Celebration of Nations is part of a long-term vision of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Kakekalanicks, and the City of St. Catharines to build on the Two Row Wampum that promotes all Nations walking together, in parallel, with respect, compassion and understanding to cultivate an inclusive community for our shared future.

Part of our year-round programming, Celebration of Nations reaches a crescendo on the weekend after Labour Day annually with a three-day Gathering of Indigenous Arts, Culture, and Tradition that will showcase a wide variety of Indigenous arts and artists, ranging from traditional and contemporary music and dance, visual arts to film screenings, creative workshops, eye-opening teachings, and hands-on activities for both children and adults.

Celebration of Nations has been curated and juried by Artistic Director Michele-Elise Burnett (Métis) and Artistic Producer Tim Johnson (Mohawk), with support of the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre team.

The great Métis leader Louis Riel once said, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” Through the Celebrations of Nations programming delivered at this state-of-the-art venue, that vision comes true.

ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP

Michele-Elise Burnett

Artistic Director

Michele-Elise Burnett, Métis MNO citizen with Algonquin roots, Bear Clan, is President of Kakekalanicks, an Indigenous arts and consultancy company which helps promote and educate Indigenous art and artists to a broad audience. Ms. Burnett is the Native Artistic Producer of Artpark’s Annual Strawberry Moon Festival and serves as the Artistic Director of the Annual Celebration of Nations, both Indigenous gathering, provides a far-reaching platform for the community to embrace and honour the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding achievements of Indigenous peoples through the arts; Associate Director of Landscape of Nations 360°, a unique national Indigenous education initiative which provides guidance to teachers and programmers in the Niagara Region and beyond; LON 360° is the Indigenous Experience lead for the Niagara Parks Commission, developing year round Indigenous events and tours and co-advancement director and inaugural unveiling producer for Landscape of Nations: The Six Nations & Native Allies Commemorative Memorial, at Queenston Heights. In 2018, she was the recipient of the Culture Arts Award from the GNCC Women in Niagara for her success and contributions to the community. Ms. Burnett sits on the Board of Trustees at Brock University where she also is Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Education Council. She also serves as a Board member of the Ridley College Fund USA and on the Canada Games 2021 Board. Ms. Burnett started her career in the radio industry. After graduating from Ryerson University’s School of Radio and Television Arts, she became a third-generation radio business owner in an industry pioneered by her father and grandfather. Later, partnering with her mother, she owned and operated the most powerful signal in the Niagara Region, Spirit 91.7 FM Radio. The accomplished mother/daughter team were the first Indigenous people to be granted two private broadcasting licenses in Canada. Fiercely proud of her heritage, Ms. Burnett has shown that an individual who is inspired can wake up every day and follow and achieve their dreams. A strong proponent of Indigenous aspirations, she fosters a dream to unite, share, and respect each other’s Nations and to build a stronger Indigenous future filled with pride, dignity, and honour that will carry on for seven generations.

Tim Johnson

Artistic Producer

Tim Johnson, the Artistic Producer of Celebration of Nations, is Senior Advisor to the Niagara Parks Commission for Heritage, Legacy, and Indigenous Programs. He is also a Senior Advisor to Plenty Canada and the Friends of Laura Secord, and was a founder of the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network and LON 360° Inc. He served as Co-chair of Landscape of Nations: The Six Nations & Native Allies Commemorative Memorial, unveiled on October 2, 2016, in Queenston Heights Park, and was instrumental in the development of several subsequent legacy spaces and public artworks in Niagara including the First Nations Peace Monument in Thorold, Voices of Freedom Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the modern art masterwork Curtain Call, installed on the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines. He is also active on four forthcoming historically and culturally important public spaces that will be dedicated to Indigenous peoples.

Prior to his recent activity, Mr. Johnson was the Associate Director for Museum Programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. The Museum Programs Group was the museum’s largest organizational group, structured across two fully programmed facilities in Washington D.C. and New York, encompassing exhibitions, education, interpretive services, publications, film and media production, seminars and symposia, and visual and performing arts programs. During his tenure at the museum, he successfully supervised popular and critically acclaimed exhibits ranging in cost from $15,000 to $5.65 million representing myriad orientations from ethnography and history to contemporary arts. One of his most popular exhibitions, Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians In Popular Culture, was an art and history exhibit as told through the biographies of Indigenous artists whose contributions helped to shape several music genres since the mid 20th Century. This exhibit served as the basis for the Sundance, Hot Docs, and Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television award-winning documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, that has inspired the live concert performances curated for Celebration of Nations.

Among his many highly successful Smithsonian programs was the museum’s Mother Earth Festival produced in conjunction with Al Gore’s LIVE EARTH global initiative on July 7, 2007. That epic program served to diffuse American Indian knowledge and scientific evidence concerning environmental sustainability to thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world. Designed to enhance public education about human-induced climate change, it stands as one of the Smithsonian Institution’s most widely viewed public programs. Now an annual event renamed the Living Earth Festival, it brings together scientists, renewable energy technologists, tribal resource managers, educators, and cultural performers and exhibitors. A leading figure who brought the reality and ramifications of climate change to the forefront in America’s capital, Mr. Johnson also served on the executive committee of the Smithsonian’s “Living in the Anthropocene Initiative” a pan-institutional committee formed to advance public education about climate change and the implications of human conduct on the planet.

Mr. Johnson’s executive leadership at the National Museum of the American Indian produced a long list of critically acclaimed exhibits, influential programs, award-winning books and films, lectures, events, and periodicals, creating an era that significantly advanced the institution’s museology and reputation.

He currently sits on the boards of the Shaw Festival Theatre, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network, Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, BIPOC Fellowship, and an advisor to Lord Cultural Resources and the Niagara Parks Commission’s School of Horticulture.

He is the recipient of the Dreamcatcher Foundation Award for Art and Culture for his significant contributions to Native arts, media, and heritage programs over a distinguished career.

Among many highly successful programs, on July 7, 2007, in conjunction with Al Gore’s Live Earth global initiative, he launched the museum’s Mother Earth Festival to diffuse American Indian knowledge and scientific evidence concerning environmental sustainability to thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world. Designed to enhance public education about human-induced climate change, it stands as one of the Smithsonian Institution’s most widely viewed public programs. Now an annual event renamed the Living Earth Festival, it brings together scientists, renewable energy technologists, tribal resource managers, educators, and cultural performers and exhibitors. A leading figure who brought the reality and ramifications of climate change to the forefront in America’s capital, Mr. Johnson also served on the executive committee of the Smithsonian’s “Living in the Anthropocene Initiative” a pan-institutional committee formed to advance public education about climate change and the implications of human conduct on the planet.

Over a period of ten years, Mr. Johnson’s executive leadership at the National Museum of the American Indian produced a long list of critically acclaimed exhibits, influential programs, award-winning books and films, lectures, events, and periodicals, creating an era that significantly advanced the institution’s museology and reputation.

He is the recipient of the Dreamcatcher Foundation Award for Art and Culture for his significant contributions to Native arts, media, and heritage programs over a distinguished career.