Elemental Festival an artistic treat for the senses

Shelba Deer spoke at the start of the Gaagigewang Ziibing Dibaajimowinan Kagawong River Stories performance, joined by youth actors in the production. photo by Tom Sasvari

KAGAWONG – Great music, a fantastic outdoor theatre production, a chance to explore and participate in eco-arts and much more was all on the bill at the 4elements Living Arts Festival held this past weekend in Kagawong. 

“What a wonderful way to start the weekend,” stated Susan Snelling, of 4e, at the opening of the celebrations which featured the M’Chigeeng Lady Drums presenting two songs including ‘Welcome to the Day.’

Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing was on hand for the opening and said, “thank you for very much for your kind invitation to this event. I would first like to acknowledge the drum group making sure the day will go well and hopefully the rain will hold off.” 

“I’m very happy to be here today for this special occasion, as it is a great opportunity to showcase artists and culture in the area,” said MP Hughes. “I heard artist Chantal Rousseau on CBC Radio the other day and I’m looking forward to seeing her artwork (in the 4e mobile art studio).”

Veronica Johnny then presented a very interesting and interactive eco-art workshop with song, drum and teachings. “We’re all artists,” she stated to the participants gathered around her.

“I am so grateful to be here on this land on Manitoulin Island and to be a guest here,” said Ms. Johnny. “We are so lucky to have nature, water and the land that we have on Manitoulin.” 

Ms. Johnny also sang as part of her workshop and had everyone take a photograph of something natural that they can take with them and can draw. “Each of you own the prescription for what you need,” she said.  “Each of us are in charge of our own healing. And when I draw or create it helps in my healing,” she said in performing the song ‘Healing Journey.’ 

Fellow musician Steafan Hanningan, who played the role of master of ceremonies, hit the nail right on the head when he said the band Medusa, “is a group of incredibly talented musicians.”

This unique chamber folk group brought traditional music from around the world intertwined with the sounds of middle eastern, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Celtic.

This band was created during the pandemic and had started by playing in Toronto parks in the summer. They performed for an hour and a half, and the crowd was so enthralled it was obvious they would have been happy to sit and listen to their music for the entire day. 

While the entertainment on Saturday and indeed throughout the weekend was fantastic, the highlight of the day and the weekend was the Gaagigewang Ziibing Dibaajimowinan Kagawong River Stories outdoor theatre performance. The young performers in the show also developed the production with local resident Lisa Hamalainen, who was project creator and director, working with her assistant, Shelba Deer of Sheguiandah First Nation.

“We would like to acknowledge the Anishinabek land that we are on, Mnidoo Mnising and Robinson Huron Treaty. The spirit of Gaagigewang Ziibing, the river and surrounding land inspired the stories that you will hear tonight, written by the youth storytellers,” Ms. Deer told those in attendance.

In August the young performers spent two weeks in a storytelling creation process along the Kagawong River Trail, learning about the ecosystem, Anishinaabe ceremonies and participating in physical theatre and creative writing workshops. 

The theatregoers were guided down the Kagawong River Trail for each component of the storytelling nature walk, featuring Kyx Leblanc, Rain King Gold, Keiran Aguonia and Ashton Towegishig 

The Ashokan Farewell had Arthur Ross on fiddle and Ann Cummings on djembe, followed by Shelba Deer who provided a land acknowledgement honouring the earth and water. 

An untitled story was written and performed by Kyx Leblanc, followed by ‘The Mustamo and the Payasak (the water snake and the little people)’ written and performed by Keiran Aguonia; ‘A meeting of Friends’ with choreography and performed by Candice Irwin; ‘Water,’ a poem written and performed by the talented Rain King Gold, who also performed the song ‘Goodbye.’ A water song was presented and sung by Shelba Deer, while the very entertaining and at times funny ‘The Crayfish River Story’ was written and performed by Ashton Towegishig.

The fireside teaching of many Anishinabek cultures, traditions and words and meanings was presented by Shelba Deer, accompanied by waterkeeper Lauren Satok.

Throughout the weekend the works of Chantal Rousseau was displayed in the 4e mobile studio. “Stories for Paintings is one of the projects I created during my time as an artist in residence in 4elements Living Arts mobile off-grid tiny house. It was done in collaboration with the Western Manitoulin Community Garden in Gore Bay,” Ms. Rousseau explained. “A call was put out to their members and volunteers,  asking anyone interested to tell me a story, from personal to informational, about farming, gardening, food, or the land. Eight people participated. I was honoured by the generosity of their stories and their sharing.”

“One of the common threads that emerged was a deep respect for the land, and the joys that come from working with plants and the natural world. From these stories I created a watercolour painting inspired by what they told me, to give back to them to complete the circle of the exchange,” continued Ms. Rousseau. “Thank you to the participants for trusting me with your words, and to 4elements Living Arts and the Western Manitoulin Community Garden in Gore Bay for facilitating the project.’

The fantastic entertainment continued Sunday with the music of Arthur Ross on fiddle accompanied by Duncan Cameron on acoustic guitar, playing Celtic music that had everyone tapping their toes. Duncan Cameron on acoustic guitar, and Steafan Hanningan who played several instruments, and the duo shared several humorous stories as well. Not to be outdone, great music was provided by Smith, Stam and Williams, followed by the closing ceremonies.