Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Canadian Highway drives diversity in plays, music

Renowned and well-respected Canadian author Tomson Highway came to lecture about Canadian First Nations mythology on Wednesday, Nov. 5, and brought his Cree Cabaret to Kimball Theater on Thursday, Nov. 6.

This lecture and Cree Cabaret isn’t Tomson Highway’s first connection with Whitman:
his novel “Kiss of the Fur Queen” was taught in English Professor Sharon Alker’s Canadian literature class.

“I’ve never seen a class so engaged; there was such vibrant debate, and it was so emotionally compelling. Highway is able to deal with shameful issues in Canada’s past, like reservation schools, domestic abuse and the marginalization of the First Nations, and can still be funny and hopeful. His work also helps us deal with prejudice, and makes us face it and deal with it through mythology. It’s really useful for the United States to see how we might use those ideas to help Americans,” said Alker.

After considering other Canadian artists, the Canadian Association decided to bring Tomson Highway as a unique voice on diversity. He participated in a number of events on campus as well, including visiting the Umatilla Indian Reservation and various classes including French 305.

Highway also writes musical plays, and his Cree Cabaret will soon be touring Europe.
For the performance on Thursday, they performed 14 songs from his plays. Singer Patricia Cano and sophomore saxophonist Brian Barton will be performing as well.

“It was actually Tomson Highway who proposed the cabaret performance. We invited
him as a speaker, not knowing that he routinely performs in this format. A saxophonist was needed: Highway regularly works with Patricia Cano but relies on local talent for the saxophone part,” said French Professor Jack Iverson, who is involved with the Canadian Association as well.

“[Iverson] told me a little bit about Tomson and what a great opportunity it would be to play with him. Even though I still didn’t know much about him or the music, I was very excited about the opportunity to play his music and learn from it to help myself grow as a musician,” said Barton.

About four years ago, the Canadian Society at Whitman was established, due to a visit from the Canadian consulate encouraging scholarly interest about Canada.

“The Canadian government offered some small grants Whitman might apply for to help them to [establish the society],” said Alker.

Several professors and staff members are Canadian, along with a number of Whitman students. They, along with professors and staff members who are interested in Canadian issues, help promote Canadian studies and look at how Canadian ideas and culture might combine with the United States.

“Canada has an ongoing interest not only in its own cultural diversity, but also with global studies as a whole, and its art and culture reflects this. Our group wanted to show the United States what Canadian culture is, and show how Canada deals with diversity,” said Alker.

Since Whitman places great emphasis on the importance of diversity, Highway’s
visit will bring in interesting Canadian perspectives, especially because Highway’s first language is Cree, one of the many languages spoken by the native people in Canada.

“First Nations is the collective name for the native people of Canada,” said Alker. “Tomson Highway is a very well-known and respected writer who’s won numerous literary awards and also the Order of Canada, which is the highest award given to Canadian citizens. It is awarded to Canadians of outstanding merit.”

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