NAIG 2017

Tanya Tagaq, DJ Shub, Crystal Shawanda: Where to find free concerts and culture at NAIG 2017

Arts and culture are as big as athletics at the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games. Check out a week's worth of events.

Arts and culture are as big as athletics at the Toronto 2017 North American Indigenous Games

Tanya Tagaq is among the star performers appearing at the NAIG Cultural Festival. She performs two free concerts as part of the games. See her Thursday, July 20 at McMaster University and Friday, July 21 at York University.

It's not just about sports.

The North American Indigenous Games is both the largest athletic and cultural gathering of Indigenous people on the continent, and July 16-23, Toronto will host events at venues across the GTA and Hamilton — the traditional lands of the Mississaugas, Six Nations, Huron-Wendat and Métis nations. "Culture is equally important to these games as sport," says Peshaunquet Shognosh, NAIG's manager of culture and protocol. "It's a chance to highlight and showcase the Indigenous culture of not only Ontario but North America as much as possible." And to that end, there's a week's worth of arts and entertainment waiting for you to check out.

Music festival x 2

Tanya Tagaq, DJ Shub, Crystal Shawanda: they're just three of the award-winning Indigenous artists playing the NAIG Cultural Festival, and there's a free two-hour concert happening every weeknight of the games.

From July 17-21, there are shows going down at twinned sites in Hamilton (McMaster University) and Toronto (York University), with performances starting at 8 p.m. And if your Go Train arrives tragically late, forcing you to miss your favourite act, you'll likely get a second chance to catch them. The programming at both sites is mirrored, and that means all the artists will be playing both venues — just on different nights of the festival. Shognosh says the bill represents "Indigenous artists from different genres across the board that we hope will invigorate and get people excited and have that celebration vibe." Find full listings, including set times for acts including Digging Roots, Genevieve Fisher and Midnight Shine on the NAIG 2017 website. Follow them for updates and further information on where to find the festival venues.

DJ Shub, former member of A Tribe Called Red, plays the NAIG 2017 Cultural Festival. Monday, July 17 he plays a free concert with Digging Roots at York University. Tuesday, July 18 you can catch the same lineup at McMaster University. (Paquin)

More than music

Between July 17-21, in the hours before all those nightly concerts kick off, the festival hubs at McMaster and York will be hosting a variety of daytime cultural programs. Running between 1-4 p.m., they're all free and open to the public. "When [visitors] arrive, they'll come into the village and see tents and vendors and traders and such," he says. There are hopes for as many as 3,000 visitors per day, and if you plan to join that crowd, expect to find food and crafts representing the communities involved in the games, as well as drop-in workshops exploring topics such as Indigenous fashion and art history. (The full schedule is TBD, but advance sign-up is not required. Keep checking the NAIG 2017 site for the latest details.)

Culture is equally important to these games as sport.- Peshaunquet Shognosh, Manager of culture and protocol (NAIG)

Medal ceremonies

NAIG 2017 will host more than 5,000 participants, and alongside the teen athletes are artists from all over North America. As Shognosh explains, every NAIG 2017 team includes a Cultural Contingent — "performers that highlight or showcase their culture from their region." Team Yukon's bringing the Selkirk Spirit Dancers, for example — 10 youths, ranging from 12-19 years old, from Selkirk First Nation in Pelly Crossing.

At NAIG, artists "are looked at as any member of the team," says Shognosh. And to catch them in action, make it to the festival hubs at McMaster and York every night of games. Performers from the Cultural Contingent will be featured during medal ceremonies happening nightly before the main concert. They'll be representing the winning teams, so the schedule depends on the outcome of daily competitions.

The Selkirk Spirit Dancers, from Pelly Crossing, make up the Yukon's cultural contingent. The group contains members as young as 5, but those travelling are between the ages of 12 and 19. (Team Yukon/Facebook)

Opening ceremony

"It's the big blast off," says Shognosh, and it happens Sunday, July 16. The opening ceremonies for NAIG 2017 are technically an exclusive event, with tickets to the 9,000-seat Aviva Centre reserved for athletes and their families — but anyone, anywhere, can enjoy the show online. Stream it live on cbc.ca/naig starting at 7:30 p.m. (4:30 PT) Sunday.

As for what you'll see, expect an Olympic-style spectacle of parades and fireworks alongside a program of dance and music that celebrates the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities coming together for the games. Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith — the award-winning founder of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre — is the creative director behind the show, and Shognosh says the opening ceremonies, like all of NAIG 2017's cultural programming, aim to be an inspiration to everyone watching, especially Indigenous youth. "Maybe some kid will be like, 'I can see a mentor, I can see someone who's made it,' and hopefully it'll spark something in them to say, 'Yeah, I can do that!'"

"We're hoping the citizens of Toronto will be like, 'Oh! Let's go learn something. Let's go check things out.'"

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