As artists who work in opera, we are telling stories that reflect and shape our place in the world. In doing so, we have a responsibility to recognize the history of this land, and to explore and challenge our relationship to that history.
We are located in Toronto, Ontario, also known as Tkarón:to which in Kanien’kéha means 'the place in the water where the trees are standing.' We recognize, support, and celebrate the enduring presence of Indigenous Peoples on this land. It is a privilege for us to be here, on the traditional lands of the confederacies of the Wendat ‘People of the Island,’ the Anishinaabe ‘Original People,’ and the Haudenosaunee ‘People of the Longhouse.’
We acknowledge this land as the home of the Mississaugas of the Credit, ‘River of the north, of many mouths.’
Toronto is now an international hub, with many diverse people who call this place home. As a national company we extend our gratitude to the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people across Turtle Island, and commit to engaging in respectful co-existence on this land.
There cannot be reconciliation before there is truth. The Canadian Opera Company, through land acknowledgement and ongoing projects, commits to upholding the values and voices of the Indigenous people of Turtle Island. We recognize the historical and continued oppression of lands and cultures, and we witness the ongoing confirmation of mass and unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the sites of Residential Schools across Canada.
We respect the strength of Indigenous Nations in Canada. We commit to listening to Indigenous voices and to focus on learning and healing together through music and stories. We believe in the power of the arts to move us forward in a good way.
The above statement was created by Rebecca Cuddy and Julie McIsaac, as inaugural participants in the COC’s new Land Acknowledgement Commissioning Program. We encourage members of our community to experience the installation where the water meets the land below, or at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts ahead of all our in-person programming at the venue.
Learn more about the creation of where the water meets the land and the COC’s new Land Acknowledgement Commissioning Program.
A sculpture stands in the windows of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at the corner of Richmond Street West and University Avenue. It is a music stand wrapped in black velveteen with red velvet borders and tied together with white organza ribbon. The velveteen has colourful beadwork which transforms the music stand into a living structure. The beadwork runs up the ‘stem’ of the stand and blooms across the back.
At the centre of the beadwork is a bright orange blossom, a gesture to the confirmation of mass graves at Residential Schools. At the bottom of the stand is vibrant, sheer blue-green fabric that stretches out in a circle around the stand. Roots made from deer hide protrude from the ‘stem’ and spread out over the water. As the viewer walks around the sculpture, they witness the water sparkle and shimmer; there are beads nestled into the fabric to mimic the glint of the sun on the water. Perched on the stand is Ian Cusson’s composition Fire with text by Joy Harjo. The exposed text reads "I am the continuance of blue sky, I am the throat of the mountains."
As the viewer circles the sculpture, sounds travel with them: Ian Cusson playing Fire on the piano, Maple Sugar on the fiddle, various bird calls, water, crickets, and a crackling fire.
Walk with us.
We invite you to contemplate the water - source of all life - and to journey along the roots stretching out wide across the earth, and sending life up the base of the sculpture. These pathways connect us; to you, and to all the artists, mentors, administrators and supporters who have contributed to the creation of this piece.
We invite you to spend time with us, to sit in the truth. To join in the magnificence of where we are, and all the memory it holds.
In the early morning and under night sky, we walked the land that made us, where our families have lived and been hosted for generations. Land that made us, land that sustains us. We offer this artwork in gratitude, in respect, in relationship with our ancestors.
Over many months, we drove down concrete-laid highways that cut through the land.
We found our way to the water, to hear what the waves had to say. We strove for stillness as we waited for the birds to start singing again, welcoming us in their space. We hushed our family and sat together quietly listening to the crackling of the fire.
We talked. We shared stories. Music. Love. Privilege. Assimilation.
Stitching one bead at a time... Sitting on the land, in the city. Tired eyes and sunburned skin. Singing back to the birds. The hours are counted by books sewn into the fabric, only good medicine - Braiding Sweetgrass, Unreconciled, The Break, Permanent Astonishment... titles that simultaneously describe our journey to here and now.
We invite you to spend time with us. To listen.
To our friend Ian, who sits at the piano conversing with nature, pulling from the past, and bringing new musical worlds into being. To Joy, whose words invite our voices to soar. To the fiddle, playing one of Pépère’s favourite tunes. To our friend Troy, who weaves all the sounds together. To the influence of Jani, Yvette, Marion and Carey, sharing strength and inspiration over many years. To our parents and grandparents who made us, and hold us still.
We offer this as reflection, sharing with you what we hear, what we see and feel, what we remember.
We ask you to remember.
We ask you to open your heart as the orange flower blossoms.
We witness and acknowledge the efforts of the Canadian Opera Company. We see the growing understanding, how space is being made for Indigenous perspectives and stories, how relationships are being built with Indigenous creatives and their communities. We see settlers taking action and making commitments. We are walking the path of this change that is happening.
We hope it will continue.
Métis multi-disciplinary artist and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Cuddy is acknowledged as ‘the next generation who are going to do incredible things’ (Perlman, WholeNote, 2019). This season she will make her Canadian Opera Company debut in Voices of Mountains, and appear in Soundstreams’ Garden of Vanished Pleasures and Encounters: Indigenous Voices and Shatter with the Toronto Concert Orchestra.
