People gather to play a loud and exciting game of Dene hand games outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre during the Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse on July 1, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

People gather to play a loud and exciting game of Dene hand games outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre during the Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse on July 1, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Adäka Festival returns for 10th anniversary on June 29

2021 would have marked a decade of Ada╠łka, but the pandemic put the party on pause

After two years of COVID-19 cancellations, the Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse is finally set to make a comeback in just a few days.

Launched in 2011 and administered by the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association, last year would have celebrated a decade of Adäka, but the pandemic put the party on pause. So, for 2022, the festival will celebrate their 10th anniversary of showcasing Yukon First Nations arts and culture.

“Our whole team has been really excited about this year,” said Adäka director of arts and co-producer Katie Johnson.

“We’re ecstatic. We’re like, ‘it’s happening!’”

This festival’s theme for 2022 is “Northern Connections,” and it will bring together artists from all over Northern Canada, Alaska, as well as other circumpolar countries like Greenland, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

There will be about 200 presenters and performers over the course of the festival. It’s all happening down at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre where two stages are being set up. The mainstage will be in the longhouse while the “Taga Shäw Riverside Stage” will be outside under a tent along the Yukon River.

Adäka gets going with an opening ceremony dubbed “Hearts of Our People,” which will feature PIQSIQ, an Inuit-style throat singing duo from Yellowknife. Local hip hop group Vision Quest, the Norwegian electronic and traditional fusion band ISÁK, as well as the Northwest Territory’s contemporary roots duo Sechile Sedare and the Tlicho Drummers will also hit the stage to open the festival.

One anticipated highlight is an afternoon of drumming, dancing, and singing. “The Spirit of the Drums” will see over 60 traditional drummers and dancers gather around the cultural centre’s fire pit on July 2. Johnson calls it a “once in a lifetime event.”

Laura Grizzlypaws performs her bear dance during the Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse on July 1, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Laura Grizzlypaws performs her bear dance during the Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse on July 1, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Over 60 workshops will be put on as part of the celebration. They’re a chance for people to create something themselves and to get an up-close and personal look at how artists turn raw materials into masterpieces. Most of Adäka is free, but people have to pay to register for the workshops and there are a few ticketed events.

Those who want to take a work of art home with them are in luck. There will be a gallery where artists sell their creations.

‘They give us a great platform to do our craft’

Kaska musician and master carver Dennis Shorty has taken part in Adäka since day one.

When the pandemic hit and Adäka was cancelled, Shorty was disappointed but understanding.

“It was a bummer, but what could you do?” Shorty told the News.

He’s slated to play this year’s festival alongside his partner Jenny, who together make up Dena Zagi. The duo performs music in Kaska, often singing about the land, animals, respect, ancestors and traditions. He will also be selling handcrafted jewelry in the gallery.

Shorty is currently resting after a positive COVID-19 test caused them to cancel an appearance at the Arts in the Park festival, but he is hopeful he will be good to go for Adäka.

“They give us a great platform to do our craft,” said Shorty.

“It’s an awesome festival,” he added.

“It’s important for ourselves as residential school survivors to tell our stories of where we come from and where we’re going and to back up our language, our teachings, and so on,” he continued.

Shorty is being cautious after catching COVID-19 and he hopes the virus will not impact this year’s festival.

‘Reigniting our spirits after two years’

After eight months of hard work by everyone on the Adäka team, Johnson is expecting the festival to draw about 1,000 people per day.

“It’s very rewarding. You just plan and plan and plan and then you just see how it all unfolds,” said Johnson.

“We are reigniting our spirits after two years of being in this pandemic.”

Adäka kicks off on June 29 and wraps up on July 5 with a fashion show featuring the works of Indigenous designers from across North America.

To check out the full festival program, head over to adakafestival.ca.

Dylan MacNeil is a freelance writer based in Whitehorse.