Reflections from the Rest & Restore Retreat for Indigenous Artists

Written by Olivia C. Davies, Curator

Our artists arrived Monday evening and enjoyed dinner in the hotel restaurant overlooking the golden sunset reflecting off the lake. Shortly thereafter, one artist would leave to continue his rest in the sanctuary of his partner’s care after experiencing a physical tremor that would not leave his body. The three remaining artists joined together in the cathedral-esque meeting room the following morning to join in circle with myself, their host, and our Algonquin Elder, Aimee Bailey from the Pikwanagan Nation and representative of the Circle of Turtle Lodge. We smudged the space, clearing away spirits and inviting in welcoming energy to transform the retreat opening for rest and contemplation. Following Aimee’s opening prayer and individual smudging, we passed around Aimee’s eagle feather and each shared who we are, where we come from and what we hoped to gain from our time together. The circle closed and we prepared for lunch all together. Getting to know one another continued through lunch as we shared stories of how our communities informed us; how we had landed where we are now and what this had done to shift our practise as dance artists. The Haudenosaunee creation story was shared and brought up questions around our matriarchal oral histories, our dreams, and how we are inspired to share these ancient teachings when we gather (organically) to relate to one another.

The afternoon took a shift into a circle conversation around cultural safety in our practises. We contemplated the question of what it feels like to be in a space where this value is both visible and invisible, and how an openness to learn along with humility, patience, sensitivity, conscientiousness, time, and awareness can help to cultivate cultural safety. We shared examples of mindful scheduling (time/patience) in order to ensure protocol is considered from the beginning of a planning process, land acknowledgements (who/how), smudging in venues (accommodations made by artist / negotiations with venue team), and invitations to Elders to be present (process of arrival / connection over transaction/hiring).

After a short break to reset, and breathe the fresh air rolling in off the lake, we gathered for our last session of the day. Movement meditations and ancestral legacy was explored through a facilitation process I have developed over the years that includes practises gleaned from other practitioners who work with Spirit and the moving body. Transforming the space into a place of dance, we moved with breath and guided imagery to connect with Spirit and one another. We ended our movement practise with a circle of laughs and then settled into a quick check-out for Day 1.

The following morning, I arrived to find all three artists enjoying breakfast together in the restaurant and our hotel manager playing with his daughter. It was a very joyful scene and set the tone for the rest of the day. Upon moving downstairs, an artist brought her own smudge and cleared our space with a medicine bundle her mother had made for her. We then circled up around the conference room fire place with our warm beverages and checked in. Ivanie then lead us through a beautiful workshop to manifest our visions, citing her own example of a solo she created that came to her from a dream she had in her youth of an ancestral voice speaking to her and guiding her to plant her seeds in the soil. This practise brought us each to a place of quiet, solo contemplation and then resolved in a group movement that carried the echoes of Ivanie’s choreographic score. We end the session. We reset for lunch and continue chatting about this, that, and the next, all still a little dreamy from our morning session. Part-way though lunch, Sarain arrives and brings with a bustling energy of having just returned from being on the road with her film company, “Land Back Studios” and is (7) months pregnant with her second child. We enjoy another round of informal (who are you, where are you from) introductions and share a plate of communal fries before setting up for Sarain’s movement practise.

Listening to Jeremy Dutcher’s music, we are invited to connect with our blood memory and remember what we carry. We move with guided imagery as Sarian takes us a journey through her movement practise, citing many of the great choreographers and Contemporary Indigenous teachers who have gone on to create their own companies and bodies of work. We move with eyes closed, finding our balance between the pillars of the space and our bodies, trusting our vulnerability as we navigate the darkness. We connect once more to move across the flow together in a slow and generous expansion of love for our bodies’ inherent knowing. We close the session with a check-out and reset for our last circle with Elder Aimee Bailey.

As in the beginning, we move full circle to the fireplace and gather to receive prayer and smudging with Aimee. Our conversation goes round to connect with what we learned in our time together and what our hopes for the future (a potential next retreat) can hold. Mention of connecting with the land in a meaningful way, inviting the same artists and extending the circle to include a handful more, extending into a full week of programming, encouraging more co-facilitation and exploration of individual methodology (teaming artists up to share workshop/conversation), feast and ceremony, and continuing to develop an artists-lead resource package of notable names/books/practises mentioned in the retreat. We had a small gifting give-away and took a beautiful, smiling group photo before dispersing for the day.

Artists were invited to share their individual feedback with me and these will be shared with the CDA as they come in. One item I will mention is that it will be beneficial to bring on an assistant for the host in future iterations; someone who can take notes and photos as this proved a bit of a challenge to step in and out of the process. Overall, the benefit of the time and space to gather in this way was appreciated by all present. Even the hotel staff mentioned how the space felt transformed by our presence!

Dancing in the smoke wafting up to the ceiling while the sun reflects off the cold, golden lake beyond the windows.

We hear our breath and from deep inside our hearts beating too.

The words we hear roll out like gentle waves and settle into our bodies, minds, and hearts.

Spirit is here, present and presenced often.

We can know one another more deeply in the silences in between.

Then, a giggle erupts and we all loosen a little more.

Wow, what a wealth of knowledge we each carry.

So many stories.

So, so many teachings.

What do you bring to the fire today?

How do you dream?

What does cultural safety feel like?

Our bodies are our first home.

Containers can be broken.

Shift into the space behind your eyes.

Visions manifested.

Seeds sown.


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