Art director looks to provide venues for Indigenous voices

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BANFF – Banff has had a complicated past with Indigenous people and the showcasing of cultural practices, but the Banff Centre is diligently committed to changing that narrative going forward. 

Reneltta Arluk is an Indigenous playwright and also the Banff Centre’s director of Indigenous Arts. As part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, she’s been tasked with providing venues for Indigenous voices to have a say in programming at the Banff Centre.

“It’s vital. How can we fully autonomize and self determine if we’re not able to drive our own art, from bottom to top and top to bottom?” said Arluk. “I think that is the work I’m meant to be doing here at Banff Centre.”

Arluk is beginning her first full year as director of Indigenous arts and she plans to lay the framework for Indigenous programming to continue at the Banff Centre in the future. 

For the most part, the Banff Centre has been fully on board with Arluk, but bringing Indigenous perspective to a non-Indigenous institution is not without it’s difficulties. Part of the challenges facing Arluk is how to fully integrate Indigenous programming within the existing framework of the Banff Centre, rather than running it separately and parallel to existing programming. 

“What’s happening is all the other areas have had their programming for a while, and they just roll over their programming, but now we’re asking them to make space. We go, ‘we’d like to do our programming around this time, and use this space around this time,’ and that’s been a real challenge. People want to do that, but I think everyone is just asking themselves, ‘how do we do that?’ ” 

For her, that means starting an ongoing dialogue between Indigenous programming and non-Indigenous programming that is genuine and equal. 

“That’s an interesting conversation of reconciliation, when we get to drive the conversation as Indigenous people. There’s a lot of us in the country sharing that same dialogue of self determination and self regulation and we are sharing that with each other. What’s really wonderful about being able to do this work is I’m not the only one doing it.”

One of the most difficult tasks facing reconciliation in Canada is providing spaces for an Indigenous person to steer their own direction, rather than just providing token service to Indigenous people. 

To that end, the Banff Centre has created a program to provide two Indigenous elders in residency. The elders are provided an honorarium to work in bi-weekly shifts and to provide cultural insight in a non-judgmental way that might be otherwise lacking. 

“One thing we were very clear about in that job description is you’re not here to stamp somebody’s work with Indigenous approval. And that should never be the case.”

Another initiative Arluk is undertaking is bringing in elders of different Indigenous nations, and giving them a tour of the Banff Centre. To date, Cree, Blackfoot, Stoney Nakoda, Shuswap, Dene, and Tsuut’ina elders have taken Arluk up on the offer. 

“(We’re) just touring them through the Banff Centre, letting them know what’s here, telling them about our program and asking how they want to engage, and if they want to engage. It’s more than just a, ‘come and do your welcome;’ it’s how do you actually want to be a part of our program, which is really important.”

Upcoming programming in Indigenous arts includes a workshop on traditional western and Pacific dance called BodyWeather, a story telling and spoken word residency, and an experimental multidisciplinary residency called Ghost Days that tackles themes of colonial and non-colonial history. 

To meet Arluk, the Banff Centre will host a blessing and panel discussion on Monday (Sept. 10). 

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Brandon Wilson

Brandon Wilson is a recent graduate from SAIT's journalism program. Before becoming a journalist he worked in a multitude of different industries, from equipment cleaning and truck driving, to the food service industry. Always open to having a coffee or reading a good book, don't hesitate to say hello if you see him on the street.