Cultural Exploration

Good morning, Classmates!


Last Saturday was one of the most beautiful nights I have had in a long time. I went to see Jeremy Dutcher's performance with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lucas Waldin.


Jeremy Dutcher, 2018 Polaris Music Prize winner, is an Indigenous musician, artist, poet, amazing human from Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. He is currently touring his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (I have his album on coloured vinyl!). Before the show, dancers from Pelican Lake First Nation dazzled us with their dances, drumming and explanations of their dancing traditions. Yes, I said, "dazzled". The collection of music, dancing and stories brought forth this following observation this morning:


It is okay to like things that do not belong to you.


This post is not an essay complaining about cultural appropriation, even though the majority of the audience that night were predominately white folk. In fact, except for Dvorák's Largo from The New World Symphony (Song of Hiawatha), all pieces played were by Indigenous artists. Love and acceptance filled the room, especially towards the Indigenous youth present. I will spend my time here describing the lack of diversity and fake cultural appreciation in my life.


I should begin with a bit of cultural genealogy:


Father: Danish, English and Scottish

Mother: Romanian and German


Slightly basic; please bear with me.


Throughout my years living in Regina, my family and I would go to Mosaic, a three-day multicultural festival consisting of pavilions showcasing, dance, music, art and costumes of the various countries and cultures represented by some of the citizens of Regina. Saskatoon has a similar event called Folkfest. In Regina, we usually went to five pavilions for sure: Romanian, Scandinavian, Scottish, Kiev (this spelling was used for a time) Ukranian and German. Except for the Kyiv Ukranian (there, that's better), the others were my mum and dad's way to show solidarity with their countrymen. I fell for it completely. Everywhere I went within the confines of the pavilion, I pretended to be just like the others - German, Romanian, Danish, you name it. I had friends who were Ukranian and Romanian, both dancing in groups at their respective pavilions. I became somewhat embittered because I could not do the same. First, my parents could not afford lessons, second, I dance much like a stationary chair.

I realised none of these cultures was truly mine. I guess I still could have volunteered for one of the groups, as you see some organisers of the Scottish pavilion in Saskatoon with Ukranian surnames, for example. Neither of my grandfathers kept their language - Granpa Jensen was Danish and Grandpa Ballan was Romanian. Former school mates and work colleagues now send their children to German, Ukranian, Cree or other schools specialising in their language and culture. I know I would never have been able to enjoy this type of thing growing up, as nothing genuinely Romanian or Danish was part of my everyday life. Sure, my mum's mum swore in German once or twice, but that does not count. Not one of my grandmothers ever prepared a meal that symbolised their background(s).


I grew up in a mixed-up time: my parents were from the generation of families living in culturally homogeneous groupings (look around the north part off Regina, especially down Victoria Avenue in Regina, on the stretch between Broad Street and Park Street.) There you were once found Romanians, Serbs, Germans (Catholic and Lutheran) the odd English person living in tight-knit groups - all having something in common, being language, religion and culture, to name a few things. As the 1980s and 1990s rolled in these neighbourhoods slowly split themselves apart and there is now a welcomed intermingling of people. As people discovered, there is not the need to marry or cohabitate with someone in their community. Of course, some families continued to follow their cultural and religious (to a less extent today) practices even after a mixed marriage, sometimes combining traditions into something new.


My parents, and to some extent me, got all gung-ho over Danish baking, then it was Jewish cooking, then English suppers, then ... You get the drift. Regina had a store that sold Scandinavian folklore-ish and blatant culturally disagreeable things like the horned helmet. To be Danish, my dad had to buy a set of Danish trolls. Not Norwegian trolls, but Danish. I wanted to learn Danish, along with my brother. He took it one step further, trying his bestest to have the accent. He sounded like he was trying too hard or he had constipation. Maybe it was constipation, as cheese was a staple in our diet. Either way, it was getting ridiculous. Oddly enough, no one considered celebrating the Romanian background - it was too Eastern European. Not cool enough to be Ukranian and too dour to be Scottish. I think even Grandpa Ballan was embarrassed by his origins.


Watching Jeremy Dutcher made me long for something to call my own or something I could own. I am not Indigenous, so I cannot celebrate the culture in the same way he and the youth at the concert did. I can appreciate and enjoy the musical offerings without grasping onto it as if it is mine to take. This country is dealing with the effects of colonisation and assimilation of our Indigenous peoples. If you have time, check out the page by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, it offers great insight into how the country of Canada is working on mending our relationships. Mr Dutcher's concert helped me make a connection to the cultural diversity had been taken away from our Indigenous brothers and sisters.


Jeremy Dutcher (and to some extent, the organisers of Mosaic and Folkfest) taught me, and the others present, to celebrate the differences that make us the same. I told the SSO his performance made me cry and lifted my soul from a dire place.


Thank you.

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