Nelson sensei using martial arts to help Rwandan trauma survivors - Nelson Star - Canadanewsmedia
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Nelson sensei using martial arts to help Rwandan trauma survivors – Nelson Star



Submitted by Martial Arts for Justice

Dean Siminoff has made six trips to Rwanda in the past four years to help spread a message of hope and confidence to the victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. He spreads this message through his specialized training designed to help people rebuild their capacity for resilience, empowering these individuals while healing their past trauma. This method, called enhanced resilience training, is the evolution of his more than 25 years of martial arts experience and his quest for justice.

When he returned to Rwanda this past April he saw the impact even a few hours of resilience training had on widows still recovering from the trauma of the genocide. Along with his Rwandan team, Siminoff visited one of the widows who participated in Martial Arts for Justice’s enhanced resilience training in Kigali last October.

“This group of widows spent a couple of hours with us learning how the martial arts can help them become more resilient and overcome the lingering effects of their trauma from 25 years ago,” Siminoff says.

“The next day, one participating lady told me she’d had the best sleep she’d had in years, and that she dreamt she was being assaulted again, but this time she was able to fight back. It was an awakening of sorts for her, for her mind, her body and her spirit.

“When I was back in Kigali in April, we made a point of going to visit her. She was excited to tell me that every day she practises the moves we taught her in October. She’s kept up the practice. This is the impact that our enhanced resilience program can have,” he adds.

Siminoff is the founder of Martial Arts for Justice, a Nelson-based Canadian national charity that raises money each spring with a board breaking competition to fund projects such as bringing the enhanced resilience program to Rwanda.

This year, the Breaking Boards Breaking Chains campaign raised $40,000 through martial arts schools from B.C., the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The competition brings together martial arts students for a public display of breaking boards and raising awareness of the problems of violence and oppression around the world.

Students collect pledges for each board they break, and all proceeds go directly to Martial Arts for Justice.

The money raised is helping bring the enhanced resilience training to survivors, therapists and educators in Rwanda. Martial Arts for Justice has a small team in Rwanda that builds the connections, lays the groundwork and assists Siminoff on his training trips.

“The theme of our fundraiser this year was healing trauma through building resilience,” says Siminoff. “Coming back from Rwanda with stories, testimonials and evidence that the training is working helps these students at martial arts schools here in Canada see that their efforts have an outcome and are making a difference.”

Breaking Boards Breaking Chains has raised more than $240,000 since it started in 2013. The money has supported efforts to end modern-day slavery, rescue victims of human trafficking, and help survivors of the Rwandan genocide overcome trauma and begin to rebuild their lives.

Martial Arts for Justice is an alliance of martial artists and school owners who choose to actively pursue justice, locally and globally. Located in Nelson, it works with martial arts schools across Canada and internationally to help bring an end to violence and oppression.

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Fibre arts festival offers creative outlet to dye for – The London Free Press




Beth Whitney talks about the “magic” of dyeing.

While some might agree it’s magic when they see the colours she creates, it’s really art.

Whitney hand-dyes wool fleece and colour-blends and spins the fibre into yarn that she uses for rug hooking and knitting. She’ll be demonstrating the skill at the eighth annual Fibre Art Festival and Sale at Covent Garden Market Friday through Sunday.

The festival brings together members of the London District Weavers and Spinners, the group Simply Hooked and the Strathroy Pioneer Treadlers to demonstrate their craft talents and sell their creations.

There will be demonstrations and displays of weaving, felting, spinning, rug hooking, lace making, sashiko (Japanese stitching) and basketry.


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This year’s theme is Updating Traditions of the Past — “applying modern textile techniques to fibre skills from the past and showcasing their relevance in today’s world.”

Enter people like Whitney and pal Kate Gutteridge.

Before their unique works are created, the material — either sheep’s fleece or spun wool, fabric or silk — must be given colour. Whitney and Gutteridge have worked at it for years.

Textile artists Beth Whitney (left) and Kate Gutteridge with wool and silk that Kate dyed in London. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

Whitney has been involved in fibre arts most of her life. An aunt taught her to knit when she was eight, a craft she continued to hone through her adolescence and carried on after graduating from the University of Toronto with an English degree, working as a librarian and retiring six years ago.

It was when she came to London from Toronto to work at the London Public Library more than 30 years ago that she joined the local weavers and spinners group and began to explore all facets of the craft, including dyeing.

“We do it (dyeing) mostly to get colours you can’t buy in stores, blends and combinations that are unique,” explained Whitney.

For example, she might use dyes of orange and yellow, tie knots in yarn, dip it in one colour’s dye pot, untie the knots and dip it in the other colour pot “and now you’ve got a combination of two colours on one string of yarn.” It can be knit into a “unique and modern-looking” piece of clothing or item,” said Whitney.

Or, she explained, you can dye batches of fleece in different colours, then spin it and now you have multi-coloured yarn.

“These are very traditional arts and crafts,” said Whitney. “In the old days, if you needed a sweater for winter, you had to make it yourself. It was a very practical craft. Now, it’s much more satisfying as a creative outlet in this busy world of ours.”

Whitney agrees it’s easier just to go to a store and buy a sweater, but if you do it yourself, you’re not going to see anyone else wearing the same garment.

“Today, yes, we can go out and buy it,” she said. “But we like to take the time and do something creative and modern and then you’re not spending your time looking at a screen or doing the laundry.

“You can create things that are very unique, very different and very well made. I think there’s a deep-rooted need for us all to be creative. It’s very satisfying.”

