An Inuk artist is in Toronto to showcase her latest collaborative performance piece.

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory is a Greenlandic Inuk who lives in Iqaluit with her husband and three kids. She is in Toronto this month with her youngest daughter while she performs in Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools.

For the show Williamson Bathory has teamed up with Toronto theatre-maker Evalyn Parry to tell a story about a meeting of two people, one from the north and one south of Canada, which opens a discussion about identity and colonization. 

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, an Greenlandic Inuk artist showcasing latest collaborative performance piece at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

"This is one of the first projects in a long time where I'm working with a non-Indigenous artist," said Williamson Bathory.

"We say in the play, Evalyn is queer and from Toronto, she's white. I'm Inuk, I live in Iqaluit. We believe in telling each other's stories. We're both women in Canada and that's a commonality," she added.

The pair both wrote and perform the show; Parry is the artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, where the showings are taking place. They are joined by Cris Derksen, a musician, and Elysha Poirier who provides live visuals.

In the show Williamson Bathory performs the traditional Greenlandic mask dancing, or Uarjeeneq, which is a theatrical expression and storytelling performance.

Cultural examination

Most of the time Williamson Bathory collaborates with other Inuit artists or Indigenous people from different cultures, so a lot of cultural sharing happens.

"There's sharing, even in the Inuit community. I'm Greenlandic but I live in Iqualuit," said Williamson Bathory.

"We've got different dialects and aspects of our shared culture that we teach one another," she added.

Parry comes from a folk music background, which is something that the performance piece looks at unpacking. In particular the women look at the Stan Roger's song Northwest Passage, which contains the line, "Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage."

"Why is that just allowed to be a part of a song that everyone sings? And what does it actually mean to be a Canadian who sings a song with the word savage in it?" Williamson Bathory asks. 

"From my perspective I tell the story of how discoverers spent their entire lives killing each other … in the process of nullifying our land, our relationship and our existences as stewards or people of the land," she added.

In her artwork, Williamson Bathory aims to show strength and resistance while also bringing attention to oppression that still exists within Canadian society.

"My focus is we're still here. We still hunt and we still eat all of these foods that are from our land, it's vital to who we are," said Williamson Bathory.

Seal meat controversy response

Williamson Bathory came to Toronto after the controversy surrounding Kūkŭm Kitchen — a local restaurant in the city that showcases different Indigenous cuisines — caused a stir among some people because of the appearance of seal meat on their menu.

There were petitions and counter petitions in support of the small Indigenous restaurant, which is still carrying seal meat on their menu.

Joseph Shawna and Artic Trio aps

One of Kūkŭm Kitchen's starters, the Arctic Trio. Beet and maple cured salmon, Seal Tartare and a cold smoked artic char. (CBC)

Williamson Bathory says many Canadians are detached from where their food comes from, which leads to a disconnect. "You have cow and you turn it into beef. That process is something that's invisible to you as a regular person. You don't see the shooting or the killing process."

"You don't see guts or anything that spills out and turns into meat all of a sudden," said Williamson Bathory.

"The idea of having blood on your hands in order to create your own food is so shocking. We eat seal meat all the time in Iqaluit and it's a big part of creating community and sharing. People hunting and giving meat to one another," she added.

But, the issue of a local Indigenous restaurant serving up seal meat is more complex and the movements against the restaurant have been labelled as culturally insensitive and Williamson Bathory says it's even racist. 

"Why aren't they standing with signs out front of McDonald's and Wendy's and all these places?" Williamson Bathory asked.

"All the controversy around Kūkŭm Kitchen is purely racism." 

"To be able to overturn the natural tendency to be racist, is to be able to put different food in your mouth that comes from the land. And be able to appreciate the complexity of it," Williamson Bathory added.

Cultural themes heavily influence Williamson Bathory's artistic work. By working in collaboration will similar or different cultures, she hopes the the audience will be able to come to an understanding that there are still many unresolved issues within Canada.

"It has to be a continued process of searching for understanding and equality. More than that it's recognizing the rightful place that Indigenous people have on our own home lands."

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools is playing until Nov. 5, 2017 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.