A ‘Flip Through’ of The Unnatural and Accidental Women: a play by Marie Clements

[A detailed guide to a deeper understanding of our Flip Book, reimagining Clement’s play]

“I see you, and I like what I see.”
“I see you—and don’t worry, you’re not white.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m white. I’m English.”
“White is blindness—it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin.”

(Clements, The Unnatural and Accidental Women 82)

“The Unnatural and Accidental Women” reimagines the murders of 10 middle-aged Native women by a serial killer in Vancouver during the 1980s. Clement’s titling of the play draws attention to the problematic reporting of the Native women’s deaths- the coroner’s reports found the deaths “unnatural and accidental”. A dramatization play, The Unnatural and Accidental Women was written by Vancouver playwright Marie Clements and performed in, among other places, Buddies in Bad Time Theatre in Toronto (2004). In the play, the writer focused on the story of the victims in an attempt to redress the failure of the news media to do so. Clements confronts the complacent depiction of missing and murdered Aboriginal women by highlighting racist stereotypes and profiling of Indigenous women that perpetuates violence against Native women. The play asserts an important call for social action with the reimagining of the Downtown East Side (DTES) largely portrayed as an uninhabited wasteland, dehumanizing the Native and non-native women living in the poorest region of the city.

This flip book serves as a visually engaging experience for the reader to delve deeper into the themes of violence against women, colonization and gentrification Clements unravels throughout the play. As you navigate through the pages of the flip book, you will notice various hashtags drawing attention social, political and humanitarian issues. Indigenous peoples ways of life and existence are inaccurately confined to relics of the past to convenience the colonial narrative. Effectively engaging with various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) enable messages independent of colonial influence to be conveyed through differing mediums, connecting to a wider audience and redirecting the narrative. The use of hashtags have become vital forms of communication reimagining how people engage across various mediums. The hashtags implemented throughout the flip book connect to news and protests or marches related to indigenous issues. For example, hashtags relate to the annual march for missing and murdered Aboriginal women February 14th in the Downtown East Side. All sounds for this project were recorded on foot in the DTES, unless otherwise stated.

I. Setting the Scene


Sounds you are hearing, “…A collage of trees whispering in the wind… the sound of a tree opening up to a split. A loud crack—a haunting gasp for the air that is suspended” (9)”

To enhance the interactive experience of the flip book for the reader, there are various sound bytes included on each page. Sounds are critical to ensuring a fully immersive learning experience of important events, messages, or other traditional knowledge systems. As seen with the podplay, ‘Ashes on the Water’, “…An invitation into a sensory landscape of words, movement, breath and song” sounds enhance sensory experiences and empathetic abilities for the audience. The podplay is linked on the cover page of the flip book to connect the importance of sound descriptors and sound effects in creating innovative mediums for Indigenous story telling and knowledge sharing. Also, fun-fact boxes link to relevant current indigenous issues

“In many cases, when references to the tides, trees or traplines appear in her play, they are often surrounded by the static of a faulty telephone connection, or the ebbing and flowing of entirely different scenes. In doing this, I feel as though Clements is cleverly making reference to Canada’s tendency to wash over a robust history of environmental plunder and racism.” – Erin Wunker

Throughout the play, Clement sets the scene with sound descriptors. You will find in the flip book, we have incorporated the sound bytes accordingly. The excerpt above describes the sounds of trees falling in the forest, you will find this sound and others linked in the flip book to assist in the creative, immersive reimagining of the play script.

“Clements weaves the city with the forest, suggesting not simply that women are aligned with the earth, but rather that the viewers should correlate the felling of trees with the bodily violence of the women’s deaths.”

Page 4:


On the fourth page of the flip book, “Keep on walking… down Hastings Street” you will read an excerpt from the script of Rebecca’s thoughts as she is walking down Hastings street. The sound byte leads you to a recorded sound clip from Hastings Street- you hear muddled conversation and city sounds while reading Rebecca’s thoughts. You feel like you are walking alongside her. A “HELP” sign advertised in the window to a passerby may read simply as a need for employees whereas for Rebecca, it triggers thoughts and emotions she is experiencing whilst searching for traces of her missing mother. Various interpretations for the message conveyed through this medium of a help sign advertised in the window are brought to attention on this page of the flip book.

Page 5: 

The fifth page of the flip book details the scene from the script of Marilyn sitting in the Barber’s chair. The reader is hyper aware of her fate as she engages with the killer. She is alone with him. The page includes a photo of an alley in the DTES with the hashtag #AmINext? A hashtag that went viral bringing awareness to the crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women. Included on this page is a link to a sound byte of sounds heard while sitting in the alley. Little to no conversation is heard. The sound illicit a feeling of desolation.

Page 6: 

The sixth page of the flip book, ‘The Barbershop Quartet 2’ includes an excerpt from the script detailing the Barber’s prowess to killing Indigenous women with alcohol poisoning. On this page, the sound link allows the reader to hear the Barber’s laughter (sound clip from the DVD version of the play).

Page 7:

The seventh page of the flip book, ‘The Barbershop Quartet 3’ recounts the scene of Penny trying to escape with help from the ghosts or spirits of the deceased Indigenous women killed by the Barber. Throughout these scenes, the women’s braids are chopped off prior to their murder- symbolizing the defamation of their Indigeneity by the Barber. The purple globe icon in the bottom right corner links to a news article reporting the grizzly killings by the Barber and his release from jail. The sound clip links to an excerpt from the play – you hear a woman explaining ‘he sees himself as the hunter and you as the animal’. The inclusion of this sound clip emphasizes the dehumanizing effect the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women has had upon Indigenous peoples.

Page 8:

A photo clipping from a newspaper detailing the gruesome killings of the Indigenous women. Hashtag #NationalInquiryNow to emphasize a call to social action to pressure the Canadian government to launch a national inquiry into the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The lack of appropriate media coverage and attention by the Canadian government is an intentional ‘white out’ of critical information reflecting the violent racism towards Indigenous peoples.

"We need #justice for over more than 1200 missing #Aboriginal women

“We need #justice for over more than 1200 missing #Aboriginal women

The Soundcloud icon allows the reader to listen to the sound scissors cutting hair. This sound is important to setting the scene, albeit a bit gruesomely, the sound presumably prelude the killings of the Indigenous women.

On this page, we include an excerpt from the script of Aunt Shadie leading the women in song, beneath the coroner reports of the three murdered women to confront the dehumanizing narratives and identities that are problematic with mainstream media reporting of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The introduction of song positions the women to a role of empowerment, using language and ritual as they ‘gather their voices’ to grow in strength.

Page 9:

Clifton Hotel- Vancouver. Low income housing

Clifton Hotel- Vancouver. Low income housing

Room #23, when you’re 33- Clifton Hotel’,  this page draws attention to the problem of displacement that is exacerbating violence against Indigenous women. The purple globe icon on the right side of the page links to a news article on protests surrounding gentrification in the DTES. The twitter icon at the bottom right corner of the page links to the official account of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Displacement and destruction of the land threaten the survival of cultures, traditions and Indigenous knowledge systems that are essential to revitalizing community dynamics and a stronger sense of self to assist in the prevention of Indigenous women vulnerability to violence. The hashtag #StolenSisters positions Indigenous womanhood in a prevalent, modern medium.

The sound clip allows readers to listen to a scene from the play where the man from the dresser, which we can interpret as western societal judgement, degradingly identifying the Indigenous woman as ‘Pocahontas’. The mirror of THE DRESSER starts to reflect a man’s face” verbal degradation, repositioning the Indigenous woman to be seeking approval from an inanimate object or as it is revealed towards the end of the scene, a man. 


This page is incredibly symbolic of the stereotype and pressure Indigenous women experience by mainstream, westernized society. Indigenous women’s bodies are sexualized, their spirit belittled to objectification of an exotic ‘animal’ (Clements plays on the theme of hunter vs. animal with the barber). This objectification of Indigenous women not only makes them vulnerable and susceptible to violence, as seen with Clement’s recount of true events, but also inhibits the level of reporting dedicated to the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women throughout Canada exemplifies the incredible opportunity exploring alternative technological mediums provides in garnering global attention when the Canadian government and news outlets cannot be relied upon for accurate and thorough coverage these issues deserve.

