Dance Artists You Need to Know is a series of interviews with some of Ottawa’s most engaging BIPOC dance artists and companies.
Mariah Miigwans Smith Chabot is a multitalented dance artist and creator based in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. In 2019 I had the chance to dance with Mariah at a Summer Solstice event and have been captivated by her energy and generosity ever since. Mariah and I chatted about her dance career over email. Here’s what she had to say.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
My name is Mariah Miigwans Smith Chabot. I am Algonquin First Nation, from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and I am 27 years old. I have two sisters, one brother, and beautiful nieces and two handsome nephews. Being an Auntie is a very important role in my life, as I lead the way and provide support in different ways than a parent can. It has allowed me to have personal time with my family and has given me numerous opportunities to re-evaluate my actions, choices, and behaviours, as I have many young ones that look up to me. I had the best opportunity to grow up within my community and surrounded by my culture. However, the downside effect is suffering and understanding the intergenerational traumas of my parents because of assimilation of culture. Growing up at home, there was not much culture, besides what we learned in school. But one thing was for certain, my parents made sure to make space for us to learn about being Anishinabe.
It has been a journey, but learning and connecting about who I am have given me so many opportunities. I have allowed myself to love, trust, and share. I am continuing to learn how to be kind and how to be humble.
Apt613: What is your relationship to dance in the Ottawa-Gatineau area and beyond?
I have been dancing within our Pow Wow Circle since the age of six with a simple ribbon dress, later transitioning to the Fancy Shawl Style. When I moved to Ottawa-Gatineau in 2010, I started to get some exposure to city life and was able to score a few gigs/presentations showcasing and featuring Indigenous cultures. However, it was not until I started working full-time with Indigenous Experiences that I got to experience the full exposure in 2012. I had the wonderful opportunity to work there for eight wonderful years, where I got to meet many people from all over the world, perform at Canada’s 150th celebration, travel to Trinidad, and represent Canada’s Indigenous nations for the First People’s Festival, and the list goes on. Being a dancer, especially through our teachings as being Anishinabeg, should never be about fame and money. I have also been a part of the community for numerous occasions for shows and workshops as well as hosting a dance camp through I Love to Dance with the City of Ottawa.
Apt613: If you had to describe your work in five words, what words would you choose?
Do it for the people. I literally live by this.
Apt613: What are some challenges you’ve experienced in your work? Some rewarding moments?
The most challenging would definitely have to be the access to community space and funding to host workshops and to pay for proper equipment. The most rewarding would be seeing the kids later on out there on their own, dancing their little hearts out. But prior to COVID-19, the best part was the hugs! The kids always showed their love and their appreciation through sharing BIG HUGS!
Apt613: What would you like to see happen in the dance community?
I would like to see more accessible spaces to host dance workshops, and support from the municipality to make dance/movement a mandatory part of everyday lifestyles, at least for the youth. I believe that it should be free and accessible and supported because it promotes well-being and positive mental and physical health. It teaches a different sense of accountability and responsibility and tests each person individually.
Apt613: What inspires you?
What inspires me to keep going is remembering what my ancestors suffered for Anishinabeg ways of being. To this day, we still face hardship and genocide. What inspires me is the youth and the importance and value of Aki (the land).
You can connect with Mariah through her website, her Instagram accounts @mariahmiigwans and @miigwanscreations, and on Facebook.