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




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.


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)

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

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.


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:

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?











From Talking Stick to Microphone: Remembering Poet Zaccheus Jackson

On February 26th I had the amazing honour and privilege of attending the annual “From Talking Stick to Microphone” poetry slam, which was started in 2011 by (one of my heroes) Blackfoot poet Zaccheus Jackson Nyce. He sadly passed away in 2014, and so the event continues in his honour. I will talk more about him in just a bit.

The night featured some of Vancouver’s most talented Slam Poets and musicians.

The night was hosted by the ever incredible and ridiculously hilarious Tahltan/Kaska performing artist Nyla Carpentier, and was DJ’d by Vancouver-based Cree turntablist DJ Kookum.

Nyla Carpentier (photo from FaceBook)
Nyla Carpentier (photo from FaceBook)
DJ Kookum (photo from FaceBook)
DJ Kookum (photo from FaceBook)

The event itself consisted of three sections.

The first part featured youth poets from the Urban Native Youth Association, the second part featured the 2016 Van Slam team as well as Van Slam all-stars. The last section was an open slam.

So many of my dearest friends and heroes performed that night and it was absolutely unreal to have so many rad people under the same roof.

Here are a few examples:

My dear, dear friend Molly Billows from Homalco, a brilliant poet, UBC FNIS graduate, and youth facilitator. Her work touches upon reconciling her father’s whiteness with her Indigeneity and radical anti-colonial love. So we have connections to Nolan’s concepts of poison exposed and Necollet there.

Molly Billows (photo from FaceBook)
Molly Billows (photo from FaceBook)

My good friend Valeen Jules from Kyuquot (ky-YOO-kit) Sound on the Island: a ferocious writer and activist. She volunteered to be fire-keeper on Burnaby Mountain during the Kinder Morgan protests—where she kept the fire burning for protestors for up to 19 hours a day for 11 days straight. Her poetry is poison exposed in motion. One of her poems, which I don’t know the name of, compares settler-colonialism, as it is experienced in Indigenous communities, with the Hunger Games to shed a light on the extra-judicial violence that the state commits every day on Indigenous bodies. I am so in awe of her work, and she came up to me that night and told me my own writing was “deadly” and I nearly fainted from being so starstruck. She’s incredible.

Valeen Jules (photo from FaceBook)
Valeen Jules (photo from FaceBook)

The incomparable Jillian Christmas from Markham Ontario:

Jillian Christmas (photo from FaceBook)
Jillian Christmas (photo from FaceBook)

She’s not Indigenous but was nonetheless honoured as a Van Slam favourite not only because of her amazing poetry, but also because of the solidarity work she has done with Indigenous youth and with land-based resistance. One of the poems she read was for the Unist’ot’en Camp in Wet’suwet’en territory, which she wrote for an Unist’ot’en Camp fundraiser that I helped organize back in September. I love her dearly, she’s a beautiful weaver of words and a breathtaking musician, and I’m glad to call her one of my friends.

Zoey Pricelys Roy:

Zoey Pricelys Roy (photo from FaceBook)

Métis, Cree, and Dene, Youth activist. Spoken word poet and Community leader. She also co-hosted the night. I don’t know too much about her personally, but her performances were incredibly powerful and moving. According to her bio on the event page, she left home at 13 and was incarcerated before the age of 15. It was through Youth Faciliation and various outlets of creativity (one of them being spoken word poetry) that she began her path toward healing. For Zoey too, spoken word represents Nolan’s concept of medicine.

Mitcholos Touchie, Nuu-Chah-Nulth from Tofino.

