Happy National Indigenous Peoples Month!

blog post by: Jamie Lee Morin

June is National Indigenous History Month! To celebrate, we would like to highlight a select section of one of the fonds housed in the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, located on the third floor of Scott Library, Keele Campus.

About the Mariposa Folk Foundation Fonds:

The Mariposa Folk Festival began as a small festival in Orillia, Ontario in 1961 by Ruth Jones, inspired by a public talk by John Fisher on local heritage and tourism opportunities in Canada. . The name of the festival was suggested by Pete McGarvey, to honour the fictional name for Orillia in Stephen Leacock’s novel Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (Mariposa Folk Foundation Ltd.). You can learn more about the administrative history of the festival and in Ruth Jones’ biographical sketch, as well as her journal from the summer tracing her organizing.

As a genre, folk music can be described as having “... that traditional and authentic connection to the past …. [using] musical styles of long ago … [it can also be considered to] encompass any sounds that grew out of those traditional styles” (Hill). Folk is eclectic, earthy and ultimately about community. These three main aspects come out to play especially at festivals.

In the 1960s, the revival of folk music was about more than bringing back traditional folk songs of the past - it also played a part in the political atmosphere of the times, due to the military campaigns in Korea and Vietnam that the United States were participating in and the start of the coming-of-age of the Baby Boomers. Songs began to be topical and about calling out situations across the world (Ruehl, 2017) . The Mariposa Folk Festival came to be in the same timeframe, in the small town of Orillia, Ontario. A conflict at the Festival in 1963 led to the Festival moving around the Greater Toronto Area and Barrie, until it’s return back to Orillia in 2000.

The Mariposa Folk Foundation donated its collection of archival materials to the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections (CTASC) at York University in 2007. A vast amount of the collection, like all collections in CTASC are waiting to be discovered, re-discovered, and explored. Archival materials in the Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds range include artist files, board meeting minutes, live performance recordings, photographs, festival programs, posters, t-shirts and other paraphernalia. So far, York University has arranged and described about 40% of the total donation. About 10% of the total donation has been digitized, or are born digital records.

In 2010, York University published an online exhibit called “Mariposa : celebrating Canadian folk music”, which covers select aspects of the fonds from 1961 to 1981. This exhibit’s release coincided with Mariposa Folk Festival 50th anniversary as a music festival (Mariposa Folk Foundation, 2018).

About the Native Peoples Area

Scanned image of a handdrawn map of the Toronto Islands indicated where Mariposa stages were located.

Map of festival grounds for 1978 Mariposa Folk Festival. Mariposa Folk Festival 1978 Program, p. 27.


At Mariposa, there were on average 7 different stages, with only 3 of them being distinguished by names: the Main Stage (stage 1), the Children’s Area (stage 4), and the Native Peoples Area (Stage 7).

Two young First Nations men performing the Chicken Dance, with two hand drummers on stage, at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1970.

Image of two young First Nations men performing the Chicken Dance, with two hand drummers on stage, at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1970. Toronto Telegram fonds (F0433). ASC05187.


The Native Peoples Area began as a place of both revival and open sharing of Indigenous cultures. Having an area like this anywhere is remarkable, because not even twenty years previous to this area’s creation, it was illegal to practice Indigenous cultures (the ban was lifted in a 1951 amendment to the Indian Act). During the time of the ban, cultural practices in some communities continued, defiantly underground, while other communities lost almost all aspects of their culture. If individuals were caught outside of the reserve or carrying any regalia, the individuals were arrested and jailed, and their regalia were either sold or destroyed. Thus, having an area like this in a folk festival like Mariposa provided not only a gathering place, but a space to actively engage in acts of cultural resurgence.