Page 10-11:

"Drole de Squaw," an example of the hyper-sexual images of Indigenous. “

“Drole de Squaw,” an example of the hyper-sexual images of Indigenous. “

The Dresser attacks the woman, or western and colonial conceptions of Indigenous women, ending her life. A sound clip allows the reader to hear an ambulance recorded driving along hastings street on the DTES. An image of a dresser taken from my bedroom. The engagement with the dresser is also symbolic- this is where people go to retroactively change their appearance by dressing in different clothing that day. The cause of violence the character experiences in the book is reflected in this scene with the emphasis of perception of image and identity upon Indigenous women.

the sound clip leads the reader to a recording of women singing through the use of song (a clip recorded from the movie version of clement’s play) the strength, resilience and community of Indigenous women are remphasized and revitalized. colonization upon first nations peoples by the canadian government directly targets indigenous women. traditionally among first nation communities, indigenous women are the nucleus of community dynamics- knowledge holders and sharers, women are deeply respected and valued among first nations peoples. although the women singing were murdered by the barber, Clement depicts them as singing in unison, a unifying and empowering moment repositioning the narrative and deflecting the identity as victims and rather embracing an identity as strong, indigenous women. Hashtag created, #HelloMyNameisWhoCares

Page 12: 

‘The Empress’. Clement’s use of spirits and ghost imagining for the murdered women repositions victims in a place of strength, having another opportunity to control and influence destiny. The sound clip the reader will hear on this page is Granville strip at night time, creating the sensory experience of Rebecca meeting the Barber at the bar. “…Learning to speak with ghosts ruptures the stable image of the socio-cultural semiotic archive and subverts the linguistic hegemony that inscribes gender and regulates bodies”[https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/tric/article/view/18433/19925]

Hashtag used, #StoptheViolence

Page 13-14:

From "Apache Chronicle," Lynnette Haozous as Lozen, the famed Chircahua Apache woman warrior who rode and fought with Geronimo's band of renegades.

From “Apache Chronicle,” Lynnette Haozous as Lozen, the famed Chircahua Apache woman warrior who rode and fought with Geronimo’s band of renegades.

Clement’s reimagines the outcome for the murderous Barber with Rebecca discovering his true identity and ending his life. Hashtag created, #Justice. The sound clip is of Aunt Shadie from the play telling Rebecca how the Barber behaves as a hunter does to an animal. This scene signifies the importance and resilience of Indigenous women in protecting one another and sharing knowledge. The women are reunited and restored to their natural state it seems, with their hair flowing, no longer in possession of the Barber. In the end, Rebecca became the hunter not the animal.

Page 15:

#StartHealing and the end of the Barber ends our flip book. Shown is the Survivors totem pole in Pigeon Park; a pole that represents healing, reconciliation, and justice that is still needed. It also honours survivors of the DTES and issues commonly faced, including gentrification, colonization, racism, and poverty (CBC News, November 5, 2016). Songs were sung after the raising, just a song was sung after the Barber was finally killed. Themes of sadness, but also strength and the beginning of a healing journey are linked to these two images.

Pawson, Chad (2016/11/05). “Survivors Totem Pole Raised in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.” CBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/survivors-totem-pole-vancouver-downtown-eastside-1.3838801


Hundreds march in Victoria, Vancouver for missing and murdered women

We chose to depict the closing scene of the play with imagery of womanhood, and a sense of a tight knit community, reflecting Clement’s sense of community in the play with the murdered women joining together to support Rebecca. This message of strength among Indigenous women is a message often left out of mainstream media platforms and news reporting, facilitating the victimization of Indigenous women. As you interact with the last couple of slides in the Flip Book you see two scenes: a scene from the play of the murdered women coming together and second, women marching together to raise awareness for the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women. A sound clip encases the listener with the sounds of women talking, connecting and supporting each other. n Clement’s other works, she challenges how Aboriginal women are typically marginalized by showcasing their perspectives as a way to reclaim the screen and portray what really happened, something the media has failed to do. The goal is to reflect the realities of Aboriginal women as strong loving leaders and knowledge keepers, allow viewers to rethink their beliefs, and trigger new conversations through visual sovereignty and thinking outside of the box. The goal of this project is to reflect the realities of Aboriginal women as strong loving leaders and knowledge keepers whilst allowing viewers or readers to rethink their beliefs, and trigger new conversations through visual sovereignty and new communicative mediums. 

  “Any preconceived expectations are put off—the women, though decidedly victims of their status and situation are not powerless. The killer is not merely a racist misogynist but a fleshly manifestation of human emotion…Clements refuses the impulse to characterize the women as victims of race, sex, and consequence.”

