When Cody Coyote was asked to participate in the online celebrations of National Indigenous Peoples Day this year, he knew it would be unlike any other performance.
But he also saw it as a learning opportunity. “Our people have always adapted and survived, and this is yet another thing as an Indigenous person I’m learning,” Coyote told the Nation. “I’m trying to do my best to connect to people and share my art and messages of hope.”
Coyote, whose family is from Matachewan First Nation, Ontario, was one of a number of Indigenous artists and leaders who participated in the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, normally an outdoor festival and powwow held in Ottawa.
Instead, Coyote and others in the Ottawa area pre-recorded their performances at an Ottawa bar with the help of a local TV channel. For the powwow portion, singers and dancers from across North America sent in their own videos, which were broadcast on YouTube and Facebook to thousands of viewers around the world, with a powwow emcee officiating from home.
Instead of the usual feedback from the crowd, artists read comments posted by sometimes anonymous viewers, sometimes by friends.
“It was phenomenal seeing people from all over the world,” recounted Coyote. “I saw friends from Australia and northern Ontario. We got people’s feedback, and that was cool.”
“Way to go Cody!”, “Rocking it Cody!” and “Very inspirational” were just some of the comments to come in during Coyote’s hip hop performance.
Many of the drum groups were set up in their backyards, filming from places like Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
Dancer Tony Bellegarde sent in a video filmed from atop a mountain looking over a lake in White Bear First Nation, Saskatchewan. Taylor Jishie, a jingle dress dancer from Lukachukai, Arizona, submitted a video dancing in a vast, arid desert, while Marceline Williams sent in a video dancing under a waterfall in a forest.
In Vancouver, Shantae King competed as a children’s hoop dancer in front of the brightly lit Science World dome on the waterfront.
There were a few hiccups – as portions of the songs were taken down due to copyright infringements – but overall, the event went smoothly.
Coyote said that with the coronavirus, he’s ended up converting his laundry room into a space for live performances – including a banner and sound equipment, which he says has already led to other opportunities.
He wants other Indigenous artists to know that they can do the same thing with minimal investment. “You don’t need a solid camera,” he noted. “You can use your phone, but the audio isn’t always the best. If you can, get a good camera or a phone with good audio, and play around with what you have.”
APTN likewise had to change many of its plans for the day, which originally involved live concerts in Winnipeg, Whitehorse and Membertou First Nation, Nova Scotia. Instead, APTN invited several artists to record their own performances, which aired June 21.
“National Indigenous Day is about celebrating Indigenous culture, about Indigenous People getting together to honour the wisdom of the Elders, to inspire the youth and invite all Canadians to learn about Indigenous culture,” said APTN Chief Operating Officer Sky Bridges.
Performers included Susan Aglukark, Carolina East, Cris Derksen and the Twin Flames.
“It went really well, we’re very happy with the final product,” Bridges said of the two-hour English performance and one-hour French version. “It inspired us with this new format of programming, we’re looking to develop ongoing music programming.”
He said the artists had a lot of fun with the project and noted how important it was to support artists who are now without work.
APTN hopes to still stage those performances as early as August, with Halifax replacing Membertou First Nation as host site, and with a broadcast date of December 21, the winter equinox. The June 21 performance is available through APTN’s video-on-demand service on its website.
In Montreal, the LandInSight group organized a livestream of a sunrise ceremony hosted by a local Mohawk Elder, inviting viewers to join in and burn tobacco from home.
The group also released a video with remarks by Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plant, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, as well as performances by Moe Clark and Kathia Rock.
The Chibougamau Eenou Friendship Centre had originally planned a virtual Indigenous Day event, but had to cancel at the last moment.