This signaled to those who were unfamiliar with North American Indigenous cultures that the communities and their cultures were a living culture, rather than a museum exhibit of times long forgotten. It acknowledged the presence of First Nations, Metis and Inuit in urban centres like Toronto, where the Mariposa Folk Festival called home in the 1970s. It was a time of raising awareness and education on issues that were and continued to disproportionately affect Indigenous populations across Canada, and for many festival-goers, it was likely the first ever contact that many had with a Native person. It was in this time that educational groups, such as the North American Indian Travelling College (currently known as Native North American Travelling College), of Akwesasne (a First Nations community separated by the Ontario, Quebec, and New York borders), came to be.

Image of men and women in regalia seated around a drum.

The North American Indian Traveling College performing at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1977. Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds, F0511. ASC05985.


Image of young man in dark suit wearing beaded medallion necklace holdong a sheaf of paper. He is seated on an outdoor lunch table.

Duke Redbird reading poetry at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1968. Toronto Telegram fonds, F0433. ASC05748.


The late 1960s through to the 1970s was also a renaissance of Indigenous culture as a whole, especially with literature and stories. Mariposa Folk Festival’s Native Peoples Area only represented a small microcosm of the major shifts happening in Indigenous society. Native voices began and continued to remain in the mainstream, but many of those voices were first heard at folk festivals. One of those voices was of the poet Duke Redbird (pictured), of Saugeen First Nation, then living in Toronto. Duke Redbird’s collaboration with Shingoose can be heard on Native North America, Volume 1; a CD of Native Folk Music. He also presented a poem “I Am Canadian” to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

Two young men in dancre regalia performing.

Two First Nations dancers performing at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1976. Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds, F0511. ASC05966.


The Prime Minister at the time of the Native Peoples Area at Mariposa was the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968 - 1979, 1980 - 1984). A major point in his tenure as Prime Minister was the push for multiculturalism in Canada as a pan-Canadian identity. Part of how Prime Minister Trudeau wished to achieve this in terms of Indigenous populations in Canada was to disband Indian Affairs and abolish the treaties so then Indigenous populations would have the same rights as the average Canadian. These suggestions were released through the White Paper in 1969, and the National Indian Brotherhood wrote and published a response in 1970, called the Red Paper, which demonstrated all of the flaws in the White Paper (in essence, treaties ensure Indigenous rights, and without treaties and Indian Affairs, those rights would most likely not be upheld by the government).

It may have been because of the idea of multiculturalism and equal representation between cultures that individual organizers from the Mariposa Folk Festival, such as Enoch Kent and Richard Flohil, questioned why the Native performers had a stage solely for themselves. For all other stages, individuals from all backgrounds were performing on the same stages, with performances clustered around genres or stylistic themes.

On a personal note, I wondered about this as well.

Why were all the Indigenous performers and artisans isolated into one area of the festival?

By the 1970s, it had been 20 years since the revision on the Indian Act, which made it no longer illegal to practice culture through ceremony or to wear regalia (among many other aspects of culture).

So I went up to CTASC and began going through some primary documents - namely meeting minutes from the early 1970s.

I found the answer to this in minutes from a board meeting, which took place on September 20th, 1973.

There was some trepidation on having all the Native performers have their own stage (a worry of segregation) - but according to archival records, Alanis Obomsawin, a performer turned scenographer for the festival, advocated for all Native Performers to perform only on stage 7, in what is now known as the Native Peoples Area.

Here is the quote from the archival document, in full:

Both Enoch [Kent?] and Dick [Richard Flohil] seriously questioned the isolated position of the Native Peoples area. They felt that Native Peoples should be integrated into the regular program. Sheila [McMurrich] explained that Alanis [Obomsawin] insisted that they have a separate area. Many of the N.P. [Native People] acts cannot be subjected to the rigorous schedule that other performers can. Estelle [Klein] thought Alanis should deal with this criticism in a newsletter. Meeting minutes, September 20, 1973.

Obomsawin’s argument for this was valid.  Traveling to the city, especially if unfamiliar with Toronto's landscape and the crowds, not to mention the high temperatures of a typical July weekend could have left many performers overwhelmed and exhausted.