– Erin Wunker, Dalhousie University [https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/tric/article/view/18433/19925]














Indigenous Futurism: Reimagining “Reality” to Inspire an Indigenous Future

“Science fiction is not escapism. You might say that science fiction is escape into reality. . . . In fact I can’t think of any form which is more concerned with real issues.”
[Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey]
Image: Wendy Redstar via [gutsmagazine.ca/visual-cultures]

Image: Wendy Redstar via [gutsmagazine.ca/visual-cultures]

To begin, I chose to represent the following knowledge related to Indigenous Futurism by titling this blog post, ‘Indigenous Futurism: Reimagining “Reality” to inspire an Indigenous Future’.  I chose this title to reflect the dynamism of Indigenous futurism and highlight the role of IF not only in reimagining a future with Indigenous peoples, but also its ability to recreate lived, past events or reality. The understanding of the past being perceived as realistic by western definition just because it happened, is a constricting way of thought. IF allows for Indigenous peoples to reclaim these events through a technological space and offer a contrasting narrative to the colonial perspective of the past, present and future.

While screen sovereignty encapsulates a thoroughly Indigenous production process, assertion of authority over the narrative and the prioritization of an Indigenous audience to address critical issues, Indigenous futurism allows for a complete reimagining. Indigenous Futurism expands this form of sovereignty by reimagining contexts in which Indigenous issues, cultures, traditions and livelihoods have another life form, in the past, present and future. The medium and message of knowledge and events pertaining to Indigenous peoples have and continue to be largely misconstrued by mainstream media outlets, favouring a colonially oppressive narrative. Indigenous futurism allows for “…Everyday Indigenous peoples to restore their beings, bodies, genders, sexualities and reproductive lives from colonial institutions… projecting decolonial love and kinship into the cosmos” [Lindsay Nixon] Lindsay Nixon continues to highlight the benefits of this thought form stating, “…Indigenous peoples are using our own technological traditions, our world views, languages, stories, and our kinship as guiding principles in imagining possible futures for ourselves and our communities”

We Must Protect the Land for the Next Seven Generations (2016) digital print and beadwork on canvas: Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King)

We Must Protect the Land for the Next Seven Generations (2016)
digital print and beadwork on canvas: Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King)

“…In knowing the histories of our relations and of this land, we find the knowledge to recreate all that our worlds would’ve been if not for the interruption of colonization.” [Erica Lee]


“Armed with spirit and the teachings of our ancestors, all our relations behind us, we are living the Indigenous future. We are the descendants of a future imaginary that has already passed; the outcome of the intentions, resistance and survivance of our ancestors. Simultaneously in the future and the past, we are living in the ‘dystopian now’.” [Molly Swain podcast Metis in Space] 

Indigenous Futurism as a Tool Against Colonialism


The very essence of Indigenous futurism threatens the longevity of white supremacy and colonialism. The imagining of an existence without colonizers attempting to snuff out Indigenous cultures, traditions and livelihoods is a threatening imagining to behold for oppressive regimes . Indigenous peoples and livelihoods are typically imagined to death imaginary which Andrea Smith writes is the perception of “Indigenous peoples as always disappearing in order to legitimize settler occupation of the Canadian state.” With this understanding, Indigenous futurism is an integral component to revitalization and survival of Indigenous cultures, livelihoods and traditions. Jolene Rickard draws attention to this problem of colonial perception, writing, “…Ironically image of natives is still firmly planted in the past… the idea of natives on frontier technology is inconsistent with the dominant image of ‘traditional Indians’.”[Jolene Rickard, First Nation Territory in cyber space declared: no treaties needed]

MOONSHOT: The Indigenous Comics Collection

MOONSHOT: The Indigenous Comics Collection

Indigenous Futurisms also confront the artificial perception of Indigenous cultures, and traditions promoted by colonial regimes in the reimagining of art and artistic spaces. Colonial regimes prefer to paint Indigenous peoples and cultures as a thing of the past with no place in the present or future to facilitate the idea that assimilation for Indigenous peoples is inevitable. Art and creative spaces are the perfect medium for recreating and imagining Indigenous identity, cultures and traditions. Indigenous artists are often discredited from creating authentic Indigenous art if it doesn’t incorporate solely traditional styles.

Image of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun found via MOA online.

