Feels Like a Celebration

First, she says, it allows artists, performers and cultural sector workers “to come together once a year to share inspiration, to share ideas, to learn new skills, to inspire each other.”

Alexander is a co-founder and executive producer of the four-year-old festival, which runs this year from Friday, June 27 through Thursday, July 3 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on the Whitehorse waterfront.

“It’s an opportunity for them to meet aboriginal artists from outside the Yukon, and there’s this exchange of ideas and inspiration there as well,” she continues.

To emphasize her point, Alexander singles out one of this year’s keystone events, called Journey with Our Hearts and Hands. It’s a gathering of 13 master carvers from New Zealand, British Columbia (including Haida Gwaii), Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon.

“They’re going to come together and spend five days together, and we’ll see that cross-pollination,” she says.

“If we look at some of their work two years from now, we will see how they were inspired by that experience.”

After three decades creating and running festivals, including the Great Northern Art Festival in Inuvik, Alexander understands the dynamics and benefits of a big event of this kind.

“Every year we see people coming back, and they’ve stepped it up a notch, because they’ve had an opportunity to perform or present their work in a really professional environment, and to a really diverse audience.”

That audience includes visitors and Yukoners alike.

“It’s an opportunity for visitors to learn about and experience firsthand the diverse aboriginal culture we have here in the Yukon,” Alexander says. “It’s also an opportunity for Yukoners to experience it.”

“In the past there weren’t a lot of opportunities for non-aboriginal Yukoners to experience aboriginal culture, so it could possibly even break down some barriers.”

Among many other things on offer are a diverse display of traditional dancing, an exhibit and explanation of 15 recently-commissioned dance regalia items, an evening of legends and stories, and a motivational speech by hockey great Theo Fleury.

There are also presentations and workshops on everything from hoop dancing and bannock making, to basketry and traditional medicines.

“I think we’ve got the right formula. It’s professional, but it’s very relaxed,” Alexander says.

“You can just feel this really great, happy atmosphere when you’re there. It really feels like a celebration.

Wearing her other hat as executive director of the First Nations Culture and Tourism Association, Alexander sees the festival benefitting from a “huge and growing” interest in cultural tourism.

“Our vision is to build the festival into a huge, iconic international festival, so there will be a lot of spin-off opportunities,” she says.

“Already this year, I’ve met with a new Chinese tour company here in the Yukon. Their first tour is coming this summer, and we’re going to start talking for next year and developing tours specifically around the festival.”

The full schedule for this year’s festival is online at adakafestival.ca.

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