A new Indigenous speaker series is hitting the Canadian market. The creators of REDx Talks held their inaugural event in October at Mount Royal University in Calgary, and have many more planned for the future.
The purpose behind the talks is to be a platform for Indigenous speakers who want to open up about issues experienced by Indigenous people, and educate the public about them.
“We’re hoping to share stories of resilience… and empower our youth, our Elders and our communities. We want to break down stereotypes, dispel myths, and smash solidarity bubbles… We want truth,” said Cowboy Smithx, a filmmaker, and the official REDx Talks curator.
Smithx is working with a number of people on the project, including creative producer for REDx Talks, Rio Mitchell, and Dr. Leroy Little Bear who runs the board for the Iiniistsi Arts Society—the organization that hosts REDx Talks. But he actually came up with the idea seven years ago while running a youth arts program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“I created Vital Knowledge, which was a film series where we hosted a screening and had talkback sessions with the film makers. They were so popular… I started building a platform I wanted to call REDx Talks that was inspired by TED Talks,” he said.
Unfortunately, funding was then cut for his original program, and Smithx was laid off. But the idea stayed with him, and the talks were revived again this past year.
Smithx and his team now have REDx Talks planned for Banff, Calgary, and Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2016, and they are actively searching for partners to assist with them with everything from funding, to hosting a REDx Talk in their communities.
Smithx and Professor Liam Haggarty from Mount Royal University, who was also speaker at the REDx inaugural event, will visit Chile in just three weeks to talk with Indigenous people there, and broadcast a satellite version of a REDx Talk.
“Of course with TED Talks, it’s always about sharing one idea. REDx Talks is always going to be about sharing multiple perspectives on various issues, important to Indigenous people,” he said.
Over the next few years, Smithx and his team plan to visit even more Indigenous communities across the globe, taking REDx Talks to a larger audience, and spreading even more awareness about key issues affecting people.
And in terms of how it’s been going so far, Smithx said it’s been a huge success, despite being a grassroots project, with no major source of funding as of yet. An audience of 400 turned out to the Mount Royal University event, and heard speakers Mrs. Universe Ashley Burnham, actress Roseanne Supernault, and language activist Khelsilem, share words of wisdom on missing and murdered Indigenous women, stereotypes of Indigenous people present within the media, and the importance of teaching Indigenous languages to youth to save them from becoming extinct.
The speakers were available to audience members for question and answer sessions after their talks, he said.
“We’ve got nothing but good feedback. The videos should be released sometime in the New Year. They’re currently in post-production... It’ll take some time to pull that together and get it ready for the website launch,” he said.
Friend of Smithx, fellow filmmaker and technical producer for Redx Talks, Chris Hsiung shares Smithx’s enthusiasm. He is currently editing the videos for the recent REDx Talk, but was also a guest speaker there. Smithx called on him to share insight he gained while creating a documentary called “Elder in the Making.”
“He kind of put me under the gun… I’m what (Smithx) calls a RedX ally. The idea is that there is diversity with the speakers, so it’s typically Indigenous speakers but they don’t have to be. I’m not Indigenous, but I’m engaged in Indigenous stories and issues,” said Hsiung.
Hsiung, who learned a lot during the making of his documentary, got his first taste of the social issues faced by Canada’s Aboriginal people five years ago while running film workshops on the Stoney-Nakoda Nation outside Calgary.
That experience was eye-opening for him, in that he’d been driving past the area for years, but hadn’t thought much about the conditions of people living there, something he believes most Calgarians do.
For Hsiung, the REDx Talks is an effective way to draw attention to such a cause.
“It’s both traditional and modern. It’s a form of storytelling, but storytelling on a platform… like a performance with lights, with cameras, and it’s being recorded. And these stories will spread throughout the internet,” he said.
“In the film ‘Elder in the Making,’ there is this idea of transferring knowledge bundles. That’s partly what REDx Talks is doing… transferring knowledge bundles to an audience,” he said.
More information on REDx Talks and upcoming dates can be found at www.redxtalks.org
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