MANITOWANING – As the seconds ticked down on the clock heading into the launch of We Are Stronghold, a multi-venue artistic expression of solidarity with the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs in their struggle over a natural gas pipeline planned for their traditional territories, local organizer Jason Manitowabi was furiously connecting cables and testing lights and cameras for action.
Mr. Manitowabi had been contacted by Shashona and Raven (aka Digging Roots) of the International Indigenous Music Summit asking if he could arrange a remote livestream event as part of the collective effort. The catch was the launch was taking place in just a couple of days.
“I said ‘yes’ and then started working on how I was going to pull it all together,” laughed Mr. Manitowabi. Fortunately, Mr. Manitowabi works at Debajehmujig Storytellers in Manitowaning, so he had a solid team to fall back on.
Then came Friday’s blizzards and the Debaj crew were stuck in the thick of it.
It is a facet of veteran arts folk that they have deep connections in their communities, so Mr. Manitowabi was able to pull together an impressive roster of both experienced musicians and artists as well as some new up-and-coming talent. The same could be said of Shashona and Raven, so the stage was well set for collective action.
“We were not staging a protest,” noted Mr. Manitowabi. “We were pulling together a celebration of the arts in support of our brothers and sisters in other communities in unity, love and respect—through the arts.”
The event was open to everyone, with the proceeds of a free will offering in support of the Wet’suwet’en legal defence fund through RAVEN Trust. Thanks to the livestreaming format, the weather was not a major issue, although there were still a respectable number of folks who braved the weather to attend the performances live.
Many of the performers taking to the Debaj stage in the Larry E. Lewis Creation Centre are familiar to Island audiences as they included Elijah Manitowabi (of Elijah and the Backburners fame), Danielle Roy MacDonald (co-founder of Odi-kwe) and her daughter Rosemary; Brian Fox (who opened the program with guitar solo stylings); hip hop artist Michael Oshkabewisens; the multi-talented Greg Odjig (Outlander and the pro-wrestling ring when not making music) and Mitch Manitowabi. Also performing was a young piano player named Mason Amikwa venturing out under the lights with a poise far beyond his years.
“This was only like the second or third time he was performing onstage,” said Mr. Manitowabi. “He is something of a prodigy, it seems like he can play any instrument he picks up.”
The Toronto event also featured a strong lineup of musicians and poets including Serena Ryder, Bear Witness of a Tribe Called Red, Chantal Kreviazuk, Cris Derksen, Amanda Rheaume, the aforementioned Digging Roots, Witch Prophet, Julian Taylor, Charging Horse Singers, Zoey Pricelys Roy, New Tradition Music, Sarain Fox and a host of others.
Other venues being livestreamed included Yellowknife, Smithers, B.C. and Prince George, B.C.
“We are really happy with how it turned out,” said Mr. Manitowabi. “It is important we work together to support each other and find solutions to the challenges ahead.”