Image of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun found via      MOA online.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, an artist who utilizes IF to reimagine the future and past events, is the perfect example of the power of IF in artistic spaces. Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun is a Canadian First Nations artist. “His paintings use elements of First Nations imagery and surrealism, and explore issues such as environmentalism, land ownership, and Canada’s treatment of First Nations peoples” Accused of not creating authentic Indigenous art for lack of sticking with traditional First Nations paint colors, (red black and white) Paul challenges colonial perspectives through IF.

“A lot of my work deals with the colonial occupation native people have had to endure… that is what my work is doing recording history… I am  a modernist, who is dealing with modern issues of modern times. I have to go to the past to talk about the future because when you are so busy being oppressed you have very little time to deal with history.” Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun

An Indian Game (Juggling the Books), 1996. Acrylic on canvas. 153 x 209 cm. Private collection of Michael Audain. (Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery)

An Indian Game (Juggling the Books), 1996. Acrylic on canvas. (Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery)

An Indian Game incorporates modernistic colors in traditional First Nations symbolism and imagery- we know the figure is a native man because of his traditional markings but a man in an imagined future with modern colors revealing his identity. The small space, another indigenous symbol,  he is running on represents the unliveably small size of land Indigenous peoples were subjected to live upon with reservations. The mountains and land features are portrayed with vibrant native imagery and symbolism but the native man cannot access them, confined to the small track he is running on. Paul could be representing the past, future or present with this painting. 


Karen Duffek on how people view Pauls’ artwork, “…There’s a common tendency to look at historical Indigenous collections as somehow timeless. But when Lawrence’s paintings refer to legislation that has affected Indigenous people, such as the Indian Act and anti-potlatch legislation, it’s the same period of history as when the museum’s collections were made.”

The way in which Lawrence Paul’s exhibit reimagined a museum space at MOA to redirect the narrative surrounding critical issues affecting Indigenous peoples extended beyond viewing modern paintings. Paul incorporated a futuristic interactive experience at the end of the exhibit where guests are invited to rename the province of British Columbia through a technological platform. Duffek explains the futuristic strategy behind this interactive experience saying, “…It positions us to think about the future, and to think about what it would look like if we renamed this province in a way that acknowledges that colonial history and acknowledges the place we’re in today.” This is a powerful example of physically reimagining spaces through Indigenous Futurism.

Museum of Anthropology: Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Killer Whale Has a Vision and Comes to Talk to me about Proximological Encroachments of Civilizations in the Oceans, oil on canvas, 2010.

Museum of Anthropology: Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Killer Whale Has a Vision and Comes to Talk to me about Proximological Encroachments of Civilizations in the Oceans, oil on canvas, 2010.

Skawennati and Indigenous Futurism through Technological and Virtual Mediums


Skawennati, a Mohawk multimedia artist facilitates Indigenous Futurism through technological platforms and machinima, resisting colonial narratives of critical events for Indigenous peoples. In 2001 for a millennium piece, Skawennati worked on imagining Indians in 25th century, through a paper doll web based time travel journal. The timeline began in 1490 ending in 2490, with the character time traveling to different events, one event per century, writing in her journal following each event. The reflection provides the audience with an opportunity to imagine and experience perspective as a modern Indigenous woman. The time traveler visits powwows of the future and critical historical events. Skawennati revealed this was the first time she imagined native people in the future, articulating the importance of  Indigenous peoples being imagined, and imagining themselves in the future.

Skawennati's Paper doll time traveller's outfit via imaginingindians.net

Skawennati’s Paper doll time traveller’s outfit via imaginingindians.net

Further, Skawennati uses Second Life, an online world, that is user created to implement machinima, making videos in a virtual environment. She created time traveller with curated mini episodes through Time Traveller TM, building a virtual community platform to engage with historic events through an Indigenous lense as well as imaging a resilient Indigenous future. Skawennati’s main intent was to create a site to integrate more native art on web based platforms while simultaneously reconfiguring the ‘Indian space’.

