Despite her notoriety as a choreographer and educator, Daystar Rosalie Jones is a storyteller as well, much in the way her mother was.
Since 2005, Ms. Jones has developed a curriculum and taught within the Indigenous Performance Studies Program at Trent University. This past week, she shared some of the inspiration behind her work as the keynote speaker for Trent’s final Pine Tree Talk of the semester.
Addressing an audience at the Gzowski College Nozhem Theatre on March 15, Ms. Jones said she has long been intrigued by her mother’s stories of growing up in the Blackfeet Reservation, just south of the Canadian border in Montana. Over the years, she drew on those stories for inspiration in creating interpretive dances. In doing so, she has preserved not just the history of her ancestors, but a style of dance that is intricately tied to the same past. She titled her talk A Rising Political Force to pay homage to her movement.
“Memory one of the most important things we have,” she said. “It ties us to our ancestors.”
Ms. Jones explained how she transformed from a life strongly linked to her Indigenous past to a New York based dance and drama company.
Founded in 1980, The Daystar Company is the first native modern dance company in the U.S. created with all-native performers and specializing in the portrayal of the personal and tribal stories of Indian America. The Company has toured throughout the United States and Canada, and in Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey and Ireland.
She explained how her foray into dance and drama helped her find a way into her culture and the traditional story telling of the people. It wasn’t something initially supported by her own mother, who she describes as a story teller. When her mother was younger, she married and moved off the reservation but only after spending much of her time with her own mother, he was a traditional healer. Ms. Jones grandmother, Susan Bigknife, took her daughter with her when she was called to bring medicine and remedies to others on the reservation. She had been urged to follow in Ms. Bigknife’s footsteps but was instead forced to find work to help support her family.
Ms. Jones said her mother eventually encouraged her to leave her culture behind and find a better life through college degrees and employment. “She told me to get away… as far away as you can from these Indians. They will bring you nothing but grief.”
In reality, that statement was part of the stimulus to dig deeper into her culture.
“I understand where that (statement) came from. It was one of the main impetuses for me to really delve into learning the dances and beginning to create a way to express that.”
Ms. Jones concluded her Pine Tree Talk with a dance performance of The Four Directions. It included East (Water: Life in the Sea and the Womb, The Journey of Youth), West (Earth: The Achievement of Womanhood, Creating Generations), South (Deer: Discovering the Deer, Becoming the Artist), and North (Eagle: Embracing the Passage, Flying to the Creator).