Arctic Arts Summit in Yukon to showcase Indigenous talent


They were still busy at the Yukon Arts Center in Whitehorse on Friday, putting together a new exhibit to coincide with next week’s Arctic Arts Summit.

The curators of ‘Tether’ – a central showcase of visual art at the three-day summit which begins Monday – were thrilled with the pieces they selected from collections across the country, now all brought together in one room.

“Many of these collections are often hidden away in warehouses, so it’s always wonderful to rekindle their energy in a new space,” said Heather Von Steinhagen, one of the exhibit’s four curators, all of whom are Indigenous.

The more than 50 works that make up “Tether” are also all from northern indigenous creators.

“When the artwork first appeared, it was just amazing,” said curator Teresa Vander Meer-Chassé.

“To have the opportunity to exhibit this work here, for the Yukon, for the Arctic Arts Summit delegates, to see how talented northern artists really are… We are so very proud to exhibit this work.

Next week, the Arctic Arts Summit will bring together creators, arts organizations, journalists and decision-makers from across the circumpolar North to mingle, listen or seek brains. There will be seminars, panel discussions, performances, films, music and artistic exploration. There may be wine and cheese.

Tether features more than 50 works, including paintings, tapestries, sculptures and more, all by Northern Indigenous artists. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Sophie Tremblay-Morissette, Yukon government arts manager and lead organizer of the summit, says the goal is “to create opportunities for circumpolar cooperation and collaboration.”

“We want to bring people together so they can exchange, share, experience – and hopefully a lot of good things can come out of it,” she said.

This will be the third Arctic Arts Summit. The first took place in Norway in 2017, and the second two years later in Finland. Whitehorse has been chosen to host the 2021 event, with the territorial government and the Canada Council for the Arts as official hosts. It was postponed to this year due to COVID-19.

Over 300 delegates are expected from across Canada, the United States, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. It will be one of the largest international gatherings in the North since before the pandemic.

Previous summits also included a Russian delegation, but they were not invited this time.

Many delegates will be government officials, including the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Sami Parliament, which represents the indigenous peoples of Scandinavia.

“People who can make decisions and change based on what they hear,” Tremblay-Morissette said.

But this time around, she says, the focus will be more on artists and creators.

Sophie Tremblay-Morissette, Arts Manager for the Government of Yukon, with some pieces from the government’s permanent collection. The exhibit in the main government building will be part of an art tour next week. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

“I have to say, we made a very conscious decision this time around to really focus on the voices of the artists. Like, they’ll take center stage. Indigenous voices in particular,” Tremblay-Morissette said.

This is partly reflected in the theme of this summit, which is about connections to the land, said coordinating producer Heather Igloliorte.

“We’re looking at this through a number of different lenses and different ways of approaching this theme,” Igloliorte said.

“That includes, of course, land, which is language and community, heritage and identity, Indigenous sovereignty, which includes both identification and self-determination. Climate, of course, so the environmental sustainability, but also access to land.”

It’s a big theme, she admits.

“We’re really excited to see it come together. There’s going to be so many different activities, programs and conversations.”

Indigenous voices will “take center stage” at the summit, said coordinating producer Heather Igloliorte. (John Einarson/CBC)

The summit will overlap and interact with another major showcase of Indigenous arts and culture in the Yukon – the annual Adäka Cultural Festival, which officially begins in Whitehorse on Wednesday, the final day of the Arctic Arts Summit. The Adäka Festival is another event that has effectively been suspended for the past two pandemic years, but is returning this year to mark its 10th anniversary.

“So we’re really, really excited about this year. We are also thrilled to welcome the world,” said Charlene Alexander, Executive Director of the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association and co-founder of Adäka.

She is particularly excited about a performance piece that will be presented at the Yukon Arts Center before the official opening of Adäka a few days later. It’s called dream rootsand it incorporates dance, drumming, music, theater and storytelling in what is described as “a performance journey by and about Yukon First Nations, from long ago in the future”.

The show was conceived by Yukon Aboriginal artists Alejandro Ronceria and Diyet van Lieshout, and Sunday’s show is a prelude to a tour of Yukon communities scheduled for later this year, followed by a national and international tour.

“If you think about the amazing talent we have here in the Yukon, and we have a lot of amazing up-and-coming artists. So it was really a platform to create mentorship training,” Alexander said.

“It’s like planting the seeds for the next generation of performing artists.”

Dakhká Khwáan dancers from the Yukon at the 2018 Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse. Adäka returns this year for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic and straddles the Arctic Arts Summit. (Max Leighton/CBC)

Indigenous youth, both from the Yukon and elsewhere in the North, will also participate in the Arts Summit as “Knowledge Keepers Next,” according to Igloliorte, using social media “to share their thoughts on the summit with the rest of the world. “.

The last two pandemic years have been particularly difficult for the arts industry, with regularly canceled shows, closed venues and difficult, if not impossible, face-to-face meetings and collaborations. The industry has been forced to adapt, but Tremblay-Morissette says it’s good to resume in-person meetings.

“That’s how you build relationships,” she said.

“Especially when you live in a time zone 12 o’clock away from someone…that’s a big step up, it’s someone early in the morning and someone else late at night.

“Coming together in Whitehorse means we can have conversations that would otherwise be very difficult.”