#URBANISMLAB #OTTAWA: #Canadian Identity, #Heritage & the Legacies of the Centennial in 1967

The National Capital Commission hosts talk on heritage conservation and nation building.

If you are in the Ottawa area a great regular event is the Capital Urbanism Lab Lecture Series offered by the National Capital Commission (NCC). The NCC is a Crown Corporation that manages federal lands, and “nationally significant public places” in and around Ottawa playing a role in heritage conservation in the National Capital Region. Their Urbanism Lab gathers to it experts in design, architecture, city building and heritage who rethink and reconsider our approaches to creating communities that work for everyone. Past speaker topics have included Indigenous Place Making and Youth Engagement in City Building. Upcoming lectures in 2018 will be focused on topics such as Canadian Design as a Cultural Export and The Capital and a Healthy 10-Minute Neighbourhood.  Past lectures are all archived on the NCC’s Youtube Channel.

Tonight’s lecture, Heritage, circa 1967, will focus on heritage projects that came into being during Canada’s Centennial year in 1967. That time was a moment of national building much like we see now with the Sesquicentennial and Canada 150. Reflection on nation building moments are critical for understanding how processes can compound the problems instead of inspiring new ways of sharing and co-existing in spaces that are often contested and problematic in how they position dominant culture at the expense of other members of a community. Come on out tonight and participate in conversations around creating better communities.

Heritage, circa 1967: The lessons and legacy of Canada’s centennial in the Capital and beyond

WHEN: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 6:30 – 8:30 pm
WHERE: National Capital Commission, 202-40 Elgin Street, Ottawa, K1P 1C7

This is a free event. More information on the NCC’s website.

MEET THE EXPERTS @ THE NGC THIS SATURDAY: The #curators & #conservators of the National Gallery of #Canada #Ottawa offer public tours

The Curators and Conservators who worked on the new Canadian and Indigenous Galleries speak on their work.

This week the new Canadian and Indigenous Galleries has opened. To celebrate the occasion the NGC is offering tours all day Saturday with the experts who make things happen at the Gallery. All tours are free with admission.

SCHEDULE OF TOURS

10 AM KATERINA ATANASSOVA: Senior Curator, Canadian Art

Room A105 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Join Katerina Atanassova, Senior Curator, Canadian Art, as she talks about the new installation of works by the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson and provides insight into the artists who shaped the Canadian art landscape in the early 20th century.

11 AM CHRISTINE LALONDE: Associate Curator, Indigenous Art

Room A101 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Meet Christine Lalonde, Associate Curator, Indigenous Art, as she talks about the Gallery’s new installation of Indigenous art and provides insight into the Indigenous cultures who created the works on view.

12 PM JONATHAN SHAUGHNESSY: Associate Curator, Contemporary Art
Room C218 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Join artists Damian Moppett and Ron Moppett as they discuss their work and exhibition with Jonathan Shaughnessy, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art.


2:30 PM DORIS COUTURE-RIGERT: Chief, Conservation & Technical Research
Room A102 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Join Doris Couture-Rigert, Chief, Conservation and Technical Research, as she address the challenges faced in conserving, restoring and displaying works of art in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries

3:30 PM GENEVIÈVE SAULNIER: Conservator, Contemporary Art
Room B205 (French with Bilingual Q & A)

Join Geneviève Saulnier, Conservator, Contemporary Art, as she address the challenges faced in conserving, restoring and displaying works of art in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries.

LEAVING A LEGACY: #GordDownie speaks to #Canadians about #Indigenous relations & what needs to change

Gord Downie. My kind of man. 

As a teenager, I was saving my grocery store pay cheque to get to concerts like Fishbone and Red Hot Chilli Peppers at venues such as the Concert Hall in Toronto. I remember seeing The Tragically Hip around the same time. A friend, an early and super enthusiastic fan, convinced me to go a with her. It was a local venue (The Highlands in Cambridge, Ontario) and the ticket price was dirt cheap. If I recall, it was 1989. They had just come out with their album Up to Here and were gaining lots of buzz in alternative music circles. There probably wasn’t more than 300 people in the bar that night but they played as tight as they did in Kingston at their final concert and Gord Downie moved around on stage like his pants were on fire. I was impressed. This band had presence for sure and you could tell they were about to get big. At the time, The Hip wasn’t necessarily my kind of music but I came to realize Gord Downie was my kind of man – a solid, compassionate and politically astute person who stands behind his convictions. And so, because I am a big fan of the person he is, I tuned into CBC to participate, along with so many others across the country, in witnessing an act of grace. 

Last night people experienced the stellar human being Gord is. His affection and love for his band mates came through with the closeness of their body language – the way they embraced each other at the end of each set and before yet another encore. By the end of the night it was clear to everyone, if you didn’t already know, that the Hip’s frontman is an exceptional storyteller. Sometimes cryptic, other times unconcealed, whether he takes his audience deep into a mystery or documents a moment in history his songwriting sets up a scene for the listener. All can enter in and feel the emotion he evokes with words and notes. And those emotions he sings of are complex filled with longing, doubt, courage, truth, frustration as well as joy.

And so it was fitting and symbolic that this man who has protested against corporate energy giant Enbridge (Rock the Line), donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to environmental organizations (WaterKeeper) and performed in support of an Indigenous community in crisis (Attawapiskat First Nation) would confront his audience with the complicated, emotionally loaded story of Canada at a historical moment when so much anger, confusion and shame is rising to the surface. Along with those darker emotions we are also seeing goodwill and empathy. Hearts are opening. 

Online, in real time, I watched my Facebook start to percolate with feeds of friends thankful that he took this very heightened and intense moment to drop a truth bomb onto the crowd.

