Negotiating First Nations rights in Canada - What does dancing have to do with it?


November 2, 2010 :: Lisa Doolittle
Moderated by Shelley Scott

In the late 1800s, the Canadian government banned dancing among aboriginal peoples. Any aboriginal person participating in dance events could end up in jail, performing hard labour instead of the deeply spiritual and community building work of ceremonies like the Sun Dance. At the same time, corporations like the Canadian Pacific Railroad began to showcase Aboriginal dance in events designed for “white” spectators - like the Calgary Stampede and Banff “Indian Days.” In 1988, the Canadian government passed the Multiculturalism Act “to recognize all Canadians as full and equal participants in Canadian society.” Promoting culture-specific dance was fundamental to the multicultural agenda. First a segment of the national population is commanded not to dance; then, is instead urged to dance.

This talk argues that dancing is not only a form of cultural and artistic expression, it is also a politically powerful strategy. Using two federal Acts – the Indian and Multiculturalism Acts – as the time frame, Doolittle examines how Blackfoot dancing in Southern Alberta figured in the national conversation about human rights and national identity. In many global struggles for equity and dignity, the powerful embodied experience of dance has been used as a tactic to reconfigure the present and reshape the future. What kind of influence can the practice of dance have on the perception or the reality of First Nations peoples in Canada?
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Speaker: Professor Lisa Doolittle

Lisa Doolittle is Professor in Theatre Arts at the University of Lethbridge. She trained as a professional dancer and choreographer at the Nikolais and Cunningham studios in New York, and in Toronto and Rome. She performed and created dance work in Canada and Italy for fifteen years, before obtaining her Masters degree with a focus on Movement and Culture at Wesleyan University. Doolittle’s most recent original dance/theatre production “Something to Declare” was based on oral histories of recent newcomers to Lethbridge. She has published widely in academic journals and anthologies and was the 2008-10 Faculty of Fine Arts’ University Scholar, and received the 2007 Council of Alberta Faculty Associations’ Distinguished Academic Award.


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