Decolonizing The Queer Native Body in Alethea Arnaquq-Bari’s film, Aviliaq (Entwined): The Embargo Project @ Reel Reservations

 

Aviliaq

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On Feb 25, 2016 I attended The Embargo Project At the Talking Stick Festival: Reel Reservations Event at the VIFF.

Before going any further, I highly recommend viewing the trailer here.

The Embargo project is a collection of short films by Indigenous Women Filmmakers. In this post I will focus on Alethea Arnaquq-Bari’s film, Aviliaq (Entwined). But for a detailed description of the project, bios of the filmmakers, and descriptions of their films go here.

Around the same time as seeing this film, I read the article, “Decolonizing the Queer Native Body,” by Queer Indigenous Feminist,Chris Finley. I have found it really helpful to engage with in my analysis of the film.

Colonization relies on gender violence and control of sexuality in its assertion of control over the settler state. While the role of gender violence in colonization has become a focus point in First Nations and Indigenous studies and communities, sexuality has not. Finley calls for “more open, sex-positive, and queer-friendly discussions of sexuality in both Native communities and Native Studies” (p. 32). She pursues this by 1) examining queered colonial discourses, which define Aboriginal people; 2) critiquing the state’s role in portraying Indigenous people as non-heteronormative because they do not conform to heteropatriarchy; and 3) critiquing Indigenous nation building that uses the settler-state as a model (p. 32).

Heteropatriarchy is perpetuated through media and film, especially through Hollywood films. The mainstream film industry is dominated by male directors and producers. However, the Indigenous film industry in Canada is made up of approximately 50% women (L. Jackson, personal communication, February 25, 2016). It should come as no surprise, then, that these Indigenous women filmmakers are creating space for the decolonization of the queer native body.

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Aviliaq: Entwined is a short romance film set in the arctic during the 1950s. In the film two Inuit women, Ulluriaq and Viivi, try to stay together as lovers even after Viivi gets married. The two women convince Pitsiulaaq, Viivi’s husband to take Ulluriaq as a second wife so they may stay together as lovers, arguing that before colonization Inuit could have polygamous relationships. Pitsiulaaq agrees so that the women may remain together but he asserts that they must keep it a secret so they will not be arrested. Meanwhile, Ulluriaq’s family has decided to leave their territories and move to town. They arrange a marriage between her and Johnny, an Inuk man who lives in town and has a job. When Johnny sees Ulluriaq with Viivi and Pitsiulaaq he calls the police. In the end of the film, Johnny and the police carry Ulluriaq to town in a boat and Pitsiulaaq is arrested. They are all forced apart (Arnaquq-Baril, 2014).

Finley argues that heteropatriarchy is required by colonialism in order for it to “naturalize hierarchies and unequal gender relations” (Finley, 2011. p. 34). In the film we see that heteropatriarchy has been normalized for Johnny and Ulluriaq’s family, so much so that Johnny involves the police in disrupting the polygamous relationship. Ulluriaq, Viivi and Pitsiulaaq also are aware that their relationship is not “normal,” because they try to keep it a secret.

Rayna Green’s concept of the “Pocahontas Perplex,” is the image of Indigenous women represented by colonial discourses as sexually available for white men’s pleasure. Finley argues that the children of Indigenous women and white men become the white inheritors of the land because through white supremacy and patriarchy, inheritance is passed through the father. Therefore, Indigeneity is erased and since colonizing logic requires Indigenous people to disappear for the settler state to inherit the land, when the Indigenous mother gives birth, her Indigeneity must disappear to allow her offspring to inherit the land. In order for this story to work, the Indigenous woman must be heterosexual. Her body and the land must become owned and managed by the settler state (p. 35-36). Ulluriaq’s and Viivi’s love for one another is forbidden because it disrupts the Colonial narrative which allows for the conquest of Indigenous land.

Ulluriaq’s love for Viivi is tied to her love of the land. Her refusal to leave is tied to her refusal to be disconnected from the land. Moreover, staying on the land with Viivi and Pitsiulaaq allows for her to have more control over her own life, whereas life in town is subject to more control by the colonial state. Finley draws on the work of Taiaiake Alfred in her assertion that decolonization relies on sovereignty and connection to land. Finley writes:

“Native people and Native studies need to understand how discourses of colonial power operate within our communities and within our selves through sexuality, so that we may work toward alternative forms of native nationhood and sovereignty that do not rely on heteronormativity for membership.” (Finley, 2011, p. 39-40)

Aviliaq: Entwined, directed by Inuk filmmaker, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has played a decolonizing role through the uncovering of the control asserted over Indigenous people through heteropatriarchy and control of Indigenous sexualities. Moreover, it demonstrates the ties between sexuality and sovereignty and connection to land. Finley asserts:

“Sexuality discourses have to be considered as methods of colonization that require deconstruction to further decolonize Native studies and Native communities. Part of the decolonizing project is recovering the relationship to a land base and reimagining the queer Native body.” (p. 41)

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s work and the work of other Indigenous women filmmakers and artists have a role to play within the decolonizing work of First nations and Indigenous studies, and within the Indigenous communities.

