The campfire circle became the stuff of theatre when the storyteller arrived. The teller of tales would compete to find the best. The circle became a semi-circle as the winner was elevated onto a stage set off to the side of the circle. Its widely accepted that Thespis was the first, and theatre as we know it, the binary world of actor and audience, was born.
The device we hold in our hands is the new campfire circle. We communicate instantly with people around the world, telling stories, our shared experiences creating tribes. If we follow Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media we see media repeats itself; old forms returning in new forms, and thus our new tribe online will act as those first tribes. The online circle will give rise to the best storyteller, the best actor, perhaps even the best liar.
The phone is something to look at and into but it is also a platform to stand on. A campfire circle is fraught with fear, a glimmer at the centre inside the all-enveloping darkness. It’s scary out there and a father-figure, a strongman, a big man is welcome. The phone elevates power personified, the big man and his tribe will go all in on support for him.
However it is only the circle that became theatre that became architecture that became books that became film, television and web that will present itself as platform. The tribe that never broke the circle and never set up the stage will not suffer the same fate. No big man will be sought but fear will be dispersed by the maintenance of the circle and at its centre, the campfire, around which we hear the equality of voice.
Not one voice, not one storyteller, not one actor, not one liar, even but many. All keepers of the tribe’s knowledge, knowledge of the home and the land, resources, creativity and the cultures, and most importantly the equality of voice of women as well as of men.
So we choose our circles. We choose our tribes. Do we align ourselves along gender, race, colour, wealth, geography? Do we gather around only those who reflect us or do we open the hearth to all travellers?
Gord Downie is opting for the hearth. He spoke to CBC about a new project he has taken up even as he faces his own battles with brain cancer. The 52 year-old lead singer for the Tragically Hip has a solo album, a film and a graphic novel. He has set up a fund with all proceeds from the associated projects going towards reconciliation.
The Secret Path relates the story of a young indigenous boy who froze to death on his way home from a residential school he had been forcibly placed in. In 1966 Chanie Wenjeck set out on a 600 km journey but died by the rail line he took home, his secret path back.
Chanie’s story had been told before.
However when Downie heard it it inspired him to dig deeper and tell the story his own way. Ten poems became songs and an album. A graphic novel was produced and also a short animated film.
At the final concert of the Tragically Hip’s final cross-Canada tour in Kingston, broadcast live on TV, radio and social media to over 10 million, Downie chose to shout out Prime Minister Trudeau, who was in the audience, and place the resolution of indigenous issues firmly before him.
Downie has also spoken at length to CBC about the project.
It seems to be that the spoken word, the communication of one on on is the most trusted communication in the new tribes. There is no agenda between family, friends, a tribe of the like-minded. It is a circle of shared values and we share with each other the stories we care about, knowing those we speak also care. But we must know them first.
The Idle No More movement was an effort to reach out and have non-indigenous communities hear the historic and, most importantly, the present realities of life as an indigenous person in Canada. There have been other attempts to bridge the gap between north and south Canada, some successful. Both Buffy Sainte Marie and Tanya Tagaq have become globally known artists and they sing to the same issues. A Tribe Called Red is taking their electric pow wow around the world and their new album Halluci-Nation extends their tribe to indigenous communities on all continents. The wounds of colonialism are shared among many.
Retribution is the title of Tanya Tagaq’s new album. It includes a cover of NIrvana’s “Rape Me”. It has a whole different effect when sung by Tagaq. The Retribution will be swift it seems, there are centuries of repressed anger, centuries of hurt and an ongoing crisis among young people of the First Nations, some of the highest rates of suicide, addiction and mental health issues in the world. As Downie says the Canada we think we live in is not the real Canada. As those who live in the south contemplate boycotting bottled water companies for overstepping their welcome First Nations have had boil water advisories in place for decades. The hurt is real, it must be dealt with.
What we are hearing is the voice of the global village. Our neighbours are speaking up and out about how we rate as neighbours. We don’t rate very highly it seems but it’s time to make the changes needed.
PM Trudeau has said Canada is the first "postnational" country. It is not a nation based on one culture, language, religion, but instead a country based on values, on agreement, on conversation between neighbours. It is a country of many nations colonized by two and opened up to many more. It is wide and open and diverse and it worked for a while on the basis that good fences make good neighbours. The fence was built along the wrong property line however.
The electronic media has broken fences, borders, the artificial separations of class and nationality mean nothing online, even gender is no longer static. All is fluid, all is in flux, all is one long conversation and as long as we keep talking we are in the same space, the same time around the campfire (electronic or otherwise), listening to each other.
Marshall McLuhan had it right. Filmmaker Norman McLaren too had it right in his 1952 animated short. Its over 60 years old. The Big Man says he can make the country great again. Canada only needs to be better.