Mitcholos Touchie (photo from FaceBook)
Mitcholos Touchie (photo from FaceBook)

He’s a dragon poet with words of fire. His work, like everyone I just mentioned, exposes poison, and does so in the most unforgiving fashion. Whether calling the world he grew up in a ‘swirling pile of shit’, or announcing his bid to start a war party against the state in the next local election—his work ferociously exposes the disconnections that colonization has left in his life. His poetry is thus also medicine, as it allows him to reconnect to himself and his commitment to reviving his indigeneity and maintaining his sobriety. He has a frequent refrain where he rejects his status number and maintains “my name is Mitcholos motherfuc*ing Touchie!”. He’s definitely one of my heroes, and he actually pulled me aside during one of the breaks to perform outside for the people waiting in the rain to get in, which was a huge honour. A short clip of this performance, shot my Mitcholos himself, can be seen here:

But I want to talk more about this guy, Zaccheus Jackson.

photo source
photo source

He started this event in 2011 and sadly passed away in 2014. I did not knew him super well, but my gosh was I a fan. He came in one time as a guest speaker for this youth program I was a part of with Urban Ink, and he told us the story of how spoken word came into his life, and for him, like so many of the poets I’ve discussed, poetry was medicine, and it came by accident.

He was living on the streets of East Van and had a drug addiction. And one Monday evening he walked passed Café du Soleis where the Van Slam happens every night. He didn’t even know what a slam was, but he said he did a lot of writing to keep him grounded. And so he went in and tried it out and people absolutely loved him. He described the feeling of being heard and loved that night as the most ‘potent high he had ever experienced’. And he kept doing it, eventually breaking his drug habit

And so this this event, “From Talking Stick to Microphone”, doesn’t just represent the legacy of a beloved poet, but it represents the legacy of survival. Of futurity. Of resistance. Of connection.

What made him special, as noted by many, was his ability to connect with others. He built a community wherever he went, and with whoever he spoke to or with. People loved him.

“Broad shoulders, huge catlike grin, a large man larger than life. He held space in a room and had a laugh that was memorable, these are just some ways those who’ve known Zaccheus described him.” – Lena Recollet, Urban Native Mag

“Nobody could speak faster than him. His voice would just capture a room. It was a beautiful baritone that just shook the walls.” -Jillian Christmas,

To see his magic yourself, check out his booming performance of fan-favourite “In Victa” below:

We miss you Zacc.




Decolonize, Indigenize, Rehumanize: Reflections on Jack Charles’ Theatre Work as Decolonial Praxis

Who is Jack Charles?

Jack Charles, “Addict. Homosexual. Cat Burglar. Actor. Aboriginal.” reads the tagline for the movie poster of Bastardy, the documentary about him directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson

photo from here

Charles, 73, a Koori man born in what is colonially known as Australia in 1943, was thrown into the Australian assimilationist project at only 10-months old, when he was taken from his mother and put into the Box Hill Boys’ Home where he was the only Indigenous child. In his play, Jack Charles V The Crown, he describes this period in his life as being a “soldier of the cross”.

Theatre has been without a doubt a significant force in his life, and continues to be. At the age of 28, he was instrumental in establishing Aboriginal theatre in Australia, wherein he produced a show with Indigenous actors living in hostels titled, Jack Charles is Up and Fighting.

Charles later when on to establish a prominent film career, while also becoming an addict to heroin, a burglar, and a convict serving multiple sentences—all while navigating his sexuality and dark past in Box Hill and foster care.

Storytelling as re-humanization and decolonial love: connecting Jack Charles v The Crown with the work of Dana Claxton, Yvette Nolan, and Karyn Recollet. 

As a spokenword artist and actor, I am partial to the idea that stories, whether told by us or about us, encompass a large part of our identities. I bring this idea into my studies within FNIS, which has lead me to being particularly interested in oral tradition, storytelling, and performance art, as well as the role each may play as potential decolonial forces.

For my first paper in this class, I argued that Jack Charles’ play was an act of rehumanization in the face of the dehumanizing forces undergirding the Australian colonial project; namely the Australian legal system and its missionary school history, which both sought to contain Charles throughout his life. For this presentation, I will start by touching upon a few points I make in this paper without giving away too much detail, and I will also draw from some of the literature in this class to support this claim that Charles demonstrates decolonial praxis through his theatre work.

Through my studies in FNIS, it has been made clear that storytelling and oral tradition carry a lot of potential as decolonial forces. This idea that I mentioned, for example, that storytelling comprises our identities is echoed by Cherokee author Thomas King, who is credited for authoring the popular line that stories are “all that we are”. He employs this adage to interrogate the role storytelling has played in the colonialism of Indigenous peoples–namely how ideologies of difference that construct Indigenous peoples as less than human are deployed (even to this day) to justify land dispossession. Thus, Thomas King is arguing that reclaiming the ability to tell one’s story is a decolonial force. Quite literally, For King, to tell one’s own story, under colonialism, is an act of re-humanization.

