Spanning storytelling, spoken-word poetry, dance, theatre, drumming, and big concerts, the nine-day Drum Is Calling Festival is set to be the largest outdoor celebration of Indigenous arts ever held in the city of Vancouver. It runs at Larwill Park, the Vancouver Public Library, the Vancouver Playhouse, and the nearby Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza from this Saturday to next Sunday (July 22 to 30).
Part of the city’s Canada 150+ programming, it’s a massive undertaking. It’s also a task that carries with it huge responsibilities—not just to the three local host nations (Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh), but to the wide variety of traditional and contemporary Indigenous artists working today. This is not lost on artistic director Margo Kane, the veteran theatre artist behind Full Circle First Nations Performance and the Talking Stick Festival, who worked with a team of curators to program the diverse fest.
“We decided to theme the days,” she tells the Straight by phone during a brief break, referring to a program including everything from Matriarch Day to Our Elders Day to Intertribal in Action Day. “That was very helpful.”
A lot of those themes are grouped by generation, but interestingly, Kane and her team faced some challenges representing all age groups. “We’re very family-oriented in the Indigenous community and it takes a while to gain any artistic practice in any of the generations,” she says, “but there’s still lots of room to grow, I would say, to ensure we have more elder voices.”
Kane also struggled at times with the setting: “For me, it was also challenging because there were not a lot of closed venues; a lot was outdoors, so visual arts was very difficult.” Kane’s solutions include murals and iconic traditional Indigenous housing forms that will serve as spaces for film, art, workshops, and performances. (They were built by youth during the Kanata Festival on Turtle Island last month.)
There are huge advantages to the site, too, though. “Because it’s also right in the middle of downtown there’s a potential larger audience of people who are interested in First Nations culture, but maybe not aware of the Talking Stick Festival,” she says, referring to her midwinter event. “This will open a dialogue about who the First Nations people are in this territory.”
And perhaps nothing will open that dialogue more directly than one of the fest’s more unexpected and innovative events: While Having Soup at 4 p.m. on July 28, where Montreal-based ATSA (When Art Takes Action) invites Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to take part in a dialogue about some politically and socially charged topics, face to face over—you guessed it—a bowl of soup.
“You’ll sit and have a conversation with someone you don’t know and that you might never have known normally,” Kane says. “We’re not just celebrating 150 years. We’re actually contemplating and interrogating: what does this mean and what are these issues moving forward?”