The Mikw Chiyâm festival launches a new generation of artists

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The Mikw Chiyâm team held its third annual arts festival June 23 in Nemaska. This is the end-of-year gathering for all students enrolled in the Mikw Chiyâm Arts Concentration Program in the James Bay area. The students displayed artwork, both physical and digital, that had been created over the previous year.

Along with 14 other students from Mistissini, I had a blast and am grateful to those who organized the event and our travel. To show my appreciation, the following is a recap of my experiences during the trip. So strap in and get ready to relive this great experience with me!

To start our adventure, let’s bring it back to a few weeks prior to the festival. I was still in art class working on my final independent project (which, umm… I didn’t finish in time for the festival). Our art teacher had begun handing out permission sheets for the festival requiring parents’ signatures, medical information – the works. I got mine signed the day she handed them out and turned it in the very next day so I could get it out of the way ASAP. Why? Because the end of days was upon us students. That’s right, it was June.

End-of-year-exams are an omnipresent evil that consume every student’s moments of free thought, annihilating their hopes and dreams for the future. So when the exams started in mid-June, it was all anyone could think about. Projects were halted, plans were cancelled, panic ran amok. Especially in Secondary V, ministry exams are very high on our priority list.

Therefore, I blame the government for creating exams and an education system that depends entirely on our scores from said exams. The guv’ment is absolutely the sole reason I did not complete my independent project in time for the festival. The cause was definitely not my time-management and productivity issues. Nope, not a bit. (Just kidding – I love you government! Please don’t cancel payment for my college.)

Even without my completed project, at exactly 9:45 am on June 22 the Mistissini crew embarked on a bus journey to the allegedly beautiful community of Nemaska. Just kidding, we left around 10:50, once again due to Indian Time™.

We arrived at Nemaska’s sports complex around 3 pm, then walked over to the motel and restaurant to be met with open arms from artists, both from this year and past years. There were exotic snacks such as vegan cake, two types of dragon fruit and my personal favourite, avocados. Before this trip, I had never eaten an avocado raw before, only when prepared as guacamole. So I think this was the most noteworthy event of the festival – the dawning of my love for raw avocados.

This year’s event featured several improvements, one of them being planned housing for all students! With a chaperone and three other students, I stayed in a house on Porcupine Trail. It was very nicely furnished, clean and offered fibre-optic internet that we could not access (for the better).

After finding some friends from Chisasibi and receiving our nametags, we sat down to supper – steak, ribs, a bunch of sides and cake. Then shirts were handed out reading, “I AM,” which we needed to fill in with a statement, just like at last year’s festival. I designed mine to read, “I AM GOING HOME,” because home is my favourite place to be. And at the end of the day, it’s always the destination. I slept soundly in my temporary home that night after watching two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

The next morning we sludged over to the complex where they served breakfast. I had a bunch of fruit, a waffle, bacon, scrambled eggs and a whole avocado.

Before the arts festival was open to the public, we had to set it up. So, the day was split into four sections, in which each community would set up their artwork in their personal corner of the gymnasium. Mistissini was first, so I hung up posters and wrote down titles, names and

descriptions. Then I participated in three workshops that were going on simultaneously. There was block-printing, collage and sun-printing, which was new to me. I made artwork that consisted of ghost-trees, quotes from my dad and existential questions of man obtaining the ability to fly.

There was also a photo booth managed by an artist where I took awkward prom pictures with friends. Just before the art festival opened at 6 pm, supper was served – curry chicken with rice, a funky vegetable side that I did not eat and, my second new favourite food discovery, Naan bread. I ate at least four pieces of this amazing discovery.

Then it was showtime! The arts festival was opened to the public while I was still munching down on chickpeas and Naan. People, artists, students and staff were taking in all the artwork created by students and some full-fledged artists.

Then Mikw Chiyâm Arts Festival’s first-ever live theatrical play, written and performed by the students of Chisasibi was performed. The play told the hilarious story of two royal siblings who were at war for the kingdom. I loved it.

After the play, the digital side of the artworks were projected on the large screen. I saw my little sister’s stop-motion video – which was short but sweet – a horror movie by the Chisasibi crew, and a very powerful video starring local Elders talking about their lives as children. Then it was party time!

There were live performances by Mikw Chiyâm students, artists and teachers. Musical offerings including the local group Vangorian, Simple Human Tribe, The NorthStars and KXO. I think the Brooklyn Nine-Nine before bed the previous night nipped me in the bud though, as I began feeling very tired after 10 pm.

But then I heard of a secret midnight gathering of students playing Cards Against Humanity in the building, so I left to investigate. I watched a few rounds of CAH before the 2018 Mikw Chiyâm Arts Festival came to a close. I took the artwork I hung up and the ones I created that day and headed to bed.

Departure day was a sad one. Spirits were low, or maybe we were just tired. I said my final goodbyes to artists who have taught me over the three years I have been in the Mikw Chiyâm Arts Concentration Program because I don’t expect to return to high school in August. I said goodbyes to friends and boarded the Mistissini bus drenched in tears (wet, giant, metaphorical tears of sadness). The bus left Nemaska at around 10 am. We expected to be home by 3 pm – buuuuut… around noon, our bus driver suspected something was wrong with our bus.

He pulled over and inspected the engine and concluded that we were leaking something or missing a plug and that the bus was no longer functional. This was in the middle of nowhere on the Route du Nord. He busted out his satellite phone and phoned for help from Chibougamou. Expected time of arrival of substitute bus/salvation: two hours. Of course Indian Time™ played a role, so the Mistissini crew was stranded for three hours on a bus – with clouds of blackflies laying siege outside – that got progressively hotter. It was hell. We passed the time by singing, sitting on rocks outside being eaten alive by flies, walking up and down the road, playing card games and eating snacks.

Finally, we spotted a Maheux bus stirring dust up the road. We got hyped that we were going to be saved, but no, it was a school trip of Waskaganish students going home. So we sat for another hour until a small yellow school bus came booting it down the road. As my friend Harland put it, “We went from a 200k bus to a 20k.” Whatever, we were soon bumping home down the Route du Nord.

The Mikw Chiyâm Arts Festival was an incredible experience, one that the students, teachers and artists have been looking forward to the entire year. This arts festival will be my final one attending as a student as I plan to graduate this year and attend college in the fall. The program has been the highlight of my high school experience and I am eternally grateful to those who helped make it a reality.

Mikw Chiyâm opened my eyes to what is possible in my life and what I want to pursue, career-wise, in the future. I am one of the few remaining students who has been in the program since its creation in Mistissini in 2015. Now that we are graduating, my art teacher observed that, “It’s the end of an era.”

I think it’s just the beginning.



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