This idea of re-humanization is central to an artist we have studied already in this class, Lakota artist Dana Claxton, who’s exhibit “Made to be Ready” at the Audain gallery was presented on two weeks ago, which pays attention to Indigenous womanhood and sovereignty in primarily the Plains First Nations. I was really struck by this presentation, so that day I did some research on Dana. As she was promoting “Made to be Ready”, she came out with “6 ways to resist Art’s dehumanization of Indigenous peoples” which was published into a blog post by the same name, by the Canadian Arts Foundation. Much like how Thomas King gives focus to the role of storytelling within de/colonization, Claxton does the same with art and museum culture.

I had Claxton’s six reflections in mind as I watched Jack Charles V The Crown, and for my paper this month I attempt to trace links between the 6 reflections for rehumanization with Jack Charles’ play.

I won’t dive into the parallels here because I did so for my paper. But one argument I elaborate in the assignment is that Jack Charles’ pottery humanizes him, in the face of ongoing colonialism, by connecting him with the earth the clay comes from, and his ancestors who may have also done pottery.

I was particularly struck by Charles’ pottery as a form of storytelling, and thus rehumanizing force, and after reading Yvette Nolan’s 2015 book Medicine Shows , I was able to articulate how.

photo from here
photo from here

Medicine→ which is about reconnecting and being cognizant of the ‘interconnectedness of all things’ (1). I believe Charles did this with his poetry, and his story about how the clay comes from the sediment which travels from mountains–and thus pottery connects one to the land and to their ancestors.

Remembrance→ “Indigenous theatre artists make medicine by reconnecting through ceremony, through the act of remembering” (3)

Ceremony and audience→ “Creating ceremony onstage is powerful medicine. Like all medicine, ceremony is about reconnecting: reconnecting the artist to […] ancestors, the viewer to lost histories, the actor to the audience” (55)

It can be argued that, when seen through the lens of Nolan, that Jack Charles demonstrates rehumanization through creating medicine, through reconnecting with his ancestors and with himself, by centering his voice.

I want to end by saying that Charles demonstration of re-claiming his voice, story, and history, in the way it challenges the dehumanizing forces of colonialism, also demonstrates Cree hip hop scholar Karyn Recollet’s notion of “Radical Decolonial Love”, explored in her chapter “For Sisters” from Drew Hayden Taylor’s seminal collection of essays Me Artsy. 

photo from here
photo from here

She explains, “Radical decolonial love requires a shift in focus away from the heteronormative, settler colonial practices of ownership and control over Indigenous lands and bodies, into a space that produces the vocabulary and language to speak of its impact on our relationships with other sentient beings” (104). Charles demonstrated a radical decolonial love for himself, through his defense testimony at the end of his play, wherein he implicates Australian settler-colonialism and assimilationist projects for fostering his life of crime, drugs, and trauma. He takes focus away from the silencing process of Australian law, and instead foregrounds his own voice and experience, and sheds light on how his life, body, and relationships were affected by colonialism.

Questions for further discussion:

  1. What are other ways that Jack Charles’s play may have reverberated anti-colonial praxis?
  2. Were there advantages to Charles’ use of a live band in his storytelling? Other than aesthetic, why do you think he included one?

Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow: responding to protocol

On March 29, 2016 I attended the 2nd Annual Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow Celebration at UBC, hosted by the First Nations Studies Student Association (FNSSA). The Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow began as a small conversation between Salia Joseph and myself. We both understood the value in pow-wows and recognized a need for an inclusive cultural event on campus. Not thinking too much about it or knowing the amount of work involved, we decided to go forward and begin the planning process. Two years later, FNSSA and the Indigenous Students’ Association hosted the first annual pow-wow in 2015.

