This story began when Tewanee Joseph, CEO of the Four Host First Nations Secretariat got wind that I was planning to start an Aboriginal music program at Vancouver Community College. In a way, it’s a tale of two artists meeting at the crossroads of potential and opportunity.
He, an inspirational speaker whose vision has guided a level of Aboriginal participation in the Olympic movement unparalleled anywhere, ever, and me, a percussionist turned academic dean who wanted to create positive pathways for the professional development of the growing numbers of Aboriginal musicians in our midst.
As plans for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games continued, we shared many conversations about our vision, our dreams and how we could leverage that amazing opportunity to catalyze and animate the Aboriginal performance field. We talked about how this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show the world how dynamic and alive this culture is and how tradition and the contemporary coexist and come alive in our Aboriginal music and performance arena.
The Four Host First Nations secretariat took a big chance by asking me to direct a major Salish Witness Ceremony in September 2007 in front of ten thousand spectators at the Pacific Coliseum and an audience of countless millions through a live Chinese Central Television broadcast. I, in turn, took an equally big leap by thrusting myself into what I was fairly certain would be a powerful event. To be entrusted with the genuine representation of one of the most significant cultural exchanges of the coastal Salish was as humbling as it was a moving experience.
Things went very well and a few weeks later I was asked to come by the Four Host First Nations office in Vancouver to receive an acknowledgement of my work on the witness ceremony. What I got, however, was a great big thank you, a lovely gift and another irresistible offer to participate in Tewanee’s next great idea. The concept was to produce a video and live show entitled a Drum Song – a collaboration between Aboriginal and Chinese musicians that was to be sponsored by the Four Host First Nations, the City of Vancouver and the Government of Canada. Truth be told, neither of us had a clue what we were to do but the idea seemed compelling enough to move us along.
Fast forward six months and I found myself surrounded by thirty plus Aboriginal and Chinese musicians dressed in absolutely beautiful regalia, designed by Aboriginal artist John Powell, for the high-definition video shoot that was to take place that night. As had become the tradition in our rehearsals, we began with welcoming words and prayer in the Coast and Interior Salish languages and a song. We rehearsed and taped a magnificent show that later played at the BC/Canada pavilion at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, a few months later a call came from the 2010 Winter Games Cultural Olympiad and the Four Host First Nations office asking if I could produce an Aboriginal/Global Beat opening sequence for the star-studded One-Year Countdown Concert for the Games on February 12, 2009.
This time we assembled a team that included Tewanee Joseph, Chief Ian Campbell, Burke Taylor, Robert Kerr, Wende Cartwright, Katharine Carol, and Tobin Stokes and myself. We ended up putting together a drumming extravaganza that brought together Aboriginal drummers and dancers of the Four Host First Nations, Japanese Taiko drummers, Punjabi drummers, Chinese drummers and a Sto:lo rapper named Oz 12 – possibly for the first time ever.
This powerful presentation turned out to be the surprise hit of the show and was met with unanimous approval from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal audiences alike. I was very pleased but not surprised by the reaction of the crowd given what I had witnessed in the preparations. The commitment, the camaraderie and absolute dedication of the performers signalled we had, as an Aboriginal music production, reached a new high. We lived the very message the secretariat so fiercely championed. “We are here, we are alive, dynamic and we welcome the world’s participation in our territories.”
The jewel in the crown for me in this varied and wonderful journey is that I have been honoured with and have accepted the position of producer/creative director of the 2010 Aboriginal Pavilion for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The pavilion programming will realize the collective dreams of many individuals who have shared the Four Host First Nations dream and, my dream, of showcasing the talents of an eclectic, inspiring and unstoppable array of Aboriginal artists in the fields of music, dance, literature, film, theatre and video. This pavilion program, the centrepiece of the Aboriginal cultural field for the month of February, 2010, will represent for me a most amazing personal journey into the heart and soul of our Aboriginal artistic landscape and soundscape.
The pavilion experience will undoubtedly launch the artistic and production career paths of many local and national Aboriginal artists, crews, hosts, managers and volunteers while infusing our performance milieu with innovative, vibrant, cultural expressions.
Sal Ferreras, PhD
Dean, School of Music