Screen grab from Time Traveller

Screen grab from Time Traveller episode 3 mohawk crisis 1990

Treatment for Time Traveller Episode 10
The 10th episode for Time Traveller would have the audience follow along with the character, opimâcihtasowᐅᐱᒫᒋᐦᑕᓱᐤ NA savior or saviour a provider  in Cree language. The episode takes you back in time to 1880 where the Potlatch Ban was enacted through the Indian Act. Potlatch ceremonies were integral to First Nations cultures allowing opportunity for passing of names, social celebrations, traditional legal ceremonies and exchange of food or gift items.
“3. Every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the “Potlach” or in the Indian dance known as the “Tamanawas” is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to imprisonment … and any Indian or other person who encourages … an Indian or Indians to get up such a festival or dance, or to celebrate the same, … is guilty of a like offence”
More on the potlatch ban here 
Opimâchitasow travels throughout British Columbia to intercept traditional items (masks, bowls, drums etc) from being stolen by museum curators and anthropologists. The episode draws attention to efforts of repatriation of First Nation’s cultural property- a critical movement of resurgence and revitalization of Indigenous knowledge, culture and traditional systems. This episode draws attention to the fact that many items displayed throughout museums were illegally acquired during the Potlatch ban. Repatriation is an important step to recognizing First Nations cultures and histories and Opimâchitasow is the female warrior whose destiny is to help protect First Nations culture and knowledge systems by returning lost items to their rightful communities and circumventing theft at the Potlatches.
The visitor then learns various cultural property knowledge systems while Opimâchitasow conducts her own research in the future to uncover the rightful owners of the items lost or stolen during the Potlatch Ban.
“In the 71 years of the Potlatch Law almost an entire generation grew up deprived of the cultural fabric of their ancestors and countless thousands of irreplaceable ceremonial masks, robes, blankets and other potlatch items were lost forever to their People.”


Defining Screen Sovereignty through a close reading of   God’s Lake Narrows

Why are indigenous voices not called upon for witness accounts of events?

Why are missing and murdered aboriginal women portrayed through dehumanizing descriptors?

Why are missing and murdered aboriginal women under-reported by major media outlets?

Why are indigenous peoples excluded from resource extractive negotiations? #UNDRIP


“Be good. Play by our rules. Don’t cause a disturbance.”
Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America


Screen Sovereignty 

Indigenous peoples perspectives, voices, knowledge systems and presence are largely exempt form critical forms of communication through various media platforms. For this reason, indigenous peoples are reclaiming their voices and re-asserting sovereignty over their spaces, culture, and various forms of representation. Indigenous peoples are implementing screen sovereignty through indigenous produced media platforms. Kristen Dowell in “Vancouver’s Aboriginal Media World” identifies the decolonizing act of production and direction of media platforms by indigenous peoples as a form of sovereignty, the decolonizing nature of digital media and film productions, breaks down oppressive barriers emplaced by colonial regimes. Screen sovereignty pertains to the method of a visual, film or media production being produced by aboriginal peoples. This act of production is sovereign because it establishes control and authority over a space by directing the narrative, perception, audio, text and execution of whichever message is being conveyed. Further, it acts to revitalize connections amongst indigenous peoples by reigniting conversation amongst community members and a sense of comradery.


Visual Sovereignty

Dowell draws on the concept of visual sovereignty, first introduced by Tuscarora artist and scholar, Jolene Rickard, as a process in which indigenous peoples “…Reimagine the screen to incorporate Aboriginal cultural protocols, languages and aesthetics on screen as well as off screen.”(Dowell 3) Further, Rickard conceptualizes visual sovereignty as “…Representation of indigenous self-determination, cultural traditions, and aesthetics through visual forms”(Dowell 4)

The existence of Visual Sovereignty, located in the act of production, is evident throughout the interactive website God’s Lake’s Narrows. The site creators, Alicia Smith and Kevin Lee Burton, reposition the aboriginal perspective to the forefront of the media interaction experienced by the audience by producing an audio piece to accompany the visitors while navigating the site. This maintains control over the narrative. The text that accompanies the audio while introducing upcoming photos, also maintains control over the narrative. This indigenous influence in producing the interactive site by reclaiming the narrative, despite a heavily manipulated colonial framework of thought and perception of a particular space, is an example of effective visual sovereignty. God’s Lake Narrows confronts the harmful stigma of indigenous reservations by redirecting a visitor’s perspective through visual and audio forms of cinematic methods.



Screen grab of text from http://godslake.nfb.ca/#/godslake

“Inventive use of text on screen also reinforces aboriginal visual sovereignty… text onscreen while simultaneously asserting an aboriginal political sovereignty in a uniquely cinematic way claims the space as aboriginal space

“…Cultural protocol being incorporated into media production is an expression of visual sovereignty

– Kristen Dowell, 10,


God’s Lake Narrows = Screen Sovereignty

The God’s Lake Narrows website further exemplifies screen sovereignty through its method of production. The site facilitates and fosters a shared connection, as well as a shared common goal, to execute a project with an overarching message of sovereignty and decolonization for community members.


