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It is with great sadness that the Performing Turtle Island Conference committee announces the passing of theatre / performance artist and conference curator, Michele Sereda, on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at the age of 49 years. She died tragically, along with three other theatre artists, in a devastating car accident on her way to working with a First Nations community in her home province of Saskatchewan, Canada.   Michele was an internationally renowned artist and performer whose professional life is well documented.


EVENT NAME and LOCATION: Performing Turtle Island, Regina Saskatchewan, Canada.


DATES: September 17th to 19th, 2015



Indigenous perspectives in Performance,post-colonial, indigeneity, representation, presentation, trans-identity, community health



Looking landward rather than seaward, there are tropes that resonate deeply with Indigenous people on the Canadian plains: loss of territory, language and loved ones, the trauma of broken body and spirit, the processes of slow healing – the certain knowledge that vessels from far shores, both real and abstract, have transported cargo that manifests a violent hegemony. This conference, entitled Performing Turtle Island: Fluid Identities and Community Continuities positions at its centre the notion that those who live on Turtle Island, within the ideational borders that designate Canada, plumb the depths of the processes of knowing and unknowing in performative and embodied ways. Indeed, these are issues central to the work of many of our most prolific playwrights and performing artists.

Situating much of this body of work between European and Indigenous traditions raises the ethical problem of using Western theoretical approaches to interpret Indigenous literatures - in essence, another form of colonialism. Thus, while considering the development of First Nations drama in Canada, the Conference will take up the question of what distinguishes First Nations from the broader fields of Western drama and styles of performance. Is it primarily Indigenous content (cargo) that makes these plays Aboriginal, or are there formal differences that are distinctly Indigenous? For example, for many Aboriginal playwrights, the use of mythic figures and spiritual traditions provides a way of interpreting social concerns from Indigenous perspectives. It is by a process of indigenizing that Aboriginal performers enact a critical unknowing of Western performance conventions to restore a sense of knowing Aboriginal traditions to their performances.

In Canada, theatre and performance have long helped European settlers and newcomers to construct an image of Indigenous peoples as uncivilized and culturally inferior, an image that has contributed to the process of colonization. Indeed, representations of North American Indigenous peoples began with the first theatrical event ever performed in Canada, on the shores of Port Royal, or present day Nova Scotia (R. Appleford).  Since then, Canadian theatre and performance have continued to shape the image of Indigenous people, most often with negative stereotypes that persist to this day.

The central theme that the Conference takes up in the form of a national symposium of Canadian Indigenous performers and playwrights, scholars and artists is unknowing. Included in this is the notion of trans-identity – what it means to signify across a range identifactory practices. As Canada approaches its 150th birthday, the nation prepares to celebrate its place as a home to people from all over the world.  At the same time, we ask: where does Indigenous identity fit in to the construction of the country’s identity?  Indeed, what do we mean by Indigenous identity, and, given the proliferation of newcomers, what do we mean by Canadian identity?
As underscored in the call for papers for the In the Balance: Indigeneity, Performance and Globalization conference in London (2013), “The growing visibility of artistic networks and ideological coalitions among indigenous peoples on a transnational scale urges a fresh look at the cultural entanglements that have accompanied colonization and globalization.” In the face of growing international mobility and a radically changing Canadian demographic, it is important to take another look at how identity is constructed on Turtle Island, within the ideational borders that designate Canada.
In response to issues of identity, a significant body of works by Indigenous playwrights has emerged over the last 30 years.  Many writers and artists address political rights, missing Aboriginal women, and identity, while shifting paradigms to challenge people to rethink the biases behind Indigenous stereotypes. None-the-less, the image of Indigenous peoples in Canadian theatre and performance remains problematically fixed, linked to the realities of poverty, inadequately supported education and community health in Indigenous populations. In this sense, the processes of knowing and unknowing are bound up with self-awareness and self-healing.

Thus, Performing Turtle Island focuses on two intertwined threads: Indigenous identity and community health. Through the latter, we link with several major projects currently exploring means of healing through performative interaction in local populations using theatre and performance practices as tools of community engagement, community consultation and project-based learning, through oral, visual, and kinaesthetic methods of inquiry.

