||Santee Smith is a member of the Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand, Ontario. Santee works as a choreographer, dancer, singer, and pottery designer. As an artist, she is committed to sharing traditional and contemporary stories of her indigenous culture. It is her interest in her culture and the cycles of the natural world that are the inspiration and focus of her creative direction.
Santee attended the National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto, from 1982-1988. While training at the NBS, she performed in numerous classical and contemporary ballets and had the opportunity to meet and work with legendary dancers and instructors including, Betty Oliphant, Erik Bruhn, Vicky Simons, and Karen Kain, among others. Santee performed across Canada, on Lecture Demonstration Tours to promote the National Ballet School of Canada. Despite her success at the National Ballet, Santee chose to leave the ballet world behind, to explore new areas of artistic expression.
Santee expanded her knowledge of human movement by completing an Honours Degree in Kinesiology at McMaster University in 1994. Her courses of study included, kinesiology, biomechanics, anatomy, motor control and modern dance. After graduating, Santee felt a strong desire to return to dance, as a contemporary dancer/choreographer. She sought the ability to express who she was, as a Native woman living in a contemporary world, belonging to a traditional background.
Santee's professional choreographic career began in 1996 when she created and performed two dance pieces, SkyWoman and Three Sisters, for The Gift a National Film Board documentary directed by Gary Farmer. Santee was an integral part of the Aboriginal Dance Project, Chinook Winds at the Banff Centre for the Arts, as a dancer, choreographers assistant and guest artist, from 1997-2001. She performed the role of First Woman in all workshop productions and the world premiere of BONES: An Aboriginal Dance Opera. In 1997, Santee performed improvisational dances for the documentary film series, See and Hear the World, the Mystic Arts of Tibet and Santee Smith, which airs on BravoTV. In April 2001, Santee had the honor of being invited to dine with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, in Recognition and Celebration of Canadian Artists. Santee was a featured performer at the National Gathering on Aboriginal Artistic Expression, held by Canadian Heritages Shiela Copps in Ottawa 2002. Santee was invited to be the feature choreographer/dancer for the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards-10th Anniversary held at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and broadcasted by the CBC. In 2003, Santee was awarded the K.M. Hunter Award in Dance. Contemporary dance company, Dancers Dancing, with Artistic Director Judith Garay have commissioned Santee to create a choreographic peice which will premiere in April at the Scotia Dance Centre, Vancouver.
The full-scale choreographic and musical creation of Kaha:wi has been the main focus of her creative energy for the passed three years. Santee has produced and created the Kaha:wi soundtrack which included collaboration with over 35 Iroquoian singers, songwriters and musicians within her community. The choreographic work in inspired directly from her family traditional and Iroquoian way of Life. The world premiere of Santees full-scale production of Kaha:wi will occur at the Premiere Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto June 3 - 6, 2004 and at the Canada Dance Festival at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa June 2004. So far, Kaha:wi as a developmental solo dance piece has received international exposure. Santee was invited to perform her solo work of Kaha:wi at the JakArt 2002, International Festival of Culture and Education, in Jakarta, Indonesia, in June 2002 and Kalimantan, Indonesia at the Museum of Kalimantan. Santees choreography has been showcased at numerous festivals in Toronto (ImagineNative Media Arts Festival) and in the United States (Iroquois Festival, NY), Indonesia (JakArt 2002, Canadian Embassy, Kalimantan) and at the National Gathering on Aboriginal Cultures and Tourism, Whistler B.C. Santees choreographic work has been highlighted on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), on The Seventh Generation and First Nations Arts and Music and Buffalo Tracks.
Santee is an active performer in the native performing arts community performing in Drew Hayden Taylors Baby Blues at the Theatre Passe Muraille in 1997 and Thomson Highways, A Tricksters Tale with Theatre Direct in 2001. In 2001 Santee was the co-host of Buffalo Tracks, an arts/entertainment show on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. In 2002, Santee was the host of the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards held at the Sky Dome, Toronto.
In 2004, Santee will complete an MA in Dance at York University. The title of her Major Research Paper is Cultural Transmission Through Contemporary Iroquoian Song and Dance. She is interested in contemporary cultural transmission through the arts and has conducted extensive interviews within her community about issues surrounding bridging the gap between contemporary and traditional aspects of Iroquoian culture. Some of her academic work has been published in Cross-Cultural Dance Resources.
Santee has been a guest teacher for Six Nations Youth Outreach Program, and Canadian Childrens Dance Theatre, The Iroquoian Indian Museum, NY and York University- Dance Department.