Live performance returns in hybrid form with 12th annual Debajehmujig Six Foot Festival

The cast and crew of ‘In the Name of Humanity,’ part three of the international trilogy ‘Epic Borders’ take their bows following their final performance at the 12th annual Six Foot Festival. photo Michael Erskine

Debajehmujig Storytellers create collaborative conclusion to international trilogy

MANITOWANING – It has been a year of living precariously for live performances across the globe as the pandemic has shut down most venues, but Debajehmujig Storytellers have managed to feel their way forward through the fog of restrictions. The land-based Indigenous performance company launched the 12th edition of its annual 6 Foot Festival (Land Art Food) with the appropriate theme of ‘Dreams.’

This year’s edition saw live performances return to the Debaj stage with ‘In the Name of Humanity,’ part three of ‘Epic Borders,’ an international collaborative trilogy production of the Manifesto Poetico co-directed by Carlos Garcia Estevez and Paige Allerton. ‘In the Name of Humanity’ was created in collaboration with Debaj and explores the borders between humanity and the environment.

“Everyone has dreams in one way or another and some are starting new dreams in their life as we share our stories to inspire us to create either in a six-foot cube or by creating a video,” said artistic director for the 2021 festival Ashley Manitowabi about this year’s theme. “Given the challenges, artists across Turtle Island have been resilient in learning new techniques during this time, most importantly technology as another medium. My sincere goal for this year’s festival is to have us together once again to spark the fire so we can be seen.”

Mr. Manitowabi went on to acknowledge the “arduous work that brought us here.” Going on to cite the many artists, staff and volunteers supporting the festival. “When we need something for a prop to a helping hand. We appreciate you and cannot thank you enough.”

“Dreams and dreaming predates our history,” shared Debaj general manager Lynda A. Trudeau. “One Odawa Midewin foundation teaching shares about the first dream.” That dream was sent to the first woman who needed to learn how to raise the first children who were born on earth.

She noted, for the Anishinaabe, dreams were understood to convey the intention to share wisdom, knowledge and hope from the Creator and other beings in the Spirit World. Her own paternal family name Bwaaneshi translates to “the dreamed one” or seeing one in a dream.

Ms. Trudeau went on to note that the name Manitowaning itself is the den of the Great Spirit, a place where Kitchi Manitou dreams while resting and rejuvenating. “Eventually awakening to put into motion the actualization of some dreams.”

“Hosting a festival celebrating dreams is welcomed at the Debajehmujig Creation Centre,” she said. “A place of not only creativity and convergence, but also a place in which dreams are conceived and some dreams realized.”

Tech moved into the 6 Foot Festival this year in many facets, including the use of icons to indicate whether that part of the program will be livestreamed or in-person, or a hybrid. Those livestreams can be accessed on the Debajehmujig Storytellers Facebook page.

This year, the festival featured a new health-inspired “installation,” screeners at the doors who checked attendees status for COVID-19 to ensure health and safety for all.

The first day of the festival featured a Dreamscape Room, where multiple videos looped throughout the day, providing a place to relax and reflect. Hiawatha Osawamick, executive chef of Hiawatha’s provided a workshop on traditional Indigenous cooking in the newly revamped outdoor kitchen.

Day two saw the continuation of the Dreamscape Room and other art installations while Janey Porte offered a workshop ‘Sing a Lil Cook a Lil’ where she “put love in her cooking.” A Local Food Manitoulin pop up market brought locally grown food to the mix.

Day three Dreamscapes continued, while Mary Lou Manitowabi manned the outdoor kitchen to livestream ‘Cooking in the Language.’ Hali Pitawanakwat presented some dreams she has had that came to fruition; Ph.D. candidate Amy Shawanda shared her journey on dream knowledge and the creation of her article ‘Baawaajige: exploring dreams.’ She explored the six types of dreams, communications from ancestral beings and metaphysical beings and the need for her article to be placed in an academic space. Marion Jacko, Children’s Lawyer for Ontario, told the story of ‘Coming Dawn Woman,’ and Sophie Pheasant provided an innovative workshop ‘Visionary Dreams,’ that assisted in seeking ancestral guidance by adapting the techniques of skills development and management through an Indigenous lens.

On all three days, the closing of the festival proper saw a production of ‘In the Name of Humanity.’ This work featured the contributions of Debaj stalwarts Samantha Brennan, Bruce Noakwegijig, Tyler Pangowish, Courtney Osawabine, Quinten Kaboni, Dustin Trudeau, Daniel Recollet-Mejaki, Brian Fox, Michael Oshkabewisehns, Justin Deforge, Aaron Courtorielle, Cotnee Kaboni, Cecilia Pitawanakwat, Jacob Migwans, Mary Lou Manitowabi, Rachel Testard and David McDonald. The production team consisted of Sunny Osawabine, Cameron Contoreille, Joahnna Berti, Ashley Manitowabi and Lynda Anne Fox Trudeau.

The production was outstanding, delivering a timely message exploring the borders and interactions between corporate entities and their servants, Indigenous communities across the globe and the environment.

The Debaj crew delivered their usual outstanding performances, utilizing pantomime, lighting, sound and considerable stage experience to provide the baseline for the production, but it was relative newcomers to the stage, Debaj student interns, along with elders from the community, who delivered the spark and pathos that lifted this production to the very top of Debajehmujig Storyteller offerings.

Ms. Trudeau credited the collaboration and influx of outside artistic talents with providing the spark that reignited the flames of creativity which were necessarily banked due to the restrictions of the pandemic.

There is good news in the offing as well. Recent expansions of the rules governing live performances have made it possible for Debaj to consider reinstituting a Christmas mainstage production.

“We haven’t figured all of that our just yet,” said Debaj artistic director Bruce Noakwegijig. “It’s still early days for that. But I can assure you we are all very excited to be looking, and working, forward for a change.”