The overriding questions for the conference are: what are performative acts from an Indigenous perspective, and how do

we move outside of the boundaries of how one makes and considers traditional performance? While we are concerned with traditional Indigenous performance, we aim our focus more on contemporary forms that express Aboriginal identities and trans-identities across diverse cultural and social contexts. Engaging Indigenous theatre and performing arts through a multidisciplinary perspective helps promote Indigenous cultures as a valuable source of knowledge, meaning, recognition, and identity inclusiveness. 

The Performing Turtle Island conference aims to promote and share knowledge and research in the areas of Indigenous theatre, performance, education, storytelling, and community engagement as it  focuses on contemporary Canadian Indigenous playwrights and modes of performing Indigenous identity on conventional and non-conventional stages through critical and performative lenses.

Our conference is also concerned with the historical and critical contexts of Aboriginal performance in Canada.  For example, while contemporary Western theory tends to deconstruct the text as empty of metaphysical meaning, Aboriginal writers and performers have continued to emphasize that meaning in their works hinges on a spiritual centre.  This is the underlying way that contemporary Indigenous theatre and art maintain a link to tradition; this is also why Elders will play a central role in the transfer and exchange of knowledge at the conference, particularly in relation to the values of care and cultural understanding.


The scope and reach of the conference is simultaneously regional, national, and international. Situated in Regina, Saskatchewan and will have large participation by artists and academics regional to Western Canada; at the same time, the conference acts as the primary Canadian node of a larger nationally and internationally connected network of conferences. Panels and sessions will be teleconferenced nationally to McGill and Concordia Universities’ Trans-Montréal Symposium, while the entire conference is connected internationally to Performance Studies International’s Globally Dispersed Conference 2015: Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing.

The Trans-Montréal Workshop, will take place over two days  (Sept. 18th and 19th 2015). The goal of the workshop is to continue to explore in performative ways issues of transition, translation, transmediation, transaction, in relation to the Montréal and Québec performance histories, viewed both from a local and global perspective. Trans-Montréal is keen to overlap with Performing Turtle Island as a means of putting more pressure on a notion of performative identity tied to state boundaries produced by the colonization of, in this case, Québec and Canada (that is, a concept of “Montréal” or “Québec performance,” terms which rely on these historically contingent boundaries). The two events overlap in a key panel on “Transmigration: Aboriginal/Autochtone Performance,” which will be streamed between the two locations and will have a Montréal moderator (Inuk art historian and curator Dr. Heather Igloliorte) and panelists speaking from Regina. The Trans-Montréal workshop focuses on performance cultures of all kinds (dance, music, theatre, art, circus) as specific media of enacting bodily expression, which in turn inflect ideas about Montréal, Québec, and Canada as well as strongly interrelating with aboriginal performance and influencing global performance modes.

In this way, Performing Turtle Island conference will be a multi-platformed event that is simultaneously actual and virtual, local and globally disseminated, interactive and docked on a website. 



The call for presenters, and for participants in study and workshop groups, is available here.

Call for Local and Visiting Correspondents available here.

Visit the Performing Turtle Island website at www.performingturtleisland.org



Curator and co-director: Dr. Kathleen Irwin, Theatre Department, University of Regina
Co-director: Dr. Jesse Archibald-Barber, First Nations University of Canada






Publishing Committee:

Dr. Jesse Archibald-Barber, First Nations University of Canada; Dr. Leanne Groeneveld, Campion College, University of Regina;

Dr. Moira Day, Drama Department, University of Saskatchewan;

Dr. Mary Blackstone, Professor Emerita, Theatre Department, University of Regina;

Prof. Wes Pearce, Assoc. Dean Fine Arts, University of Regina

Curating Committee:

Jorge Sandoval, Doctoral Student, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland; Prof. Judy Anderson, First Nations University of Canada; Katherine Boyer, Curator, First Nations University of Canada

Catering and Welcome Committee:

Cathy McComb, Fine Arts Interdisciplinary MA student University of Canada

Performance Curation:

Michele Sereda, Artistic Director, Cutain Razors;

Jorge Sandoval, Doctoral Student, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland.

Institutional Partners:

Curtain Razors

University of Saskatchewan


First Nations University of Canada

Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Canada

University of Regina President’s Office

Sask Culture Multi-Cultural Fund


Tags: History Tradition and Performance  Indigeneity and Performance  Performance Studies in the Americas   Religion Spirituality and Performance  

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