Robert Chartier was mesmerized the day a great blue heron flew up to his kayak at the Wendake reserve near Quebec City.
Seeing the bird is just one of his experiences at the First Nation that have been immortalized in Chartier's new dance piece, called My Mother's Mother's Mother, about discovering his Indigenous identity.
After being developed over several years, it's scheduled to run at the GCTC June 21 and 22.
Four years ago Robert Chartier learned he's part of the Huron-Wendat Nation, and since then he's travelled to Wendake to do research and connect with relatives.
"[I'm] really proud of being connected with them. It makes me really happy about it," he says. "I have a lot of cousins and friends there that I really love."
He connected deeply with the culture, too, learned pow-wow dancing, slept in a long house on furs, took part in drumming circles and sweat lodges, and more.
'I'm proud of myself, looking for my own history and what I've done the past four, six years. I go to Wendake and I learn some things, and what I learn there I bring back and then I teach my dancers here.' -Robert Chartier
Chartier has been working with Propeller Dance in Ottawa for about 15 years. The contemporary integrated dance company works to include people of all abilities.
"I just love dancing with others, and I've loved dancing since I was 14," he says.
"I'm the only one who does all the lifting in the group, because I'm a very strong person. It's hard, but you have to really trust that person to lift that person."
The 30-minute piece he'll perform incorporates live drumming, which Chartier says feels like a heartbeat, and he has his newfound relatives and friends in Wendake to thank for inspiring some of the choreography.
"I'm proud of myself, looking for my own history and what I've done the past four years. I go to Wendake and I learn some things, and what I learn there I bring back and then I teach my dancers here," he says.
Trailblazers is a community connection project that tells stories about people making an impact in the Ottawa area. We received hundreds of submissions and a panel of judges helped select our top 10.