You can find Rebecca’s post on Skyworld, by Zoe Hopkins here

And find Melissa’s review of Bihttoš by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers here.

Check out the Reel Reservations Embargo Project Prezi here.

References

Finley, C. (2011). Decolonizing the Queer Native Body (and Recovering the Native Bull-Dyke). In Driskill, Q. (Ed.). Queer indigenous studies: Critical interventions in theory, politics, and literature (pp. 32-42). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Producer & Director). (2014). Aviliaq: Entwined [Motion picture]. (Available from ImagineNATIVE Film, 349-401 Richmond Street W, Toronto, ON, M5V 3A8)

Mainstream Medicine? : Huff @ The Push Festival

Medicine

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Before reading my post, I recommend reading Eliana’s beautiful and wellwritten post on the Huff here. We did our presentation together, so I will write about the aspects of the play she didn’t cover.

On February 6th I attended Huff at the Firehall Theatre as part of the Push Festival.

As was mentioned by the others who attended this play, it was in many ways difficult to watch. This was made more difficult for me, having grown up on a reserve, and been affected (in one way or another) by much of the “poison” that was exposed by the play.

Yet, despite being a very dark and difficult play, Huff has had very good reviews.

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Prism Magazine:

“Huff is vital theatre. It’s messy and wrenching, daring the audience to go to almost unbearable places. It begs us to see what we’d rather turn away from, making us laugh one moment and sucker punching us in the gut the next.”-Sasha Singer-Wilson

Vancouverplays:

“It is unpredictable, mischievous and energetic. Huff finds joyful moments in a reality that has too often been ignored or silenced.” -Lindsay Lachance

SAD MAG:

“Haunting and authentic, Huff is a truly outstanding achievement.” -Hannah Thomson

Yvette Nolan discusses the importance of reviews as being either an opportunity or an obstruction to entering into a dialogue with the audience. Negative reviews negate the progress and objectives of Indigenous theatre.

“A theatre practitioner I know in Toronto once referred to “the dark cloud of Native theatre” as a reason for why audiences stayed away. Why would a person pay to go into a theatre and be made to feel guilty?” (Nolan Pg. 208)

*Note: Check out Ermen’s really interesting post on ‘positive’ reviews serving as bad medicine here.

“Yet the success of Where the Blood Mixes, FareWel and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing suggest that mainstream audiences were willing to look at the poison exposed if it were framed a certain way (Nolan Pg. 221).

Nolan suggest that this is due to the ability of producer and production team to “mediate between the audience and actor.” Judging by the reviews and attention this Huff is getting I would say that it is mainstream.

Nolan suggest that this is due to the ability of producer and production team to “mediate between the audience and actor.” Judging by the reviews and attention this Huff is getting I would say that it is mainstream.

The Artistic producer was Donna Spencer, the Artistic Producer of the Firehall Arts Centre. Yet, it didn’t feel like any mediation was happening. Other than giving the background story of Wind’s mom and dad’s meeting and descent into alcoholism and abuse, Cardinal doesn’t situate the audience within the colonial context, it is almost presumed that we know the situation, or too bad for us.

It was very clear that the audience would understand the play differently, or have a different experience depending on their background. For example, as I mentioned above, I grew up on a reserve and so I was very familiar with many of the inside jokes.

but I also understood the darker elements of the play that would have seemed alien to the mainly white upper middle-class members of the audience ( huffing gas, solvent abuse, playing the “blacking out” game). In fact, during a scene where the boy’s stepmom gives them a bottle of Lysol to make them go to bed, an older woman in front of me turned to her husband and said “what do they use Lysol for?” Yet, for me, I thought it was common knowledge that Lysol is used as non-beverage alcohol by those who cannot afford (or access) beverage alcohol.

The audience is pulled into this world in a really visceral way.  The play started with the loud sound of tearing ductape with complete darkness except for vacancy sign, which changes to “No Vacancy.” Later in the play Cardinal splashed canned tomatoes onto the audience (representing the shame these boys carry). The smell of the tomatoes was really overwhelming, even though we were four rows back.

