A Métis Night at the Opera: Louis Riel, Cultural Ownership, and Making Canada Métis

Posted in Articles, Canada, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation on 2018-05-28 02:54Z by Steven

A Métis Night at the Opera: Louis Riel, Cultural Ownership, and Making Canada Métis

Adam Gaudry, Ph.D.

Adam Gaudry, Assistant Professor
Faculty of Native Studies & Department of Political Science
University of Alberta

Riel Set

Taking my seat at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, home of the Canadian Opera Company (COC) to watch the debut of Louis Riel, I snap a photo with my camera. (above). Immediately and out of nowhere an usher appears to inform me that I can’t take photos inside the hall, because the set design is copyrighted. I’m surprised by this, as the image used is clearly derived from a public domain photo of Riel, something that Métis rightfully regard as part of our historical legacy.

In truth though, I’m more annoyed that five minutes before this a number of Nisga’a—represented by the Git Hayetsk and Kwhlii Gibaygum Dancers—had presented to opera-goers on the theft of one of their songs by the opera’s composer, a lament song from the House of Sgat’iin. After contacting the COC, they had worked to educate the audience and the COC on how the composer took one of their sacred songs, without permission or prior knowledge, using Cree words in place of theirs and renamed the Kuyas Aria (read their critique in the opera’s program here).

The irony, of course, was that while the opera appropriated Indigenous songs and stories, my photo for Instagram was somehow violating the intellectual property of one of the many non-Native people who had decided to remix Indigenous culture, history, and imagery for non-Indigenous consumption. It reinforced the tightly held colonial notion that everything that once belong to us now belongs to “everyone,” and that in the name of art all is open to appropriation—and eventual ownership—by Canadians…

Read the entire article here.

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