The prestigious Canadian Governor General’s Award for Artistic Achievement Award in Media Arts was this year granted to recent IRC Enterprise Partnership Scheme Postgraduate Dr Cheryl L’Hirondelle. Honoured in recognition of her exceptional career both as a musician and scholar and her remarkable contribution to the media arts, L’Hirondelle is a self-described ‘swift -flying songbird, interdisciplinary artist, PhD candidate and so much more’, originally from the land now known as Canada. She holds an IRC EPS award for her PhD, with Irish world-band Kíla as her enterprise partner and the SMARTlab/IDRC of UCD as her research base.
In her own words, Cheryl L’Hirondelle is an award-winning and community-engaged Indigenous (Cree/Halfbreed; German/Polish) multi- and interdisciplinary artist, singer/songwriter, curator and critical writer whose creative practice investigates the dynamism of nêhiyawak cosmology in a contemporary time-place continuum. Her Masters of Inclusive Design (IDRC/OCAD University, Toronto) introduced and expounded on Indigenous concepts of radical inclusivity and sonic survivance and is further expanding these theories in inclusive practice at SMARTlab as part of her PhD, which is in its final year. She holds a prestigious IRC EPS Postgraduate Award for this work.
Since the early 1980’s, L’Hirondelle has created, performed and presented work in a variety of artistic disciplines, including: music, performance art, theatre, spoken word, storytelling and redundant & new media. In the early 90’s, she began a parallel career as an arts consultant / advisor and programmer, cultural strategist / activist, and director / producer. Cheryl’s various activities have also found her working in the Canadian independent music industry, national artist-run centres, educational institutions, the Canadian prison system, First Nations bands, tribal councils and governmental funding agencies, at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
L’Hirondelle’s art and musical practice is regularly discussed in a variety of exhibition publications, periodicals, peer-reviewed journals and doctoral theses. In 2004, she was the first Indigenous artist invited to present work at DAK’ART Lab, at the 6th Edition of the Dakar Biennale for Contemporary African Art, Senegal. In both 2005 and 2006, Cheryl was the recipient of the imagineNATIVE New Media Award for her online net.art projects: treatycard.ca, 17:TELL and wêpinâsowina.net. Her 2008/9 Songlines project nikamon ohci askiy (songs because of the land) was recognised as an Official Honouree of the 13th Annual Webby Awards in the Net Art category. She has been awarded several music related honours: Prairie Music Award (nomination for Nikamok, 2001), Canadian Aboriginal Music Award (for M’Girl, 2006 & 2007), KM Hunter Music Award (nomination for solo songwriting, 2011), Canadian Juno Award (as part of Buffy Sainte Marie’s Power in the Blood, 2015). In January 2019 she brought her inspirational Light Tipi installation/experience to Davos.
In October 2020 she was honoured by WEF Women, with her award announced at the UNDP.
In February 2021 L’Hirondelle was awarded a Canadian Governor General’s Award for her work as an interdisciplinary artist. For this last major achievement, she will receive a $25,000 prize and a special-edition bronze medallion.
Created in 1999 by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Governor General of Canada, the awards commend the lifetime achievement of up to eight individuals nominated by their peers and selected by and expert panel. Nominators for L’Hirondelle noted that; “In current times of political, cultural and environmental upheaval, the world is in desperate need of artists like Cheryl L’Hirondelle, who can help us to create new social formations and to bridge knowledges, communities and histories.”
L’Hirondelle’s PhD, based in the Inclusive Design Research Centre of Ireland in partnership with SMARTlab in the College of Engineering and Architecture at UCD, focuses on the relationship between Indigenous and other land-based languages and cultural forms of communication. In particular the narrative memory-soaked singing and song writing of indigenous minority groups in Ireland, Canada, Scandinavia, and Australia. Exploring the ways various singer/songwriters, musicians and recording artists communicate and document their culture through music and song.
Welcoming the award, Suzanne Drisdelle, Chargé d’Affaires of the Canadian Embassy in Ireland said; “I offer my congratulations to Cheryl L’Hirondelle on this wonderful achievement. I am delighted to see that the lifetime of knowledge and creativity that L’Hirondelle has attained through the study and immersion in native language and culture in Canada has helped to inform similar practices here in Ireland and around the globe.”
Speaking of the lifelong achievements and impact of this remarkable action researcher/media artist, her PhD supervisor Professor Lizbeth Goodman of UCD stated: “It has been my great honour over the years to know and advise, and in turn be informed and inspired by, the remarkable Cheryl L’Hirondelle. Her wisdom surpasses the kinds of ‘knowledge’ which can be ‘taught’ in any formal institutional setting; in nature, she sings out to the furthest mountain and shows how our relationships to land and to one another require a delicate balance of strength with integrity, connectedness and ethical engagement, all combining to inspire and enlighten us all, in honour of our ancestors and for the sake of this generation and generations still to come.”
Colm Ó Snodaigh of Kila, gives this Irish shout-out: “Maith thú Cheryl! Maith thú!”
The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts awards were created in 1999 by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Governor General of Canada. Since then, the awards have celebrated Canada’s vibrant arts community and recognized remarkable careers in the visual and media arts.
Up to eight awards are distributed every year: six awards recognize artistic achievements, one award recognizes excellence in the fine crafts (Saidye Bronfman Award) and one award recognizes an outstanding contribution to contemporary visual arts, media arts or fine crafts. The winners receive a medallion and a cash prize of $25,000 each.
The GGArts awards are part of the Canada Council’s suite of prizes recognizing excellence in the arts.