“Mainstream audiences are only ready to examine poison exposed from a distance, looking in the window to First Nations communities where we act out our damage on eachother, and especially on our women.” Nolan pg. 234

Yet, the audience definitely is not a safe distance from this play: and is implicated in many ways. The play opened with Wind trying to commit suicide with a plastic bag on his head, he asks an audience member to take it off, who in this case does so. He asks them to not give it back, no matter what. In the end of the play he tries to commit suicide again, and asks for the bag back, but the audience member refuses. He also refers to the audience as his “imaginary friends,” It felt like this represented our inability or lack of desire to intervene.

 

I think the success of this play is largely due to Cardinal’s ability to depict a really difficult yet important story in both an unsettling yet humorous way.

Google Slide Presentation: Huff presentation

Also, check out Danielle’s review of Huff here.

Source: Nolan, Yvette. Medicine shows: Indigenous Performance Culture. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2015.

Stories Carried Within Us: Lee Maracle Lecture @ The Ogema: I Am Woman Exhibit

“Memory serves. Once we understood order, natural order. First comes the crying, and then comes the laughter. Babies cry for months after birth. Babies’ tears are their first language. This language was understood by grandmothers who were proud of their grandchildren’s capacity to create a language of the original voice creation gave us– crying.”      – Lee Maracle, Memory Serves

MeAnLee
I had a fan-girl moment and got my photo with Lee 🙂

On March 25th I attended an author lecture by Lee Maracle at the Ogema: I Am Woman exhibit in the Windsor Gallery. Lee is a member of the Sto:lo nation, but has ties to Squamish, Tslelwatuth, and is also Cree Métis. She is a scholar, poet, and author of many books including, I Am Woman, Celia’s Song, Memory Serves, Talking to The Diaspora.

Attending this lecture was a last minute decision for me because I didn’t know about it until the evening before it was happening. I had hoped to see Lee Maracle speak at UBC the day before, but missed due to deadlines for another class. So, I woke up early on my weekend to see her speak at the Windsor gallery, and was very glad I did.

Everyone situated themselves in the back couples rows, so we sat in the front row. Lee arrived a bit late, and took time to view the pieces in the exhibit before starting the talk. It was a funny moment, the audience sitting in the middle of the gallery in anticipation, while she quietly looked at each of the pieces. It did something to the atmosphere that I really appreciated. It seemed less like an author lecture in a fancy gallery, and more like a visit.

This “visiting atmosphere” was added to even more when Lee began to speak. She stood very close to the front row. When she spoke she made eye contact with us, she told jokes, and she laughed a lot. She has a completely different lecturing style than most. She moves through stories, teachings, and concepts in a way that is counter to what I think many are used to. It is more circular than linear. I was reminded of the way my Kwakwaka’wakw Grandma used to talk/tell stories/ give teachings. Actually I felt so moved by the whole talk, and I was very present for every word because she reminded me so much of my Grandmother. I felt like it was important that I really listen to her.

Lee spoke about her books and her background for a while before focusing on I Am Woman. After that she took questions from the audience and gave us more important teachings.

A woman in the audience asked what Lee thought would happen if more scholars thought and taught the way she did. Lee said the “filing system” in her head is different than most. Rather than having everything compartmentalized in her brain like we are taught to do in western society, her mind consists of “wheels of understanding.” She also said, “when I’m talking to someone I’m not thinking about how to constantly argue with them.”

This made me think about how there is such a privileging of western knowledge systems over Indigenous knowledge systems within the arts and within academia. So much so that Lee is considered an anomaly. This made me incredibly thankful that we have classes such as this, where such a privileging does not exist, and where the multitude of diverse indigenous ways of knowing are held up as being just as important as western ways of knowing.

Lee said that it took her two weeks to write I am Woman. I found this incredible, considering it’s a 142 page book. She said when she was writing this book she felt like she was breathing every word. This made me think of “Stories From the Body” by Monique Mojica. The idea that these stories are a part of us, waiting for the right moment to be made manifest into a story is really important to me because as a writer, I often write stories to help me heal, but usually have no idea where these stories come from. This turned out to be something that I really needed to hear at that time.

On April 1st I found out that my Grandfather had passed away. A loss felt more keenly because he was the third of my grandparents to pass away in 6 months, and the last of my living grandparents to go. I was always really close with all my grandparents, and I loved to hear their stories. In many ways my grandparents’ stories have shaped my life through the lessons they have taught. My grandfather held many of my Kwakwaka’wakw grandmother’s stories, and he told them to me every time we spent time together. He too had an amazing life on the coast, and his stories always captivated me. The last time I saw him he asked me if I would work with him to write his stories down into a book this summer, and I had agreed.

