Full Circle

By Michael MacDonald

When I started to inquire about Native Dance in the West Coast of Canada I kept being told to start with Margo Kane. Margo Kane is a very well-known Cree-Saulteaux performance artist who started Full Circle Native Dance in 1992 to provide an opportunity for Indigenous artists to express themselves and their community. Margo is a very busy person who has been creating many events in Vancouver. Margo and Full Circle started the annual Talking Stick Festival in 2001 to celebrate Inddigneous arts. In 2006, there were 18 events over eight days including a dance series called ‘Stories in Motion,’ an original writers series, an art exhibit at the Round House community centre, a cabaret with spoken word and performance art, and a community salmon feast hosted by Sandy Scofield with a music jam to end the festival.

Full Circle now has two full-time employees and together they started the Ensemble Training program. The program takes six students who are professional or pre-professional Indigenous artists who agree to dedicate two years to the program. It trains them in all the disciplines of performance: voice, dance, movement and music. The teachers are professionals trained in dance, traditional Indigneous dance, modern dance and theatre, and musicians from different traditions.  In the second year the students work on a show together and get ready to start performing and touring professionally.

Debra Prince, the General Manager of Full Circle, took some time to talk with me about how she got involved with Full Circle.

“What is left behind by a civilization is its art. My education in Native Studies and Art History showed me that Art is very important. When I was growing up we didn’t have powwows, and we were really starved for that although we didn’t realize it at the time. My parents were Cree, and my sister and I were not taught our language because of what happened to them at residential schools and that made me angry for many years. When I went to university, I began to learn the true history of what had happened to my people as a result of colonization and began to learn more about my culture. I also realized that though I wasn’t taught my language, my mother taught us a lot about our heritage and culture in the way she raised us.  I also learned from my education that art is the language of the soul, and that it is a tremendous tool for recovering what was lost and what was damaged by the effects of genocide, colonization, racism and injustice against aboriginal peoples. That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to doing this”.

The image of a full circle is very important to Margo. It means a gathering of all people of all cultures, completeness, and a journey that doesn’t end. Debra, Margo, and Full Circle work hard to create art with Indigenous artists. Margo and Debra were successful people before but just like when you walk in a circle you come back to the beginning. That is what they are doing. Coming back to the beginning to help other people walk the circle for the first time gives students a chance to have a positive learning experience that they didn’t have when they were growing up. Debra believes that working with Full Circle is her way of helping people understand themselves and one another. She told me a story about how she learned more about herself from art.

“When I was young I had a problem with my feet. The doctors said I was pigeon-toed which is when your feet point in towards each other. They made me wear special shoes that were really stiff to try to fix the ‘problem’. Years later, after university, I got a job at a museum. When I was getting my first tour my boss was opening drawers to show me what was in them. There were all sorts of aboriginal artifacts there. One artifact caught my eye; it was a pair of old moccasins. Looking at them I noticed that a pigeon-toed Cree woman like me wore them. I then knew that what the doctors were trying to fix was natural for me. This piece of art told me something about myself that the doctors could not. Art is important”.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance