Oration | Address to Convocation
Timothy James Borlase is a program specialist for art, music, drama, Labrador studies, and elementary education with the Labrador School Board. He has worked in Labrador since 1975, using his administrative and organizational skills to develop curriculum and improve teaching. He is the author of numerous publications on the heritage and culture of Labrador.
Mr. Borlase graduated in 1974 with a bachelor of arts (honours) in theatre from the University of King's College, Halifax, then earned a bachelor of education in social studies from Dalhousie University, in 1981 He was awarded a master's of education in fine arts and native education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education in 1980.
Mr. Borlase has collaboratively designed a curriculum and an instruction manual which reflects multiple components of a philosophy of education and used a school-based improvement model to work with school administrators and staffs on effective teaching strategies, multi-grade groupings and self development. He has modified, adopted and supplemented existing educational programs in all areas of thecurriculum to suit the needs of Aboriginal peoples in isolated communities in Labrador, and has co-ordinated provincial responsibilities and in-service as president of the Northern Supervisors/Coordinators Association and the provincial Drama and Music Special Interest Councils.
Among his literary endeavours, Mr. Borlase created and directed a series of radio programs for the CBC on Inuit education and the expanding role of the school in the community. He serves as chair for the board of directors for Them Days magazine, a quarterly journal whose mandate is the preservation of Labrador's distinct cultural heritage. He has authored of nine books, including Who Asked Us Anyway?, a compilation of scripts documenting the first 20 years of the Labrador Creative Arts Festival, and Tusanittut, a book of nursery rhymes and songs in Inuktitut.
Among other honours, Mr. Borlase has received the 1999 Happy Valley-Goose Bay Arts Achievement Award, the 1992 Best Director and Best Production awards for Sisters at the Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Festival, and a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.
Oration honouring Timothy James Borlase
Dr. Alice Collins, University Orator
There are those who know that culture lives in the ordinary. Timothy James Borlase is one of those. For two and a half decades he has trekked around the rugged coast of Labrador with that belief tucked inside his great fur-hooded coat. A man who came to Labrador for one year, Tim was asked a quarter century later by an Innu girl: Are you as old as your hair? A cultural peddler, Tim carries around not only grand ideas but all the props to render the idea real, exacting his peddler's fee of commitment and dedication to cultural production. The community, the school and the kitchen are the sites of cultural phenomena, and those are the places you will find Tim Borlase.
But, Mr. Chancellor, the jig is up for Timothy James Borlase.
Let me make the case:
When Tim arrived in Goose Bay in 1974 to work with the Labrador School Board, his sense of the wealth of culture, hidden and silenced, propelled him into a bevy of activities: writing and producing plays, developing culturally-based curricula, publishing Labrador folksongs in three languages, writing and directing a series on Inuit education, and being inspired by Doris Saunders as they forged ahead on Them Days magazine. He founded the Mokami Players Drama Troupe and the Nunaksuamiut Troupe which performs in Inuktitut and English representing the province at multicultural theatre festivals. Along with Noreen Heighton, he co-founded the Creative Arts Festival, which for 25 years, has brought students from all over Labrador in a celebration of their talent and culture as they create original work in all the arts.
Tim knows that we make culture as it makes us. He understands, as does his friend Clar Doyle, when the latter writes: "Education generally and arts education specifically are important means toward the formation of individual and cultural consciousness. We know that it is primarily through education that ways of knowing ourselves and our world are formulated and defined." Though properly schooled, with degrees and diplomas from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Dalhousie, Acadia, Mount St. Vincent, The University of King's College, Memorial University, and the University of Maryland, Tim Borlase has not recoiled from challenging the master narratives and reshaping the texts.
Tim Borlase is a practitioner of Raymond Williams' theory of cultural production, working and playing seamlessly in communities and schools chipping away at the cultural and pedagogical canon and replenishing the text with aboriginal creations celebrating aboriginal and settler culture and values, often unacknowledged or worse, dismissed. Tim states in a curriculum guide: "the goal is to explore the life, history and culture of Labrador, and the affects of Europeans on the Inuit, Montagnais and Naskapi peoples ... to give students respect for and confidence in their own ideas." And that goal is realized in the play, Asiulittuk, written by students in Hopedale, in which an Inuit girl's words resonate with personal and cultural meaning as she ponders her grandmother's legacy: "If there is anything that my anansiak and her life have taught me, it's that we should be proud of who we are and where we come from."
