Sage Nokomis Wright on Kanata Cabaret Hour

Sage Nokomis Wright, the Managing Producer of Indigenous Contemporary Scene, introduces Kanata Cabaret Hour, part of this year’s CanadaHub line-up at King’s Hall

Article by Chris Dobson | 01 Aug 2019
  • Indigenous Contemporary Scene

Speaking of the show, which she curated alongside Emilie Monnet, the Artistic Director of Onishka Productions and the force behind ICS in Edinburgh, Wright says it’s "a night of Indigenous badassery!

"It is a cabaret unlike others because of the vibrant connection between the performers as Indigenous artists," she tells me. "We share a special sense of humour as kin and a certain understanding of one another that allows the audience to witness a kinetic energy across the roster, night after night, through a rotating line-up of performers."

A radical mix of dance, music and live art from Indigenous perspectives, featuring playwrights, dancers, singers and performers, Kanata Cabaret Hour will be performed both in English and in a variety of Indigenous languages – something that Wright hopes will leave audiences feeling that they have experienced a “new story, a new word.” She wants people to leave feeling like they are “full from a home cooked meal your auntie made you." Wright stresses, however, that it should not be seen as a cultural exhibit. “The linking factor is that all the presenters are Indigenous, not that we are presenting specifically Indigenous performances.”

The title derives from the Haudenosaunee word for town or village, ‘Kanata’, which was recorded by Jacques Cartier, the first European to travel inland in North America, in 1535. The word eventually became the name of the country now known as ‘Canada’. Using the term “is about reclamation”, Wright states.

As a symbol of this reclamation, Kanata Cabaret Hour uses a re-imagined Canadian flag, with three feathers in place of a maple leaf. The image was conceptualised by the Kanata Project “as a response to the need for the recreation of a new identity for ‘Canada’ that recognises and honours the origins of the country.”

Asked about the position of Indigenous communities in Canada, Wright replies: “I think for our international friends, it can be easy to lump Indigenous people in Canada into one group. Canada is a country that spans almost ten million square kilometres, and our First Nations, Inuit and Metis people live on every foot of it, in vastly different climates, with different ceremonies and teachings and life experiences. One thing that unites us is our inherent talent for storytelling. What is under threat is our resources. Natural resource extraction and man camps, government involvement in family affairs, there are currently hundreds of boil water advisories affecting Indigenous communities across Canada. This is just a small taste of what threatens our existence, but Canada’s indigenous communities are always thriving. The land is not.” 

She wants to bring the show to the Fringe because it is “an exciting opportunity to exhibit Indigenous excellence at such a major convergence of international talent.” Kanata Cabaret Hour has been curated specifically for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and has never been previously performed.

Wright herself has a connection to Scotland – her grandmother is from Inverness. She is excited to be welcomed to this land and to come full circle, by presenting work on the land of her Scottish ancestors whilst honouring the intersection of her Scottish and Anishinaabe heritage.

"Story-telling is inherent for us,” Wright says. “We are beautiful storytellers." For anyone with an interest in Indigenous storytelling, Kanata Cabaret Hour looks sure to be an unmissable evening’s entertainment this Fringe.

Kanata Cabaret Hour is at CanadaHub, King’s Hall, 21-24 Aug, 7pm, £11 (£9 concession, £36 family ticket)