Last week I was expressing my grief for having lost these stories, and my friend Salia replied: “You didn’t lose your grandpa’s stories, you carry them within you.”

This brought a lot of peace to me. I know one day the moment will be right and my own body will allow these stories to be told.

The in-class presentation can be found: Here

Raven Spirit Dance @ Woodwards

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Raven Spirit Dance @ Woodwards Atrium – March 13, 2016

Mission statement: “Raven Spirit Dance creates and produces contemporary dance that is rooted in Aboriginal worldviews and honours the communities and artists we work with. We share stories through Indigenous perspectives and practices while creating a platform for others to do the same”

Frost Exploding Trees Moon

A solo Performance choreographed and performed by Michelle Olson (or, sometimes performed by Jeanette Kotowich).
Dance movements utilizes  3 sticks as props –  the sticks transform images and symbolisms throughout the performance – creating a distinct narrative and storyline.

“a solo piece which follows the journey of a woman traveling her trap line. She finds a place to set up camp, builds her temporary home, and settles into the centre of her world of breath and perception” (Raven Spirit Dance Society)

Steppin’

“A high-paced Metis Jig” solo performance choreographed and performed by Jeanette Kotowich.  Kotowich is a recent graduate of SFU’s contemporary school of Arts with a focus in contemporary dance.
Performance begins with Kotowich greeting each audience member personally and informally, then proceeds to the stage and changes her shoes before taking the stage – a symbol of change from informal to formalism.
The performance is a collaborative project with many artists involved – the dancer/choregrapher (Kotowich), the musician/fiddler (), and the sound designer.
Utilizing electronic music and traditional fiddling, Steppin’ combines contemporary dance with traditional Metis cultural elements.

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http://www.nativeearth.ca/w28-nov18/

Witnessing.

This performance began by acknowledging the performers as guests on the unceeded Coast Salish teritorries of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam Nations. This statements reminds audience members of their presence and relationship to Coast Salish land.

The performance was free to the public and located in a highly contested location – Woodwards.  The history of Woodwards and its location as a cultural hub within the Downtown Eastside can be considered highly politicized.  Creating public works in this location helps to link together the political history of the space with the surrounding community.

Presentation on Raven Spirit Dance Society here.

Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow at UBC – The role of the Drum and my Experience

In witnessing the Nehiyo-pasqua-itsimowan Pow-wow at UBC I focused on the dancing and the dancers. What the regalia means and how each style of dance differs. When reflecting more on the powwow I became curious about the role of the drum. Since this event was my first pow-wow I was able to learn many new things about the dancing, styles and protocol. In learning that the dancing is a celebration of life I was interested in what the drum meant. As Steve Teekens states
the drum has a spirit inside of it and should be treated well. …[the] drum came to the Anishnabe people during a difficult time, to help remind the people of the heartbeat of Mother Earth and to get more in tune with themselves and treat each other with respect. (2015, p. 178)
Therefore I view the drum as a strong connection to the land and the people that are in your life. In addition respect and humility are always something we can continue to work on and practice. This is a common value that I’ve seen in many Aboriginal traditions.
As known in Anishnabe culture you pretty much do not have a powwow or any other ceremony if the drum is not present; without the drum there would be no powwow (Teekens, 2015, p. 191). In other words the drum was a central part to the powwow on March 26th. The drums provided the rhythm for the dancers to move to and enables both the drummers and dancers to express their connection to Mother Earth and respect for others. The drum working with the regalia and dancers further illustrates the importance of celebrating life and being respectful; to live life in a good way.
In addition to the roles that I was curious about, my own role was mostly as a witness. I sat down and watched the drumming and dancing but also walked by each vendor and had some food that is known to be at powwows such as Noras sxusum (Indian icecream). I also joined in a round dance where we danced around the drummers and where it really felt evident to me that the powwow formed a community, one of which I was thankful to be a part of and hopefully will be a part of again in the years to come. The formation of a community can also be viewed in the circles of the pow-wow with the men and the drums, sometimes the women circling them singing, then the dancers and finally the ancestors (Teekens, 2015, p. 183-185). Though it is not my place to go further into this as I am just learning about the four circles around the drum I feel as though it is yet another example of creating community is a respectful and humble way. Where each circle works together and is given respect in order to form the pow-wow.

Taylor, D., H. (2015). Me artsy. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre.

Attached below are the slides where my my critical questions, reviews etc. are present.

