Canadian ballet promotes indigenous rights in OAS

Obijway and Cree Elders Mel and Shirley Chartrand opens the OAS event.

RWB Ballet dancers Tristan Dobrowney and Catherine Bonnell gives a highly emotive performance.

Tina Keeper, Andre Lewis, Ry Moran, Ambassador Loten speak about the issue of Truth and Reconcilliation.

Reception in the Aztec Patio.

An innovative mix of ballet and human rights helped to promote indigenous rights and commemorate International Human Rights Day at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) performed a highly evocative performance sequence from the ballet “Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation” which features music by Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq. The event, hosted by Canada’s Permanent Mission to the OAS was followed by a high level discussion panel on Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

Human rights through artistry

The event was opened by Obijway and Cree Elders Mel and Shirley Chartrand who explained to the audience that they had travelled from Canada to Washington D.C. on their own initiative because they were so happy and grateful that at last they felt safe to tell their story. After a brief talk, the Elders led the crowd in a short spiritual blessing with a tobacco pouch.

The ballet, “Going Home Star”, tells the story of a young indigenous woman who helps her new partner deal with his past traumas. This ballet was developed with support from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, as part of an effort to commemorate and remember the stories of survivors of Canada’s Residential Schools.

Many participants said that it was one of the best and most touching events ever held at the OAS, and that Canada should be very proud. Ambassador Jennifer Loten, Permanent Representative   of Canada to the OAS, explained that sometimes the emotional issues that arise from the violation of human rights are best expressed through alternative means of communication, such as artistic expression. Andre Lewis, RWB’s Artistic Director, explained how dance has the capacity to magnify the message of truth and reconciliation because it reaches an audience that doesn't normally deal with the issue. Ry Moran, Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation also spoke about the process moving forward, and Actress and Producer, Tina Keeper, spoke about what this process means to Canadians.

Dialogue and communication

When the floor opened for comments after the ballet performance, Ambassadors from a number of OAS countries recognized that talking openly about human rights challenges is the appropriate way to address them.

Emilio Alvarez Icaza, the Executive Director of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, closed the event by commending Canada’s example of dialogue and communication and for supporting the important message of Truth and Reconciliation and indigenous peoples in Canada.

This unique combination of Canadian art and culture facilitated the delivery of difficult messaging and promoted indigenous rights. This event will not be forgotten at the OAS or by member states when discussing human rights in the future. It will also serve as a platform for Canada to sustain a dialogue on reconciliation through the hemisphere and further advance indigenous issues at the OAS.