This use of text asserts visual sovereignty by confronting a racial stigma against First Nations peoples about the money “given” to them by the Canadian government. The text and accompanying pictures allow for the indigenous community to take control of the narrative and communicate their truth and reality to outsiders.


“…For some filmmakers the mere presence of aboriginal faces and voices on the screen is itself a revolutionary act of self-determination.”

  • – Kristen Dowell, 19

By allowing community members to be photographed in their own homes in a stylistic way in which the visitor is not looking in on the reserve, judging the reserve and community members, but rather the community members are looking outwarat the visitor. This style of portrayal reconfigures the relationship between indigenous and non indigenous peoples, changing the colonial dynamic through media portrayals by reclaiming authority of a space and how it is conveyed.

As you enter the homes of community members, the accompanying audio production changes. The music becomes more upbeat, with the voices of community members speaking over the music announcing community events, placing a food delivery order, discussing the prices of groceries. This stylistic process is humanizing and restores a relatable connection between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. This is an important feature to include for pursuing a decolonizing and self-determinative media space by confronting the stigma of indigenous peoples as ‘wards of the state’ and incapable of managing their own affairs.



“And then there was the sad sign that a young woman working at a Tim Hortons in Lethbridge, Alberta, taped to the drive-through window in 2007. It read, “No Drunk Natives.”

-Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

“Now, I’ll be the first to say that drunks are a problem. But I lived in Lethbridge for ten years, and I can tell you with as much neutrality as I can muster that there were many more White drunks stumbling out of the bars on Friday and Saturday nights than there were Native drunks. It’s just that in North America, White drunks tend to be invisible, whereas people of colour who drink to excess are not.”

-Thomas King



Screen sovereignty is a critical tool in the pursuit of decolonization and asserting self-determination and sovereignty. Lack of sufficient media coverage for aboriginal peoples has significantly influenced negative perceptions and stereotypes towards First Nations and indigenous peoples on a global level. The lack of indigenous voices throughout various media platforms has encouraged racist stereotypes against indigenous women, men, aboriginal youth, indigenous communities, and reserve life. Missing and murdered aboriginal women are under reported and misreported- dehumanizing terms are used to describe cases, desensitizing the public from the gravity of this crisis.

Aboriginal men and women are portrayed throughout news and media outlets as drug addicts or alcoholics, homeless and ‘wards of the state’, neglecting to address the displacement and cultural genocide that has and continues to take place.

Aboriginal youth are committing suicide at staggering rates. The conditions of reserve life and the isolation and racism experienced by aboriginal youth are underreported by major media outlets.

“Multi-media project ‘storyscapes’ engage local aboriginal youth in the production process and raise visibility for aboriginal stories in Vancouver”

-Kristen Dowell, 6.

“Seeing oneself reflected in the landscape helps create a stronger sense of place and belonging to one’s environment.”

-K. Todd (2011a)


God’s Lake Narrows establishes screen sovereignty by controlling the narrative, production process and engaging aboriginal community members in the production process… “Consideration for an Aboriginal audience for Aboriginal media also expresses visual sovereignty”

Screen Sovereignty allows for aboriginal peoples to reclaim their voice, and direct the narrative. This act of sovereignty and decolonization is essential for widespread healing and assertion of self-determination. Reclaiming digital media spaces and production processes actively dismantle oppressive colonial narratives that have worsened the lives of aboriginal peoples.


Decolonizing McLuhan

Re-introducing the concept of the ‘medium is the message’ by McLuhan through decolonized thought re-inserting the continued existence of indigenous peoples.




“The printed book added much to the new cult of individualism. The private, fixed point of view became possible…” McLuhan 50.

The colonized Message: A postcard depicting attractive Hawaiian women elated to be welcoming a tourist to their beautiful island.

The decolonized Medium: A postcard neglecting to illustrate an authentic representation of indigenous women who inhabit Hawaii, rather a sexualized depiction of women, welcoming a white settler into their lands, culture and traditions.