2nd Annual Nehiyo-pasqua-itsimowan Pow-wow @ UBC

Huff – Poison Exposed and the Issues of a Largely Non-Aboriginal Audience

In viewing Huff I felt a great uneasiness. As the play exhibits some very dark issues, such as rape, death and alcohol abuse, I questioned whether these issues should be presented to a presumed mainly “non-Native” (Nolan, 2015, p. 29) audience as I was worried about how these images may be the only ones that the audience becomes familiar with; that the Aboriginal university professors, good parents and partners, youth workers, etc. were not visible in the performance. However I believe this play can be viewed as exposing poison. Through Wind’s survivance story poison exposed is at almost every turn of the story. The poor conditions of some First Nations reservations living conditions are mentioned as well as stating that his brothers are the “products” of the reserve school system (Nolan, 2015, p. 29). By accusing the audience of not caring and often acknowledging the white audience for it there is this accusation of non-Aboriginal Canadians at large. When the non-Native Canadians see on the news that a reserve has poor drinking water or that there continues to be many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (higher amount than other women) they can be exhibited through this play as doing nothing to help. They are just witnessing parts of the issues while Huff exposes the poisons that his community and family face and where these poisons came from. Non-Aboriginal Canadians are then called to not just view these issues but do something about it as it is a wider Canadian problem, not an “Aboriginal problem.” This is exhibited by an audience member taking the duct tape and bag off of Wind, though as we see later the individual must also work to survive and ultimately Wind decides to live.
I remember after the show, hoping that Cliff Cardinal (who performs this one-person show) had a great support system of friends and/or family because performing a play like this must take such a toll on a performer; living these events each day over and over would be draining of the spirit, mind and body. Therefore I wish that decolonial love was and is practiced plentifully. Also, in reference to the issue of a mainly non-Aboriginal audience, I hope that the audience walks away with feeling at least some form of responsibility for working on changing these systems that perpetuate these living conditions and issues.

Nolan, Y. (2015). Medicine shows: Indigenous performance culture. Toronto, ON: Playwrights Canada Press.

The Talking Stick Festival – Reel Reservations Day 3 – Number 14 (Marie Clements)

Number 14 Reel Reservations – The talking Stick Festival

(Above are presentation slides)

When I came to view the film, it had already started and I sneaked in at the moment where the actor playing Jordan is driving. Immediately felt the tension in the room and found it very hard to breathe. Knowing that the crash was going to happen just from the energy in the room and the music of the film made everything uneasy. Then for me, since I missed the beginning, the story of who this young man was began to unfold. I first found out how loved he was by his family and friends. Slowly I got to know who Jordan was with his love of playing hockey and how he was a responsible and caring young man (who just made a bad choice by drinking and then driving). Having the story of Jordan unfold after almost living the tragic incident with him, really made me wish that Jordan could be alive today to live out his potential. This reminded me of the discussion we had in class when Dr. Dangeli asked us how Jack Charles Vs. the Crown would be perceived if he started with the ending? In asking this question of the film Number 14 I feel as though I had to put the pieces of the film together more by myself. Starting with the traumatic reenactment of the crash as I did (yet the film was not intended to start that way) I felt it to be puzzling but also a position in which everyone can put themselves. This is because many of us have been driving at night and with not knowing the circumstances it makes the situation more relatable in a way that may take away from the story of Jordan. Therefore it is important that Marie Clements started with a bit of a background on Jordan as a person so that we came to know him and then feel like we lost him, somewhat like Jordan’s family.
I also decided to look at Number 14 as a form of 8th Fire. As stated in Medicine Shows, the eighth fire is an extension of the Anishinaabe Seven Fires Prophecy. A suggestion and wish that now is the time for Indigenous peoples and settlers to work together to achieve justice and work in a good way together (117). As a form of story telling, I see how this is exemplified in Number 14 with Jordan’s friends and family (both Aboriginal and settler) working on this project. The weight of his death was not solely carried by the Aboriginal community but the larger community and even other neighbouring communities. Story telling becomes a powerful tool in having people work together. Similarly to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Bad Medicine discusses, this film presents what some would think as Aboriginal issues as Canadian issues. We all make mistakes and know that sometimes these choices can really harm us. But by Clements having more than just Jordan’s accident told we are able to know him and his family as people not a “bad choice.” We see how possible it is for people who have made so many good choices and are working towards great things to be in the situation of an tragic accident.