The way I was taught, is that pow-wows are a celebration of life through song and dance. It is the intention of the pow-wow to celebrate the resiliency, diversity, and vibrancy or Indigenous people. The name ‘Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan’ is cree, “nehiyo” meaning Cree, “paskwa” refers to the plains area east of the Rocky Mountains, and “simowan” means the way she/ he dances. This name recognizes that the pow-wow celebration and the dances originate from the plains people and acknowledges the relationship and responsibilities we have to the Musqueam people and territory by highlighting that it is not a Musqueam celebration or ceremony.

One of the goals of the pow-wow is to revitalize the teachings and practices that were seen at pow-wows between 1950-1970. Many Nehiyaw pow-wow teachings have become dormant. It is not my place or that of the committee to bring back these teachings as we are all still young and learning, rather it is our goal to create a space for teachings to be shared, learned, and practiced. To do so, we invited several Nehiyaw elders to be the head staff, including the whipman, the emcee, the head male dancer and the lead singer of the host drum. Together and in consultation with others, they decided how the pow-wow would be run regarding protocol.

I would like to briefly discuss how protocol was negotiated at the pow-wow and how people responded to certain protocol. It is not for me to discuss in depth the role of the whipman or for me to write about it so it will be a basic overview. The whipman has a complex role within the pow-wow and has a lot of teachings and training that he must go through to have the right to fulfill that role. One of his roles is to invite dancers onto the dance floor and ensure they are dancing when they are supposed. It was shared at the pow-wow that if a dancer refused to respond to this protocol and did not dance when the whipman told them, they would be fined. This is something that I have never witnessed at other pow-wows but have heard stories about happening in the past. At the Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow, dancers were only fined $5.00, whereas in the past they would’ve been fined a horse, a tipi, a buffalo robe, etc. This fine demonstrates the seriousness of the role of the whipman, the importance of following protocol, and dancers’ responsibilities and roles within when they make the choice to participate as dancers.

What I witnessed was a range of responses and reactions to this protocol. There were some people who appreciated that the whipman ensured dancers were dancing and said things like “otherwise, I usually just sit there.” Some people appreciated that these teachings were being brought back and being acted upon rather than remaining a memory held by a few of the older ones. Some people were grateful for what was shared and donated $5.00 out of appreciation for what was happening. Even some dancers who were fined took it in a good way and respected and upheld the teaching. However, other people were not so happy with it. A dancer who was fined got upset with the whipman (details of the situation will be left out).

The situation with the dancer being upset brought up questions about the role of witnesses and participants to learn, listen, and respond to protocol. I understand that protocol and practice is something that is always changing and needs to be reflective of who we are today. However, there are many events, ceremonies, and gatherings that have strict protocol. My mother, grandma, and aunties always explained to me that I need to have respect when I attend an event as a witness or a participant. This respect comes first and foremost. Part of this involves respecting the laws that are in place in that space. It is not up to me to decide what parts of an event I take part in or what protocols to follow. When I am invited and choose to participate, I take on the role of respecting what teachings and practices are to be followed in that time and place.

Ultimately, it isn’t about who is right or wrong but rather about how we as guests and participants listen, learn, and respond to protocol when we are invited into a space that is led by teachings and practices that may be unfamiliar.

Lalakenis All Directions Feast

On the 15th of January I had the honour of attending the Lalakenis All Directions Feast, hosted by Beau Dick at the AMS Nest. In addition to my involvement as a witness, I had been asked to involve myself as an organizer, participated in the Pipe Ceremony, and last minute danced a mask (Bakwus).

Beau Dick or Walas Gway’um is a hereditary chief, artist, carver, and teacher of the Kwakwaka’wakw people specifically from Alert Bay. Beau hosted this feast to serve many purposes; as a call to action to all peoples of North, Central, and South America to acknowledge violence perpetrated by the government to Indigenous peoples (and to begin to undo the hurts caused by this violence), as a means of sharing spiritual and physical wealth, to honour and open the way for the Lalakenis All Directions exhibition that was to open the next day at the Belkin Art Gallery, and to provide a spotlight for those in the community doing art and engaging in activism to share with us all.

Because the event lasted an entire day, it would be an absurd undertaking for me to try to describe it all here. The particular events that I will elaborate on in brief here are the sharing of a smallpox song by Lorne, Jeneen Frei-Njootli’s performance piece, and the Pipe Ceremony.