McLuhan famously asserts that to fully grasp the information or knowledge available from a concept, event or innovation, one needs to look beyond what appears to be the obvious. McLuhan warns this often overlooks critical pieces of information that contribute to the complete picture or idea. While McLuhan is correct in drawing attention to the fact that our personal societal and cultural experiences prevent us from understanding multi-faceted events, he neglects to highlight the inverse effect this may have. Although someone may have a different ‘grounding’ experience of lived culture and traditions, that doesn’t mean people of different backgrounds are incapable of viewing issues or events in a similar perspective. McLuhan defines the ‘medium’ as “any extension of ourselves” and the ‘message’ as “the change of scale, pace or pattern that a new invention introduces into human affairs”(McLuhan 8). Therefore, the message would not be the information being directly and obviously conveyed, but the change it causes. The medium signifies the extension of our thoughts and environment media enables us to create.


Medium creating a message

Or decolonized thought extending beyond conventional media to change perspectives

“…Nothing can be further from the spirit of the new technology than “a place for everything and everything in its place” you cant go home again” (16)

This sentiment denies the ability for indigenous peoples to revitalize and restore indigenous culture, traditions and livelihoods that were damaged by colonialism. McLuhan asserts the notion that once a mass movement gains momentum, to return to life before is impossible. This mass movement could be technology, new media or colonialism.



However McLuhan is mistaken in predicting that a new form of “…Politics” is emerging… the living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television.. Pollution and other events are changing everything.” (22) Indigenous peoples are the perfect example of defying this “mass audience” movement of politics by decolonizing space through land as pedagogy to protest political and global issues. This can be observed with the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the Oka Crisis. Both are examples of indigenous resistance to a colonial power that has appeal to a ‘mass’ audience through colonial media sources in the inaccurate portrayal of indigenous lands as sacrificed. Indigenous peoples resist colonialism through displacement by rejecting this narrative and defending their lands despite being “sold” from one colonizer to another. Indigenous peoples are using new forms of media while simultaneously implementing protests from a land based, decolonized and traditional perspective.


“…The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media works as environments… All media are extensions of some human faculty, psychic or physical” McLuhan 41.

McLuhan identifies a powerful truth to media that has proven beneficial in advancing decolonization and advocating for indigenous rights. Mcluhan writes, “…Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act- the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change” (McLuhan 52). While sexist in the last phrase of the statement, reclaiming a voice through media has changed the narrative and thus the perspective surrounding indigenous peoples. While major mass media outlets initially neglected to report on the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, indigenous peoples were able to circulate an authentic, decolonial account of events to resist the colonial injustice taking place on sacred lands.


“…It is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” (McLuhan 9)


In this sense, media has been used against aboriginal peoples. Reporting on missing and murdered indigenous women throughout Canada has record biases reporting style. When compared with reporting on similar cases, bios, personal attributes and emotional affections are exempt. News coverage of non-aboriginal women runs along the lines of ‘beloved athlete, student and daughter. Active member of her local youth church group and had aspirations of attending university of British Columbia’ versus, reporting on missing or murdered aboriginal women… ‘Aboriginal woman, age 34 frequently seen in the downtown east side.’ This method of delivering a message through a construed medium affects the perspective that is often associated with missing and murdered aboriginal women as being inherent targets because of substance abuse stereotypes that have been perpetuated by a colonial, derogatory and sexist narrative.


McLuhan’s presentation of the concept of the medium is the message as innovative itself denies this notion having been existent among indigenous culture and tradition for centuries. Traditionally, it was common for community totem poles to be carved to convey knowledge systems, transfer of property rights and societal dynamics. This notion of various knowledge systems transcended throughout a variety of traditional art forms. Arguably, the concept ‘medium is the message’ has been employed by indigenous peoples before the era of new media.


McLuhan on printed technology as an innovation for individualism denies the legitimacy of Aboriginal oral history and traditions.

“In the name of ‘progress’ our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old” This way of considering legitimate knowledge systems places indigenous legal orders and oral histories as something of the past.

“Most people find it difficult to understand purely verbal concepts… we are so visually biased that we call our wisest men visionaries, or seers!” (McLuhan 117)

This highlights a problem that continuously confronts indigenous peoples throughout colonial court systems and governmental powers. Aboriginal right to land and natural resources are frequently denied due to the indigenous traditions of passing down property rights through oral histories. Arguably, the tendency to rely predominantly upon visual or written information hinders westerners from perceiving the entire message or information being conveyed… overemphasis on the obvious.