COUNTER-MAPPING THE CITY TREATY: Taking Indigeneity to the Streets

What’s in a name.

Looking at the typography of a city through an Indigenous lens can fracture what we think we know. Chorography is the act of “describing or mapping a region.” The chorography of our cities effectively maps multiculturalism but underneath the Little Italys and Chinatowns original place markers have been trampled under the foot of many a newcomer.

Recent headlines have pointed to Winnipeg as being one of the most racist cities in Canada. For the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg the city, whose name is derived from the Cree word win-nipi, is marked with anxiety. Marvin Francis was a playwright, author, visual artist and poet from Heart Lake First Nation and his experience of living on the “Urban Rez,” as he referred to Winnipeg, formed itself into a book titled City Treaty: a long Poem.

I was being followed
so I took my usual back alley route
trash can trails
make ’em get their feet dirty
but it was no use
you cannot shake a clown
that mask sees all

we begin the treaty project
we needed money  we  wrote
on the back maize    flake boxes     expensive
the clown
knows ever since sky     ripples
mingles clown     city native
write new treaty     cost heap big money
the clown surveys post/city/modern/after treaty/after

lawyer = life

and finds
the way
to finance
this project

finds the reality:

As a teenager, moving off his reserve to the city, Marvin developed a complex relationship with Winnipeg.

“The urban Aboriginal experience is dependent upon the circumstances of the individual, and speaking in general terms is always dangerous, but I think it is a fair statement that, for the average Native who comes from the Rez, the city contains a spectrum that ranges from new possibilities to that social monster, crack.” Read more…

Counter-mapping Canada. 

It’s hard to know where you are standing when the original place markers become impossible to find. But they are still there for those who are tenacious enough to search. Sometimes names hint at the histories that lay just below the surface of maps made for our ‘modern’ times. 

Toronto, Ontario

tkaronto (Kanien’kehake), onitariio (Wyandot)

Where the trees are standing in the water, the beautiful lake

Counter-mapping is a term used to refer to the intentional use of mapping methodology and technology such as GIS, cartography and geomatics to make visible how dominant power systems have used maps as a way to assert control over territories often for the purpose of resource extraction and/or settlement.

In Canada, oral histories are now considered an important part of counter-mapping and testimonies of the historical use of that land by Indigenous populations becomes a way of providing evidence at land claims. (Read more about this in Maps and MemesRedrawing Culture, Place, and Identity in Indigenous Communities)

Beyond the legal applications counter-mapping combined with visual ways of expressing space are being used by artists as a way of marking places with counter-narratives.

Sarah Yankoo “is Algonquin, Irish, Hungarian, Romanian and Scottish and edge walks between the bush and the city that gathers in Toronto.” While in York University‘s Environmental Studies program she discovered the poetry of Marvin Francis in a class titled Indigenous Literature, Survival and Sovereignty and for her, the earth moved. Her response was to become one of the tenacious ones who seeks to uncover what some have tried to make us forget. Her photographic work is about creating an image bank demonstrating that in urban spaces a counter-mapping movement is taking place – graffiti tagging, arts activism, and even random formations seem to be giving us a message.

In underpasses, subway stairs and skyscrapers Sarah finds markers that signify we may be at the moment before a seismic shift is about to go down. The ‘Urban Rez’, as Indigenous populations explode, can become a place of renewal and a city, like Toronto / Tkaronto is capable of flexing intuitively – as though it remembers. The shape of the map may not be changing, but the rigid borders of colonial mindsets shift to create a dynamic that will forever change the emotional contours of a city.

Top image of Haida artist Corey Bulpitt’s mural. Bottom image Métis symbol replicates on subway stairs. Both by Sarah Yankoo. 

Sarah has also found a way to continue the work that Marvin started by “writing her own treaty poems while exploring the piece [City Treaty] as an installation work and political engagement piece.” For the University of British Columbia’s exhibit Claiming Space: Voices of Aboriginal Youth at the Museum of Anthropology she contributed City Treaty Manuscript. (view City Treaty Manuscript image above)

“Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth looks at the diverse ways urban Aboriginal youth are asserting their identity and affirming their relationship to both urban spaces and ancestral territories.” Read more…

KIMIWAN ‘ZINE‘s SIXXX edition featured Sarah’s treaty poem push that bush as well as her work titled your X mark (pictured below)

KIMIWAN ‘ZINE is a quarterly publication that showcases words + art from emerging + established Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit writers + artists. Kimiwan is independently published by a collective of Indigenous artists, writers, students + community members. 

Kimiwan was started by Joi T. Arcand and Mika Lafond in summer of 2012.”

Top image X marks an urban spot. Bottom image peace and moccasins. Both images by Sarah Yankoo. 

The Revolution will be Indigenized.