Lorne (from Montana, I do not know his full name or nation), early in the event shared a smallpox song and detailed how it came to him. He described a time in his tribe’s history when smallpox was ravaging the community. He said that one family afflicted with the disease cloistered themselves away in a cave to prevent the smallpox from spreading to others. He said that their voices found him, passed along the song, and asked that he not forget about them.

Tearfully, he shared the song with us. I think it’s safe to say that no one in the room was left with dry eyes. I could help but link this performance to Yvette Nolan’s notions of survivance and remembrance. Lorne strongly acknowledged his love, connection, and gratitude to his ancestors, and in that moment we were all able to share in that gratitude and connection. The tremendous love between they and him filled the room and asserted the intentionality and radical decolonial love underlining Indigenous survival and thriving.

The Pipe Ceremony, which happened earlier in the event, was hosted by Gyaauustees, the pipe keeper and carver, to provide the opportunity for Beau’s grandson, Gavin, to receive a pipe. The ceremony was also an opportunity for many of us who had been through trauma or who had lost loved ones recently to receive support and healing.

I myself had lost my grandmother a few weeks prior to the event and entered into the ceremony with a heavy heart. It was transformative, and deeply moving to have been able to be a part of Gavin’s entrance into his community as a man, in a sense, imbued with new spiritual purpose and responsibility, bestowed upon him by his elder’s deep love for him.

Finally, Jeneen Frei-Njootli performed a unique piece by playing a caribou antler manipulated with her hands and breath, and played percussively. The sounds the antler produced were reminiscent of the landscape that raised her- the Canadian north, traditional territory of her Gwi’chin people. I couldn’t help but think of the significance of the use of the caribou, an animal strongly connected to Gwi’chin spirituality, cultural expression, and material survival, and how perfectly it recreated the experience of its and her homeland.

I feel as though each of these acts was an act of love, forgiveness, an underscoring of Indigenous presence and thriving, and of course, acts of ceremony. Additionally, in Lorne’s song and in the Pipe Ceremony in a more private sense, there were elements of “poison exposed” referring to the release and exposure of negative or traumatic incidents for the purpose of lifted the weight of colonial trauma. This exposed poison was then soothed by the day’s ceremonies and the sharing of openness and love.


I would like to leave you all with the following question regarding this notion of poison exposed: Is there sense in exposing poison simply for the outcome of personal release, or must this exposure be paired with ceremony or structure in order to leave the individual exposing this poison in a better state than they began in?

In Motion

I attended In-Motion in late February at the Roundhouse Performing Arts Centre. The event, part of the Talking Stick Festival, involved two separate contemporary dance pieces in sequence, followed by a Q&A panel with all of the performers.

The first piece, NDN Way was performed by Anishnaabe/Metis/Irish dancer and visual artist, Brian Solomon and Mestiza dancer/choreographer Mariana Medellin-Meinke. The piece was fairly abstract and set to a recording of Cindy Bisaillon’s 1974 interview with Cree-Metis elder and knowledge keeper Ron Evans.

I have a fairly limited background with formal dance both as a performer and a viewer, and I entered the event fairly nervous about the difficulty I would have in interpreting a plot line from Solomon’s choreographic choices. To me, it seemed to be largely an examination of the stages of life and development humans go through, linked intimately to the idea of the Sweat and the emotional/spiritual/physiological challenges endured by Sweat participants.

I also saw themes of Native erasure, resilience, freedom, struggle, and release illustrated by the ways that Solomon and Medellin-Meinke interacted with each other, and the ways their individual physical and facial expressions morphed from the beginning of the performance to the end.

In the Q & A Panel following the performance, Solomon explained some of the inspiration for the piece. Part of it, he said, came from seeing young people full of potential struggling very publicly with drug dependence on the outskirts of his neighbourhood. He also described personal struggles with health and the tragic loss of some of those close to him. I imagine the performance, which appeared at times to be very physically challenging, was a tremendous outlet for both he and Medellin-Meinke to find emotional, physical, and spiritual release from these sadnesses and struggles. As well, the recreation in a sense, of the Sweat ceremony lift that weight from the performers and the audiences alike.

