Over the past four centuries, colonialism, natural resource industries, and climate change have severely altered Algonquin ways of life. The birch bark canoe, however, continues to be a link to cultural strength, retaining the power to bring people together for a common cause. The art of building birch bark canoes was lost for generations and Commanda hopes to help Indigenous communities reclaim that part of their culture and spread the knowledge to others.
“The theme for this year’s 2019 Celebration of Nations is Empathic Traditions: Honouring Mother Earth,” explained Artistic Director Michele-Elise Burnett. “Having Chuck Commanda share his knowledge and skills, which stem from his profound empathy teachings will draw on the seven sacred teachings of love, honesty, humility respect, bravery, wisdom and truth. Building a canoe is an art form that links our families and communities together and will reinforce our commitment of reconciliation and remind us of our responsibilities to live in harmony and peace amongst all living things.”
“Chuck’s lifelong practice in birch bark art and his vast experience in the forests of the Algonquin Nation have provided him with direct insights into the challenges the environment is facing from development, climate change, and invasive species,” said Associate Producer Tim Johnson. “His canoes are not only functionally beautiful works of art, but also symbols of a culture that has long valued sustainable management of nature’s resources.”
All are welcome to visit Commanda while he undertakes his build in Algoma Central Lobby at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre between noon – 5pm each day. Commanda will also be a part of Celebration of Nations Indigenous Arts Gathering from 6 – 8 September. The canoe will be proudly displayed at the PAC upon completion.
Chuck Commanda is a master birch bark canoe builder from the community of Kitigan Zibi, Quebec. He has been building canoes since he was a child, under the guidance of his highly respected grandparents, Mary and William Commanda. He has spent more than 10 years building canoes in the traditional Algonquin style as well as teaching canoe building, birch bark basket-making and snowshoe-making workshops to Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, youth, and adults. Commanda’s work produces beautiful pieces of art of incredible cultural, functional and artistic value that embody the use of cultural practices to transmit Indigenous knowledge among peoples and between generations in the spirit of reconciliation and Indigenous community revitalization.