Reviews for Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song and Thoughts

After taking more time to ruminate on the reviews I had read for Celia’s Song, I have been thinking a lot about Nolan and bad medicine. More specifically, can ‘positive’ reviews be bad medicine if they praise the author and the book but seem to completely miss the implications of Indigenous literature on settler society and representation of narratives and histories? It wasn’t something I had considered when all of the bad reviews were so obviously bad. I often think of subtlety and insidious nature of ongoing colonial violence and the ‘soft assimilation’ policies that the canadian govt. traded for residential school and cultural bans / restrictions to voting. Why should seemingly positive reviews not be subject to the same careful critique that I apply to speech habits, ‘progressive’ legislation and reconciliation efforts? The answer is, I now believe, that they shouldn’t be.

I am not upset about the positivity that Maracle has the ability to attract from popular media and from such a varied set of reviewers. Only, I am suspect of taking positive reviews and praise at their face value and am interested in the ways that positivity and approval can act as veiled colonial violence or white / settler narcissism (popularly called ‘white guilt’).

 

I’ll post links from some of the reviews I read, excepts I found relevant, and some thoughts on the implications.

Vancouver Sun – Maracle’s Celia’s Song well worth hearing

  • “Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song well worth hearing… While Maracle invokes many voices in telling her tale, the mythic Mink and the conflicted Celia, torn between her awakening powers to see hidden realities and her discomfort with the harsh responsibilities imposed by what she sees, are the lead singers in a book that is like an intricate communal song, recording the storms of colonialism, racism, and residential school abuse that have swept through her community and the consequences of those storms in the lives of her family and village.” –  Tom Sandborn

If I can use the vernacular of our time, this reviewer seemed to be the most ‘woke’ in terms of reading and reviewing Indigenous literature. He recognized the impacts of settler colonialism throughout his review and used diction common to the field (ex. “in what settler’s call B.C.” ) and even spoke to the gendered way that colonialism disproportionately favored Indigenous men when it came time to start publishing Indigenous authors. This was one of the better, more productive reviews I have read during my time in our class.

Quill & Quire

  • “In gentle yet powerful prose, Maracle underscores the horrifying impact of the Residential School System, the ongoing problem of suicide, and the loss of tradition that continue to plague First Nations communities. She also suggests that alongside death and destruction there is hope for new beginnings.” – Dana Hansen

So, on the surface I guess there is nothing really wrong with this article. But this is what I was referring to in my introduction to the reviews. It pretty consistently uses past tense verbs, which is a not-so-subtle way of telling the reader / audience that these issues are of the past – even as Maracle is writing about them. It is also more focused than many of the others on the aspect of reconciliation, healing, and moving forward from these traumas and ongoing colonial imposition. This seems to be a popular narrative for white settlers; they’d rather Indigenous folks on the land ‘forget about it,’ or at least be responsible for their own fast healing practices. Settler society – white or otherwise – must not turn away from the hard and harsh aspects of healing. We are all implicated in the colonial present and community healing must involve all the inhabitants of the land – even if that healing means that settlers will see some harsh truths and have to face their own involvement in and benefit from colonial violence. It’s almost like this article is lauding Maracle for offering a narrative of a family and community who have gone through terrible trauma and heal despite it, because of it. This narrative of healing is a powerful and necessary one, but not to be interpreted as proof that Indigenous folks can ‘get over’ colonialism or that they shouldn’t still be fighting, along with their allies, for liberation from the colonial system that continues to ensnare us all.

 

The Winnipeg Review

    • “Reading Lee Maracle’s Celia’s Song feels like the best breathing I’ve ever done…Maracle includes a funny chapter in which a group of white marine biologists see a mysterious shadow on a film – the serpent. Their argument for what it could be reflects the limitations of Western empirical thought.” –  Lynne C. Martin

This review, while again very positive, seems to be the type of review that could have the most potential insidious damage. This reviewer is expounding upon her personal revelation that the novel gave her and her relateability to Celia based on her womanhood. I’m sure we are all aware of the shortcomings of the type of feminism that calls for ‘universal sisterhood’ and unity while ignoring intersectionality, inherent privilege and the complexity of social justice issues. To drive this home, the reviewer mentions how happy she is that Maracle included white characters as part of Celia’s chosen family (reminding me of Grand Mamas) and doesn’t dehumanize the abuser of the story. I get the sense from this review that the reviewer is of a group of people who want absolution of their possible ancestral involvement with colonial violence while ignoring that they are taking part in the ongoing violence of colonialism; not being personally racist or violent herself. It is ok to stand with Indigenous folks, but not to watch and listen and then hope for your involvement to end once you decry the colonial system and the violence it perpetuates. As we spoke about in class witnessing and deconstructing the colonial power structure is an active and an ongoing procedure for Native and non-Native folks and any allies to the causes of social justice.

