Coming Into the Light

What started as a seed is about to blossom into a beautiful flower.

Plans for the Adäka Cultural Festival have been in the works for the last year, and on July 1-9, 2011 the Whitehorse waterfront will come alive in a cultural celebration of Yukon First Nation artists and performers.

Not only that, but special guests will be coming from British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Greenland, and Alaska.

The Council of Yukon First Nations is championing the project with Charlene Alexander and Katie Johnson acting as the Festival’s Co-Executive Producers.

Over the last few years, Alexander and Johnson have built a solid reputation for themselves as event producers, working together on various Yukon First Nations (YFN) cultural events including Gathering Northern Nations at the 2007 Canada Winter Games, 2008 Yukon First Nations Arts Festival, and the highly acclaimed YFN 2010 presentation at the Vancouver Olympics.

When they first started working together in 2007, it quickly became apparent that the two women share a passion for Aboriginal art and culture, and believe in the importance of providing opportunities for Yukon First Nations artists and performers to showcase their talents.

“The 2007 Gathering Northern Nations event was one of the first to highlight YFN arts and culture on a national scale,” recalls Johnson.

“It generated such a huge amount of energy and excitement in the [Yukon First Nations] communities, and that really showed us that there was a need for further opportunities.”

Inspired by this success, Alexander and Johnson began developing an annual gathering that would unite Yukon visual and performing artists.

The 2008 Yukon First Nations Arts Festival took place over seven days. Artists were given the chance to gain new skills and inspiration for their work and to preserve and pass on traditional skills and knowledge.

Representatives from the Four Host First Nations (FHN) for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics had visited the 2008 festival, and were impressed by what they saw.

They approached the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and asked about assembling a team of visual and performing First Nations artists to participate in the Vancouver 2010 arts and cultural presentations.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” says Johnson. “But we dove into the project because we knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Just over 50 visual and performing artists were chosen to form YFN 2010. In the Greater Vancouver area they participated at 17 venues over 10 days, dazzling audiences from around the world.

“There was so much excitement and positive energy surrounding YFN 2010,” says Johnson.

“There was a very strong sense of unity. It was amazing to see the youth take ownership of their culture, and to be proud of who they are.”

When the craziness of the 2010 Olympics was over, the YFN 2010 team took a break – but not for long! Within two months, they began discussing ways to sustain the spirit of the experience.

“We wanted to continue the energy and inspiration from the Games for all Yukon First Nations,” says Johnson.

A planning team assessed market potential, funding sources, and capacity for delivering a similar audience experience in the Yukon with community. They explored ideas with government, and industry officials.

The result is the Adäka Cultural Festival.

“For so many years Yukon First Nations kept our culture in a closed box and the Adäka Festival is going to be our time to open that box up and come into the light.”

The Adäka Cultural Festival is a not-for-profit project with the Yukon Arts Centre and Yukon Film Society as program partners. It is supported by the Yukon First Nations, Government of Canada-CanNor and Canada Council for the Arts, Government of Yukon, and presenting sponsor CHON FM.

In 2011 the Festival – featuring about 60 performing artists, 55 visual artists, workshops and First Nations food vendors – will be held at the Old Firehall and in tents along the Whitehorse waterfront, with larger presentations at the Yukon Arts Centre.

It has been an amazing journey to get to this point, and Johnson sums it up perfectly.

“Adäka means ‘coming into the light’, and this really is our time to shine.”

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