If you go

What: Eighth annual Fibre Art Festival and Sale, by London District Weavers and Spinners, Simply Hooked and Strathroy Pioneer Treadlers

When: Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. -3 p.m.

Where: Covent Garden Market mezzanine, 130 King St.

Admission: Free

More information: Visit

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Heritage Woods grad in Arts Club premiere – The Tri-City News




A Heritage Woods secondary school grad who made her Bard on the Beach debut this summer is back in Vancouver this winter for a premiere with the Arts Club Theatre Company.

Ghazal Azarbad, who starred as Viola in Shakespeare in Love and was in the ensemble for Taming of the Shrew, is cast as Salena — a “chipper border guard” — in It’s A Wonderful Christmas-ish Holiday Miracle.

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Directed by Chelsea Haberlin, the new Canadian comedy by Marcus Youssef opens next Thursday at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre; its run ends Dec. 22.

The production is an Arts Club Silver Commission project and is Youssef’s second, after 2013’s How Has My Love Affected You?

Christmas-ish also includes Glen Gordon, Jennifer Lines, Nicola Lipman, Matreya Scarrwener and Jovanni Sy.

For tickets, call 604-687-1644 or visit

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Inuit art showcased at National Arts Centre exhibit – Nunatsiaq News




“It’s great to see these big institutions make an effort to indigenize a space”

For the past three months, visitors to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre have been treated to the sight of Inuit art in the building’s waiting areas.

These works, by Janet Kigusiuq from Baker Lake and Helen Kalvak from Ulukhaktok, formed part of Breaking Ground, an art installation that was part of the centre’s commitment to indigenize Canada’s art spaces. The installation recently wrapped up, after running from Sept. 12 to Friday, Nov. 8.

Breaking Ground also included the works of the Indigenous artists Freda Diesing and Rita Letendre. It started as part of the centre’s Indigenous arts festival, Mòshkamo.

The installation was a partnership between the centre and the Carleton University Art Gallery that was curated by Krista Ulujuk Zawadski and Danielle Printup. Zawadski, a curator for the Government of Nunavut and currently a PhD student at Carleton University, chose which of Kalvak and Kigusiuq’s artwork to feature in their exhibits.

When asked why she decided to join Breaking Ground, Zawadski said, “My motivation is always, there’s an opportunity to curate Inuit arts. So let’s do it. It’s not something that like I would ever think not to do, you know?”

Janet Kigusiuq’s artwork on display at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. (Photo by Kahlan Miron)

Usually, when curating, Zawadski likes to focus on lesser known or emerging artists. However, Kalvak and Kigusiuq are both well-known in their field. The decision to feature these more popular artists partially came from needing to work with what the Carleton University gallery had available—but Zawadski chose the artists for other reasons as well.

“The central theme that we worked with was trailblazing women artists,” Zawadski said. “So we wanted to choose people that were women artists, first and foremost, but that were trailblazers in one way or another.”

Kigusiuq, the daughter of Jessie Oonark, has continued her family’s strong artistic tradition and became well-known for experimentation with mediums, doing drawings, sculpture and collages. Her artwork on display at the National Arts Centre was prints, depicting life on the land with pops of vibrant colour.

Kalvak, meanwhile, helped establish the Holman Eskimo Co-operative in Ulukhaktok and was appointed the Order of Canada in 1978. Her displayed artwork was more monochromatic, with single-colour figures suspended on a white backdrop.

Both artists were inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, Kalvak in 1975 and Kigusiuq in 2002.

Zawadski felt it was important to use Kalvak to represent western Arctic art, which she says is often underrepresented in exhibitions. As for Kigusiuq, well, Zawadski also couldn’t resist the chance to work with her pieces. “I’m such a huge fan,” Zawadski said.

Zawadski highlighted the importance of lived experience in both women’s work. The details depicted in their art, even when based around myth and legend, draw on personal knowledge learned through living in the Arctic.

Zawadski says she was raised to recognize the importance of lived experience. It’s only been reinforced through her career: Zawadski’s seen art reviewers mistakenly explain that char die after spawning, and she’s read in papers about Inuit historically hunting reindeer in Canada.

“How do you write about these things, if you’ve never experienced it?” she said. “How do you create art that’s accurate, if you haven’t lived it?”

Lived experience became an important talking point in Zawadski’s tour of the Breaking Ground exhibits. Zawadski, along with Printup, led the public through a free tour of the displays on Sept. 20, giving background information on each artist. Zawadski also delved into Inuit history and culture, and used some of her own life experience to explain.

Helen Kalvak’s “Hungry Visitors,” recently featured at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. (Photo by Kahlan Miron)

The tour was a cozy affair, which was helped by the Nunavut Sivuniksavut students in the crowd, who Zawadski knew through her teaching position at the school this year. Zawadski had invited students and teachers to the event, but didn’t expect to see so many familiar faces in the audience.

“It was a bit of a surprise that there were that many,” she said. “I was kind of expecting like one or six. So that was great. I was excited to see them there.”

Zawadski appreciated the opportunity to show Inuit youth what a curator does and how she operates within an exhibition. It’s valuable to show youth what different career paths exist, she said, “because you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Zawadski said she commends the National Arts Centre for hosting the exhibit.

“It’s great to see these big institutions make an effort to indigenize a space,” Zawadski said. “I think it’s so important. We give a lot of Indigenous artists, curators [and] art historians opportunity to flourish in that space. It’s not just something that’s out of reach for us anymore.”

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