 

There are many more reviews of not only Celia’s Song but all of Maracle’s work and I would recommend, if you want more examples to comb through and critique, reading through them to see more of this subtle bad medicine at work.

I’ll post here one of the questions I had wanted to ask at the end of this presentation but didn’t get the chance to:

  • How does Maracle use storytelling differently than performance based artists? What are some of the different advantages and disadvantages to producing varied types of media?

– i ask this because of some negative comments i have heard about written texts: stories are alive and should change to reflect the audience, the situation, the time, etc. theatrical productions, through the work of dramaturgy, can be and often is a living and changing piece of artwork. dances tell specific stories or phenomenon, etc. although i will say, that for any who have seen Maracle speak, i think its fair to conclude that if she were the one reading the written texts would be as fluid and situation specific as a story that is being told through memory.

Cutting Copper: Recognition, Refusal and Refusal

On Friday March 4th, I attended the Cutting Copper practice on Recognition, Refusal and Resurgence at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. In particular this event was in dialogue with the Lalakenis/All Directions exhibition currently showing at the gallery. Specifically, I witnessed Dana Claxton’s performance, along with the panel discussion held with Linc Kesler, Leanne Simpson, and Taiaiake Alfred.

Opening

The curators of Cutting Copper commenced the event by first acknowledging the unceded land of the First Nations people. With other opening remarks and thanks, Audrey was introduced on to the podium.

Audrey was involved in the cutting copper journey with Beau and other people from her community. She proudly introduced herself as individual doing work first for her ancestors, elders, the earth, and then for others.

To conclude the opening remarks of the event, Andrea sang the women warrior song as it was dedicated to women. She encouraged anyone who knew the song to sing along. When the song was sung, a strong aura filled the room and uplifted people. Proud voices rang through the gallery as I felt an immense connection with the women who were standing around me. The commencement with the women warrior song set a positive tone for Claxton’s performance and panel discussion as it “rejuvenated the seeds of feminine power”. (Smith, Me ARTSY)

Claxton’s Performance

Everyone in the gallery was asked to step outside of the gallery for Claxton’s performance immediately after the opening remarks.

Claxton entered the exterior space with a digitalized Indigenous song that had a similar rhythm to the women warrior song. The speakers were hidden in red blanket that was tied to her body. She had in her hands red twine. She began the performance by taken one end of the string that was attached to a chopstick and stuck it right outside of the gallery where the grass had begun. Claxton started to move along the grass while unraveling the string laying it gingerly on the ground. The big crowd too would follow behind her while intently observing her moves.

It was interesting to watch the UBC community collectively walk with Claxton as she led the large crowd. Particularly, I was engaged to how diverse the demographic was ranging from different faculties and backgrounds. I felt interconnectivity amongst the visual artists, art historians, anthropologists, and First Nation. Even though people observed Claxton, they too were engaged in conversing in dialogue with the people they were walking with. With such, we were all a part of Claxton’s performance where there was collective interaction in walking the perimeter of the gallery together but also engaging with our surroundings. In a way, I felt Claxton’s performance was the “UBC’s” or “our” journey. The red twine mimicked the Awalaskenis journey map.

After circling the perimeter of the Belkin, Claxton entered the gallery space. She began to wrap herself in a red cloth and later bobbed her body to the sound of the music. Claxton then unraveled herself, took the cloth by one arms length and she would rip it until there was nothing left. The ripping action was another element that Claxton has used in her pervious work in “Indian Dirt Worshipper”. She would fold them gingerly and give them as gifts, to the audience.

Panel Discussion

The panelists included Linc Kesler, Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, and Leanne Simpson.

Kesler is the director of the UBC First Nations House of Learning and Senior Advisor to the President.

Taiaiake Alfred is an author, educator and activist, born in Tiohtiá:ke in 1964 and raised in the community of Kahnawake

Simpson is an indigenous gifted poet, academic and musician.

In reference to the catalogue, “the panel would [spoke] of the theoretical interventions at play when considering the ways in which Indigenous people have sought to overcome the contemporary life of settler-colonization and achieve self-determination through cultural production and critique.” In particular, the panelists spoke of recognition, refusal and resurgence. They specified for the country’s futurity, Canada needed to be more indigenized for the better of the future.

“Refusal to be erased, Resurgence enactment, Recognition of the land.”

Overall, I felt a strong presence of First Nations women at the event – from Claxton, Audrey, Simpson and the people who were adding on to the dialogue from the panelist discussion which felt empowering.

Discussion Question: What do you think the procedure and process was for the protocol of the masks in the Lalakenis exhibition?

