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Daniel Richer. Photo provided by MASC.

Interview: Teacher, student and storyteller, Daniel Richer

By Jessica Ruano on October 8, 2020

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts Apartment613 is hosting on behalf of MASC, showcasing the artists they work with and their programming in our community.

Teacher, student, actor, town crier, and legend-teller are all part of Daniel Richer’s resume. For over forty years, he has played on many stages and cried for many events. What Daniel finds most meaningful in life, however, is discovering his roots and learning and sharing the First Nations tradition of oral communication with audiences of all ages. In this interview, Daniel talks about what makes a good teacher and the importance of making art accessible to everyone.

Daniel Richer performs. Photos courtesy of MASC.

MASC: Over your many years as a performer, you’ve talked about the “emptiness” you experienced, which led you to rediscover your Indigenous roots. How did you go about this process, and how do you feel it has served your artistic and cultural practice?

It wasn’t so much rediscovering as letting the secret out, starting to share the stories and traditions that were shared with me by my grandmother and others, throughout my childhood. As a very sickly child, these stories were my security blanket. When I started sharing these legends with my children and then others, outside of our family, I realized that it felt comfortable to me, that it felt important to me, that this was to be an important part of not only who I was but what I should be doing as an artist.

MASC: Last week for Orange Shirt Day you gave an online presentation in partnership with Ottawa Public Library. This weekend is Thanksgiving, during which many inhabitants of Turtle Island are choosing to reflect on the injustices committed against Indigenous peoples. As an artist and as a human being, how do you recognize or commemorate these significant days in our calendar?

These children are always with us, these injustices are never forgotten in our daily lives or in our performances. I try not to dwell on the negative side of it, on the pain of it, but rather on the resilience and strength of those who went through it. These are lessons to be learned and never forgotten and by following and sharing the teachings and traditions of our Elders, hopefully others will also learn.

MASC: As a member of MASC, what do you gain through offering your workshops in schools and in the community?

My father was a teacher, and he said that a good teacher is one who learns as he teaches; offering workshops in the schools often gives me that opportunity. During a collaborative residency program in Kars, Ontario, with the great Algonkin artist Kelly Church, I learned from her; she was so knowledgeable about everything to do with bark gathering, preparation, and use. Plus, we were constantly surprised by the progress of this group of students and the openness and interest they displayed. The school population was entirely white, but the students were hungry to learn more about our people; they were a beautiful example of hope for the future.

Kelly Church at Rideau Valley Middle School. Photo courtesy of MASC.

Kelly Church and Daniel Richer. Photo provided by MASC.

MASC: You offer workshops and performances for children in kindergarten through to Grade 12, and also to seniors. What have you learned from working with these diverse age groups?

The younger they are, the easier it is to get them to participate. As they grow older, their comprehension has greatly improved, so they learn faster and are able to communicate a lot easier, but as they grow older they have also learned how to build walls, and that is sad, because it becomes harder for them to open themselves up to let go and to enjoy. Luckily, beautifully, often, seniors are a combination of both groups’ intelligence and openness.

MASC: Why do you think it’s important for our local community to have access to professional artists?

Art belongs to everyone and must be offered to as many people as possible. Art puts into words, into music, and visually expresses what we all feel inside. Art allows us to celebrate our emotions, whether happy or sad. Art should be accessible to everyone and MASC offers that opportunity, that gift.

For more information about Daniel Richer and other MASC artists, please visit the MASC website and follow MASC on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.