The tributes emerged mid-afternoon on February 10th, as the news that four artists had died in a horrific car accident that killed five people north of Regina.
Michelle Sereda’s was the first name to emerge, and the close-knit arts family of Regina began to mourn. Michelle had been a long-time figure in the performance, theatre and movement arts community. The next name heard was Lacy Morin-Desjarlais, who was a young woman recently returned to her homeland, also working in theatre and dance. The afternoon waned as the sadness of many continued to rise.
Late in the evening, the names of the two male passengers were revealed: Michael Green and Narcisse Blood. Michael was well known to Albertans as the director of One Yellow Rabbit Theatre Company and most recently director of Making Treaty 7, a collaborative treaty performance three years in the works.
I had heard of the first three during my time within the arts community and I admired their work. But reading that fourth name I felt a piece of my heart break off. Narcisse Blood was the cultural and spiritual advisor of Making Treaty 7, and is known throughout the prairies as a ceremonial person, a vast source of knowledge, and a tireless educator. I met Narcisse in a south Calgary restaurant six years ago while I was working on my PhD. Our mutual love of film and buffalo started our friendship and every time we met over the years, his words would shift my thinking in ways that I will never be able to explain on paper.
Narcisse worked tirelessly to promote the Blackfoot language and culture, to remember the past traumas of Indigenous peoples, to repatriate Blackfoot spiritual items. In the process he inspired everyone he encountered.
As Toronto-based Cree artist Elwood Jimmy reminded me, sometimes we are lucky enough in this life to know a few people who have the ability to make you and everyone they encounter feel special. Knowing Narcisse, and reading the tributes for the others, I believe that all four of them had that beautiful quality. The shock waves of grief for the loss of these four people continue to spread far across this country, even as the last of the funerals and memorials finished this past week.
For me, reading the national media coverage of these four people, another theme begins to emerge: all four were constantly looking ahead to a better world. The world they wanted to live in includes joyful children, justice for Indigenous peoples, powerful art. They built community. They gave back. They loved deeply.
They reminded us of our collective responsibility to make the world better, to use our imaginations and our talents to build each other up. They left us with a responsibility that we should all heed.
Tasha Hubbard is a documentary filmmaker, an Assistant Professor at the University of Saskatchewan in the Department of English, and a Broadbent Fellow.
Photo: Making Treaty 7 / Cultural Society