Preserving Indigenous languages: Songs in the Key of Cree artists visit campus

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Indigenous Speakers Series invites you to a performance of acclaimed Cree playwright Tomson Highway’s Songs in the Key of Cree. The cabaret-style performance is a compilation of songs written by Highway over the past 30 years and drawn from his many musicals including The (Post) Mistress and Rose. Patricia Cano's captivating vocals will be accompanied by three musicians, including the virtouso fiddler player Nathan Halcrow from Cross Lake First Nation in northern Manitoba. The show also incorporates music and storytelling from Highway’s new full-length Cree musical, Lynx Lamour Goes to Nashville, which has been developed to support langauge revitalization work taking place in First Nations communities across the county.

“The loss of language represents the loss of part of the world’s soul,” says Highway in a film that documents the project which will be screened as part of the November 19 event on campus.

Tomson Highway playing piano with Patricia Cano singing

Tomson Highway and Patricia Cano performing Songs in the Key of Cree cabaret. Photo by Leah Takata.

This performance is connected to the SSHRC-funded Faculty of Arts-based Indigenous language revitalization project Songs in the Key of Cree, which connects the Cree concepts of achimoowin, ayamoowin, and paapoowin (language, story-telling, and laughter). The project incorporates community-based research into the history of language loss and resurgence, and contributes to the development of multi-media language and cultural materials in partnership with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, and the University of Waterloo. 

"The songs are performed by Peruvian-Canadian cabaret singer Patricia Cano, whose vocals are utterly electrifying, with jazz saxophonist Marcus Ali" - review from Edinburgh Festival

In May 2019, Professor Susan Roy and MA student Emma Rain Smith of the Department of History joined Highway and the artists on the project’s tour to northern Manitoba First Nations communities. The tour offered performances as well as theatre and beadwork workshops with youth. Highway intiated the project to encourage Indigenous youth to use their language in any way they can.

illustration of Tomson HighwayIndigenous languages are critically endangered throughout the world. This is more than a loss of words and laughter: Indigenous languages embody sets of relationships and ways of being in the world that are powerful, transformative, and sometimes very funny. The Songs in the Key of Cree performance highlights the global importance of Indigenous languages.

Please join us for this engaging afternoon of song and the Cree language! Event details.

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