by Terry Lusty, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – For the second consecutive year Edmonton’s K Days featured the Indigenous Experience. One of the larger featured exhibits within its space was a sizeable installation entitled, “We Were So Far Away: The Inuit experience of Residential Schools.”
Through the victims’ own words flow tales of removal and relocation to southern urban communities in some of Canada’s major cities, including Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton.
Like last year’s displays about Indian Residential Schools across Canada, We Were So Far Away is primarily a series of large display panels that incorporate photographs, documents, informational tracts, and select biographies of some of the northern Inuit people who were sent vary far from their northern homes to communities much further south because of medical issues like tuberculosis.
Many of the displays are the products and property of the Ontario-based Legacy of Hope Foundation – a national Indigenous-led charitable organization that has been promoting healing and reconciliation throughout Canada for over twenty years.
Their goal is to educate Canadians about the history and continuing intergenerational impacts of the residential schools as well as the child welfare system on survivors, their families, and communities. They also encourage people to be aware and address discrimination, inequality and injustices that plague our lives and communities.
The foundation’s archives hold approximately 800 individual stories, 22 active exhibitions and visit about 100 cities.
Several other informational and educational exhibits were on display from July 21-30, in the Indigenous Experience area of the Expo Centre and more were on exhibit around the hall. Numerous arts and crafts booths were also onsite as well as a Native Delights food wagon and a coffee bar.
Lively entertainment also flowed each day and it was all free. This included some very talented dancers, singers and musicians from varying genres.
The one major attraction, that commanded a full-house audience, proved to be a 10-member ensemble known as Bear Grease. This amazing group of Indigenous performers presented their delightful spin-off of the iconic 1978 musical production, Grease.
The quality of song, dance and humour seemed to be bang-on with a lot of positive reaction. It’s no wonder it drew a capacity crowd on both the first and final Saturdays of K Days.
A performance like no other, it encompassed hip-hop, rock n roll, twist, jive, you name it – they did it! Bear Grease was initially the brainchild of Crystle Lightning and MC Red Cloud, a duo who, last spring in 2022, electrified its audience at Massey Theatre in New Westminster, B.C. The duo originally scripted Bear Grease for students at school on the Enoch Reserve, by Edmonton. It was such a hit that the two decided to perform it for the renowned Fringe Festival in Edmonton and, as the old saying goes, “the rest is history.” It went on to draw rave reviews and was a hit everywhere they went.
Lightning is an acclaimed actress who was awarded best lead actress for her role as Maggie in the 2021 production of “Trickster.” She linked up with rapper Red Cloud in 2014 who established a Guinness world record when he executed 18 hours of the “longest freestyle rap.”
Crystle, originally from Enoch Cree Nation, had moved to Hollywood to chase her dream of becoming an actress. The two met down south and as fate would have, wound up in each others’ arms, are now married and make their home in Edmonton. The two travel across North America and, as Lightning states, nothing would please her more than to take “Bear Grease to Broadway!”
At K Days, Bear Grease totally enthralled a highly receptive full house of Indigenous and non-Indigenous visitors. In short, it really was a howling success!
Another superb performance was from the Stephanie Harpe Experience. This member of the Ft. McKay First Nation has a tight and terrific backup band who performed magnificently.
Harpe cranks out almost anything one might desire – country, blues, R n B, roots, everything! Name it, she can deliver it. And deliver she did on two separate occasions at the Indigenous Experience in Edmonton’s Expo Centre.
Also warranting mention were vocalists Beatrice Love, Leanne Goose and Jarrid Lee.
Beatrice Love is a dynamic performer who demonstrates great stage presence, controlled vocals and will undoubtedly be one to watch in future.
Leanne Goose, originally from Inuvik, NWT, is presently a university student in Edmonton and began singing at age 12. She is an established country singer and has other credentials in film and production.
Jarrid Lee demonstrated on stage why he is a CCMA nominee this year. He hails from east of Edmonton and stems from a many-talented family of singers, musicians and dancers who’ve made their own marks in the industry. Looks to me like Jarrid will continue that tradition.
The overall entertainment line also included traditional First Nation and Metis dancing.
The production was not only colourful and talent-laden, it was engaging, highly energetic, expressive, fun, and upon its departure left so much of the audience wanting more. Indeed the group sang and danced their way into the hearts of its viewers.