The Mariposa Folk Foundation Fonds is only one of many fonds that contain information on First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities and cultures - and there are several more in archives. If you would like to explore this collection yourself, or would like to explore another one, please visit the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections!

Want to learn about how to enroll in the archives, call boxes from archives in advance, and other archive to-dos and don’ts? Check out this handy research guide from York University Libraries

A special thanks to Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University Libraries, Young Canada Works, the Mariposa Folk Foundation, Anna St. Onge and Stacy Allison-Cassin for your continued support!

References and Further Exploration


Ruehl, K. (2017). History of the Folk Revival [online]. ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/all-about-the-folk-revival-1322443 [accessed 21 Jun 2018].

Mariposa Folk Foundation (2018). Archives Appeal. [online] Available at: http://www.mariposafolk.com/archives/archives-appeal/ [accessed 21 Jun 2018]

Mariposa Executive Committee Meeting minutes, September 20, 1973. York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Mariposa Folk Foundation Ltd. (F0511), 2007-009 /0291A.


Cole, “Mariposa Folk Festival,” York University Libraries | Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections online exhibits, accessed June 21, 2018, http://archives.library.yorku.ca/items/show/1417. (Image of Duke Redbird performing poetry at Mariposa).

"Mariposa Festival Central Island." Toronto Telegram fonds, F0433. ASC05187. https://digital.library.yorku.ca/yul-99958/mariposa-festival-centre-island.

“Mariposa Festival 1976,” Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds, F0511. ASC05966. http://archives.library.yorku.ca/items/show/1786.

“North American Indian Travelling College”. Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds, F0511. ASC05985. https://digital.library.yorku.ca/yul-73515/mariposa-festival-1977.

Johnston, Sharon, and David Ferguson, eds. 1978. Mariposa Folk Festival 1978 Program. p. 27. https://digital.library.yorku.ca/yul-894111/mariposa-folk-festival-program-1978#page/1/mode/2up.


“F0511 - Mariposa Folk Foundation Inc.” 2016. March 4, 2016. http://archivesfa.library.yorku.ca/fonds/ON00370-f0000511.htm.

Hill, Michael, and Ebscohost E-Books - York University. 2017. The Mariposa Folk Festival: A History. Toronto : Dundurn,. http://www.library.yorku.ca/e/resolver/id/287695911.

Hill, Ryan. 2007. “Native North American Traveling College.” 2007. http://www.nnatc.org/.

Indian Chiefs of Alberta. 2011. “Citizens Plus.” Aboriginal Policy Studies 1 (2): 188–281. https://doi.org/10.5663/aps.v1i2.11690.

“Mariposa : Celebrating Canadian Folk Music · York University Libraries | Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections Online Exhibits.” n.d. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://archives.library.yorku.ca/exhibits/show/mariposa.

“Mariposa Folk Festival Archives · News from the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections.” n.d. News from the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections. Accessed June 21, 2018. http://deantiquate.blog.yorku.ca/tag/mariposa-folk-festival/.

Mariposa Folk Foundation. n.d. “Archives Appeal.” Mariposa Folk Foundation (blog). Accessed June 21, 2018. http://www.mariposafolk.com/archives/archives-appeal/.

Redbird, Duke. 2008. “I Am Canadian by Duke Redbird - Canadian Patriotic - CKA.” August 9, 2008. http://www.canadaka.net/content/page/136-i-am-canadian-by-duke-redbird.

Trapunski, Richard. 2017. “Duke Redbird, on the Native North America Album and Gathering - NOW Magazine,” August 2, 2017. https://nowtoronto.com/music/features/duke-redbird-on-the-native-north-america-album-and-gathering/.

Tsai, Sija. 2013. “Mariposa Folk Festival: The Sounds, Sights, and Costs of a Fifty-Year Road Trip,” November. https://yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/handle/10315/31317.