Yukon's Adaka Cultural Festival draws talent from across the North

The week-long festival, now in its eighth year, celebrates Indigenous arts and culture. This year's theme is the circumpolar world.

Week-long event celebrates and highlights Indigenous culture, traditional and modern

Heather Bell Callaghan taught a workshop on cedar weaving, at the Adaka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse. Here, the group is cutting a soaked piece of cedar into long strips. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

For Heather Bell Callaghan, cedar weaving is all about letting go.

"It's kind of hard to explain — it's very meditative, and very healthy," she said, while teaching her craft at the Adaka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse.

"At first, you think that weaving's something that you could do and create, and that you're kind of in control. And over time, it kind of becomes more like you need to weave, because it's so healing."

Callaghan is just one of more than 100 visual and performing artists at Adaka this week. 

The cedar strips were used to weave headbands, which were then decorated with beads and shells. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

The festival, now in its eighth year, is an annual week-long celebration of Indigenous arts and culture. It started last weekend, and continues until Thursday.

It's proven to be popular for Yukoners, as well as tourists.

Andereas Koenig, from Ireland, came to the Yukon to visit friends but he timed his visit to coincide with Adaka. Back home, he's a skilled basket-maker, and he wanted to learn more about cedar weaving from Callaghan.

"So this is basically my intention — to learn a little bit of First Nation weaving," he said. "It's my first time using cedar, it's my first time being in Canada ... I want to take the skill back home."

Circumpolar theme

The festival does not just focus on Yukon Indigenous culture. In fact, this year's theme is the circumpolar world, featuring everything from Inuit drumming, to Sami hip-hop, to Chukchi dancing.

A soapstone carving workshop at the festival. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

"It's pretty amazing to find artists, compare different techniques, and also find how differently they do things," said Lynn Feasey, director of arts with the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association.

"It's part of why we wanted to explore this this year, was just finding the similarities and the differences, when we go east to west."

Aasiva Nakashuk, from Nunavut, will not likely forget her experiences at Adaka. She needs only look at her hands to remember.

Nakashuk's fingers are now decorated with Inuit-style tattoos, applied by Hovak Johnston on Canada Day.

"Just realizing that they're real — wow, I still can't get over it," Nakashuk said. 

Aasiva Nakashuk shows off her traditional style Inuit tattoos. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

She said she designed her tattoos, relatively simple line figures on each finger, to represent "all the men that we've lost, and all the men that we're hoping to instill pride and confidence [in]." 

For Johnston, it's inspiring to see younger people like Nakashuk embrace cultural practices that were almost wiped out by colonization.

"It's really inspiring to see these young people not ashamed anymore," she said. 

"You know it's never going to die again, because they have that passion, and they're willing to not be ashamed of wearing these markings."

The Adaka festival continues until Thursday evening, ending with the big event — the Indigenous fashion show.

Yukon's Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, performing at the festival. (Max Leighton/CBC)

With files from Jackie McKay