Dr. Kahente Horn-Miller is one of those friends. A proud Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) woman from Kahnawà:ke she teaches at Carleton University in Ottawa introducing students to the concepts of Indigenous Governance. She is also a performer who re-enacts the Haudenosaunee creation story of Sky Woman. She “re-matriates” the ethnographic accounts of Sky Woman written down by white men recording what they believed to be a dying culture. She revives the story of Sky Woman by weaving in the reflections of contemporary Haudenosaunee women who use it as a guiding force for their lives asserting spiritual sovereignty. She shares:

His words connected us to the moment. All of us watching across the internet and television screens, the Indigenous and non-indigenous people who grew up loving the music, he brought us together. His last words to us mean so much. He knew the numbers of people that would be watching world wide and used that as a gift to bring his message home. “There are problems in this country…” he said. “The people way up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word on what’s going on up there. What’s going on up there ain’t good, maybe worse than it’s ever been…. We’re going to get it fixed.” I think he may be right.

Originally from Wasauksing First Nation, Anishinaabe writer and CBC journalist Waubgeshig Rice is now based in Ottawa and was fortunate to see the second-to-last Hip show here at The Canadian Tire Centre. Although he didn’t view CBC’s livestream of the final performance he caught up with the news and comments online after the show. 

It’s very heartwarming to know that with an audience of millions during what could be his last public performance, Gord Downie chose to put the spotlight on the plight of Indigenous people and the government’s responsibility to address the issues. He made few other statements or proclamations during the show, so the fact he spoke about the need to pay attention to Indigenous communities during his limited time was very moving. Hopefully Canadian leaders heed his words, and Canadian fans follow his example.

We need a different kind of land.

We need different kinds of cultural expressions and relationships to this land. So if you are a Hip fan who hasn’t considered how our environment is negatively impacted by corporate / government entanglement around natural resources or considered Canada’s complicated and hurtful relationships with Indigenous folks and the intersection where these problems all meet consider the legacy Gord Downie handed off to the audience last night. 

Change lies in the hands of Canadians. 

This is serious stuff. If this world has a hope in hell of surviving the climate change tipping point we have arrived at it will be because the Inuit elders in the Arctic are heard and consulted. It will be because Canadians decide that a road blockade that asserts First Nations governance isn’t an inconvenience. Rather, these kinds of actions will be understood as the original custodians of the land offering protection for natural resources. Canadians will be able to see that in the long term these actions benefit everyone living here as well as ensure the survival of the entire planet. 

Protection of water, trees, and air is the most critical issue at this moment.

Gord Downie gets that. It’s why he has contributed his time and talent as well as put his money where his mouth is. It’s why he’s been a strong ally in support of Idle No More raising awareness about Canada’s involvement / non-involvement with issues facing Indigenous people living within the political boundaries of Canada. It’s why he is vocal about Canada’s not-so-pleasant past and the current realities faced by everyone living within these borders.

I would not want any part in propagating, galvanizing or burnishing some of the stupid mythology in this country – that we are this clean pristine place, that we got it all figured out, that we know best for the world, that there is nothing anyone can teach us…these things I write about…the Canada I know…I wouldn’t do it if I thought I just was propping up an old stupid mythology. (Q Interview 2012)

Last night this man who has given much to Canada in terms of fleshing out Canadian identity cautioned about the nostalgic trap ‘Canada the Good’ will land this Nation in if Canadians decide to remain comfortable in this narrative. In his role as a storyteller he summoned his audience to critique as well as re-vision what Canadian identity means. Does being a Canadian include consideration of Indigenous sovereignty and support of those working towards environmental equity? He called out his audience as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be on the right side of history, to push for change.

As a fan, where on this land do you stand?

“ABOUT THIS MAP” by the Tragically Hip

About this map, here we are, here
See, this is us, the exit is here, and
We’ve come too far, to just feel like this, yeah
We’ve come too far, to be feeling like this

Certain, certain
You want to, want to
Certain, certain
You want to, want to

About this map, it’s a bit out of date, yeah
Territories shifted, and things get renamed
There’s coups, revolutions, and boundaries blur
Volcanoes and earthquakes turn words into birds

It’s certain, certain
You want to, want to
Certain, certain
You want to, want to, want to

But, oh, about this map
It goes beyond, beyond
And, oh about this map
About this map

About this map, here we are, here
See, this is me, and there you are, there, and
There’s got to be more than just to despair
There’s got to be more than just to despair

I’m certain, certain
I want to, want to
You’re certain, certain
You want to, want to, want to

And, oh, about this map
It goes beyond, beyond
Forget about this map
About this map

And, oh, about this map
We don’t live in our heads
Forget about this map
About this map
About this map
About this map
About this map

ARTICLES & RESOURCES: 

Gord Downie uses Tragically Hip Concert to spur Trudeau on First Nations
The Politically Hip Gord Downie
Gord Downie speaking on Attawapiskat (CBC Q approximately 25:00)

CBC Aboriginal (Main Website & Facebook)
CBC Radio “Unreserved” (Main Website & Facebook)
CBC’s 8th Fire
APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network Main Website & Facebook)
Environmental Defence (Main Website & Facebook)
WaterKeeper (Main Website & Facebook)
Environmental Defence (Main Website & Facebook)
Idle No More

“NOT MY HERITAGE”: Conversations on New Identities / Voices in Conservation hosted by Carleton University

Saturday, April 23 Carleton University will convene conversations on conservation

Last year I attended an engaging symposium on heritage conservation put on by Carleton University Students. Last year’s theme was Unsettling Heritage. This year the conversation will be focused on New Identities / Voices in Conservation and will pose the questions:

  • Whose heritage are we conserving?
  • Whose heritage is being unrepresented or underrepresented in the heritage conservation discourse of the 21st century?

“This theme aims to critically address missing identities and voices in the heritage field and/or highlight alternative stories and perspectives in heritage conservation.”