Google slides Presentation: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1n56JpLbODQE6RHFabneXXEKPDlYBapmU5y72qu9r_D8/edit?usp=sharing

Grand Mamas: Artists and Activists talk about their Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, and Chosen Family

 

Back in February I had the immense pleasure and honour of witnessing the third annual Grand Mamas event. Grand Mamas is a space where Indigenous, Black, and racialized artists and activists share poems, stories, and songs (and sometimes a combination of the three) about the women in their lives—mothers, grandmothers, aunties, cousins, sisters, daughters, and chosen family to name but a few.

It was curated three years ago by three incredible queer femme organizers Amber Dawn, Anoushka Ratnarajah, and Jen Sung.

Amber, Anoushka, and Jen (source)
Amber, Anoushka, and Jen (source)

All the proceeds of the night go to the Downtown East Side Women’s Centre’s program “Warriors Organizing Women”, to help them in their organizing of the Annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women every Valentine’s Day.

So, right off the back, I think its important for me to recognize that Grand Mams is not only a space of challenging heteropatriarchy and misogyny, but it is also held in service of an anti-colonial resistance that it is already happening, and has been happening for the past 26 years.

The Indigenous performers of the night included:

Squamish, Stó:lō, and Hawaiian mother-daughter duo Cease and Senaqwila Wyss, who conducted a land acknowledgement and sang a “Winter Bird” song to welcome the Elders and the women in the room.

Cease and Senaquila (source)
Cease and Senaqwila (source)

Queer Gitxan/Tsimshian photographer and artist Jessica Wood;

Jessica Wood (source)
Jessica Wood (source)

and Cree Métis writer Samantha Nock; who (along with Jessica Wood) read original writings.

Sam Nock (source)
Sam Nock (source)

The immense love that undersocored the night can be seen in one of the poems that Nock wrote, called “pahkwêsikan’ ”, or “Bread”, which honours her Aunty and her method of cooking fry-bread as an act of self-love immediately following a breakup with a boy who left her for a white woman—and the immense insecurities and internalized racism that this breakup triggered.

I won’t say too much more because I focused on this piece for my paper, but I will talk about honouring and giving thanks—which for many Indigenous artists, is a central component to their work and life.

As Mohawk scholar Santee Smith, in her chapter “Dancing Path” from Me Artsy, says, ““Whether directly inside of a work in song or spoken word, thanksgiving is the leaping-off point.” (2015, 113)

For Smith, giving thanks has become, and I quote, “a fundamental aspect of [her] individual and artistic aspect” (113).

Giving thanks through art, she continues, orients one to be mindful not only of their relationships to other beings, but also to their connection with the spirit world. It orients one to ask:

What is the status of our humanity and our relationship with the universe today? How well are we faring as custodians of the earth, the plants, the medicines, the four-legged ones and the elements? What of the water and fish, how are they faring in our humanity? (2015, 112)

This interconnectedness through giving thanks, I think, could be seen throughout the event.

The event curated by three non-Indigenous organizers, but they gave focus and space, as well as amplified, Indigenous voices and stories.

The artists were sharing poems and songs in thanks of women in their families, whether chosen or by blood. These exchanges were intergenerational—one of the artists (they weren’t Indigenous) read a poem about their mother to their mother, who was sitting in the front row of the audience.

Again the event ultimately was to support the March honouring the lives of the missing murdered Indigenous women in the DTES, a profound expression of love, and honouring, and giving thanks.

As well, at the end of the event, Elders lead a singing of the women’s warrior song with everyone in a circle holding hands—in this to me symbolized ethical allyship—wherein settler-colonialism is acknowledged as a serious issue that needs to be addressed, and we’re coming together to further dismantle it, while the voices of Indigenous Elders and leaders are amplified and not appropriated.

As Monique Mojica explains in “Verbing Arts”, also from Me Artsy:

“Art is defence.” I art in defence of women’s bodies. “Art is action.” I art to make our knowledge speak.

I art to for that little brown girl asking, “Why war?”

Over and over again…

I art to protect our lands, waterways and breath.

I art for all the young Indigenous artists coming up fast behind me who don’t know a world without Indigenous artists in it.

…I art for you.” (28)

And so Grand Mamas, as I witnessed it, was a site of thanksgiving, connection, defence, action, and alliance-building when seen through the various lenses of Indigenous performance.

Discussion questions:

  1. How may Grand Mamas offer a glimpse into Karyn Recollet’s concept of “radical decolonial love”?
  2. How do you feel about the title “Grand Mamas”? Does it take away validity from women who are assuming different roles (familial or otherwise) in their communities?