A photo showing a side profile of Robert Hunter, from the lower half of his face to his shoulder and raised hand, which is holding a drum stick and playing an Indigenous drum with images painted on the surface. This is how he welcomed audiences to Good Story performance.
Robert Hunter greeting audiences at Good Story. | Photo: Andrés Galarza

Celebrating the Month of the Artist

Calgary Arts Development celebrates our city's creative community this September 2023

Stories by Meghan Power

September has been proclaimed the Month of the Artist in Alberta — a month dedicated to celebrating artists and the value they bring to the province, both socially and economically. In recognition of Calgary’s artists and arts organizations, this month we are sharing the stories featured in our recent Accountability + Impact Report. You’ll find a new story here every weekday from September 5 – 29, 2023 — scroll down to see previous posts.

Today’s Featured Artist: Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter, a Cree artist originally from Peepeekisis Cree Nation in southern Saskatchewan, was struggling with feelings of isolation and not belonging during the pandemic.

“I was thinking about a lot of spaces where I felt I didn’t belong, or about spaces where there is a perceived feeling of not belonging. I wanted to make a statement about what artmaking is and step into what I perceived to be a high or elite form of art — like opera, where traditionally someone like me didn’t belong.”

“It started with this long-held vision I had of kokum (grandmother in Cree) singing opera as she makes bannock. She calls to her grandkids, one of whom is my grandmother, to come and sit and eat with her by the fire. Each of the grandkids attends residential school and is home for the summer.” Hunter followed his vision and ended up with a libretto that was inspired by his personal family history but was also intertwined with the greater story of First Nations on this land and the impact of the residential schools on their culture, their families and living in Truth and Reconciliation generations later.

“As far as I could tell, there weren’t any operas written in Cree and only a handful of Indigenous opera singers — none of whom knew the language. So, I decided that I was going to mingle Indigenous music and language with opera and see what might emerge.” 

What emerged was Miyo-âcimowin (Good Story) — Indigenous drumming, singing, classical piano and organ music woven together with Indigenous storytelling, theatre and opera. Good Story features Calgary-based performers Jeanine Williams (mezzo-soprano), Lauren Woods (soprano), Adam Brousseau (bass-baritone) and Ethan Hill (pianist, organist). Hunter, in the same way that he played with the idea of making an opera that went against the traditions of opera, went against what most people might have expected and invited non-Indigenous performers to perform in Cree. “Most importantly, I began to see this project as a unique opportunity to have non-Indigenous artists performing in an Indigenous language and to have this project align with Call to Action #83 (from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission): collaborative work between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists in commemoration of the Residential Schools. 

Hunter acknowledges that without receiving a project grant from Calgary Arts Development (CADA) he never would’ve been able to bring this opera to the stage. “The support of CADA from application to the live production of Good Story, and including opportunities to widen my social and professional network through the community that CADA has built has been incredible for me and my family. Good Story has given us a sense of pride about our story. For me as an artist, it has opened new doors and opportunities for collaboration. It was also incredibly validating for me, someone who has had challenges in finding their place, their sense of belonging in the arts community, to know that CADA had faith in my work and in me as an artist.”