“In recent years, the identification and conservation of cultural heritage resources—the built environment, cultural landscapes, or intangible heritage—by heritage professionals, has needed to expand and broaden its understanding of community histories to address the plurality and the multi-narratives that exist in our communities. Events such as: the release of the Final Report on Residential Schools by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Occupy movement, the protests for gender equality rights, the push for youth engagement in civic duties (voting), and the global issue of refugees and immigration, have recently highlighted some of these ignored or unknown identities and voices that exist, and which have been underrepresented or unrepresented in the field of heritage conservation.” Read more…

Online registration closes tomorrow at noon. Tickets will also be available at the venue door Mill Street Brewery, 555 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

View Full Schedule Here

WHERE: Mill Street Brewery, 555 Wellington Street
WHEN: Saturday, April 23 from 9:00 am to 4 pm
COST: $15 Students / $45 General Admission (Online Registration) $20 Students / $50 General Admission (At the Door)

MORE ART & RECONCILIATION AT THE NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE OTTAWA: Going Home Star, Florent Vollant, & 100 Years of Loss Exhibit closes a full month of Indigenous programming

TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson moderates a panel of cultural provocateurs speaking on Art & Reconciliation. 

“It’s time for the rest of Canada to do the heavy lifting” ~ I Lost My Talk composer John Estacio

On Thursday, January 14 the National Arts Centre hosted a panel discussion on ART & RECONCILIATION prior to the opening night of I Lost My Talk, a performance inspired by the poetry of Mi’kmaq elder and poet Rita Joe. The response to this event was tremendous. Hundreds of people swelled up the stairs from the lobby where the 100 Years of Loss exhibit on the impact of Residential Schools is installed until the end of this week. The event also drew political support. In attendance was the Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, the Governor General’s wife Sharon Johnston, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde and former Prime Minister The Right Honourable Joe Clark. I Lost My Talk was a commission by Clark’s family for his 75th birthday. A moving and lovely gift that we all got a chance to participate in and benefit from.

Canadian writer Joseph Boyden speaks on his commission to write the libretto for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star. 

It’s encouraging to see a National cultural institution take such a leadership role in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. It’s also poignantly symbolic to have a National cultural institution recognize, in the present moment, a fact that history has tried to obscure. Both the panel and the performance of I Lost My Talk opened with the National Arts Centre acknowledging that “we are on UNCEDED Algonquin territory.”

On the panel, along with Canadian writer Joseph Boyden and John Estacio, the composer for the musical score of I Lost My Talkwas Rachel Maza, “acclaimed Australian theatre director of Jack Charles V The Crown.”  I had the opportunity to attend this incredible play that delved into the impact of assimilation policies on Indigenous people in Australia. Over the course of 75 minutes Jack charmed us with his beautiful way of presenting his biography – a life full of identity confusion and much loss but also an amazing amount of grace due to Jack’s own incredible resilience. I left with many mixed emotions. Find out more about the play…

Jack Charles receives a standing ovation at the closing of his performance of Jack Charles V The Crown at the NAC. 

Going Home Star opens this week in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre.

As this month draws to a close the NAC is hosting Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of Going Home Star. 

“Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation is the brilliant result of a star-studded collaboration between the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, award-winning Canadian author Joseph Boyden, acclaimed choreographer Mark Godden, and renowned Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. Going Home Star was ten years in the making, first envisioned by late Cree elder/activist Mary Richard and RWB Artistic Director André Lewis. Searing and sensitive, this powerfully emotional classical ballet is the deeply resonant love story of Annie and Gordon, a pair of contemporary Aboriginal young people coming to terms with a souldestroying past. Hatzis’s multi-layered score incorporates music by Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq (winner of the 2014 Polaris Music Prize), Steve Wood, and the Northern Cree Singers.” Read more…

The creative team and performers of Going Home Star speak at the NAC about the ballet during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering in May/June 2015

Going Home Star runs from Thursday, January 28 to Saturday, January 30 and then will continue its tour in Vancouver. Click here for performance dates and tickets. Tickets will be given to Residential School Survivors, more information can be found here.

Also, this weekend at the NAC is Innu author, composer and singer Florent Vollant performing on Saturday, January 30.

“born in Labrador in 1959 and grew up on a reserve named Maliotenam, east of Sept-Îles. He began his musical career in the middle of the 80s and helped to create the Festival Innu Nikamu, which, since its founding, has brought together many musicians and singers from various Amerindian nations.” read more…

And the National Arts Centre has more in store so be sure to follow along with their 2016 programming around Indigenous Storytelling on their website, Facebook  and Twitter @CanadasNAC.

Photography by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

 

THE CURATOR AS A 21ST CENTURY AGENT OF CHANGE: Leah Snyder presents at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s Power of the Arts Forum

Since the end of August life has been a blur of important events, all of which focus on CHANGE.

Change the way we protect the environment. In August, at the People’s Social Forum Ottawa, I was introduced to people who have become activists out of the necessity to ensure that the land we share is safe.

Change the way we fund community initiatives. In September I was one of 40+ professionals invited by the Governor General David Johnston to be part of a think tank at Rideau Hall that was centred around creating a new Foundation for Canada.

Change the way we construct historical archives. In October I participated in the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Colloquium in Montreal where one of the main focuses was best practice design for the structure of digital archives that challenge entrenched national narratives.

Change the way we think about diversity. In November I presented at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s The Power of the Arts Forum. I encountered many cultural provocateurs who are adding to the discussion around what diversity looks like.

My own presentation assessed the role the institutional curator can play in facilitating deep cultural transformation in Canada.

Since 2010 when I began to write about contemporary culture in Canada I have been fortunate to to attend hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds!) of events. What this gives me is a bird’s eye view of the changing cultural landscape. I have the luxury of being able to stand back as well as step in allowing me both critical distance and intimate knowledge of the environment.