As I watched the piece, I wished several times that I could pause and rewind moments so I could retrieve more meaning. I understood that there were many layers to the piece, and felt as though my lack of basic understanding of contemporary dance movement hindered my ability to delve through all of the intended projections of the choreography. In addition, there were several points where I felt the compulsive urge to move or dance along with the performers. I felt embarrassed about it until, during our presentation on the event, Vanessa mentioned a similar experience. After having had that confirmation, I decided that the urge to physically respond was more than likely the performance unlocking something within the both of us (and very likely others in attendance), although I’ve yet to give much thought to what that something is.

The second piece, Greed, was performed by Byron Chief-Moon (Blackfoot), Jerry Longboat (Mohawk-Cayuga), Olivia Davies (Welsh-Anishnaabe), and Luglio Romero (Costa Rican). The piece was introduced by the evening’s program as an examination of greed as told through the lens of a man struggling with the stock market. Chief-Moon has stated at various points that Greed was a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Blackfoot story of Bloodclot Boy (I will provide a link to this story at the end of my post) and the concept of triple witching (a time in the stock market where one can win or lose millions).

I found this piece much easier to interpret, I think, partially because I had heard earlier in the month from Chief-Moon himself a bit about the piece and its origins. As well, the information in the performance program provided a basic outline of the central theme, while the description of NDN Way felt more cryptic to me.

I saw plenty of Christian imagery throughout the piece; there was a point at which Chief-Moon’s head was pushed down repeatedly by the other performers that seemed reminiscent of a baptism into the religion of greed. Additionally, quite early in the performance, Davies was held aloft in a very Christ-like way. I thought it was an interesting and apt parallel to draw  between Christianity which has been responsible for the justification of much greed in the world (via the attempted takeover and annihilation of many Indigenous peoples around the world) and greed represented by the American stock market.

I feel as though both performances embody Yvette Nolan’s concept of survivance quite well; Solomon’s piece through the lens of Indigeneity surviving trauma with lightness and hope, and Chief-Moon’s piece via the struggle to maintain traditional knowledge despite Western society’s favouring of capitalism above all.

I also thought both Solomon and Chief-Moon’s very contemporary forms of storytelling were compelling, but would like to problematize the word “contemporary”. Obviously, any Indigenous performance occurring in the present is “contemporary”, but I think there is a prevalent Canadian conceptualization of Indigenous performance in particular as being wrapped up in tradition in a non-living/fluid sense of the word. These performances are different from many others I have witnessed in that they are told in very abstract ways, not ones that would necessarily be pereceived as “traditional” by outsiders/non- First Nations viewers.

Question: Byron-Chief Moon’s performing arts company COYOTEARTS, seeks to support contemporary retellings of traditional Indigenous stories. How might this effect Native and non-Native audiences differently? What are the pros and cons of opening these stories up for display in “acceptably” tradition and “non-traditional” ways? Are there better terms for traditional and contemporary that aren’t in competition?


See here for a (very problematic) review of Greed: (see here for reference to the Blackfoot Bloodclot Boy story)

*End note: it was difficult to find reviews for both Greed and NDN Way, although significantly harder for the latter. Both of these pieces have been performed several times over a period of at least a year, so I found this quite interesting. Worth noting is that Greed itself is an experimental piece, and as such it has fluctuated in performers and means of presentation in the years since it opened.

Two Ways of Seeing at One Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion for Dana Claxton’s exhibition Made to Be Ready  February 27, 2016 / SFU Audain Gallery

As part of the public programming for Dana Claxton’s exhibition Made to Be Ready, a panel discussion was held that featured three speakers in the location of the actual exhibition space. It was neat in this circumstance to be surrounded by Dana’s work while conversing about it. It was a full house with a mixed audience of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, curators, artists, MFA students, and local scholars in the Vancouver contemporary art scene.  I recognized a majority of people from my involvement in contemporary art, most of whom I haven’t previously seen at other Indigenous related events we’ve been going to as part of our course.

The speakers were:

Monika Kin Gagnon, a Professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University who “has published widely on cultural politics, the visual and media arts since the 1980s.”

