Train of Thought stops in Kingston

Coast-to-coast community arts journey encourages collaborations with Aboriginal artists

People walking down the VIA train tracks to meet the travelling artists.
People walking down the VIA train tracks to meet the travelling artists.
Traditional Mohawk music played while people waited for the Train of Thought.
Traditional Mohawk music played while people waited for the Train of Thought.

A company of artists are traveling west-to-east in a “counter-colonial” direction across the provinces.

Train of Thought, a coast-to-coast community arts journey, pulled into the Kingston VIA Train Station on June 11.

The travelling artists, initiated by Toronto-based arts collective Jumblies Theatre, began their tour in British Columbia. They are scheduled for more than 15 stops across the country.

At each stop, the group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists unload and collaborate with local arts organizations. They then work together to host community arts events, create art and initiate conversations until their next train arrives.

The trip is part of a nation-wide effort to encourage community arts collaborations and reconciliations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures in Canada.

Ruth Howard, artistic director of Jumblies Theatre and one of the leaders of the Train of Thought tour, explained the overarching goal as an effort in education.

“Our goal was to learn the history of the land that we live on in a way we may not know about, particularly through Aboriginal stories and art,” she said.

With recent national attention on findings of residential schools in Canada, and their involvement in the erasure of Aboriginal identities, the initiative is timely and more relevant than ever.

On the morning of Thursday, June 11, a small group gathered next to the train tracks at the VIA Train Station. They sang and played traditional Mohawk music as they waited for Train of Thought.

The train arrived, and a travelling company of about 20 people slowly unloaded. Community artists and Kingston partners of Jumblies Theatre, including Queen’s film and media professor Clarke Mackey, gathered at the station to greet the travellers.

Mackey played a significant role in planning the arts workshops and collaborative creative pieces for the Train of Thought stop in Kingston.

“Not a lot of students know that the Aboriginal community here is quite strong,” Mackey said. “We have to work to realize that issue, become aware of it, and engage with it on a larger scale of Canadian culture and community.”

During the arrival ceremony, travellers and greeters gathered in a circle in a wide field next to the train tracks. Aboriginal artists from Kahnaqake Mohawk Territory, including youth traveler and artist Iehente Foote, offered the traditional Mohawk Thanksgiving Address.

During the address, they gave thanks to the Creator for providing everything needed to live a good life. Elder Betty Can-Braint and other women from the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre at Queen’s, passed around berries as offerings of kindness.

Iehente Foote, who boarded the train in Nipissing, believes the value of the Train of Thought lies in sharing knowledge.

“I think bridging the gap between the two communities is all about the land,” she said.

“We share this land and people forget the histories of the land. We’re using art to uncover the histories of the places we live.”

Following the arrival ceremony and a break for the travelling artists, the group of travellers and Kingston arts partners gathered again at the station to watch the creation of art.

Each piece centred on the theme of reconciliation between Aboriginal and and non-Aboriginal communities in Canada and the history of the Canadian lands.

One of the pieces featured four seats lined up in a row. An Aboriginal man sat in the first chair. Eventually, a non-Aboriginal person sat down, and then another, and then another.

A fourth non-Aboriginal person arrived, and they moved over to fill the four seats entirely with non-Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal person, who arrived first, is pushed off his chair.

Similar art pieces were created and shared among the group of travellers and artists throughout the entire day.

Jackie Omstead is a travelling artist, the outreach and workshop coordinator for Jumblies Theatre and a recent graduate of Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Arts in drama. She said she hopes shared community art between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities have a part to play in the aftermath of such a painful history.

“Keeping in mind that I don’t speak for Aboriginal people,” she said, “I would like to think that Train of Thought offers a space of healing and reconciliation to happen, however slow it may be, through art practice and sharing circles.”

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