Beyond Secret Path: 6 Indigenous artists making powerful work about reconciliation

If art can truly help all Canadians heal and grow together, then Secret Path is just the beginning. These six contemporary Indigenous artists are leading the charge.

If art can truly help all Canadians heal and grow together, then Secret Path is just the beginning

(L-R) Melanie Nepinak Hadley, Executive in Charge of Production for CBC Drama; Ry Moran, Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation; Tasha Hubbard, filmmaker and assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan; Jesse Wente, CBC broadcaster and Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox. The Road to Reconciliation: A Panel Discussion about The Secret Path was livestreamed on CBC Arts Sunday night.

The Secret Path premiered on CBC Sunday, the true story of Chanie Wenjack. Fifty years ago, Chanie — who was just 12 years old — ran away from residential school. He was determined to reunite with his family, but home was Ogoki Post, Ont., some 600 kilometres away. He died on the journey.

Maybe you'd never heard Chanie's story before. To quote Jesse Wente, who wrote about Secret Path for CBC Arts last week, the film is "not the first work of art to approach the legacy of residential schools." But thanks to Gord Downie's star power, "it is the one likely to reach the most people."

I hope what this piece really does is make the path to Indigenous artists less obscure.- Jesse Wente on Secret Path

Still, Secret Path is just one step on the journey. If an art project like this one can help Canadians work together en masse — to understand, and heal from, our history — then it's also an opportunity to learn about the many artists who've been exploring Indigenous issues for years, issues that include the damaging legacy of residential schools.

So, where to start?

For the answer, we're turning to last night's CBC Arts panel discussion about the film.

"I could list dozens and dozens (of artists)," said Wente during the talk. He joined filmmaker Tasha Hubbard and National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation director Ry Moran for an hour-long conversation following The Secret Path.

"The reality is these stories have been in our art for decades," Wente said.

"I hope what this piece really does is make the path to Indigenous artists less obscure, so people can find it from our own voices as well, and realize we have been saying this for a very long time."

Added Hubbard, whose own short film 7 Minutes recently screened at Toronto's imagineNATIVE film festival: "There's beautiful work out there and it needs to be seen, it needs to be engaged with. And if someone engages with and doesn't understand all the complexities of the foundation around colonialism, around the long history this country has with that — before it was even a country — then go to education. Learn that history."

Learning about Indigenous artists is one way to start.

These were the standard-bearers mentioned during Sunday's panel. Experience their art and hear their stories. We've rounded up articles, video and radio interviews from around the network so you can get to know them better.

Tanya Tagaq's new album, Retribution, arrived October 21. (

Tanya Tagaq

She's a Juno winner, and in 2014 she took home the Polaris Music Prize. If you follow Canadian music, Tanya Tagaq requires no introduction, and the Inuk musician released her latest studio album Retribution just days ago. Over the last decade she's created music with artists from a diverse spectrum of genres — punk (F--cked Up), classical (Kronos Quartet), however you'd describe what Björk does (Björk) — and she's developed a totally unique style of throat singing rooted in Inuit tradition.

From around CBC:

Alanis Obomsawin has made 40 documentaries for the National Film Board since 1971. (CBC News)

Alanis Obomsawin

If it's information you're seeking, documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin has been investigating Canada's discrimination against Indigenous people for 40 years. Her latest feature, We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this September, and the film follows activist Cindy Blackstock, who spent nine years fighting for the rights of Indigenous families. In January of this year, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government failed to provide proper health care to Indigenous children living on reserves. The doc follows Blackstock's legal battle, revealing the links between our history of residential schools and the injustice that persists today.

From around CBC:

A Tribe Called Red released new studio album, We Are the Halluci Nation, in September. (Courtesy of Indoor Recess)

A Tribe Called Red

When A Tribe Called Red blended elements of house music, hip-hop, dubstep and traditional Indigenous drumming, they created "powwow step" — a genre that's all their own. And while every album from this Ottawa DJ collective brings the beats, they also bring their politics, confronting the broader issues of colonialism and racism along with current events. Their latest record, We Are the Halluci Nation, arrived last month and includes spoken-word tracks inspired by Chanie Wenjack's story.

From around CBC:

PJ Prudat and Glen Gould in a promo still from Reckoning . ( Andy Moro/ARTICLE 11)

Article 11

This Toronto-based theatre company is on a mission to build "a contemporary Indigenous theatrical canon," and to do it, they're nurturing a new generation of Indigenous artists. In April, they premiered Reckoning, a play that recounts the experience of three residential-school survivors.

From around CBC:

Painter Kent Monkman in his studio. (Ryan Van Der Hout)

Kent Monkman

A visual and performance artist, Monkman always confronts Canada's ugly colonial history with a sense of wit — whether he's taking back the land by painting enormous, 19th Century-style landscapes or performing as his drag queen alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

Seeing Red | 84" x 126" — 2014 | Acrylic on canvas (Kent Monkman)

His work can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

From around CBC:

Author Joseph Boyden. (Camille Gévaudan)

Joseph Boyden

Indigenous culture informs much of Boyden's work, whether we're talking his award-winning novels (Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce) or ballet (the Royal Winnipeg Ballet commissioned the Ontario author to create a ballet about residential schools in 2014). His latest book is a novella called Wenjack; as the title implies, it's a retelling of Chanie Wenjack's story, much like Secret Path. A long-time friend of Gord Downie's, Boyden's said that they two considered collaborating before ultimately pursuing their own separate projects.

From around CBC:

Watch the CBC Arts panel discussion about The Secret Path (begins at the one-hour mark):

Read more about Secret Path on CBC Arts.