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Singing the Life of Mohawk Poet-Performer Pauline Johnson

From May 24 to June 2, singer Cheri Maracle brings the historical one-woman musical ‘Paddle Song’ to the stage.

Firehall Arts Centre 13 May 2024The Tyee

Cheri Maracle produces and performs the energetic and humorous one-woman musical Paddle Song, which tells the proud legacy of the Mohawk poet and performer Pauline Johnson.

Created by Dinah Christie and Tom Hill, the show follows the enigmatic heroine of a performer who embraced her heritage as the daughter of a respected Six Nations Mohawk Chief and an English mother in the late 1800s.

Her powerful story is brought to life in Paddle Song, which captures the heart and journey of this gifted writer and poised orator, from a young woman canoeing the Grand River at home on Chiefswood, to the beginning of her promising career, to earning her place on stages from Ontario to the U.S. and the U.K.

She fearlessly toured for over 30 years across Canada and was published and hailed by the literati in England at a time when the literary world was ruled by white men.

One of Canada’s most remarkable feminists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Johnson endlessly fought for equality, acceptance and respect as an Indigenous female performer with a voice in a male-dominated literary world. Johnson embraced her heritage and fiercely challenged the stereotypes of women and Indigenous Peoples within her work. A monument in Stanley Park commemorates her legacy.

“My mother introduced me to Pauline Johnson when I was a young girl, and many of us have probably sung Paddle Song around the campfire,” says Donna Spencer, Firehall’s artistic producer.

“Cheri Maracle, who started her professional performance career here at the Firehall Arts Centre in our production of Marie Clements' Age of Iron, is an amazing performer, and her recreation of the iconic life of Ms. Johnson is absolutely riveting.”

Cheri Maracle is a multi-award-nominated Six Nations performer has worked in theatre for over 20 years and was most recently seen in The Unnatural and Accidental Woman at the National Arts Centre. Maracle has multiple film and television credits and has recorded three albums, including, most recently, the jazz compilation Ache of Love.

Maracle’s performances in Paddle Song have been enthusiastically received by audiences in Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and Norway. Nominated in 2016 for Best Solo Performance at the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s International Festival of the Arts, Paddle Song has also been presented in New Delhi and in Norway at the Riddu Riđđu festival.

Paddle Song reflects the legacy Pauline Johnson carved out; an unparalleled persona who would influence Indigenous performers and audiences for decades to come. Her life’s work is a masterpiece accessible to all.

To learn more about the performance of ‘Paddle Song,’ visit Firehall Arts Centre’s website.  [Tyee]

Read more: Indigenous

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