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DAREarts "The Bear" Indigenous First Roots Program

Nov 30, 2016

Theme and Setting

"The Bear" project took place in Martin Falls First Nation community - Ogoki Martin Falls First Nation is an Anishinaabe First Nation reserve located in Northern Ontario. The First Nation occupies communities on both sides of the Albany River in Northern Ontario, including Ogoki Post in the Cochrane District and Marten falls in the Kenora District. This is a fly-in community.

DAREarts is going from community to community with these (Objibway) cultural stories and practices. To give you an idea of how far we go, it costs $800 to go from Thunder Bay to Ogoki; we buy a freight seat - for our equipment, art supplies and fly in our food. Our team of five from three different organisations got there a week after Gord Downie released his book; we have been working with this family; the story's family and this community for close to ten years - we have a personal stake in the story.


The project, "The Bear" began when DAREarts approached the Artistic Director of Stratford theatre about collaborating on a Canada 150 project.

Bear: A cultural symbol, a healer, a story component of this project is engaging communities in the North and is being carried out in conjunction with Stratford Festival's new play by Colleen Murphy, "The Breathing Hole". Although currently in the early stages of creation, the play will be the story of the polar bear with a strong Indigenous voice as the core element in the play and in the team involved in the creation and development of the play.

The Bear is the project of DAREarts Indigenous First Roots Program started in Ontario with Webequie FN in 2007.  This program has taken root in Webequie FN, Marten Falls FN, Attawapiskat FN, Mississaugas of the New Credit FN in Ontario, Sipenkne'katik FN in Nova Scotia, and Tuktoyaktuk in NWT. 

Webequie FN traditional teacher Bill Jacob said;

"Our youth need to learn how to turn to tradition and other positive support systems like DAREarts to take care of themselves during times of stress."

DAREarts empowers Indigenous youth to combat life challenges as leaders, staying in school.

The purpose of the project is to highlight the environmental issues of our communities and communities of the North, and make the invisible - visible to a larger community. Ogoki is a northern Ontario community with no potable water; all water is flown in (water bottles). It does not have a road; today it is not cold enough to any longer have an ice road in the Winter. There is no reclying in these communities . Dumps are filling up with water bottles. This project is about making an environment statement. It is meant to be a solid reminder that these kids exist, they are creating works of art that create a dialogue that this down south audience will engage in through the works of art and through the words of young people from the North. The two themes tie together - and the play.


"The Bear" project was created with kids, an Elder and the community. The project story is based on a story by Elder Elizabeth. We made a play about that story, "Bears". Our process for working with/in communities follows these steps:

1     We put together a team of working artists;

2     We talk to each community that is inviting us. It is critical to be invited.  We are often invited because of social media;  they are hearing about us from other communities;

3     We listen to them - find out what they want;

4     We bring in a sampling of the arts - visual, music creation, writing, theatre, photographic and/or video component to the project;

5     Once we arrive we have the first circle; we all introduce ourselves;

6     We have an Elder;

7     We have a smudge;

8     Then we get going;

9     We tell them what will happen over the week long intensive, and there will be a performance; schools co-operate;

10    We ensure the teachers are directly involved; that they be part of the circle (most of the time they do);

11    We open up the portable - the school - after school hours so that kids can come back and work until 9pm. Lots of times other community members come in  and start working with the kids.  It's extraordinary how this organic process gets people involved. We put out our information to the parents ahead of our visit. If parents don't know where their kids are, they do find out that they are with us; we let them know through a handout from the school that they are welcome to come to the school in the evening at these times. If there is bingo going on , they (parents) filter through to work with their children. This is one of the only times they will create with their kids. Lots of time we have to kick them out at 9pm. They always want to stay on longer.  Our biggest challenge is the high turnover of teachers.

12    The kids have to build props and puppets. They build a bigger than lifesize bear out of water bottles.

In this project, we start the discussion of bears, ask the kids to chat about bears. Their responses are that they are garbage, they stink etc. Then when the Elder tells the story, they got a cultural teaching that is all their own; a voice back to them.  This is important.  They then are able to transfer this teaching of the bear back to their community. It makes them stronger. It has become a touchstone; starting point - we always make sure there is a language and teachings side to the project.

The project will culminate at Stratford Theatre in Summer 2017 in conjunction with the opening of the play, "The Breathing Hole". In the lobby there will be an installation of the project - artwork, songs, some visuals, photogrpahs. We will not be transporting the bear sculpture but we will have photos of the bear.

Critical to working in communities: THIS ONLY WORKS IF YOU COME BACK YEAR AFTER YEAR.



"The Bear" project takes place in communities over the Winter months of 2016-2017. In Ogoki, the projects are one week intensives and we try to return to the communities each year.

Communities Involved

The community of Ogoki is involved with the project as participants, creators, storytellers and audience. We work with the schools; the Principal determines which grades they would like to participate. Stratford Festival is a critical partner in this project. NORONT - is an exporation company. A mining company that is providing all sorts of in-kind assistance including with community infrastructure; transportation assistance, community assistance and community liaison. We have been working with them for eight years in these communities. Webequie - grade 9 students are involved.

Genre/Art Form

We brought a sampling of all art forms for this project.


A key outcome for this project is an established partnership between Stratford Theatre and us - a community arts (advocacy-empowerment) organisation working together to highlight a critical issue "The environment". For the project we send out evaluation forms to teachers and kids; statements reveal that the project is successful and that:

Kids come to school and parents are surprised that kids are speaking up and showing themselves through performance.

The project is creating a bridge between kids and their teachers; teachers see their students working in an environment that they work well in; it is disciplined, they find their inner discipline.  They have a different understanding of bears as "healers" and an acute appreciation of their environment; their food comes from the land. They are hunters. They know they need to take care of the land; their elders and parents are hunters. They are aware of global warming; they are feeling it first. They are trying to find moose, it is affecting their food.  This is part of their message - it's important. Having that tie in with the Stratford play, "The Breathing Hole" gives it a parable: 500 year old bear in the arctic - 200 of them in the future and the play will look at how this bear will do. (grizzly and polar bear are creating a new bear).  A key takeaway for audiences in the south is:  ADAPTABILITY - it is a huge part of an Indigenous culture - learning how to adapt.


Average cost of the project $35,000 per community for a one week intensive. Artists Fees, team of five artists.  DAREarts covered 3 artists;  Noront, a sponsor covered 1 artist and Stratford covered 1 artist.   DAREarts pay all expenses, travel, supplies and technical.

Contact Information:

Cathy Elliot and Mariln Field

3042 Concession 3 Adjala, RR1

Palgrave, Ontario L0N 1P0

email: info [at] darearts [dot] com

T 905-729-0097 or 1-888-540-arts











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