Alberta singers, hoop dancer to bring message of reconciliation to 2018 Olympics

Three Alberta artists will bring messages of healing, welcome and reconciliation to the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea.

'We are more than beads and feathers,' says Wendy Walker

Performer Wendy Walker, pictured, is headed to the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea with Dawn von Arnim in their a capella group Reconciliation. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Three Alberta artists will bring messages of healing, welcome and reconciliation to the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea. 

Wendy Walker, who is Métis, and Dawn von Arnim, who is not Indigenous and is an American-Canadian originally from South Carolina, make up a cappella group Reconciliation, which sings in Cree and Ojibway.

The duo, along with Alexander First Nation hoop dancer Dallas Arcand Jr., are headed to Pyeongchang as part of Alberta's cultural delegation at the Games.

"Alberta will be very proud they sent us," Walker said. "I'm feeling really blessed right now."

Wendy Walker and Dawn von Arnim perform a song at a space for welcoming Syrian refugees to Calgary. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

The performance will be an opportunity to bring Indigenous culture to the world stage, said Walker.

"We're more than something in a book, that's on TV," she said. "We are more than beads and feathers."

Performing on a world stage isn't new for Walker. She's toured internationally, has sang for the United Nations and several prime ministers. But performing at the Olympics will be a different way of realizing a dream she had as a child.

"When I was 13, I was a really strong swimmer, and at that time I thought maybe I could get to the Olympics. That particular dream, the athlete part, never worked out," she said with a laugh. "But now as an Indigenous artist, it's still a dream. That dream just looks different."

Bringing gifts of medicine pouches

A strong grounding and knowledge that her ancestors will be with her for the performance helps her feel prepared, said Walker.  She will open the show with a welcome song, and will bring medicine pouches, a traditional gift. 

And she's hoping to introduce the set in a special way.

"I'm hoping to be able to introduce my set in Korean … we'll see how this tongue tries to wrap around their beautiful words," she said. 

Von Arnim is equally thrilled.

"We're the only singing group like this in North America if not the world," said von Arnim. "She has taught me traditional songs in Cree and Ojibway ... The honour is incredible, to be picked as the white woman to learn these songs. I can't even describe how it makes me feel."

She hopes "Reconciliation" will add up to more than the band's name.

"We are two extremely diverse cultures — I am from the southern United States [and Walker is Indigenous] — to come together to try to heal through our music, to give people some reconciliation: it's beautiful."

Dallas Arcand Jr., left, performs with his father. (Dallas Arcand Jr./Supplied)

The 30-minute set will close with a hoop dance by Arcand Jr., who is the son of three-time world champion Dallas Arcand Sr. 

The 20-year-old performed alongside his father at the 2012 London Games. Now, he's got his dad's legacy to live up to in his solo performance.

"He's set the bar for me, he expects me to go past him," Arcand said, adding he's not too worried.

"I know I'm young, but I've prepared growing up for this."

Arcand said the hoop dance he's performing is a healing dance, and he's hoping to bring that message to attendees.

"It's time to move forward, time to overcome grudges," Arcand said.


Sarah Rieger

Former CBC digital reporter

Sarah Rieger worked with the digital team at CBC Calgary from 2017 to 2021. She previously worked at HuffPost Canada.

With files from Terri Trembath