Yukoners attending this year’s Adaka Cultural Festival are guaranteed a rich exposure to First Nation perspectives, whether you are taking in the works of New Zealand’s Maori sculptor Lyonel Grant or the hilarious storytelling of the territory’s own Sharon Shorty.
The festival, which runs from June 27 until July 3 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, will feature over 150 aboriginal artists and performers from around the world.
“We are in the midst of an aboriginal artistic renaissance,” says Jessie Stephens, associate producer of the festival. “There was a lot of shame, that you shouldn’t speak your language or practise your culture. But First Nations voices are coming back. We are coming out strong and powerful.”
With 14 First Nations, what better place than the Yukon to showcase the growing strength of that voice? “There’s a hunger to regain traditional arts and culture, and there’s also a growing demand from tourists, visitors and local people to learn more,” says Charlene Alexander, executive producer of the festival. “This festival will have representation from all Yukon First Nations.”
The Adaka Cultural Festival has been geared towards international recognition since its inception. “Right from day one our vision was to build an internationally acclaimed, iconic festival,” Alexander says. Now in it’s fourth year, the reputation of the festival has grown far beyond the Yukon border. “People have heard about this festival internationally and are contacting us wanting to be part of it.”
Grant, a Maori master carver with 30 years of experience, combines traditional carving and modern sculpting. He’s built traditional meeting houses and canoes, along with massive sculptures from granite and bronze.
His art, described as “negotiated tensions – between customary cultural traditions of art … and contemporary art styles found in the gallery” involves prominent features and sweeping lines all interwoven with intricate detail.
Yet the festival’s focus continues to be on the exposure and development of Yukon First Nations arts and culture. Beyond the opportunity for artists to showcase their work to members of the public, the festival also provides opportunities for artists to practise and interact with gallery curators from around the world. This year eight gallery curators from places such as Switzerland, the National Gallery of Canada and the United States will attend the festival.
“It’s a huge part of the project that’s going to help to put Yukon visual arts on the map. The outcome is that our artists will have new relationships with galleries around the world,” says Alexander.
In past years the feedback from Yukoners attending the festival has been incredibly positive. As Alexander explains, “A lot of Yukoners haven’t really had the opportunity to experience what an amazing culture exists in our own back yard. Once people get there, they love it.”
Each day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. visitors are welcome to the cultural centre where various exhibitions will be on display. One such room within the centre will house the works of 15 master carvers coming from as far as New Zealand, Alaska, Haida Gwaii and the Northwest Territories.
Outside, tents will be raised along the Yukon River to feature over 50 artists at work. The cultural centre will also host food vendors, cultural presentations and workshops on making everything from soapberry ice cream to fish nets.
Part of the festival will also focus on engaging youth. On the evening of June 2, the mainstage will be overtaken by an “extravaganza of folk rock, freestyle and hip hop dance,” according to the program guide.
The week-long festival is mostly free, with the exception of two concerts which require tickets. Saturday, June 28 features a ticketed double bill of performances from Diyet & Friends as well as Florent Vollant. “Diyet is a huge rising star in the performing arts world.” Born in a wall tent in Burwash Landing, Diyet is a classically trained singer who has gone on to perform her contemporary rock music around the world.
Pavlina Sudrich is a Whitehorse-based freelance writer.