Coming into the light

It was in 2011 that the first ever Adäka Cultural Festival was held on the waterfront outside the Old Fire Hall. The festival has grown exponentially since then and is now recognized as the biggest Indigenous music, arts and culture festival in the North. The festival’s mission is to showcase and celebrate the Yukon’s unique First Nations arts and culture while providing a space for emerging and established artists to develop their craft and foster their talents.

This year, festival attendees are in for several treats, including a headline performance by world-renowned Ottawa electronic duo, A Tribe Called Red. The Yukon Arts Centre will co-present the group with the Adäka Cultural Festival on July 3 at the festival’s Electric Pow Wow. A Tribe Called Red will be joined by two Yukon opening acts, the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers featuring DJ Dash, and youth electronic artist Jeremy Parkin.

Aside from A Tribe Called Red, the festival’s nearly weeklong run is packed with other performances, visual arts showcases, workshops and even children’s programming. According to Katie Johnson, Adäka co-founder, director of arts and festival producer, more than 150 Indigenous artists will participate in the festival. Johnson said there are artists coming from every community in the Yukon, as well as several places in the Northwest Territories and across Canada.

The festival programming also includes talks from elders and a variety of different traditional pursuits, such as moose tanning demonstrations.

The word “Adäka” is Southern Tutchone for “coming into the light.” The Adäka Cultural Festival aims to shine a light on the diverse population of First Nations artists in and outside of the Yukon. Each year, a different theme is used to achieve this. This year’s theme of “From the Land” will focus on land and language. Through art, song and storytelling, the festival will celebrate and raise awareness of First Nations languages and also the importance of the land on which we live.

“The intent is really to honour our languages and communities,” said Johnson. “We want to encourage young people to speak and sing in our languages.”While the festival is a celebration of First Nations arts, culture and language, it is also being used to promote awareness and action on current issues, such as missing and murdered Indigenous women, according to Johnson.

“Using the festival as a platform, we still continue the work in strengthening our community,” she said.

With so much going on this year and so much work put into organizing such a big event, it’s clear that the festival has come a long way in its nine years. The 2019 edition is sure to attract even more attention, meaning the festival can only grow bigger and become more recognized from here on.

“It’s definitely grown since I’ve been involved,” said Johnson. “I think it’s going to grow into an international Indigenous festival.”

The Adäka Cultural Festival takes place from June 28 until July 4 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. All of the events are free, with the exception of the Electric Pow Wow featuring A Tribe Called Red. A full festival program, as well as artist profiles, festival information, a list of workshops and instructions for those who would like to volunteer can be found on the festival’s official website at

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