By Kelly Anne Smith
NIPISSING FIRST NATION – Aanmitaagzi’s Dances of Resistance is based out of Big Medicine Studio on Nipissing First Nation.
Co-director and choreographer Penny Couchie explains that Urban Vessel invited the dance troupe to take part in Singing River. Youth and community members make up the core of 10 principle dancers of Dances of Resistance which opened the Pan Am Path. The group also performed along with about 30 more performers in a larger show.
Couchie says their performance is about the shore of the Don River and features dragonflies and salmon eggs. “We are trying to draw attention to the water. It is important to protect the water. And to not give up.”
There have been ongoing efforts to restore the Don River since the 1960’s when it was deemed one of the world’s most polluted rivers. The Don is said to have the Anishnaabe name of Wonscotanach, meaning the river coming from the back burnt grounds associated with a forest fire.
“We will be speaking and singing that name, Wonscotanach, to the river. A piece of our performance centers on the affirmation of our responsibility to the river and the water and to the land.”
The Aanmitaagzi Summer Arts Program, a six intensive weeks in Aboriginal theatre arts, starts on their return to the Big Medicine Studio on Lake Nipissing, close to North Bay.
“This summer we will be talking to the youth about ancestry. We will ask: who are the people who have come before us. We will make connections to our past and find out the connections to who we are in the present and looking towards the future. Who do we want to be in the future?”
Couchie says that in the foundational years of Aanmitaagzi has been about building community through the arts. “We talked about facilitating the voice of other people. And creating a space where voices perhaps not being heard could come forward.”
She says Dances of Resistance was started in 2009 to have people really ask what our values are. “It was to spark initiative in activism and a movement towards social justice.”
Her piece When Will You Rage will be headlined at Harbourfront Centre’s Planet Indigenous in Toronto with the talents of her students. Couchie explains that the students will erect an installation they have created over the six-weeks on who they are. “They will then bring it back here for a show for the community.”
Couchie explains students in the Aanmitaagzi Summer Arts Program will have daily classes in dance, movement and theatre.“We will be engaging with the themes, questions, images and stories around When Will You Rage. So the youth will be looking at their ancestors, their history and what’s in a name.”
“When we receive our spirit name and when we say our spirit name out, we explore what does that mean.”
“I am Mungkwe from the Loon Clan.”
Aanmitaagzi Summer Arts Program gives instruction on cultural teachings, storytelling and acting techniques. Sid Bobb, the programs co-founder and co-director will instruct. He is an experienced actor, broadcast host, and an arts and cultural teachings instructor.
He is from the People of the Inlet, from an area North of Vancouver and from the People of the Fraser River. He follows the Wolf Clan of his mother’s line.