Richard William Hill, a curator, critic and art historian and is a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Studies at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. “His research focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on historical and contemporary art created by Indigenous North American artists. As a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, he oversaw the museum’s first substantial effort to include Indigenous North American art and ideas in permanent collection galleries. His essays on art have appeared internationally in numerous books, exhibition catalogues and periodicals.”

Tania Willard, who is of Secwepemc Nation and is a curator who “works with the shifting ideas of contemporary and traditional as they relate to cultural arts and production, often working with bodies of knowledge and skills that are conceptually linked to her interest in intersections between Aboriginal and other cultures.” Her curatorial projects have included Beat Nation: Art Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture and BUSH gallery, a conceptual space for land based art and action led by Indigenous artists.

The Moderator:

Catherine Soussloff, a Professor of Art History at UBC, in which I had the pleasure of taking her course on Performance in Art History (Fall 2015). “She is known for her comparative and historical approaches to the central theoretical concerns of European and North American art and aesthetics, including photography and film, from the Renaissance to the present.”


Melanie O’Brian, the Director of the SFU Galleries, opened with an acknowledgement of the panel taking place on unceded Coast Salish territories. Amy Kazymerchyk, the curator, presented some of her questions and approaches she has been considering in her curatorial practice, one of them being: “How can contemporary art fit with Indigenous practices as acts of doing, becoming, and worldmaking that emphasizes the liveliness of presence?”

My overall experience of witnessing:

I felt like I went in to the panel with two ways of seeing, that is through the knowledge I have gained through my experiences of being in the contemporary art scene, and the knowledge I have gained from Dr. Dangeli and our class discussions. As a result, I was able to apply these two ways of thinking to realize that the discussion overall was both productive and lacking in the elaboration of certain points made.

Overall, I found that there were many contrasts between the panel discussion and the way we had approached discussing this exhibition in class. The panel focused more on the theoretical side of applying certain theories and notions to Dana’s work instead of also reflecting on how we may be personally witnessing Dana’s work through our own individual ways of responding in relation to the backgrounds we come from. The majority of the audience was reluctant on expressing the specific meanings and kinds of narratives occurring one may individually draw from the works. Instead, the panel centered around how Dana provides an alternate framework for challenging dominant ways of seeing in the space of a gallery and inverting narratives, which brought out many important points, but also felt lacking. I found that there was little commentary or elaboration on specific cultural belongings and their ceremonial and sacred relations (especially compared to our class discussion), and most of the time, the works were not addressed by their actual titles, and only through their mediums and physical locations. The speakers mostly addressed Uplifting in all of their presentations.

Key topics & terms addressed:

Monika’s Presentation: Monika talked about her personal experiences she has had with Dana in the 90s, a time when Dana began to strongly influence the starting up of creating space for Indigenous works and performances in Vancouver through the Pit Gallery.

Vocalization:  Where complex narrative structures in which multiple perspectives can arise as being unstable and unfixed. Monika stated that the narrative in Uplifting pulls us through to this direction, and that Dana brings a strong positionality that we’re not used to seeing dominantly, in which she uses vocalization as a strategy.

Richard’s Presentation: Richard spoke about associations of Claxton’s work as being inconclusive and indefinite.

Bodies of Matter: As in Uplifting, he stated that the body is both bound and spiritually transcended, oscillating between the two. He described the video as taking on a poetic expression of song and dance, moved by the pace of abstraction. With the video having a quick loop, he asked if the woman in it at the end has either transcended or fallen, has overcame struggle or not, stating that the way of tradition can be both a blessing and a burden.

Audience response: In response to this, an artist I recognized (who is based in Vancouver of Chinese origin), spoke up to say that there’s also many other layers in between the video to consider in relation to how it ends, in which she stated that the end is not affirmative and we should consider the in-between acts of what happens (this made me think of Recollet’s discussion on ‘in between’ spaces). This audience member also stated that she is not to speak to specific Indigenous content coming from her own background, so she does not go into further elaboration on what these in between spaces could mean to her, even though it was nice to hear her point out that there’s something more happening in the video than just whatever the ‘outcome’ of it might be.

