Rosemary Georgeson brings unscripted humour and stories of Indigenous success to Heart of the City Festival

Queer Indigenous identity, canoe culture, and artistic success are all part of the lineup in a series called Openings

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      Sahtu Dene filmmaker and writer Rosemary Georgeson says that she doesn’t look at art through a western lens.

      “I’ve always known who I was speaking to,” the former Vancouver Public Library storyteller in residence tells the Straight by phone. “To do that, I always had to do it in the way I was taught as a child and in the way I was raised to speak to people.”

      Her work is integrally linked to her experiences growing up in an Indigenous fishing family on Galiano Island. Ask her how many times she’s seen a B.C. Ferries vessel travel through Active Pass, and she erupts in laughter before saying “too often”.

      In fact, Georgeson finds humour in many things, noting that amusing stories and jokes can help Indigenous people get through tough times.

      “I think back to growing up with my family and some of the crazy things we laughed about,” Georgeson says. “Other people would look at us funny. Humour gets us through.”

      So it only seemed natural that Georgeson would include a night on Indigenous humour as part of a storytelling series that she’s cocreated with Firehall Theatre artistic producer Donna Spencer.

      Called Openings, it’s a follow-up on a series that they did last year at the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival called In the Beginning: A Cultural Sharing, which focused on Indigenous people’s history in Vancouver.

      The producers of the festival, Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling, talked to the Straight last month about the importance of highlighting ceremony, storytelling, and teaching in this year’s schedule. They feel that this is what art can look like through a non-European lens.

      It’s a perspective that Georgeson shares. “That’s how I’ve always looked at art,” she declares.

      Georgeson says that during last year’s events, audience members were curious to learn more on everything from queer Indigenous concerns to canoe culture.

      “That’s where the idea came for this year: questions that people asked last year,” she reveals. “It’s all discussion. Nothing is scripted.”

      It opens on Wednesday (November 3) with three Indigenous women who’ve succeeded magnificently in the world of arts and culture: Métis-Cree filmmaker Loretta Todd, Cree and Salteaux actor-director Renae Morriseau, and Sto:Lo poet and author Lee Maracle. Their event is called Openings: Women Standing Their Ground in the Arts.

      “The first night is going to be incredible to hear their strength and resilience,” Georgeson says.

      That will be followed on Thursday (November 4) with an exploration of queer Indigenous identity, featuring Cree actor Billy Merasty and Haida carver Skundaal (Bernie Williams). Friday (November 5) is devoted to canoe culture and will include Squamish Nation elder Bob Baker.
      Openings will culminate with a night of humour on Saturday (November 6) with Indigenous actor Curtis Ahenakew and comedians Keith “Bubbas” Nahanee and Brenda Prince.

      Prince has collaborated with Georgeson on projects in the past.

      “Brenda is funny,” Georgeson says. “She lights up a room."