Indigenous musicians performed on Friday and Saturday at a Toronto art gallery to raise funds for an Indigenous health service that runs harm reduction efforts downtown.
A pop-up art exhibit that explores what self care means to Indigenous people served as the backdrop for the free performances. The exhibit, Locating Self Care in Urban Centres, runs until Dec. 31 at Collision Gallery, 18 Wellington St. W.
The two afternoon concerts showcased Indigenous musicians of North and South America. AM/PM Productions produced the concert series with ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art, 2021-2022, a year-long celebration of public art in Toronto.
Lacey Hill, a singer, songwriter and speaker and Oneida from the Six Nations of the Grand River, Wolf Clan, said the concert series gave her a chance to sing in an open concept space. She described herself as an Indigenous soul singer and said it was a “beautiful thing” to perform. Hill performed on Saturday.
“This is my community here in Toronto. My friends are here. It’s always nice to come together again after the pandemic and just be around each other,” Hill said.
Hill said the performance enabled her to express the idea of self care through her music. She defines self care as “listening to your spirit” as well as knowing one’s limits and boundaries and how much one can give. Self care is also being able to say no, she said.
“These songs came to me because I went through traumatic things and beautiful things and awful things and amazing things. These experiences, I can put into song form and share these stories with you,” she said.
“That is healing within myself, and hopefully, when I’m healing, you’re healing too because I’m sharing a little bit about myself and opening up for you. And sometimes that’s really intimate and really scary and emotional. But I do it because that’s a part of who I am. I know that about myself.”
Hill said Indigenous people are always having to fight for basic rights in Toronto and Canada.
“We’re constantly in a battle. Land Back. We’re constantly fighting for things that are supposed to be in our possession or at least in our care anyway.”
LISTEN | Indigenous musician Lacey Hill sings Love is Love:
Emily Granville, a music curator at AM/PM Productions, said on Saturday that the two afternoon concerts gave Indigenous musicians a safe place to perform.
“It opens up a lot of different opportunities for Indigenous artists in general just to have a chance to play in an all Indigenous environment,” she said.
Granville said the Indigenous community produces different kinds of music and it’s important to understand that it has a wide range. It’s not just pow wow music and drumming, she added.
“I feel like sometimes we think of Indigenous music and put it into one category, which I think is not always the case,” she said.
“There is always different kinds of mediums for every single Indigenous artist and it’s important to see that within the Indigenous community. I feel like a lot of people generalize Indigenous music but I feel like it can’t really be generalized.”
Donations were accepted at the concert and all donations went to Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction, a health service that focuses on helping people living in encampments, those struggling with substance use and people who have barriers to accessing social services.
Other Indigenous musicians who were scheduled to perform included Ruben “Beny” Esguerra (AKA New Tradition) on Saturday and Evan Redsky and Quique Escamilla on Friday.
Emma Steen, curator of the exhibit, Locating Self Care in Urban Centres, said the idea of the exhibit was spawned by the lack of resources facing Indigenous people in downtown Toronto. In 2020, the city put out a call for Toronto curators to draw up a concept of life in the city for the exhibit and she came up with self care.
Steen said she defines self care not just as “this frivolous need” but as “a resilient act” that involves caring for the larger community.
“Whether you are on the Scarborough Bluffs, or you are at King and Bay, you are on Indigenous land, period,” she said. “Indigenous folks are here. And no matter where you go, there are elements of Indigenous life and a thriving culture that, as much colonial settler wills have tried to remove, still exists here.”
LISTEN | Indigenous musician Beny Esguerra and New Tradition Music perform Take Care:
In a news release, the city said: “Locating Self Care in Urban Centres foregrounds the presence of Indigenous people in cities and makes space for self-care as a radical act. The exhibition continues the conversation started by Black and Indigenous curators and writers on care as a method of resistance and sovereignty.
“Work by Laura Grier and Susan Blight considers self-care as manifested through body, land, and community, extending into the gallery itself as a place of respite within the downtown core, a space often unwelcoming of Indigenous presence.”
The city said the concert series continued the ideas presented in the exhibit by “providing a welcoming space for all, in the heart of the city.”
AM//PM Productions is an organization that prioritizes Indigenous, People of Colour, non-binary, and female lead arts and music projects in Toronto and Mississauga.