It was a great opportunity to speak at The Power of the Arts and my fellow presenters offered me even more inspiration, ideas and provocative food for thought around broadening the definition of what we mean when we say ‘diversity’.

Below is the transcript of my presentation as well as the Powerpoint images with the accompanying text. If you want to read the presentation along with the images you can click on the top left image and the rest will follow!

black stroke

black stroke

2013 was a year that Canada experienced a lot of growing pains. We are a young nation and sometimes we act with youthful grace and other times with the messy inappropriateness of bodies not yet used to the skin they are quickly expanding into.

Idle No More was a movement that probably wasn’t on most people’s radar when it first formed but it rapidly spread thanks to the brilliant ease that technology allows messages to travel.

What it also did was start to shake the foundational narratives and pushed Canada into a bit of an identity crisis.

And an identity crisis can be good a thing. Even healthy! If it is recognized as a moment to reflect back on who you were before the rug was pulled out from underneath you.

And like any identity crisis the signs were already pointing to a breakdown long before it happened. If you step away from the history of colonization and the impact it has had on Indigenous populations there are other histories Canada has had trouble acknowledging – slavery in Canada, the treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, and the unfortunate history of the community of Africville, Nova Scotia to name a few.

Canada has not always been a safe place for new immigrants and there are still areas where many Canadians feel they are outsiders in their own nation. LGBTQ rights have been a work in progress and away from urban centres it can still be unsafe to be open about your sexuality.

But I have hope. BIG HOPE! I know Canada is going to make it through this incredibly painful time where collectively as a Nation we are having to acknowledge hard truths about our history.

WHY am I so hopeful? Because I have the wonderful fortune of working in the Arts (and with people like this)

This is where I see amazing work being done. And I see a lot of that work happening in institutional settings.

Outside of producing Mixed Bag Mag I am also a web designer. Many of my clients are artists, and more specifically Indigenous artists whose work is about dialoguing with national narratives regarding historical and contemporary realities of First Peoples in Canada.

One of my clients is Jeff Thomas, a self-described Urban Iroquois, and who I have dubbed “The Godfather of Indigenous Urban Photography.” I will come back to him later but where I want to start my story is on a cold, winter night in Toronto that included a snow storm, a Tribe Called Red and a gifted ticket from a stranger on Facebook. I found myself, last minute, at the Art Gallery of Ontario for First Thursdays.

If you don’t know about first Thursdays, it’s a great event that happens the first Thursday of every month at the AGO. The night includes entry to the exhibits, live music, performance art, interactive demos and food. This particular Thursday A Tribe Called Red was performing.

Despite the cold it was a hot night! Sold OUT! I left my decision to go so late I couldn’t even get a media pass so I put a call out on Facebook and a friend -of-a-friend gave me his ticket.

I stood above the crowd packed into Walker Court in order to get a good photograph. What I witnessed made me stop and put my camera down to take it all in. I have these times as a photographer where I know I need to stop and spend time with the moment – to just feel the energetics of the space. I was having one of those moments.

Duncan Campbell Scott, the man who was head of Indian Affairs in the early 1900s was quoted as saying “The happiest future for the Indian race is absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government.” Here were 3 men – 3 men that if Duncan Campbell Scott had his way would not exist – being unapologetically Indigenous. And the crowd could not get enough of their beats that include mixing dance hall, reggae, hip hop and powwow.

One of the members of Tribe is Jeff Thomas’ son – Bear Witness.

I know he is damn proud of Bear’s work because as he says “he is reaching people I never could.” So why is Bear, a DJ who re-mixes club music, playing for a young, fashionable crowd so important? Because traditionally spaces of Western Culture are not welcoming spaces if you are someone who lies outside the dominant culture. If you are Indigenous, African, South American, basically any culture conquered by the European Countries and colonized you have undoubtedly found your culture being reduced to relics in the structures that dictate what is culturally relevant – even what is culturally ALIVE.

And now a quick history lesson on Museums and Galleries.

The history of what Philippe de Montebello, former director of The Metropolitan Museum Art, calls the “Universal Museum” is around 200 years old. The concept, which we are all familiar with, is to take a look at the world, in chronological order, a linear space where we move through time – a documentation of “PROGRESS.” This type of space allowed for aesthetic connections to be made between culture objects from varying places from the same points in time – a visual record of history – but whose history?

The Louvre was the first public museum. The princes wanted to show what they had “acquired.”

As de Montebello says “Western museums started because they felt legitimately entitled to take the art of the places they were conquering and bring them back to study them.”

With this start as the backdrop it is easy to understand how objects became festishized for their aesthetic and stripped of the human stories that accompany
…their creation,
…their use within their own culture context,
…and then the often tragic events that lead to their acquisition in the collections.

But in the context of the pluralistic realities that we live in now this way of organizing what is our experience of culture is highly problematic. We know there is more than one entry point to history and multiple views are not only valid they are necessary to reconstruct a strong foundation upon which to move forward.

While on a recent trip to New York City I visited the Brooklyn Museum. They had this tremendously beautiful gallery space that was about just that – the act of reconstruction.

As you entered into the space you were met with the words “CONNECTING CULTURES…Museums bring the world’s treasures to the public. Like many other museums The Brooklyn Museum collects works of art in order to inspire, uplift and inform.”

The room was a glorious hodge podge of exquisite and ancient craftsmanship and work by contemporary artists. It was clear that in this space notions of hierarchy were dissolved. A linear progression was abandoned. Instead there was a conversation between equals. And that is an important note of difference.

This image says it all because this young boy who was there studying and taking notes would have been denied access to this museum in a recent past.

