Singer Ahkamayimo Linklater stands for a portrait in her room in Saskatoon, Sask. on Sunday, September 30, 2018. Ahkamayimo Linklater likes to sing opera to herself in her room at home — sometimes just for fun, other times to practise for concerts.
The quiet setting is appropriate, perhaps, for someone who often feels alone as she pursues her passion.
She’s had the chance to work with other singers and perform at a few events around the city, but she’s never had a regular teacher for more than a few weeks. In a city where more than 10 per cent of the total population self-identifies as Indigenous or Metis, Linklater doesn’t know another Indigenous singer performing opera.
“Sometimes it’s hard if it’s only me,” said the 17-year-old, whose favourite tune is Giacomo Puccini’s ‘O mio babbino caro,’ though she loves most Italian opera she hears.
Within the Indigenous community, Linklater said there isn’t much respect — or many opportunities — for her operatic singing when people assume her talents should be focused on more “traditional” performing. For those outside the Indigenous community, common stereotypes of Indigenous performers don’t include opera singers.
“When I get a show, and there’s no Indigenous people there … they’re sort of surprised I’m doing this,” she said. “There’s still that stigma of Indigenous people living in teepees … that’s really hard to deal with.”
Her experiences as a young singer are emblematic of an issue surrounding opera and the performing arts today: a lack of interest, opportunity, and representation for Indigenous people on Canada’s professional stage. Indigenous singer Marion Newman is one of the top opera singers in Canada. The Indigenous ‘lens’
Professional opera singer Marion Newman remembers the first time someone told her she’d have a more successful music career if she didn’t tell anyone she was Indigenous.
“This person — very, very well meaning — in her well-meaning way, she said, ‘Maybe you don’t want that in your bio. People have an impression of what, of who, First Nations people are, and their work ethic … You could easily pass for Italian.’ She thought that being Indigenous might cut off some of my chances.”
Now one of Canada’s most accomplished opera singers, Newman proudly wears her Indigenous heritage, of the Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations in British Columbia.
Breaking into the sphere of professional performing artist is not a simple task by itself, and in Newman’s experience it was made more challenging by racial stereotypes. She said the current climate for Indigenous performers is “pretty amazing,” but added that it’s a recent development in the performing world.
“If I didn’t say I was Indigenous, and people just assumed I was Portuguese or Italian, they wouldn’t think twice about casting me in just about anything,” Newman said. “But as soon as they hear I’m Indigenous, they see me through a different lens.”
Even for performers like Newman who make a name for themselves professionally, there is the challenge of non-Indigenous people creating Indigenous works with no consultation.
Newman pointed to a recent incident in Canada involving composer Robert Lepage and his work entitled Kanata. The production was about Canada’s settler history and drew a large backlash from the Indigenous community both in and outside the arts for a lack of consultation and Indigenous presence in the show. It was eventually scrapped.
“It was supposed to be a story about Indigenous people but had no Indigenous input,” she said. “So there are definitely some people out there with old ways of thinking, who assume they know better.”
Despite such incidents, there are people who are working hard to “do it right,” Newman said.“These are people who are emotionally there, […]
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