Natalie Sappier sings Indigenous reality and survival

Written by Sophie M. Lavoie on June 23, 2017

Wolastoqiyik artist Samaqani Cocahq-Natalie Sappier performing at the Beaverbrook Gallery on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2017. Photo by Sophie M. Lavoie.

Wolastoqiyik artist Samaqani Cocahq-Natalie Sappier performed at the Beaverbrook Gallery on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, “National Aboriginal Day,” in Fredericton.

Sappier’s very intimate performance was offered to the public on the steps of the main entrance of the Beaverbrook Gallery at noontime, during a beautiful sunny day. Sappier’s testimonials and songs also featured music by Nate Miller, a multi-talented guitarist and drummer.

Sappier is a mesmerizing presence, from her offer of smudging all of the participants in silence, to her raw vocals; the complete presentation was filled with emotion, both for the performer and for the public in attendance. Sappier told a very personal story, her own, and sang songs inspired from important intimate moments as a child and budding artist, and from significant public tragedies that have had a profound effect on her life. While she started the performance firmly grounded in place with her feet bare, Sappier soon donned her intricately beaded moccasins for inspiration and comfort. She also punctuated her vocal performance with hand drumming.

Two highlights of the performance were a song which reminded her of happily running free in the forest, and a heart-wrenching performance of a song about murdered and missing Aboriginal women. Equally touching was a beautiful duet for which Sqotewisq Judie Acquin-Miksovsky, of St. Mary’s First Nation, joined Sappier. The combination of their two voices was a pleasure to hear.

Sappier indicated that she was actively learning the Wolastoqiyik language and song was really helping her in this personal development. She also indicated that, in future endeavours, she would challenge herself to perform some of the traditional songs in the Wolastoqiyik language.

Sappier is a multi-dimensional performance artist originally from Tobique First Nation, in New Brunswick who has been based in Fredericton since 2000, when she enrolled in the NB College of Craft and Design. Since her start in the art world, Gwen Bear, an Indigenous elder also from Tobique First Nation who passed away in 2012, inspired the artist and mentored her work for years.

Sappier’s artwork has been featured prominently throughout the province, whether as individual paintings or commissioned murals such as the one found at the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre at UNB. Her iconic personal style –muted sketches with heavy natural symbolism- is easily recognizable.

Sappier’s artwork has also been reproduced in a series of books on Indigenous legends such as “How Keluwoskap Created People” (told by Elder Ron Tremblay) and “The Bear and the Seven Hunters” (by Elder George Paul), a series oin Indigenous legends launched in 2015 by the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre at UNB.

Significantly, “Finding Wolastoq Voice,” Sappier’s first work of theatre will be performed at Theatre New Brunswick in March of 2018. It is described on the company’s website as “a powerful dance-theatre hybrid performance that explores the personal discovery, identity and culture of a young Wolastoqiyik woman awakened by the voices of her ancestors” and will be directed by Thomas Morgan Jones.

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