HAMILTON – What is hoped to be the first of many; the Howling Moons Festival filled the space of the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts Recital Hall with entertainment from indigenous artists in the evening of Saturday, September 30.
With the support of the City of Hamilton Canada 150 Fund and the Ontario Arts Council; the event was hosted by Jessie Goyette of Metis and Algonquin descent with performances by Mohawk and Jamaican hip hop artist Chllly, a set by Blackfoot, Cree and Ojibway DJ Ariel and headlined by Cree, Dene and Irish artist Iskwe. The event was also backed by a powerful duo.
Known as the founders of The Sweetgrass Sisters Collective (TSSC), both Jasmin Glaw of Algonquin and German ancestry and Jessica Lea Fleming of Metis and Scottish ancestry began the collective in January of 2017 to help invoke connection, create opportunity and celebrate indigenous people and indigenous culture in the Hamilton area. This was their first step.
“During the day we were at the Art Gallery of Hamilton,” said Fleming. “The premise of the day-time programming was to bring people together to kind of learn more about our traditions.”
The duo organized a knowledge-keeper named Bear Standing-Tall from the Onion Lake Cree Nation to speak and Nimkii Wasalamik and Lucas Isaacs, who are a part of the DNA Stage and facilitated a hoop dance presentation as well as a traditional hand-drumming presentation for those in attendance.
“I think what was so special about today is that they did a lot of really incredible audience engagement,” said Glaw. “So they had people volunteer to come up and they were teaching different elements of the hoop dance.”
This also allowed participants to understand that different poses and forms in the dance mean something, and also the oral history that ties in with each pose and form. The immersive nature of the event also transferred to a meal, as Char Hemlock catered a feast that ended the day and allowed participants to taste some traditional foods.
Fleming explained that the purpose behind the event and the creation of the TSSC was to help bridge the gap in cultural programming in Hamilton.
“Both of us felt like there was a gap in available cultural programming in the city,” said Fleming, as she motioned to Glaw. “There’s stuff in Toronto, there’s stuff in Six Nations, [but] we didn’t feel like we could access the programming we wanted [close to home].”
As cultural programming and activities are very prevalent in the Toronto and Brantford area, the TSSC hopes to bring much and more of the same to the Hamilton area where over and estimated 15,000 residents are indigenous. The collective focus of the TSSC was noticed by many in attendance, including McMaster student Piers Kreps.
“It was awesome,” said Kreps. “I think it’s really good to have indigenous art featured in Hamilton. A lot of us [students] actually have to commute to Toronto to catch indigenous performances, but having it here in the city makes it that much easier.”
It is hoped that future Howling Moons Festivals will only get better and better.