About Nikamowin (Song)

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from?
My name is Kevin Lee Burton and I originate from God’s Lake Narrows, a fly-in reserve in northern Manitoba. Swampy Cree is our dialect. I was raised there, but am currently living in Winnipeg, after an eleven year hiatus in Vancouver, BC.
When creating a new piece, which materials do you gravitate towards and why?
I try and gravitate as entirely into the idea that comes into being. I have been focusing my efforts on expanding the range of directorial skills within alternative media. I have been exploring the relationship between ideas and medium. I am experimenting with the notion that ideas are not completely defined or translated by the medium in which an individual produces art, but that ideas determine the medium in which they are to be expressed. This exploration is vital for my creative development, as it challenges me to harness the specific intentions of all my ideas, right down to the specific technology in which to translate each idea’s message. This exploration is riddled with unanswered questions and undefined formulas, which further engages me to my ideas in the art making process.
Who or what inspires you?

There are many people and things that inspire me, some good and some not so good.

Mostly though, through the good and bad experiences, those who are able to share themselves inspire me – vulnerability intrigues me to no end. I’m a talker, which seems totally foreign from my upbringing, so banter is a fun place to bounce the inspiration of ideas, thoughts and perspectives. I’m also really inspired by people who transcend adversity, and make something positive out of it – lessons learned make for wonderful conversations and often dynamic stories.
When I have an idea, music is my main inspiration, or rather carrier of inspiration. I hunt for different musical artists, and when I get onto one that fits my working idea, I play them to the death. That music becomes the emotional soundscape where my body rests and plays at the same time.
Can you tell us what motivated or inspired “Nikamowin/Song”?

Nikamowin came from a place where I wanted to demonstrate how digital software and traditional modalities can work with each other. I really wanted to iterate that language is more about what the individual person has to communicate, rather than exact semantics. Tradition is something that is ever evolving, and as we have experienced, so is technology. I wanted to encapsulate my relationship with my Cree language with the software that I was most familiar with at the time, so as to mesh the two into a form where each was just as important and relevant as the other.

It also came from a place where I wanted to explore a new way to engage with language. There have been many technological mediums where languages have been encapsulated, with the intention of ‘preservation’, but none have been overly successful. My theory is that these encapsulations have failed due to the lack of human connection that is essential to breed language(s). With NIKAMOWIN, I was not trying to explore an alternative form of linguistic expression, so as to preserve the language, but to sort of demonstrate that it isn’t technology that is going to save our languages, it is the humans that are invested and utilizing the technology that will, if they find the right way to get into connection with the would-be speakers.
I have seen those that are not fluent speakers be laughed at. This process is intriguing to me, given the history of our people – residential schools, assimilation and urbanization. When someone speaks improperly in front of someone who is fluent, it is cute, and that is where the laughter comes from. But when the non-speaker is situated within a place where the language is not common, it becomes sort of traumatizing to be laughed at. I work in film/video because it introspection. One of the things that I have had a hard time with is the notion that elders bestow all knowledge of ‘what is’ ~ something that often facilitates awkward encounters with the elder ones, which often leads to the consumption of culture ~ which yes, we do it to each other too, its not just hippies and anthropologists. I believe that our greatest knowledge comes from the inner monologue that exists in our minds ~ the silence that are our thoughts, questions, visions and ideas. When we sit with the elder ones, where there is usually more silence then speaking, we are left with only those inner monologues. When we realize our own inner knowledge, we can start to have conversations with others, a mutual sharing. We can not sit back passively expecting life to make sense.
What would you like viewers to take away from viewing “Nikamowin/Song”?
I think that this film/video speaks best to my many intentions of working with the Cree language, so I hope that all folks take away from this video an appreciation for the Cree language, whether they speak it or not. Groove into the melodies and tones that create the beauty that is my language, and in particular with this film/video, my personal language.
For my primary audience, other Cree folks:
I want those folks to sit, listen and absorb to the tones and utterances of the language. Hopefully those melodies and tones will trigger something that is hidden deep in the blood and muscle memories of their bodies ~ the ideal is that they find something familiar in it that will awaken their language, or awaken their inner voice. I also want them to take away from NIKAMOWIN, a sense of playfulness toward culture, traditions and language. Everything is ever evolving and changing. If we remain respectful and true to ourselves, then we will be able to make sense of our everchanging times, the concrete past, and personal exploration, thus creating a dynamic future for ourselves.

Awards for Nikamowin (Song)

Canada’s Top 10 Short Films of 2008 – Toronto International Film Group (Toronto, ON)
Best Experimental – ImagineNATIVE Film Festival (Toronto, ON)
Best Indigenous Language Production – ImagineNATIVE Film Festival (Toronto, ON)
Best Short Film – Art Gallery of Hamilton Film Festival (Hamilton, ON)