Everywhere you turned in the museum you were met by thoughtful curation and diadatic panels that added more voices to the mix. And their emphasis on presenting contemporary African-American artists like Kehinde Whiley makes sense in a community where there is a huge Black population.

Ok, so enough about America, let’s get back to Canada and that night at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The AGO, at the height of Idle No More movement, just weeks after Chief Spence ended her hunger strike, had Tribe programmed to perform. Inside an institutional space that traditionally was about implied exclusivity the performance of 3 men related the message:

NOT ONLY AM I ALIVE, BUT I AM YOUR CONTEMPORARY.
NOT ONLY HAVE MY PEOPLE SURVIVED BUT WE THRIVE.

That’s powerful stuff, especially in light of the historical documents currently being uncovered that speak to the strategies to annihilate Indigenous populations here in Canada.

A few months after that Tribe performance at the AGO the National Gallery of Canada had an exciting opening – Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art Exhibit – that included 150 works of recent Indigenous art by over 80 artists.

This exhibit was the groundbreaking because of the fact it was the first of its kind – an exhibit that took an international scope of Indigenous artists alive, THRIVING, today. This wasn’t a show about surveying artifacts. This was an exhibit about the relevance of Indigenous artists using their practice as social commentary. Sakahàn was long in the making before Idle No More but the timing was certainly interesting as it situated the work of Indigenous artists working in Canada in the present tense. Canadians could frame the work with current events of Idle No More, Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the call for an inquiry into the  Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Sakahàn means to strike a light, a fire, in the Algonquin language. Algonquin people, part of the greater cultural group of Anishinaabeg peoples, are the traditional custodians of this land where Ottawa is now located so it was an appropriate and important gesture to use this as the show’s title.

The three curators who organized this immense project were Greg Hill (Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) and Christine Lalonde (Associate Curator of Indigenous Art) of the National Gallery as well as independent curator Candice Hopkins (Elizabeth Simonfay Guest Curator).

I am grateful to Greg, Kayen’kahaka (Mohawk) of the Six Nations of the Grand River, for giving me an thorough tour of the show. What blew me away was the fact that the artists in this show were working way beyond being concerned with just an aesthetic. They were working from deeply personal spaces. They understood their role as artists and their responsibility as cultural producers to make visible what has been buried.

It was overwhelming, emotional, beautiful, and I went back 5 more times. One of the most powerful things that Sakahàn did was it reached out to the larger arts community in Ottawa. Auxiliary shows and events happened all over the city. This is where I felt Sakahàn had it’s most transformative impact. In Ottawa last summer, you encountered contemporary Indigenous art everywhere.

But Sakahàn wasn’t the only show that year that managed to squeeze itself into the institutional space to force open a crack to allow change in.

Between  2013 to 2014 I have lost count of how many shows I have attended that are about using an institutional space to create meaning around contested histories, controversies, and current events. This doesn’t even include the shows that came prior to 2013. Many people have invested blood, sweat and tears and had doors shut on them. It’s the legacy of their labour that allows for the incredible explosion of culturally transformative work we are witnessing now.

I have seen these types of shows in New York and here at home in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa as well as smaller cities like Kitchener, Oakville, Oshawa, and Markham. Something has definitely shifted!

The door is now open and there is no going back into the shadows.

In recent news The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has been open about their epic fail when they launched “Into the Heart of Africa” in 1989 – a re-framing of the Africa collection through colonial eyes. Although meant to be a critique, once it opened what was demonstrated was that the curators were still not willing to consider that perhaps their framing perpetuated hurtful narratives. There were protests that had little immediate impact but what we see now, as we approach the 25th anniversary, is a demonstration in best practice around the complexities of reconsidering history from alternate perspectives.

The ROM has brought in Julie Crooks and Dominique Fontaine to curate “Of Africa” a “multiplatform and multiyear project aimed at rethinking historical and contemporary representations of Africa.”

On October 24 the ROM Hosted a symposium in preparation for “Of Africa” that included panel discussion on “Learning from Into the Heart of Africa.”

“The elephant in the room” as Silvia Forni the ROM’s curator for African programming calls it has now become a moment upon which something transformative AND truthful can be built.

We are in a beautiful moment in time. We can be intentional about how we move forward to create change. There is opportunity for everyone’s voice to be represented at the table. Best practice around how to navigate this new space we are in is:

  • First acknowledge the hard truths

  • Second, like the ROM, acknowledge how communities were wronged

  • Be ok with being uncomfortable

  • Be open to learn something new

  • Inquire about Protocol

  • Outreach to communities

  • Get to know the leaders

I am going to book end this talk by finishing where we started at the AGO’s Walker’s Court. On July 30 this year, on a little warmer of a night, with no snow storms in the forecast, Beyond the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes opened. At the very top of the court were a series of drums by Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle, who was also in attendance. The drums hang in the place where the German artist Lother Baumgarten was commissioned, in 1984, to do a site-specific work that he titled Monument for the Native People of Ontario. In this piece it was clear that neither Baumgarten nor the AGO did their research. The recent AGO renovation did away with the install and now Robert’s work intervenes in the neo-classical space with his series that references the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabeg peoples.

  • Zaagi’idiwin / Love

  • Nibwaakaawin / Wisdom

  • Dabaadendiziwin / Humility

  • Minaadendamowin / Respect

  • Debwewin / Truth

  • Aakode’ewin / Courage

  • Gwayakwaadiziwin / Honesty

The opening began with prayer and song by Elder Garry Sault who spoke in both Anishinaabemowin and English followed by a welcoming by Chief Bryan LaForme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

Also on the agenda that  night was an awards ceremony. Metis artist Christi Belcourt, the woman behind the initiative Walking With Our Sisters, received the Ontario Arts Council’s Aboriginal Arts Award. When Christi got up to accept her award she used it as a platform to educate the audience about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Her act was an important intervention into the space.

