Whitehorse festival celebrating northern Indigenous art and culture in full swing after pandemic hiatus

The annual Adäka Cultural Festival based in Whitehorse which showcases Indigenous arts and culture from across the northern circumpolar region is back again after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic.

Kicking off on June 29, the festival includes artists and performers from across northern Canada and Alaska, as well as countries like Finland, Norway and Greenway.

Adäka is the southern Tutchone word for “coming into the light.” Organizer and co-founder Katie Johnson says the name has never been more fitting.

“It’s a really special year, it’s like we’re relighting the spirit of what Adäka really about,” she says.

Adäka was initially founded in 2011 and was set to celebrate its tenth-year anniversary in 2021. Johnson says despite the hiatus, Adäka is celebrating its tenth year at this year’s festival.

“We’re just really excited about this year because of the pandemic. We haven’t been able to celebrate, so this year is really powerful for bringing that spirit back again,” she says.

This year’s festival is expected to attract around 1,000 daily visitors. It features a gallery with Indigenous jewelry and artwork from across Canada, as well as over 200 visual and preforming artists such as the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, an Inland Tlinigt dance group based in Yukon, and PIQSIQ, Inuit style throat singers from Nunavut.

The festival also features over 60 workshops, panels on topics like language and a First Nations’ fashion show.

‘Showing off our culture’

Ailu Valle and Aleski Niittyvuopio, a rap and juggling duo from Finalnd, preformed at the festival on its opening day.

The pair are Sámi, an Indigenous group native to northern Scandinavia.

“Of course, since it’s an Indigenous festival, it was great chance to network and get to know other Indigenous peoples,” Valle says.

Valle notes the festival is a way for him to showcase Sámi culture to audiences who may not be familiar with its people.

“Content wise I teach about the Sámi way of living, the Sámi philosophy of life and also bring the traditional way of living to the limelight,” he says.

Sámi culture is also important to Niittyvuopio, who started the act by dancing and juggling with reindeer antlers.

“I like to share my stuff, and especially now I’ve been digging deeper and deeper into my Indigenous roots and show what I’ve been doing with my skillset, juggling, which is not often seen within the Indigenous artform,” he says.

The Tlicho Drummers, a drumming group from Tlicho, Northwest Territories, preformed a handgames presentation, attracting a large crowd who were eager to watch the demonstration.

“I believe they had a wonderful experience watching us play,” says Clarence MacKenzie, the group’s organizer.

He notes the pandemic drastically reduced the number of handgames events in the last two years.

“It’s been really tough with COVID, and I believe that this is a really great event showing off our culture,” he says.

Adäka wraps up on July 5.

Johnson says ultimately the festival is a way to celebrate the art and culture of northern Indigenous people from around the world.

“The spirit and intention of why we have this festival every year is always about bringing communities together, sharing stories, and really just the heart and soul of us coming together.”

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