"The direction is going the right way for respect for aboriginal people in North America, and all we can do is stand up and say, 'Please do it faster.'"—Robbie Robertson 

By Chris Lorway, Executive Director of Stanford Live & Bing Concert Hall

The team at Stanford Live takes great pride in the diversity of programming it presents on its stages. Many of the artists are household names or have a strong fan base that can easily fill our venues. Other artists and works are unknown, asking our audiences to trust our curatorial choices. One example of this is the upcoming Black Arm Band show dirtsong, which we’ll present at Bing Concert Hall on Tuesday, February 7th.

To understand the importance of this performance requires a bit of context. The history of the treatment of indigenous peoples worldwide is a painful history. In recent years, a number of countries around the globe have been in a reconciliation process to take steps to right the many wrongs inflicted on these communities in hope of creating a positive way forward.

For over a century in Canada, the residential schooling system separated Aboriginal children from their families in an attempt to assimilate them into a largely Western-European culture. In the process, Aboriginal children were denied the rich culture of their lineage. In addition to destroying communities through isolation and separation, these schools became hotbeds for countless acts of abuse that continue to haunt survivors and their families.

Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring

In June of 2008, I presented two works with Aboriginal themes at the Luminato Festival: a reading of the The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, a famous Canadian play written in 1967 by George Ryga—a white man—about an Aboriginal woman travelling to the big city; and Where the Blood Mixes, a newly commissioned work by playwright Kevin Loring that tells the story of a young Aboriginal woman who returns to her reservation as an adult after being taken away and placed in foster care as a child.

Between these two performances, there was a panel of Aboriginal artists who discussed the journey of First Nations art and artists in the 40 years since Rita Joe was written. Coincidently, that very afternoon it was announced that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was preparing to make an official apology to Canada’s First Nations only days later. This news incited both hope and rage from panel members, many who thought the gesture was too little too late.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses Canada's First Nations - Chris Wattie / Reuters

South of the Equator in New Zealand and Australia, this process of reconciliation has also been going on for decades. Artists from both countries have been at the center of this dialogue and many great works exploring themes of reconciliation have been produced. Some of these works focus on the pain of the past while others offer glimmers of hope. The Black Arm Band’s piece dirtsong falls into the latter category, illustrating the company’s mandate of "celebrating the past and revolutionizing the future of indigenous Australia through music." Over the course of the performance, the audience is introduced to the vast landscapes of Australia, which are set to a suite of songs performed by some of the country’s best artists. It is a beautiful and inspiring evening not to be missed.

I have had the great fortune to work with many Indigenous artists from around the world, including Sami, Mongolian, Inuit, Maori, and other nations whose rich traditions provide insight into a world that many audiences are unfamiliar with. I look forward to inviting many more of these artists to Stanford and hope that you will join us.

For more info about Black Arm Band's upcoming performance at Bing Concert Hall, click here.