In the palatial court part of the Beaux Art structure built in 1920s and revamped by architect Frank Gehry in 2008 what could have been just-another-art-party became a somber and important moment of remembering.

When Andrew Hunter, Curator of Canadian Art at the AGO, came up to the podium to speak he made one thing clear – this was not a show of contemporary art paired with “artifacts” but of contemporary artists juxtaposed with past masters. Indigenous art has often been presented as relics of a dead culture far removed from contemporary realities and without relevance to current events.

This small statement powerfully defines how today’s institutional curator can be an instrument for change.

Andrew stood in solidarity with a community who has had the institutional door closed on them many times.

At some point in the evening I took a moment to go back up to the area where I watched A Tribe Called Red perform over a year before. Again, like that night, Walker Court was packed full of people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. I took a few photos. Then I put my camera down.

I listened to the moment.
I heard change.

Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch.
black stroke

Check out Mixed Bag Mag’s poster submissions for The Power of the Arts. Top poster features talented dancer / choreographer Emily Law, middle poster visual artist Ekow Nimako with his amazing work, and dancer / choreographer Esie Mensah, another beautiful talent!



TORONTO TALENT: Sara Golish & Ekow Nimako at this year’s Manifesto Art

Two young women, one black, one white, holding hands and a print of a painting of the black woman

Manifesto Festival 8th Annual Art Show features Visual Artists from around the GTA.

Two young women, one black, one white, hugging each other and smilingI met these two beautiful women, Esie Mensah and Sara Golish, at the Opening Night art exhibit at Manifesto two years ago. Esie was proudly standing in front of the stunning portrait Sara had painted of her. I noted both these women had serious style. But more than that, they had spirit. I have a knack for picking out the good souls in a crowd. They were both vibrant and gracious, two qualities this world needs more of.

I met Ekow Nimako at the same place, Daniels Spectrum, but only just recently during his Building Black Exhibit this past winter. He is also someone who is vibrant and gracious and just like Esie and Sarah, full of talent.


Manifesto About Us from themanifesto.ca on Vimeo.

As part of Manifesto 2014 you can see both Ekow and Sarah’s work at tonight’s 8th Annual Manifesto Art Show

MANIFESTO EVENT DETAILS

WHERE: Steam Whistle Roundhouse, 255 Bremner Blvd.
WHEN: 7pm – 2am
HOW MUCH: $15 advance tickets purchased here
MORE DETAILS: All-ages & Licensed w/ ID and more info on Facebook Event Page

You can see more of Sara’s work Facebook and her website.
More of Ekow’s portfolio on his website and Facebook

Young white woman leaning against a yellow stucco wall
Young black woman leaning against a yellow stucco wall with her right arm outstretched, wearing a shirt that says AFRICA

Young white woman holding a stylized drawing of a black woman, she is in front of a yellow stucco wall
Young white woman leaning against a marble wall holding a stylized print of a black woman
close up shot of a black man's hands holding a lego monkey head
Side profile of a young black man looking at a lego monkey head he is holding in his hand
upclose shot of black man's hands holding a pink lego mask
upclose shot of black man's hands holding a pink lego mask and peering over it
Young black man walking towards camera, wearing round, gold-rimmed glasses and standing in front of yellow stucco wall
Young black man and young white woman hugging each other and smiling, standing in front of yellow stucco wall
All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

CHILDREN WHO ARE SAFE & SOUND: Independent Jewish Voices holds Vigil in Ottawa for the Children Killed in Gaza

Little Palestinian girl holds candle

Little Palestinian boys hold posters, one little boy years sunglasses and Spiderman shorts

My maternal grandmother had 5 children. Then came 12 grandchildren. Now there are 9 great-grandchildren. With the exception of my grandmother, who lived a long and healthy life into her nineties, everyone is alive and well.

On the steps of the Human Rights Monument this Friday night in Ottawa, a Palestinian matriarch, with a cane in one hand and a flag in the other, slowly walked up to position herself in front of the faces of the children that have died in the recent attacks on Gaza. She smiled at the living children who ran up and down the steps around her in preparation for the ceremony. These children – in running shoes, cute sandals, sporty sunglasses and “The Amazing SpiderMan” shorts – are safe and sound in Canada.

Old woman on steps of Human Rights Monument holds waving Palestinian flag, posters of dead children behind her Old woman on steps of Human Rights Monument holds waving Palestinian flag

This woman is probably in her seventies meaning she was born at a time when Israel had already begun its war on Palestine. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have only known the story of war and never the story of peace.

I think again of my grandmother. She never had to witness the death of one of her children or grandchildren.

Adolescent Palestinian boy at microphone surrounded by other Palestinian children holding posters with images of the children who have died

One child walked to the microphone. Stumbling on his words with the cracking voice of an adolescent boy transitioning into a young adult, he shared with the crowd that this week 9 of his extended family were killed in Gaza.

9 members wiped out. I struggle as to how to act in this moment. He can’t be more than 13. He has probably known more deaths in his family then years of his life.

I want children to be able to be just children with grandmothers who watch over them with laughter without wondering if today will be the last time they see their little ones play.

#FreeGaza #FreePalestine

For more events by Independent Jewish Voices visit their website.

WHAT ARE THE ACTIONS THAT SAY WE STAND FOR PEACE?: Standing in Solidarity with Palestinians on Eid


Little Palestinian girl rests her arms on poster with images of the children killed. The poster reads Stop the Palestinian Holocaust
Two young woman hold small girls close to them as they listen to the ceremony. Each woman and girl wears a keffiyeh
Young woman a keffiyeh hijab holds a candle and listens
Young woman sits on steps and listens, crowds surround her in the background. Young boy with keffiyeh around his neck and Nike shoes sits on the sidewalk while adults stand around him
Several children hold posters with photographs of the children who have recently died in Gaza.Two young men wearing Palestinian flags like capes walk with candles in their handsA young woman in hijab smiles at the camera while she holds a candle, people of all races surround her also holding candles.Little boy in running shoes and shorts holds a candle, he points up to an adult man above him also holding a candle
Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

NATIONAL HOLIDAYS, NATIONAL NARRATIVES: The Tales We Tell Around the Celebration of Nation States

On Canada Day & Independence Day what are we celebrating? 

