Open Sky Festival - Northwest Territories
Tansi Nîtôtemtik/Negha Dagondih,
One of the ways in which culture can be embraced, preserved, and experienced is by embracing many mediums through which we can learn and express culture. The Open Sky Creative Society (OSCS) Open Sky Festival in the Deh Cho of the Northwest Territories saw this need, as far back as 1999, and worked towards making this vision a reality.
In this way, OSCS is In the nature of the Calls to Action on culture, those can be reviewed here. To really get an understanding of who the OSCS is, here is a story from the Northwest Territories Arts’ website:
“Open Sky Creative Society (OSCS) was formed in 1999 by local artists & arts supporters who saw a need for an arts & cultural service organization as well as presentation & artist outreach opportunities [in] the Dehcho. It is the only active non-profit, non-governmental, artist, and cultural supporter run organization in the Dehcho Region.
In 2001, the Society began hosting the Open Sky Festival, a Multidisciplinary Arts Festival held annually over a weekend in early summer.”
The OSCS hosts the Open Sky Festival typically held at the flats where the Mackenzie and Liard rivers can be seen in Fort Simpson, and truly sets up an amazing opportunity to allow culture to continue in the Deh Cho through workshop series, musical performances, theatre, and artist demonstrations.
When we think of governmental preservation of culture, sometimes the awareness and respectful watching of what communities and regions do can be beneficial. Sometimes our federal government dictates the means by which we can preserve culture, and in an (un)intentional manner ends up cementing an expression of Indigenous culture. But culture does not work like that. Culture needs to be worked through, experienced, confused, learned and taught. Whether it be from “storytelling, moose hair tufting, theatre, modern dance, traditional fiddling, new media screenings…”, these all offer different ways to expand and modernize culture, but at the same time preserve tradition and share in traditional culture and learnings.
The Open Sky Festival works towards one of OSCS’ main objectives: “To nurture emerging artists & support established artists by encouraging; research, production, presentation, promotion, & dissemination of new works in; contemporary visual arts, traditional Dene crafts, & other arts practices as well as providing networking & educational opportunities & a general resource centre to arts practitioners.” The art, whether painted, drawn, acted, or told, all offer the chance for artists and audiences from the Deh Cho to share their cultural experiences and realities, while at the same time offering an opportunity for dialogue amongst those in the Northwest Territories and Canada.
“Cultural traditions and creative expression…”, these are some of the driving forces behind OSCS’ Open Sky Festival, and are an indirect way of preserving culture, as called for by the TRC. Territorial and federal governments can and should continue to be a part of this work, as long as they do so in a way that centres Indigenous communities. Hopefully, pandemic disruptions to festivals will soon be behind us and together we can return to this work in a good way.
Before concluding today’s piece, it would be hard not to mention Lindsay ‘Kiwi’ Waugh, who passed away in 2019, and was one of the founding members of the OSCS. Waugh came to the North from New Zealand in the 1970’s, and settled in Fort Simpson in 1977. Waugh was a musician and electrician, and was an important person in the community.
“‘I have a video that we're going to play during the service [Wednesday] of the last song he played at the Open Sky Festival, and at the end of it he's talking about how much he appreciated having lived in Fort Simpson and having raised us, raised his family in the Deh Cho,’ said Tracy Waugh Antoine [his daughter].”
As a founding member of the OSCS, and someone who was not from the Deh Cho but loved it and cared about the arts, culture, and music scenes within the region, he was a huge advocate of the TRC’s Calls to Action, even if in an indirect way. The North is blooming with culture, and deserves to be a part of Canada’s necessary cultural preservation through experience and promotion. The OSCS, and Lindsay ‘Kiwi’ Waugh, are great examples of how to contribute to it.
Until next time,
Gavin and Team ReconciliAction YEG
 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Calls to Action”, (2015) at 2, online (pdf): Government of B.C. <www2.gov.bc.ca> https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf
 “Open Sky Creative Society - Story/Description”, (November 25, 2021), Northwest Territories Arts, online: <nwtarts.com> https://www.nwtarts.com/organization-profile/open-sky-creative-society [https://perma.cc/4TMP-85K7]
 “Open Sky Festival”, (Accessed March 15, 2022), Spectacular Northwest Territories, online: <spectacularnwt.com> https://spectacularnwt.com/events/open-sky-festival [https://perma.cc/DX5N-CBLS]
 Laura Busch, “He marched to the beat of his own drum': Fort Simpson celebrates life of hard-working artist”, (Oct. 16, 2019), CBC News, online: <cbc.ca> https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/lindsay-waugh-obit-1.5322227 [https://perma.cc/5PT5-3TSA]