August 19, 2017

cloudy

Winnipeg
31° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Northern stars shimmer in a Prairie sky

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Diyet, a performer from the Yukon, at The Forks on Northern Territories night on Wednesday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Diyet, a performer from the Yukon, at The Forks on Northern Territories night on Wednesday.

An hour after strumming her last song at The Forks' biggest stage, singer-songwriter Diyet stands underneath the dancing Canada Games flame. She looks around, soaking in the crisp wind and the buzz of a swelling crowd.

The party here is just getting started. Ever since the Games kicked off last week, The Forks has rocked with its official festival; almost every night until Aug. 12 will highlight music and culture from a different part of Canada.

Much of the top-billed sounds are familiar: there will be jam rock from Saskatchewan, country music from Alberta. Newfoundland and Labrador will be featured on Aug. 11, with a headlining set from Great Big Sea's Alan Doyle.

Yet this night, Wednesday night, is something different. On this night, the true North rules in the heart of Winnipeg.

It's early, yet. It's not even 7 p.m. Diyet, who makes her home in tiny Burwash Landing, a First Nation community of about 100 people on the shores of Yukon's jewel-blue Kluane Lake, was one of the first Northern artists on stage.

Sometimes, when she plays in the steel-and-glass cities huddled close to the 49th parallel, people ask her about the North. They'll ask if Yukon is part of the Northwest Territories (it isn't), or whether they have electricity there (they do).

So yeah, Diyet is many things: a Southern Tutchone woman from Kluane First Nation, a classically-trained singer, a songwriter with a heart for unvarnished stories. Like many northern musicians, she must be an ambassador, too.

"As soon as you leave the 60th parallel and you come down south, I find there's a lot of education that happens at a concert," Diyet says, and laughs. "Sometimes you take it for granted that people know what you're talking about.

"But sometimes they don't, at all."

So there is much to learn on this night, as artists from Northern regions gather. Across the field from where Diyet is standing, a crew of NWT youth leap and tumble, displaying traditional Inuit and Dene strength and agility games.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Youth ambassadors from the Northwest Territories participate in a demonstration of traditional games while at The Forks on the Northern Territories night on Wednesday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Youth ambassadors from the Northwest Territories participate in a demonstration of traditional games while at The Forks on the Northern Territories night on Wednesday.

Down the path, near a lemonade stand, there's a Nunavut tourism booth where visitors can have their name written in Inuktitut syllabics. Kids take the proferred name tag in wonder, touching the unfamiliar shapes with curious fingers.

This is before the night really gets going. It is before the Jerry Cans, a foot-stomping Iqaluit party band, whip up a frenzy; it is before the Dahkhka Kwaan dancers, a Tlingit and Athabascan group from Whitehorse, rule the stage.

And it is before genre-smashing Inuk star Tanya Tagaq transforms the night with an improvised set of electrified throat singing, a visceral performance so hypnotic that the ensuing fireworks are jarring, a spell-breaking intrusion.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Digawolf performs at The Forks on the Northern Territories night on Wednesday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Digawolf performs at The Forks on the Northern Territories night on Wednesday.

This is a crash course in the vibrant artistic life of the north. It's not often that most of Canada gets to see northern culture like this, collected and celebrated together; it's a fact that Dene chanteuse Leela Gilday will highlight later.

"I love the idea of featuring the northern territories in one evening," she says. "So many amazing performers."

It goes beyond just music. Canada proclaims itself a land of the North, though 99 per cent of its population has never been and will likely never go. The tales of the tundra and the northern boreal are not always featured down here.

So when Jerry Cans singer Nancy Mike tells the crowd how she was once scared of trees — she was 14 years old, the first time she saw one — it served as a gentle reminder of just how different experiences of Canadian life can be.

And in the thrum of the Dahkha Kwaan dancers' drums, in the otherworldly sounds that unfurl from Tagaq's throat, in the rolling Tlicho-language hooks from Yellowknife rock band Digawolf, there is another lesson to be learned, too.

"The North is progressive," Diyet says. "If you look at innovations and things that are happening, especially in relations with First Nations people and non-First Nation communities, the North definitely leads the way."

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Lorraine Gaudet, from St.Claude, Man., jumps rope with the youth ambassadors from the Northwest Territories at The Forks on Wednesday.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lorraine Gaudet, from St.Claude, Man., jumps rope with the youth ambassadors from the Northwest Territories at The Forks on Wednesday.

The value of all that cultural sharing runs both ways. At The Forks, young athletes from Yukon and NWT mill about the concert site, their laminate badges heavy with traded pins; they mingle with groups from B.C. and the East Coast.

Most provinces sent 300 athletes to these Games. The northern delegations are smaller than most, but nonetheless robust: there are 142 athletes from Yukon, 136 from the NWT. Nunavut sent eight athletes to Winnipeg, all wrestlers.

Many of these youth are fresh off last month's North American Indigenous Games in Toronto. Isolated by the vast terrain of the North, many young athletes there find a limited range of competition: this summer, they can revel in it.

Diyet, who ran track in high school, competed at the NAIG when she was 14 years old. It was the first time she'd ventured out of Yukon without her parents, and she remembers it as an eye-opening, life-changing experience.

"It was an incredible opportunity to see that the world is really big, and it's really diverse," she says. "All I had ever known was what was around me... So these kinds of events are really, really important."

The night is still young. On the field, a group of Canada Games athletes in bright blue Team Nova Scotia jackets try their hand at the Inuit games. They leap to kick at a seal-skin ball, come up short, and stumble back down laughing.

So alongside some upgraded facilities, maybe this too can be one of the legacies of the 2017 Canada Games: for one precious night in the heart of Winnipeg, the southern part of Canada soaked in the stories and life of the North.

Both, perhaps, came away linked just a little closer together: stories to be shared, a bond to be strengthened.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Melissa Martin.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Photo Store

Scroll down to load more

Top