BY SHARON SHORTY

Katie Johnson stops for a minute to eat at a busy restaurant while chatting about the next large event she’s working on: the 1st Annual Yukon First Nations Arts Festival to be held in Whitehorse June 21 to 28.

This young vibrant Southern Tutchone woman is the event management co-ordinator and assistant to the general manager.

Johnson was last seen coordinating the highly successful Gathering of Northern Nations for the Canada Winter Games last February 2007. The tent was brimming with cultural performers, artists selling their goods and First Nations displays.

Also, in spite of the 40 below weather, there were lineups at their tent.

Inspired by The Yukon First Nations Tourism Association’s success at that event and by the overall visual arts festival during the Canada Winter Games, the SYANA Board of Directors decided to focus its efforts on developing an event annually.

Johnson relays “the board of directors asked themselves, ‘What could we do to keep the momentum going?'”

Over eight days, the festival will incorporate workshops, performing arts, exhibitions for visual artists and marketing development for emerging, established and master artists. This is in keeping with the mandate of SYANA: “To encourage Native and public participation in the arts”.

“We wanted to kick off with excitement and start the momentum of the festival,” says Johnson. So, SYANA and The Yukon Arts Centre teamed up to present award-winning blues musician George Leach in concert.

Leach gained nation-wide recognition when Just Where I’m At won Best Rock Album at the 2000 Canadian Aboriginal Awards. He was also crowned Best Male Artist of the Year.

His first music video, Young Enough, reached the Top 5 on the coveted Bravo Video Hit List and won Best Music Video Award at the 2002 American Indian Film Festival held in San Francisco.

Leach appears on June 21 at 3 p.m. on the main stage at Jubilee Park, behind the Visitor Information Centre with an opening performance by First Peoples Performances.

Since June 21 is National Aboriginal Day, there will be a bannock bake-off at 11 am, a noon fish and bannock meal served by NorthwesTel and a 1 pm concert.

Besides the main stage, there are three venues: The Old Fire Hall, an Artist Studio Tent and a workshop tent on 1st Avenue.

Thoughout the festival, there will be a variety of Yukon First Nation performances.

Elders featured will be Doris McLean (Carcross/Tagish), Ida Calmegane (Carcross/Tagish) and Joseph Johnson (Southern Tutchone).

Comedy by yours truly, “Gramma Susie & Cash Creek Charlie (aka Duane Aucoin)” and local musicians appearing will be Daniel Tlen, Rising Sun, Say No More and Old Crow’s hilarious fiddler, Allan Benjamin.

Also, a performance by Andrameda Hunter.

Aboriginal films will be co-presented by SYANA and the Yukon Film Society at The Visitor Information Centre Theatre as well, including Anash and the Legacy of the Sun-Rock Rock by director Carol Geddes, Helen Good by director Shirley McLean and The Hunt: Food from the Land by new Whitehorse resident, director Dennis Allen.

Johnson reflects on why she undertook this ambitious festival: “I have my own reasons – to promote the hidden jewels of First Nation performers and artists and to have opportunities to network, promote and engage with other artists.”

For more information, check their new website at www.syana.ca.