South Asian and Indigenous people share several things in common in B.C. history. Both endured severe repression and family separation. Both were denied the right to vote for decades into the 20th century.
Pioneers from India were legally prevented from bringing South Asian family members into Canada and prohibited from entering the professions. First Nations had their land stolen, their culture eviscerated through various laws, and their children taken away to Christian schools where, in many instances, they were sexually and physically abused and where thousands died.
South Asian and First Nations people also consistently resisted this white supremacy.
To this day, these two communities are leaders in advancing human rights in B.C. And back in the olden days, they sometimes formed friendships while working together in lumber mills.
There was even a Punjabi word, taiké, which referred to B.C. First Nations people as “father’s elder brother”.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Indigenous scholar and CBC Radio host Jarrett Martineau said he was introduced to this concept by Vancouver interdisciplinary artist and educator Rup Sidhu.
“I thought that was so cool,” Martineau said. “This is an interesting way to think about the historical connection coming into the present now.”
Martineau hosts Reclaimed, which offers a national platform for Indigenous musicians on Sundays on CBC Radio One and Wednesdays on CBC Music. Through this show and his music platform RPM, Martineau helps Indigenous artists occupy spaces that have historically been denied to them.
He noted that many feel they can reclaim their roots through music, having been inspired by Indigenous trailblazers like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tanya Tagaq, and A Tribe Called Red.
“They are done with the idea that they are going to be separated from their culture,” Martineau said. “They want to have those connections back—and they’ll do everything they can to make it happen."
At the same time, Martineau aims to create “points of encounter” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.
“I’m really interested in that encounter, and not in a predetermined way,” he said. “Not in a way that’s trying to prescribe some kind of outcome but is more about saying, ‘Well, if we haven’t been in the same room together, what happens if we are? And what happens if we invite new people into that conversation?’ ”
That’s the idea behind an event called Confluence that Martineau is curating at the Indian Summer Festival. It will feature South Asian, Indigenous, African-American, and queer stories at the Imperial on Saturday (July 7) as part of this year's Indian Summer Festival.
"I think the experience of performance—the coming together that happens, especially through music—is just such a wonderfully positive and celebratory thing," he said.
At Confluence, Sidhu and the Sufi and Manganiar music group Rajasthan Josh will perform together in Jhalaak, which is a new project launched by sound designer Adham Shaikh.
Also on the lineup is celebrated Anishinaabeg writer, academic, and musician Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. She will join cellist Cris Derksen, singer-songwriter Ansley Simpson, and guitarist Nick Ferrio.
Martineau said that his first exposure to Simpson was through her academic and political writing.
"As I've gotten to know her as a person and as an artist, I've seen how widely she explores some of these questions through these various facets of her work, of which I would say music is probably the most recent," he stated. "What's always been compelling to me about her work is she really thinks about everything from an Anishinaabeg perspective.
"So she has done so much work around really coming to a deep understanding of what that means for her and for her nation—that everything is kind of rooted in the philosophies and stories and language and aesthetics of an Anishinaabeg world view."
Monet a winner of the Nuyorican Poet's Café Grand Slam title, spoke at the Women's March in Washington, D.C., right after Donald Trump was inaugurated as U.S. president.
Shraya's Part-Time Woman made CBC's list of Best Canadian Albums of 2017. Shamik, a producer and beatboxer, has toured with Tagaq, Brassnectar, and Method Man & Redman.
Martineau emphasized that this form of interculturalism should not be seen as “fusion” in the conventional sense of the word.
“We’re trying to actually respect the point of mutuality and the point of difference and not collapse it all into one messy soup of everything,” he revealed.
Martineau pointed out that what he’s doing mirrors the overall objective of the Indian Summer Festival, which has always made space for relationships to flourish between different communities.
This year's theme is mythmaking, which influenced the programming of Confluence. Simpson and Monet will be making their Vancouver debuts at the event.
“I was thinking about artists who, in their own ways, were…imagining new possibilities,” Martineau said near the end of the interview. “I’ve been a fan of everyone on the lineup independently. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity to have everyone in the same room and see just what comes out of that cross-pollination.’ ”
Confluence takes place on Saturday (July 7) at the Imperial in Vancouver as part of the Indian Summer Festival. For more information, visit the website.