Location of art & art made for location: Richard states that Dana plays with tensions of the gallery space, questioning what it can be and what it has been. He asserts that landscape is present in gallery’s space through the horizontal axis of film, which allows for it to be a space of speculation on a connection point that is between the earth and sky.

Tania’s presentation: Tania spoke about Uplifting in relation to Indigenous women and principles of living in beauty. She emphasized the insertion of Dana’s generosity in the exhibition space, which is filled with provocation and beauty. She has previously worked with Dana on curatorial projects before.

Intuitive navigation: Tania states that Dana helps us to arrive at an intuitive way of navigating relations between culture and institutions, but also denies us. As we consume her work, her work consumes us: it has obstacles that interrupts how we usually consume materials and beauty.

Internal ways of seeing: In reference to this, she also states that Dana makes us rely on internal ways of seeing through her cultural belongings, as they carry things that which we remember ourselves and our families in.

Space of slowness: Another point Tania makes is how Dana gives us gift of time, stating we’re gifted to be here and exist with its recorded performance for a period of time, to understand it as a ‘tool of way finding’. She discusses how Dana offers us spaces in-between that we start to fill ourselves with and read into these subtleties so that we can begin to see other paths and avenues that are filled with dignity and potential. But again, I found that these possibilities of ‘potential’ are not elaborated on in terms of how we can take action of our responsibilities as witnesses.

Side note: At this moment when talking about space of slowness and reflection, a little girl sitting in front of me who was playing a video game during the discussion looked up for the first time and took a moment to pause and watch the crawling woman in the video. It was a neat moment to see this happen at this time when we were all silent and really giving our attention to the struggling pain the woman was undergoing in the video.

Catherine’s discussion: Catherine began by introducing herself as an outsider (has been living for 6 years in Vancouver), and describes Dana, her colleague, as an art warrior for her people, being on the inside (of her Lakota culture) while operating on the outside (the art world). She states that Dana is made to be ready to teach meanings and ways of knowing the world from both sides.

Towards the end, she asked us how do we find the right kind of language to use that justifies this work? She stated that to her, the theoretical is the right kind of language for herself to use as an outsider.

Strategies of indirection: Catherine referenced Gerald Vizenor’s notion of ‘indirection’, of which she stated that Dana uses the gallery space indirectly by having an active presence asserted in it, but without having a live performance happening. The idea behind having this indirection is to mean that there is no direct way of knowing.


Reading Relation: Monique Mojica, “Verbing Art” (Me Artsy)

“Indigenous cultures recognize the need for performance and repetition.” (17)

In addition to Dana’s intentions to disrupt ways of seeing in the gallery space and inverting standard narratives, I feel that she is also reminding us or making aware, especially to an audience who who may be unfamiliar with, of how much performance and repetition has always been and still has a profound presence at the core of Indigenous cultural practices. I think this point Mojica makes could have contributed nicely in thinking about performance in the panel discussion.

Mojica’s notion of ‘auto-biological’: the performances Mojica creates “lives organically in her body”, “as a continuum of embodied stories (from her immediate elder generations, her ancestors, and from ancestral land) is what “connects her to the temporal space of performance”, which then “evaporates, held in memory until it is repeated”. (17)

Without having the temporality of a live performance, I think that this idea of the ‘auto-biological’ can be lost a bit through the mediated representation of the woman’s movement in Uplifting, but the idea of repetition is emphasized to remind us of ancestral continuation. Perhaps one of the reasons that this discussion may have lacked consideration of a personal way of responding and internal witnessing of the exhibition is because it exists as a space of performativity without having the temporal experience of moving bodies performed live.

I thought this quote (below) from Mojica’s piece of writing is a nice way to end this post off with. I feel it reflects the other way of seeing I have come to experience through our Indigenous performance course that could help to bridge the discussions that took place in the panel and our thinking about how we each can relate to the living force in the exhibition space that Dana generously presents us with:

“Living as an artist has required me to be fearless in search of cultural recovery and to reclaim those missing pieces with fierceness in order to put unspoken language in my mouth and unpracticed rhythms in my feet, to literally put myself back together.” (16)


Thanks for reading on, see more on our presentation slides!