Founding Artistic Director of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre
“Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith iónkia’ts, konkwehón:we, Kahnyen’kehàka. Wakeniáhton tánon Ohawé:ken nitewaké:nòn. Ka’nisténhsera í:ken tánon tekeninniáhkhwa. Tekhenonhwerá:tons Tsi nahò:ten ká:ien ne ohwentsia’kéhshin tánon karonhia’kéhson.”
Santee is from the Kahnyen’kehàka (Mohawk) Nation, Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. She is a mother, multi-disciplinary artist, and award-winning producer, choreographer. She holds performance in a sacred space, as all life is sacred. Santee maintains an Onkwehon:we understanding of performance, the body and role of artist: music and dance are celebrations of life; the body is a vessel to house our spirit during our earth walk and the artist as a storyteller, transformer and medicine person. From this perspective her work speaks about identity and humanity in relation to the creative universe.
Recovering from two broken legs, completing six years of training at Canada’s National Ballet School, Physical Education and Psychology degrees from McMaster University and theatre training, Santee returned to dance in 1996 as a choreographer. Dedicating six years to create and produce her first dance work, Kaha:wi, a family creation story, she also completed a M.A. in Dance at York University in 2004. Following her passion she founded Kaha:wi Dance Theatre (KDT), a vehicle for her artistic voice in 2005.
Her body of works include productions with Kaha:wi Dance Theatre and independent commissions notably: Kaha:wi (2004), Midwinter Dreaming (Dancer’s Dancing commission 2004); Here On Earth (2005); The Threshing Floor (co-choreography Michael Greyeyes, 2006); Sacred Spring (2006); A Constellation of Bones (2007); A Story Before Time (TYA, co-production Banff Centre, 2007); A Soldier’s Tale (Theatre Aquarius, 2008); Tripped Up Blues (Canada Dance Festival commission, 2009); Susuriwka – willow bridge (co-production Yokohama Noh Theatre, Planet IndigenUS, Harbourfront Centre 2011); The Creator’s Game (2011); Medicine Bear (TYA, co-production Woodland Cultural Centre, 2011); TransMigration (co-production Planet IndigenUS, Harbourfront Centre, 2012); Star Dreamer (Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre commission, 2012); The Honouring (City of Toronto, Indigenous Arts Festival, Fort York, Woodland Cultural Centre, 2013); NeoIndigenA (2014); Electric Inter-tribal (Canada’s National Ballet School commission, 2013); Tkaronto Bounce (Panamania, TO2015); Maadaadizi/Summer Journeys (Jason Baerg/Tanya Tagaq commission, TO2015); Inter-Hoop (Fall for Dance North commission, 2015); I Lost My Talk (National Arts Centre Orchestra commission, 2015); Re-Quickening (2016); Powwow Bounce (2016); Sewatonha ren - May Your Spirit Be Well (Mush Hole Project commission, 2016); and Waktényes (Dreamcatcher Gala commission, 2016) among others.
She is the recipient of numerous awards: Chalmers Award; K.M. Hunter Award for Dance; Canada Council’s Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award; John Hobday Award for Arts Management; Hamilton Music Award for Kaha:wi in Best Cultural and Ethnic Recording (2003). In 2013, Santee received a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Choreography in the Dance Division for Susuriwka – willow bridge and was recognized as a Eihwaedei Yerihwayente:ri (Community Scholar) in 2015 by Six Nations Polytechnic.
Santee’s performances have been featured on screen: Buffalo Tracks (APTN); Suite Indian and Rechargin by Mohawk filmmaker Shelley Niro (Turtle Night Productions). Her life and work has been the topic of documentaries: Freedom Series (Acme Productions); Dancing with Spirit Series (Soaring Heart Pictures); See and Hear the World (Amerimage Productions); For the Generations: Native Story and Performance (Painted Sky and Oregon Public Broadcasting); All Our Relations (Waterfront Productions, APTN); “The Sharing Circle (APTN); First Story (CTV Vancouver); Moccasins and Concrete: An Urban Native Story (CBC); dance documentary Kaha:wi – Cycle of Life produced by Wabungung Film Company (2014).
Santee is a frequent teacher, lecturer, writer and inspirational speaker on contemporary dance and performance such as at: University of Trinidad & Tobago, McMaster University, University of Toronto, York University, George Washington University (US), Trent University, UQAM (QC), Brock University, Waseda University (JP), University of Puebla (MX), University of New Mexico (NM), University of California-Riverside (CA), Yokohama Arts Foundation, (JP), NAISDA Dance College (AU), International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) among others.
Santee is a pottery designer at family owned business Talking Earth Pottery located on Six Nations, freelance actor, writer and producer. Her pottery pieces are in the collections of the Woodland Cultural Centre, Gardiner Museum, Royal Ontario Museum, Museum of Civilization, National Gallery of Canada and in private collections around the world.