These Indigenous artists say there’s more to life than being ‘left on the reserve’

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Montana Summers hasn’t been dancing all that long, but he’s ready to play to a packed 9,000-seat venue — in front of one of his favourite childhood pop stars.

Summers, 19, has been tapped to perform alongside a handful of young dancers at the July 16 opening ceremony for the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto.

Summers only noticed his dancing chops about four years ago, but now he’s busy rehearsing for the show, headlined by Indigenous rapper Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas.

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Montana Summers wants to tell the world about Oneida and Haudenosaunee tradition. (Supplied by Montana Summers)

“It’s great to see Taboo doing that, giving us hope within the arts,” Summers told CBC Toronto.

“You see some people who get off the reserve, and it’s rare for them to come back and inspire their communities.”

‘There’s a whole world out there for you’

Summers himself wants the same.

“I hope I inspire the next generation to see that there’s more to it, more to the world, than being left on the reserve,” he said. “Thinking that this is the only place to be, when there’s a whole world out there for you.

“You see a lot of kids who turn down the wrong path because they feel like there’s no way out from the reserve.

“But when you have some outlets like this, and you have these opportunities, you really do give that hope to our people.”

For Summers, dance is reconciliation in action.

“It builds a bridge for everyone else to see our side of the story,” he said.

“We use modern and traditional teachings to say to the world, ‘we want to look for a better future with you guys.’ We want to send a message to say, ‘we’re capable of doing the things you are.'”

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Montana Summers says an upcoming Indigenous Games performance is a chance to show First Nations youth that they’re not defined by negative stereotypes. (Supplied by Montana Summers)

Not all of next month’s performers are relatively new to the skill.

Karahkwiiohstha Feryn King, 23, has been performing the Smoke Dance since she could walk.

The Iroquois tradition is “the fastest two-legged dance ever,” she laughs.

Today, she’s expanded her arsenal: there’s the Fancy Shawl, a women-only dance that’s a “beautiful thing to see,” she said.

It’s often played out as a coming-of-age dance, symbolizing the growth into childhood through the form of a bird, or a cocoon that turns into a butterfly.

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Karahkwiiohstha King, who also goes by Feryn, teaches and performs traditional Mohawk dance. She says it’s rare she gets a chance to perform for thousands of people. (Supplied by Karahkwiiohstha King)

King, who competed in the 2010 Games in volleyball, is slated to join Summers and Taboo on stage where she’ll be performing a traditional hoop dance.

“We don’t call it a hula hoop,” she says of the dance’s main prop, a plastic or wooden hoop that symbolizes concepts like the eagle, canoe, earth, or human.

Taken together, the hoops create a narrative — a creation story, perhaps, or an improvised expression of the dancer’s own making.

King explains that the hoop dance is a bit of a process.

“Each dancer creates their own hoops, no one could really do it for you,” she says. “The hoop is yours and yours only, unless you pass it down to the next generation who want to keep the dance alive.”

King compares the preparation to mixing medicine.

“We’re putting our own energy into the hoops,” she says. “Whatever we create, we treat it as if it were another human. It becomes a part of us.”

‘I usually don’t get opportunities like this’

Taboo joins other big names performing at the Aviva Centre, including Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Juno-winning folk band Digging Roots and DJ Shub, formerly of A Tribe Called Red.

A viewing party will be held outside the stadium, with tickets available to the public.

“I’m really honoured to be in the opening ceremony,” King said. “I’m from a reservation, you know? I usually don’t get opportunities like this.

“It’s become an important thing in my life. I just hope it takes me somewhere one day.”

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These Indigenous artists say there’s more to life than being ‘left on the reserve’

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