November 2017

Guest post by: Jill Jablonski, MA Folklore Intern

The Labrador Creative Arts Festival, which is Canada’s longest running youth theater festival, was founded in the 1970s and has produced plays that range from high school dramas to retellings of profound legends of the Aboriginal peoples of Labrador. This incredible organization reflects modern life of Labradorians, as well as preserves their history in a written format via these scripts, while simultaneously bringing traditions of the past to the present. Through these plays, the audience hears traditional songs, sees children wearing their traditional clothes and boots, and sees portrayals of contemporary life -- with all of its ups and downs. Plus, the Labrador Creative Arts Festival is a wonderful tool that fosters a focus on and a love of the arts.

The Tradition and Transition Project, IkKaumajammik (Memories), takes everything the Labrador Creative Arts Festival does and expands upon it. Indeed, IkKaumajammik invites adults who are no longer eligible for Youth Theater to rekindle their theatrical creativity. Over the next three years, Tradition and Transition’s co-investigator Tim Borlase will travel to the Nunatsiavut communities of Hopedale, Makkovik, Nain, Postville, and Rigolet to put together adult theater troupes to perform plays in their respective communities. The adult actors are free to make original pieces or revisit plays they wrote as children in the Labrador Creative Arts Festival, and to bring them to life on stage once more. Another goal of the project is to create an anthology of Labrador Creative Arts Festival scripts. This anthology will trace how Inuit cultural identity, and its presentation on stage, has changed over the past forty years. Also, the anthology will highlight the beauty of theater and the brilliance of Labrador’s youth.

I am a graduate student at the Memorial University of Newfoundland pursuing my degree in Folklore. I grew up running through the flat cornfields of Michigan, about an hour away from the Canadian border. I never imagined I would be part of such an adventure as the one the IkKaumajammik project has taken me on. But, this is what fate, as well as my co-op work placement, decided. I had many responsibilities which included reading every play from the last twenty years. This meant that over the course of two months I read over 200 scripts, ranging from one to thirty pages, to make initial selections for the anthology. Once finished, I created several indexes, one of which was a comprehensive list of all Labrador Creative Arts Festival plays that were written within the last twenty years. Once I finished this index, I organized the plays into several more indexes. These indexes included a comprehensive list of scripts written by children from the Nunatsiavut communities, my initial selection for the anthology, and my final revised selection.

The anthology will also contain reflections and quotes from those involved in the Labrador Creative Arts Festivals. To accomplish this, I flew to the coastal communities of Makkovik and Nain and interviewed past participants about their time in the Festival. While in these communities, I also assisted in the productions of the IkKaumajammik plays Lost and Found (Nain) and Come Pulaking (Makkovik), and had the opportunity to interviewed the actors about their experience of participating in the IkKaumajammik plays. Following these visits, it was back to my office in Goose Bay to return to scanning forty years of scripts, some of which were the first ever electric copies.

This was an incredible experience. I went to places only accessible by plane, boat, or snowmobile/dogsled. Polar bear pelts casually hung on clotheslines and snowmobiles raced across the frozen bay in the merry month of May. I was flatlander hiking on Makkovik’s aw-inspiring mountains. In Goose Bay, I enjoyed sunshine from five in the morning until twilight at eleven o’clock every night. In Nain, I met a rust color Husky I named Rusty. The man I sat next to on the plane to Nain said not to fall in love while I was over there, but it broke my heart to leave that dog.

Through the scripts, I learned of the Old Smoker, the folkloric figure who lures people off the path during snowstorms or saves lost souls who drift off the path during blizzards. I learned of Mother Bucksaw, a mysterious ghost who cuts off the hair of anyone unwilling to give her a cigarette. I learned about legends of boys marrying caribou, and spirits helping boys hunt. Through video recordings of past plays, I saw that Labrador youths care about issue of domestic abuse, environmental protection, and how the resettlement of some Labrador communities affected the people who were already here. In short, I saw little slivers of the events and folklore that shaped the people of Labrador.

My work was entertaining. There was a vast range in topics; some scripts made me laugh, while others seemed like they could have been episodes of Law and Order. In one play, the goal of the protagonist was to thwart the social popularity of a literal prop dummy. In another, the protagonist fights the personification of Death during the tragedy of the Spanish influenza, which killed almost everyone he knew and loved. The same can be said about the productions put on by the IkKaumajammik project. Come Pulaking, a musical about putting together a celebration for Canada’s 150, was quite different from Nain’s Lost and Found, which was a drama about losing one’s culture.

My time in Labrador was also challenging. No one in my family had been so far up north and I didn’t know a single soul in Labrador. I was alone and scared. And I did work long hours, hiking a half hour to and from my office in Goose Bay, battling snow and sand. Moreover, my time in the “Big Land’ changed me. I grew up in Michigan, thinking of myself as a northerner, but Labrador gave me a whole new sense of what north means. My hometown has a population of almost 5,000, but after visiting communities of a few hundred, I no longer know if I am from a small town. I never thought about the supply and demand of goods and food stability until paying over 5$ for Pop Tarts, and seeing detergent go for as much as 40$ for a value jug. Through it all, I gained an appreciation for the identities, differences, and similarities that shape the people of North America.