Marvin, who passed away in 2005, wrote of Toronto:

“Winnipeg, with its high Aboriginal population, is one place where you can walk downtown and meet other Aboriginals. Regina is like that, too, but a city like Calgary or Toronto has few Aboriginals visible downtown.”

In Toronto First Nations, Métis or Inuit populations can become invisible, absorbed into the multicultural mix but as the city becomes more inquisitive about Indigenous histories and contemporary realities after the earth moved during Idle No More, the Toronto of Marvin’s recollection is rapidly changing. A growing Indigenous presence comprised of artists, activists and academics is drafting a new city treaty with their work. This isn’t just taking place behind the institutional walls of universities and museums – their work spills out into the streets.

During the summer of 2013 Ryerson professor Hayden King (Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchimnissing) along with artist and educator Susan Blight (Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation) embarked on an intervention under the name Ogimaa Mikana (Leader’s Trail in Anishinaabemewin). In different locations in downtown Toronto street signs and memorial plaques were subtly counter-mapped by placing Indigenous names and text over the ones put in place by the operating Governments of Canada. Spadina was changed to Ishpadinaa and a plaque was covered at Queen’s Park with the words:

Piitaapocikewaatikakocin

Kintanishinaabeekimin
Nintanishinaabekwakiinaan
Kiminopiitookaakona awa…
Nintashiikewininaak
Aanti wenci nihsitawinaman?

Toronto (Place where the logs flow)

We all live on Native Territory
Our Anishinaabe Land
Welcome to our Community
How do your recognize it?


Above images of Ogimaa Mikana Project from www.ogimaamikana.tumblr.com.

With round dances taking place inside shopping malls and pow wows outside on University campuses even the rhythm of the city has changed.

Sarah also uses music as a way to infuse urban streets with Indigenous vibrations. She makes mouth bows out of branches she searches for when out in the bush. Inspired by the music of Buffy Sainte-Marie as well as A Tribe Called Red she also performs and is often remixing the recordings of her mouth bow on her iPad.

This coming Saturday she will performing alongside Skookum Sound System for Native Women in the Arts Catalyst Series hosted with the BOLD As Love Collective at the Musical Gallery, Toronto. Collectives like BOLD As Love, with their spoken word and musical performances, showcase the plurality of Indigenous voices fleshing out a deeper meaning of diversity.

The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape (read Sarah’s full treaty poem Edgewalker Remix below)

Counter-mapping and marking alternate meanings into the urban space becomes a therapeutic act. Time to dig down into the bedrock to excavate those solutions.

BOLD As Love includes:
Rosina Kazi
Jamaias DaCosta
Elwood Jimmy
Cherish Blood
Cris Derksen
&
Melody McKiver

Read more about BOLD As Love in Now Magazine.

EDGEWALKER REMIX by Sarah Yankoo

We all walk these edges uncertain
On border slippery
Between dirt poor
And filthy rich
Between the bush and city
Between sandy hot beach laughter
& heart breaking tears crying in the snow

We point out the edges that cut off our mind
Invisible borders stronger than barbed wire
Cement our paths to our edge walking ways
To lost children
& a Trail of Beers

When all you really want is to do is just go home
Play in a garden where pedals do not bite
Where the fingers fold in prayer
Where the smile heals eyes
Burnt by too much evening

For the young
& The old experienced love that still dares
The smoke is white and the crackle is electric

So pull your thoughts of others from history into today

And we all emerge from

Actual treaty lines

into the native-aboriginal- First Nation- last chance Indian status- cuz you went
trapping that day universe

The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape

What words describe agony of kids torn away
Of sudden
Language ILL legal
Of a circle of a people with their hearts in the fire
spirits in the electric smoke
& Minds in the crackle with knowledge for

FLASHBACK

To those treaties smouldering and collecting our dust

Flash forward

To loop the difference in times zoned

Flash present to a disguise that fools nobody’s god

Flash back again and again over and under and through the flashing

Flashback

To the territory as large as the land itself
Reach the borders and the sounds that fit the land contours
And while the rivers wash from the inside and the prairie undulates from the Canadian
Shield up one side of the Rockies and down the Mackenzie. Remember there is no
linear in the bush, and the city only thinks it does. so you can finally figure out that the
land is owned only by our children and never by us

Argue/bitch/question/probe/tear apart/challenge/discuss until everyone is sick of it

Then do it again

For you must remember what the people went through

Above images of Sarah Yankoo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah is rocking a jacket by Toronto based Dene designer Sage Paul and boots by Métis owned company Manitobah Mukluks. You can support Indigenous designers by signing a petition against DSquared’s #DSquaw collection from Milan Fashion Week at Change.org. The petition asks that Dan and Dean Caten apologize for their actions and as Canadians donate the profits from their collection to an organization that supports the rights of Indigenous women here in Canada. Click here to sign.

Listen to Sage Paul speak on the issue to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway here.

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.