: it’s all about engagement with young Indigenous audiences to encourage them to get involved in the arts.

"Our organization is quite young, and what we’ve wanted to do since the beginning is take music to kids so they feel like they can have an impact through the arts. So we’ve tested multiple ideas over the years, working with different partners, really trying the best ways to reach these kids. And so it’s evolved from a centralized festival like the jazz fest... now, we take these musicians out to these families, they don’t have to sacrifice personal safety, or their family commitments, or really spend much money to get out there," Greyeyes says.

Iqaluit-based band Arctic Song. (Supplied photo)

Iqaluit-based band Arctic Song. (Supplied photo)

"It’s something we feel strongly about, has some impact on the community and makes it easier for these kids to realize what they can accomplish through the arts as well."

This year’s festival features 21 Indigenous acts performing at one of five locations. Artists on the bill include local favourites Don Amero and Leonard Sumner, as well as a host of out-of-towners such as: Panniqtuq, Nunavut, electronic/folk songstress Riit; Quebec singer-songwriter Shauit, who performs in English, French and Innu-aimun; and Iqaluit-based band Arctic Song.

"Our festival is a little different in that we don’t have huge headliners... We’re really a launch pad for younger or less-developed artists," Greyeyes says.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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