I spent Canada Day around the landscape of Quebec just a short drive from Ottawa. It was in an effort to escape the masses that descend upon the Nation’s Capitol for the July 1st holiday.

Many Canadians, especially Torontonians, are fresh off the high of the successful celebration of #WorldPride14 in Toronto (complete with a rainbow that hugged the skyline after the parade). A massive crowd came out to show support for diversity around sexual orientation and gender. Businesses, banks, church groups and regular folk take a certain amount of ‘pride’ in Pride because it demonstrates that Toronto is a city that isn’t just about tolerating differences but rather it has created an entire bombastic celebration around those differences!

Ottawa is no different. Canada Day on Parliament Hill draws an exuberant multiculti crowd celebrating the fact that everyone can feel safe and thrive here in Canada no matter the cultural background of their parents and ancestors.

That’s the story Canadians love to share on July 1 and in America on July 4 it’s much the same. The legends of Manifest Destiny and the enterprising people who populated the Wild West occupy a lot of historical real estate. As the story goes, both nations were built by the hard work of immigrants so in the spirit of continuing that history most people would agree there is always room for more!

The trouble and the truth is that each wave of immigrants arrived to racism and discrimination – the Chinese, Vietnamese and even the Portuguese communities in Canada, the Japanese during World War II in both countries; the Irish and Jewish communities. The Ukrainians, Italians, and Mexicans; the Pakistanis, Somalis, and Arabs…the list goes on. Everyone at some time has been the outsider and placed into the unfortunate role of the societal scapegoat.

The cult of Multiculturalism, for all its talk of inclusivity, has created its own scapegoat – the First Peoples. In both America and Canada waves of migrants have washed over the detail that North America was not only built on the backs of slaves but on the bones of its Indigenous populations.

You can see it in the comment section of Facebook, the online sections of national newspapers and blogs – the hate speak when there is an article that calls out the fashion (mis)statements made by headdress hipsters or when there is a blockade on occupied land that inconveniences the occupier.

National stories are powerful but destructive if they are, in essence, tale tells.

On July 1 and July 4 when celebrating the creation of two colonizing nations it is important to think about how those stories exclude. Multiculturalism, with all its focus on providing a safe and welcoming space for newcomers, has created a blind spot obscuring how the focus on rights for immigrants can often be at the expense of the rights of the First Peoples of Turtle Island, the original word for the continent of North America.

The Civil Rights movement was about addressing the shame of White America and calling out how the Jim Crow laws and state supported segregation created a culture of scapegoating, one result being the most ugly of human expressions – public lynching.

Scapegoating is a mechanism that allows an individual or a society to deflect shame. There is shame in making another human being your chattel; there is shame in killing off a population of people to make room for your own kind. We are spiritual beings and on some level, even if it’s buried so deep our waking minds can make peace with our justifications, the soul sees the deception.

So on days of celebrating nationalism it’s also a good time to reflect on those stories mythologies about who we are as citizens.

Anishinaabe writer and Ryerson University professor Hayden King writes:

“…thinking about what Canada could become (or, “what is in us to be?”) I think about understanding. Not the same old discourse of peaceful acquisition, armchair policy expertise, or a Norval Morrisseau on the wall, but substantive understanding among Canadians of Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee and Mushkegowuk perspectives (as well as the other 50-odd nations)…Indigenous languages can have official status, but more importantly, be seen and heard on the land and in cities, known by everyone. We can be honest about the birth, life and times of Canada. If all of this is in us to be, we might have something to celebrate.”
Read more in his article for the Toronto Star…

Great reasons for national celebrations!

The year 2014 saw the formation of the Cowboys and Indians Alliance created to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. The delegates rode onto the Mall in Washington, DC and called on President Obama to “Reject and Protect” – reject the project and protect the earth.

For more information on the Cowboys and Indians Alliance visit www.rejectandproject.org.


“This is the moral challenge of our age”

2014 also saw the formation of the Healing Walks initiative where people came together for the sake of the land, water, and air as well as the people and animals who depend on the area around the tar sands to be returned to health.

“The Healing Walk was organized by Keepers of the Athabasca, a network of First Nation, Métis, and settler communities along the Athabasca River.” Read more…

For more information on the Healing Walks visit www.healingwalk.org



Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

 

INUIT IN CANADA: Celebrating By Supporting a Thriving Culture

Plate of appetizers in front of tea lights

After Hours at the Canadian Museum of Nature for Edible Arctic

Saturday night I attended the Canadian Museum of Nature’s After Hours Event. Part of the Edible Arctic Festival there was lots of yummy food using ingredients from the North. I had the best chowder I have ever tasted courtesy the Embassy of Norway. There was fresh-fried bannock with cloudberry jam, smoked salmon and arctic char. Inuk photographer Barry Pottle’s project Foodland Security occupied the 2nd floor of the rotunda and below his work was information about Inuit organizations like Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). You could also take part in making an igloo out of foam blocks while behind you the National Film Board’s “How to Build an Igloo” was being screened. I discovered that an igloo can be constructed in 40 minutes. It takes me longer to pitch a tent!

How to Build an Igloo by Douglas Wilkinson, National Film Board of Canada

Inuit females demonstrating throat singingThe Wings of Johnny May director Marc Fafard with Johnny May.

