Rubaboo Arts Festival celebrates First Nations art

A moment in Pyretic Productions' Bears, being co-presented by Rubaboo arts festival // Max Telzerow
A moment in Pyretic Productions' Bears, being co-presented by Rubaboo arts festival // Max Telzerow

Though its stature as Edmonton’s première offering of First Nations, Inuit and Métis art remains as sturdy as ever, the Rubaboo Arts Festival took a little extra time to get around to its sixth iteration. It skipped over 2014 altogether, actually, as the festival realigned its timing from a summer session to a new mid-winter slot, more attuned to the scheduling of other such art festivals in Canada. As festival co-founder Christine Frederick explains, it was a jump in timing that came on the behest of the artists themselves.

“In 2013, we started the groundwork for that national network of aboriginal touring presenters,” she begins. “We had a gathering of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal presenters and artists; one of the things that they said, pretty loud and clear, was that as touring artists it would be so helpful to be able to hop, skip and jump from one festival to the other—which means the festivals themselves should be more aligned.”

The sixth Rubaboo maintains a slate of intriguing and challenging indigenous art, pulling from across disciplines and styles: there’s a film night, play readings, performances, music and more. This year also finds the festival partnering up like never before: Rubaboo’s involved in joint presentations with the Canoe Theatre Festival, the Resilience Festival, Flying Canoe, and Pyretic Productions, to name a few. That level of shared presentation plays into a nation-wide momentum Frederick is starting to see: never before has there been such a re-emergence of indigenous art or so much structural support for it, from funding to administration to festivals to perform at.

“It’s always excellent to promote and work with the people within our own communities, but when you realize they’re part of something much larger, it’s very revealing with regards to Canadian identity,” Frederick says. “It feels like there’s this puzzle piece to Canada—which hasn’t been shared through education, through historical admission—that the arts can reveal.  So there’s this momentum to add to that communal identity; with aboriginal people, we’ve had our identity so effectively stripped from us, our culture criminalized, which is still on the backs of aboriginal people today. Of course, our culture isn’t criminalized anymore, but there’s a lot of disparity about what people understand their culture to be; their access to elders, their access to artistry is still very limited. So we’re working very hard to mitigate that, to allow people to understand what it is to be an aboriginal artist.”

Until Tue, Feb 10
Various locations
Full schedule at

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