Aaniin (hello) everyone,
As an Aboriginal Studies major, I’ve been lucky enough to study under some amazing teachers and Professor Jill Carter has been one in particular that was always able to capture my attention and imagination. As the first Aboriginal woman (Anishnabe) at U of T to obtain her PhD in drama, Professor Carter’s ABS402H1 “Traditional Indigenous Ecological Knowledge” class was a fine balance of being both enlightening and entertaining (as a trained actress, her voice projection and presence is far better suited for Shakespearean theatre, not an acoustically-challenged classroom in the bowels of University College). I remember the first day of class and how Professor Carter managed to look into the eyes of every student and told us, “You are all artistic.” Some students shifted uncomfortably in their seats while others nervously giggled. I can understand their reaction. As an Arts and Science student, I’ve never heard a professor remind us that we are all creative, original and artistic beings. Typically, the first day of class is an opportunity for professors to make us feel incredibly unoriginal when they lecture us about the crime and punishment of plagiarism.
It’s not surprising when I learned that Professor Carter would be participating in this year’s Nuit Blanche with a collaborative installation and performance piece, “Medicine Walk“. If you aren’t familiar with Nuit Blanche, it’s a free all-night contemporary art festival happening on October 1 where artists transform Toronto into a city that never sleeps (6:59 pm until sunrise). With the support of the Aboriginal Studies Program at the University of Toronto, Professor Carter and her team of current and former Aboriginal (and Aboriginal Studies) students and volunteers are decolonizing the landscape of U of T through an interactive piece that encourages the audience to participate in singing, physical expression and language reclamation. The performances will begin at the Kahontake Kitikan Garden (located outside of Hart House), that is a ceremonial and culturally significant space blooming with native flora and centred around the medicine teachings of the Four Directions.
“This project is driven by students, alumni, allies and staff of the Aboriginal Studies Program,” says Professor Carter, “It comes straight from them. What they have brought to the table is the manifestation of embodied connection with what has been pushed to the margins, buried underground, silenced or forgotten. And what they have created is a catalyst for the reemergence of these things.”
I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Professor Carter tirelessly work with students on Wednesday night at First Nations House as they rehearsed their individual work that will be performed during the Medicine Walk. It was exhilarating to watch Professor Carter direct my classmate, Erik Wexler, and friend and former classmate, Christine McFarlane, as they rehearsed their spoken word pieces for the Medicine Walk.
“Imagine every pore is filling up with everything!” Professor Carter advised them about their performances, swooping up from her director’s chair (a black leather sofa). “I’m referencing Stephen King.” She laughed at herself. All of the students listened carefully to her advice, that will make their performances more powerful come Saturday night.
“It’s a moment when you are connecting with the universe and people and life around you,” she told Erik, “Drink it, and taste it.”
I hope everyone will get a chance to connect to Professor Carter’s Medicine Walk (yes, I really just encouraged you to spend a Saturday night on campus) and weave themselves into a new and old world vision of U of T that honours, transforms and reclaims the Aboriginal land, peoples and teachings that our school is built upon.
Also, if you have any tips on how you plan to stay awake until sunrise, let me know!