Walking Through the Fire: Truth and reconciliation through musical collaboration

Sultans of String performing on stage inside Federation Hall
Sultans of String performing on stage inside Federation Hall
Local and University of Waterloo community members were invited to gather at Federation Hall, for a beautiful display of diversity and unity in celebration of National Indigenous History Month. 

The Office of Indigenous Relations (OIR) hosted a community concert featuring the Sultans of String Waking Through the Fire musical performance on Monday, June 17. The Sultans of String are three-time JUNO award nominees, who combine storytelling and music. Waking Through the Fire shares the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and Final Report, which calls for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to work together to show a path forward.   

Walking Through the Fire is an album and live show that is a powerful collection of collaborations between the group and First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists from across Turtle Island. From Métis fiddling to an East Coast Kitchen Party, rumba to rock, to the drumming of the Pacific Northwest, the show featured Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk of the Métis Fiddler Quartet, Marc Meriläinen (Nadjiwan), Ojibwe/Finnish singer-songwriter, and Coast Tsm’syen singer-songwriter, Shannon Thunderbird, Special guests who joined virtually, included Elder and poet Dr. Duke Redbird, the Northern Cree pow wow group, Inuit Throat Singers Kendra Tagoona, Tracy Sarazin and more.  

"We know that as a country we can’t move ahead without acknowledging and reflecting on the past," said Chris McKhool, the Sultans of String leader. "Before reconciliation can occur, the full truth of the Indigenous experience in this country needs to be told." 

The audience was dazzled by the performance, taking in the music, storytelling, and the multi-media experience of the display screens - featuring various instruments and singers, sound effects and the sheer talent of all the artists involved. During intermission and before the show, a sense of community was clear as participants  and enjoyed treats such as kettle corn and strawberry drink - a Haudenosaunee favourite. Other Indigenous-inspired foods, such as scone dogs, bologna sandwiches, and candied salmon belly were shared with audience members. Local Indigenous craft and jewelry vendors were also on site and audience members took advantage of the opportunity to shop in between sets.   

Jean Becker, associate vice president of OIR, reminded the crowd of the importance of celebrating the beauty and resiliency of Indigenous Peoples, our cultures, and positive contributions to the world.  

At the end of the evening, Becker welcomed Elder Henry back up to the stage to give the final word.  

"And now, we’re thriving," said Elder Henry, as he compared the music that he heard to the names he says were foundational to Indigenous music. He reminded the Indigenous folks in the audience to hold their heads high. "Our people are away from that residential school; and thank you for bringing that up, but now we’re coming out and as Shannon said -- be proud of who we are." 

Community member and Waterloo alumni, Karen Lillie Filiatrault, shared a caption in a social media post after the event:  "Thanks to @uwaterlooindigenous for a superb community event this evening.  @sultansofstring were amazing! Their multimedia approach and range coupled with storytelling is so very meaningful. Grateful to be part of a community that has such tremendous leadership to provide these opportunities for us all." 

At the event, folks were informed about the Indigenous Opportunities Fund, which supports Indigenous students at  Waterloo and aids the efforts of decolonization and reconciliation on campus. If you’d like to contribute, you can  make a donation online.

Emily Brant