Thunderbird Rising audience packs Debajehjig’s Creation Centre

Temagami First Nation modern Indigenous dance performer, choreographer, director and activist Christine Friday answers questions from the audience following a one-night performance of ‘Thunderbird Rising’ at Debajehmujig Storytellers’ Larry E. Lewis Creation Centre in Manitowaning.

MANITOWANING—Debajehmujig Storytellers have a long history of bringing top tier artistic performances to Manitoulin Island and ‘Thunderbird Rising,’ Indigenous director, choreographer and dancer Christine Friday’s multi-disciplinary performance continued that tradition before a packed Larry E. Lewis Creation Centre audience.

‘Thunderbird Rising’ began with a 10-minute documentary video ‘Path Without End’ in which Ms. Friday and members of her family returned to the site of Shingwauk Residential School (now the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) at Algoma University). In the video documentary, which chronicles the thoughts and feelings of the residential school survivors in her family as they speak their truth about the experience, Ms. Friday performed a dance around the building as a means of taking back her family’s agency.

Following the video presentation, Ms. Friday, an award-winning Indigenous modern dance performer, pulled her audience along a powerful journey the storyteller described as “a transformative spirit of dance travelling through realms of existence—ancestors, dreams, blood memory and the land directly connected to the Anishinaabek way of living and being.”

Melding an original musical score with powerful imagery interpreted through dance and creative use of lighting, Ms. Friday brought a message of resilience and hope to the story of her family’s history and future.

“This will stay with me for a long time,” said audience member Rebecca Laurenti, who was attending the performance with her mother Theresa. “This was so powerful,” agreed her mother.

While the themes explored in ‘Thunderbird Rising’ were powerful and thought-evoking, Ms. Friday leavened the mood with a stand-up comedy routine performed in the middle—channelling the story of a birch tree’s journey and sacrifice to transform into “a tall beaver house.” The traditional storytelling-based routine brought its own spotlight onto the thought processes and traditions of the Anishinaabek.

Originally from Bear Island but raised off-reserve by her mother to provide more opportunity for her children to attain their goals, Ms. Friday began her career with ‘In the Land of Spirits’ in 1992 (the first North American Native symphonic ballet) and has since sustained a professional dance career for 30 years. 

Deeply connected to the cultural wellness of her Anishinaabe people and her home community of Temagami First Nation. Ms. Friday and her film and stage production company Friday Creations, have transitioned her skills as a dance artist and director into filmmaking, thereby broadening her audience while taking her art to its highest levels. 

A recipient of the 2018 K.M. Hunter Award for Dance through the Ontario Arts Council, Ms. Friday is currently “activating cultural creation spaces” in her home community, raising her own family and fighting to recover her family’s traditional lands her family say were taken by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). The MNR burned her family’s fishing and hunting resort at Friday Point when her grandmother was taken to hospital in the 1960s. ‘Path Without End’ also chronicles that story in part.

Ms. Friday has toured ‘Thunderbird Rising’ to several venues across southern Ontario as well as in communities in the North where the dance performance has garnered rave revues.