“The Wings of Johnny May” by the National Film Board

There was also a screening of the NFB’s documentary “The Wings of Johnny May” which included a Q & A attended by the director Marc Fafard as well as the charming and witty Mr. May. Johnny was the first Inuk bush pilot and after decades of flying and tens of thousands of hours in the air he now fully embodies the knowledge of the Arctic land. He has also seen his world dramatically change more than once. As a small child his family only traveled by dog sled, a mode of transportation that he says was “slower but more pleasant.”

The beautiful 3-D documentary begins with the love story of Johnny May’s parents. Johnny’s father ended up in the Arctic when he went to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was a young guy from the Prairies but he longed for the North. Soon after he arrived he met Johnny’s mother. He knew she was the love of his life so he stayed and learned Inuktitut and along with the love for a woman he developed a love for the land and its people. She gave birth to Johnny than more little ones arrived. The Inuit community adopted him as one of their own probably sensing that his soul had brought him there to stay. Johnny’s father was white but as the men at the Hudson Bay Co. said “he was more Inuit than the Inuit.”

Sounds like a typical Canadian story of intercultural love. Today these kinds of relationships are common. Most people don’t blink an eye when an interracial couple make a decision to build a life together. For Johnny’s father though it cost him his job. HBC made it clear they didn’t support his parents’ union and told his father he would have to pick between love or money. That was the world back then.

It was this same world and its xenophobia that allowed for a moment in Canadian history that was, as the director Marc Fafard says, this country’s Shoah – one of the multitude of moments that was about creating a nation that serviced a European legacy with a commercial agenda. Johnny was down South for flight school. When he arrived back his entire dog team had been shot. In the 50s and 60s, across the North, orders were often given by those ‘in charge’ to shoot all dogs.

Johnny’s wife was in the audience and she closed the Q & A with her own memories of that time. She was far away at a residential school, missing her loved ones in a world foreign to her. She relates that in each family every child had their own dog – that child’s little friend. Louisa would think often of her dog and in the letters she wrote home she would ask how her pet was. Eventually the letters no longer contained messages about her dog. As a child, she could not fully understand the omission and realizes now that adults didn’t share that kind of tragic information with a child. There was no way for her to know that her dog had been killed until she arrived back in the North to a home changed forever – a mode of travel, a way of living, a cultural landscape – wiped out.

It has taken too much time for some sort of justice to happen. Johnny lost 9 dogs. A few years ago the government paid him $6,000 for that loss decades earlier when he was just a teenage boy trying to sort out how to be a man in a world changing at an unnatural pace.

“This was literally a domination gesture” says the director going on to relate how these actions cut the Inuit off from their source of food by putting an end to their travel and ability to be self-sufficient.

So many painful memories recalled by people like Johnny and Louisa but despite defining moments meant to cripple them they are still here – warm and open – allowing us to become joined to those memories as witnesses. Hopefully we become accountable ones.

Over the last few days at Edible Arctic and ITK’s A Taste of the Arctic that warmth and openness was encountered each time I met someone from the North. It’s incredible to see that the human spirit is able to find a way to move forward with hope. Cultures and communities that have been devastated are beyond surviving – they are thriving.

Close up of plate of food full of smoked fish and musselsPeople serving and preparing foodTop, demonstrating throat singing at the Edible Arctic Festival. Middle and bottom, Food at A Taste of the Arctic. 

A Taste of the Arctic Gala at the National Arts Centre.

At A Taste of the Arctic on Monday night the youth from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program came out to do a fashion show modelling what I call #Inuit #Glam. Wonderful ambassadors of Inuit culture, these young women and men are always rocking some serious style when I see them out and about in the city of Ottawa where they live for the duration of their course.

Young Inuit men and women modelling sealskin jackets

“Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a unique eight-month college program based in Ottawa. Founded in 1985, it is for Inuit youth from Nunavut who want to get ready for the educational, training, and career opportunities that are being created by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) and the new Government of Nunavut…Students in the NS Program learn about Inuit history, organizations, land claims and other issues relevant to their future careers in Nunavut.” Read more…

Young Inuit woman dressed up with great style and sealskin
Female Inuk Elder praying at Podium and Inuk man speakingTop 4 images, the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Students. Bottom left, Inuk Elder giving a blessing at A Taste of the Arctic. Bottom right, National Inuit Leader Terry Audla. 

After a prayer from an Inuk elder the musical entertainment was provided by The Sundogs, Leanne Goose, The Jerry Cans and Beatrice Deer. Every band had the crowd jigging to melodies that included many different cultural expressions, incorporating both traditional and contemporary elements.

Young Inuk woman playing accordian

This may seem normal in the 21st century where mashup culture is the standard but hearing songs sung in Inuktitut with the inclusion of throat singing – all being performed in Canada’s Capital – this is a profound statement! Many generations of children were beaten in the residential schools when they spoke their mother tongue and throat singing, like so many cultural expressions, was banned as it was seen as sinful with no relevance in modern times. When language is embodied through the vehicle of culture, as the voices rise, the spirit is given the chance to be nourished.

Two young Inuit women singingLeft, Nancy Mike of The Jerry Cans. Right, Beatrice Deer. 

If you missed this year’s Edible Arctic at The Canadian Museum of Nature below are some of the highlights of the people, the food and most importantly the culture!

Young Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluksYoung Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluksTop row, making maples syrup taffy and drinking Arctic berry tea. Bottom row, Annie Aningmiuq beading her seal skin clutches.

Inuk artist Jolly Attagoyuk showing his beautiful prints and drawings. 

Young Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluks
The Nunavut Sivuniksavut Students face painting traditional Inuit tattoo styles.

Odawa artist Barry Ace with a new Jolly Attagoyuk for his collection. Carleton Art students @Indigilinks & @all_gussiedup with sealskin gloves by Aaju Peter.  

Young Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluksLeeanne Hainnu, one of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut students.  

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.