His friends and colleagues describe Tim as overly modest, generous of spirit, and a force to be avoided. Piping in a cultural Welcome Wagon, he leaves no newcomer to Goose Bay safe from his tune: Do you want to be on the Arts Council? How about the Arts Fest? But, the jig is up: Tim's friends and colleagues have prevailed upon me, on this occasion and before this assembly, to reveal that wrapped in his newly-acquired bold crimson gown is what might be described in the vernacular as "a real character." Heed this warning: if you unload the paraphernalia from his van, you will be appointed set designer for the play; producer, if you make a suggestion, and if the play is not yet written, you will be anointed the playwright. But in sculpting the cultural landscape, those who don the mantle with Tim do so freely and are joined in this noble cause by a new generation of Labradorians dedicated to preserving and celebrating their heritage and culture.
Recognition for his contributions is extensive including the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council. I ask that you, Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Memorial University of Newfoundland, be a witness to his achievements, and bestow upon Timothy James Borlase the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.
Address to convocation
by Dr. Tim Borlase
It is a humbling experience to be honored in this way for something to which so many people have contributed by someone so eloquent as Alice Collins. So humbling, in fact, that when I first received the initial letter from this prestigious institution I thought it was another teleconference bill and was reluctant to open it for a couple of weeks. My next thought was that this might be some kind of ill conceived joke to which I should not respond. My final clue came when a teacher, not in the arts or social studies I might add, left his medicare number over my voice mail. Enough of this I thought and called the university - only to find out that it was true. So after a month of trying to keep it to myself, the upcoming doctorate was rediscovered this past Sunday when a visiting inspired Gospel singer dedicated "When I Got Over" to this doctorate. Is there anything more moving than to be surrounded by people from diverse cultures who are all simultaneously singing their culture. But it is hard to remain anonymous when so many are singing "Hallelujah."
Well, beda lard lifton, gee. Whas dat atall.
This is a line in the play "All Lydia's Children" written by young people from North West River in 1987 about how what goes on in their post office is infinitely more exciting than what happens on soap operas. It is part of a compilation of original scripts entitled "Who Asked Us Anyway?" which celebrates the first twenty years of the Labrador Creative Arts Festival. One of "All Lydia's Children" its concluding lines is :Well it's been quite a day - and quite an experience. I'd never have believed I'd find sex, pregnancy, affairs, life and death, gossip, drinking, prejudice, crime, humour, kindness, equal rights, international issues and economics all in our post office. Real life certainly hasn't been boring today. Real life is never boring. And television, even with a remote control, can be. There is nothing more exciting than finding one's own voice.
I have been blessed in my career - blessed by family, friends and blessed most of all by my adopted home, Labrador. My mother involved me in my formative years in all aspects of the arts - visual, dance, writing and particularly drama. It is here that I learned that the arts entertain us, stimulate us but most importantly give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on our actions, emotions and relationships with our own culture our world and our fellow human travellers.
In Labrador, I learned the phrase Tsheminupantaiats which roughly translated from the InnuAmin means "help us all to travel well together." Like you graduates, traveling well together, traditionally, was an essential component for survival. This Innu tea doll exemplifies this. For Innu children it served as a symbol of their culture. Because they were nomadic, weight was at a premium. Anything taken with them on their long treks through the snow following the caribou had to have a multitude of purposes.
The tea in this doll was shared among all members of the family group at the end of each day's walk. Just as you have shared your time, written your assignments together and even occasionally caroused with your class mates over the past number of years.
Caring for the doll was a child's serious responsibility. The doll resembles an elder - a reminder that one day when the child grows up that he or she would be responsible for learning the wisdom of the elder and, in turn, take care of them. You as graduates also share that responsibility. You will inherit your culture and use what knowledge you have gained to make this world a better place. You will also create the climate for future business graduates.