As of 2017, Rebecca has sung in the premieres of several new Indigenous operas across Turtle Island, including Two Odysseys: Pimootewin / Gállábártnit (Dora Mavor Moore Award – Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble) Shanawdithit (Dora Award – Outstanding New Opera), Flight of the Hummingbird and Li Keur, Riel’s Heart of the North.
Rebecca has begun the journey in directing and theatre creation, incorporating visual arts and musicianship into her work. The 2022 season will mark several new endeavours for Rebecca. Most notably, Rebecca is the inaugural artist for the Canadian Opera Company’s Land Acknowledgement Commissioning Program, she will also direct and perform in Musique 3 Femmes’s The Chair for the 2022 Digital Opera Festival and create and premiere a digital theatre piece with SpiderWebShow at FOLDA 2022. She is joining the Stratford Festival 2022 Langham Directors’ workshop and Assistant Directing under Alisa Palmer on Hamlet-911, by Ann‑Marie MacDonald. Rebecca’s visual arts website is www.waapamishoofinearts.com
Rebecca sits in council with the Canadian Opera Company Circle of Artists, the National Theatre School of Canada Indigenous Circle, Soundstreams and The Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance. She is the current Indigenous Artist in Residence at the National Theatre School of Canada in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal). www.rebeccacuddy.com
Canadian stage director Julie McIsaac was named the COC’s first Director/Dramaturg-in-Residence in 2019 and subsequently Lead Curator of Opera Everywhere, the company's reimagined 2020/2021 season. She is current co-host of Key Change: A COC Podcast alongside Circle of Artists member Robyn Grant-Moran, and is also the Dramaturg and Director of the COC’s Fantasma, by composer Ian Cusson and librettist Colleen Murphy.
Of French, Scots-Irish and Scandinavian ancestry, Julie is based on the territory of the Lekwungen-speaking people; the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. She is a versatile opera and theatre artist whose projects work towards reshaping and revitalizing the stories told on stage. During her residency with the COC, she served as Assistant Director on Joel Ivany's production of Hansel and Gretel (COC) and she is a frequent collaborator with Corey Payette and Urban Ink Productions in Vancouver, including the upcoming trilingual musical film Les Filles du Roi. Julie earned her Master’s degree in Theatre from the University of York (UK) and is also a graduate of Carleton University (Music) and the Canadian College of Performing Arts (Theatre Performance and Playwriting).
For more, please visit www.juliemcisaac.com
The goal of this commissioning program is to activate artists, staff and audiences around land acknowledgement in a way that requires participation, reflection, and constant renewal. With this, we commit to ongoing co-creation and collaboration with Indigenous artists and communities.
In addition to providing resources and support to our staff in developing their own personal practice of land acknowledgement, the COC is committed to embedding a collaborative, art-based approach.
In commissioning Indigenous artists to co-create a land acknowledgment artwork and artist statement together with a COC staff member, the program invites each participant to bring their own personal perspectives and relationships to the work, as well as reflections on the cultural moment and the COC’s artistic season.
The land acknowledgement artwork will be displayed at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts ahead of all our in-person programming this season. In addition, a filmed version and accompanying text will precede COC digital offerings and be shared on the company’s social media channels.
The collaboration between the artist and COC staff member is not intended to replace the practice in which we speak the names of the local Nations past and present who inhabit and care for this land. Rather, it is an exercise in engaging with the land and with each other, as we share our mutual admiration, take time in contemplation, and creatively activate the practice of land acknowledgement.
The vision of each artist is unique, and the COC is committed to supporting commissioned creators with bespoke resources, as befits their goals and artistic practice. We understand this requested and necessary support can come in many forms, and we are engaged in ongoing learning around reciprocity and knowledge exchange.
To support inaugural artist collaborator Rebecca Cuddy, the COC was delighted to facilitate mentorship with Carey Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin'geme, a multi-disciplinary Indigenous artist, master carver, filmmaker, author, and public speaker. Moving forward, future artists will be provided the same opportunity to engage with a mentor of their choosing, if they feel this is a good way to proceed.
A month later, an intimate gathering was held in the lobby of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts to introduce the completed artwork to the Circle of Artists and special guests, with the guidance of Elder Pauline Shirt, and members of COC’s Executive Management in attendance, including General Director Perryn Leech.
Honouring the heart of COC’s artistic output - music - the completed artwork includes an immersive soundscape featuring piano excerpts from Fire, a COC commission by Ian Cusson with text by poet Joy Harjo. Sheet music of this new duet - premiering in the 2021/2022 season as the exciting centrepiece of the digital recital Voices of Mountains - is a key visual component of the installation, and serves as reminder of the interconnectedness of the land acknowledgement and the company’s artistic season. The installation soundscape, which also includes voices from the land - water, birdsong and crackling fire - was developed by Rebecca and Julie in collaboration with Canadian sound designer and electronic music composer Troy Slocum.
Maarsi and thank you to everyone who has contributed and borne witness to where the water meets the land.