Finally at the end of a trip, the doll is empty of tea. It is then up to the family to fill it once more or to use the outward appearance of the doll as patches to fix someone else's clothing. So you too will leave your mark on others. The doll has connected the young Innu both to their past and in its regeneration to their future. It is this connectedness which builds strength. When a culture or a people are not connected to each other aberrations result. As Leslie Pardy, a Cartwright poet puts it.
A way of life that now is swiftly passing
And in a world for them grown cool and strange
There slowly fades a breed of man
Adrift and lost upon the winds of change.
Connectedness to ourselves and to our culture is something too important to be lost. We cannot let government set policies that are cost effective or expedient at the risk of losing opportunity to entrench ourselves in ourselves. Such are the ill informed decisions to cut music and art programs at the expense of raising some nebulous notion of literacy. Literacy in own's own culture is the primary literacy. We are the gatekeepers for our culture. It is up to us to pass it on to our children. So, Too, government in its policy making must allows us to be its gatekeepers.
For three consecutive years from 1994-96 at the Labrador Creative Arts Festival, young Inuit from Hopedale examined their culture, their inheritance and their language which was all too fast disappearing. The audience, comprised mainly of people from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, were not Inuit, but their hearts were opened to this sensibility. Many people wept openly. "Asiulittuk or Fading Away" was one of these plays.
People like my anansiak serve a very important purpose to us young people today. Their stories remind us of a time when life was hard and there was no such thing as earning a comfortable living. But they also remind us of how far we, the Inuit, have come.
It strikes me that you, as graduates, will face similar challenges. The seductive multi- nationals will offer you careers that will take you far from home. You may also find that you are encouraged to become a slave to technology rather than a master of it. One piece of advice I would give to you is to make sure that you are never passive. Do things you believe in - don't just comment about them.
In my community I am renowned for moving heavy boxes across the stage. It seems regardless of the event, I always seem to have a compulsion to move the boxes and sets between acts. Nearing age 50, some one remarked this year that maybe someone younger could move the boxes. I sat and watched just one time. I now realize that for me, moving boxes connects me to what is happening on the stage. Without doing it I am simply an observer.
It is my belief that the arts inspire confidence. The total senior class of Mud Lake school which was comprised of three students (two boys and one girl) visited Toronto in 1993. They sang in front of 700 people. Ittulaite, tulaite, Aippa talillangatok, Samuele, Samuele, Samuelemik, Tapāke,Tupākeletuinamik
Although this song is about how unsavoury a lover is who chews tobacco - this was lost on the Toronto audience. What was important was that three people from a community of 80 were addressing a city with a delegation of 700.
Confidence, analysis of public issues and cultural identification make it possible to become arbiters of one's own future. They have a direct impact on positive mental health. In 1988, Black Tickle was on the roller coaster ride which was the cod fishery. The students' comment from their play Inside en' Out was as follows:
I call it some good bein' on the radio, heard nationwide. Why by next year, we'll be havin' folks comin' saltin' our fish for us.
Or in a play Mud Lakers in 1982 wrote about the future of their tiny community of 80, no roads - seven kilometres downstream by boat or skidoo from Goose Bay. Here, a government official arrives to close their town:
Ladies and gentlemen ... I've listened to your complaints ... phone, power, polluted water ... do you think those things are going to improve? They can't improve. And do you know why? Because Mud Lake, is too small, that's why.
Twenty years later Mud Lake is still there. And if anything it's a little bigger. "Paradise Café" is a play written by Grade 7 students about how restaurants in Happy Valley-Goose Bay try to change with the times but have difficulty getting ahead in a community where the economic situation is always in a state of flux. Finally, the waitress exasperated puts it this way:
If we don't build on promises and hopes than what can we ever build on.
So, indeed I have been blessed. 27 years after my original plan to stay in Labrador only one year, I am still here. And still doing what I was so moved to do when I first arrived in 1974- help people to recognize the strength in their own culture through writing books, directing plays, collecting and singing songs, setting up exhibitions, advocating arts education and yes, moving boxes. My wish to you is that you find the same degree of contentment with your own work, And that you feel that it is both vital and humbling in how it reflects your own sense of place.
Help us all to travel well together. Tsheminupantaiats.
© Copyright 2002 Memorial University of Newfoundland