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.

MIXED BAG MAG DOES NEW YORK: Art Smart in NYC

looking up at tall skyscrapers with sign on one that reads MOMA

From Haida artist Robert Davidson to American artist Kara Walker Mixed Bag Mag covered a lot of artistic ground.  

My art muscle is damn strong! In 4 days I was able to cover (almost) everything. It was a major marathon (Bed-Stuy to Manhattan – up to Harlem – back to Brooklyn) but I arrived at the finish line inspired by all that New York has to offer right now.

It was the small-but-mighty shows that grabbed my attention the most and made me regret that I wouldn’t be staying longer.

(in order of my schedule)

The MoMA – There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4’33” (on until June 22)

The National Museum of the American Indian Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse (on until September 14)

The MET – Now You See It: Photography and Concealment (on until September 1)

Acquavella GalleryJean Michel Basquiat Drawing (closing today!)

The Studio Museum HarlemCarrie Mae Weems: The Museum Series (on until June 29)

The Brooklyn MuseumWitness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties (on until July 13)

& of course Surveillapocalypse with the 007 Collective and artCodex at Five Myles Gallery Brooklyn. The work of Brooklyn based artist David Wallace was beautiful to witness.

group of people sitting and sanding in front of brick building

words on a wall that say Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties

I have been around the world –  East Berlin during the Reunification of Germany, L.A. during the Rodney King riots, even Johannesburg leading up to the elections where Mandela’s win changed the course of history…

…but never New York! 

Sometimes living close by a place makes you take it for granted. This trip was about righting that wrong and finally showing some love to New York. And the timing couldn’t have been better for gathering MIXED BAG MAG style content! Also on the agenda was Kara Walker’s A Subtlety at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn as well as seeing Ai Wei Wei’s According to What for a second time at the Brooklyn Museum. It was interesting comparing this iteration of the show to last year’s at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Another chance at comparison will be when the AGO hosts Before and after the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes, currently on at the National Museum of the American Indian.

words on a wall that say Draped Down and a reproduction of a mixed media of a young black woman

When you deep dive into a city’s art scene to explore different neighbourhoods with their private galleries,  artist-run centres and national institutions you witness how much art enriches the lives of the inhabitants as well as the visitors. Life wouldn’t be as wonderful without artists!

I got a little lazy pulling out my clunky pro camera so I decided instead to capture New York thru the lightness of a cell cam. Here is just a small sampling of what I experienced. There will be more trips south of the border in an effort to uncover how artists transform urban spaces and cultural places but for this moment I was just a 21st Century flâneur with a phone.

sculpture made out of rough wood posts and bent shiny metal, people walking by
White painted canvas wrapped with knotted fabric that projects out from the canvas
City scape of large skyscrapers and smaller residential buildings
Large stone sculpture of woman and man with larger classic style building and skyscraper behind it
Two entrances to two art exhibits
Panel of actors on stage, mixed men and women
two women stand with back to the camera looking at a gallery with an installation in progress, ladders, tables
Woman standing in front of a brick facade gallery with the address and sign that says Five MylesMaria Hupfield stands in front of “Splash” a sculpture by Haitian-American artist Engles.
The inside of a gallery with classic architecture, a greek style female sculpture and framed abstract drawing to its right
Up close photograph of a abstract drawing
two front stair cases leading up to fancy doors, plants lining the stairs
Black man busking in front of street side display of paintings
Skyscape of modern buildings with older style architecture, the profile of the Guggenheim
inside the Guggenheim Museum with people sitting in the centre area and the words Italian Futurism on the wall
Looking up to the large skylight in the atrium of the Guggenheim
The modern architecture of the Guggenheim Museum against the sky with clouds
Poster advertising for the Metropolitan Museum, old painting of a young black man with ornate headdress facing an antique photograph of a middle age white woman
Black and white photograph series of a naked white man walking with classic Greek painting of nude black male figures running
Posters for the Metropolitan Museum with photograph of classic bust of white man mouth open screaming on left and classic Japanese style painting of a Geisha
Advertising for the Met with painting of white woman and photograph of a pharaoh on right. Words One Met Many Worlds on the posters.
The staircase leading up to the Metropolitan Museum with people milling about, day on left, night on right
two classic greek or roman marble sculptures in an elaborate hallway, man on left, woman on right
Crystal decanter on left, marble statue of a nude woman, her back to camera, on right
The outside of a theatre with the marquee and sign saying Apollo
American flag waving from a building in black and red stripes, green background with black stars against a blue sky
Painting on a metal pull down door with mural of Malcolm X, Obama, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Reads Share the Dream, Welcome to Heavenly Harlem
Photograph of a tv screen with video of 3 black men singing and performing. The ages of the 3 men vary from middle age to old
Large scale painted canvas, black background with white lettering from top to bottom
Young black woman laughing and talking to young white man with beard, standing in a subway station
Street scene in an industrial area, people waiting at the corner, poster that reads Kara Walker
Little girl picking up another little girl to look in basket of a sculpture of a child. Black woman looking at the sculpture of a black child labourer
Large white sculpture of a black woman with a handkerchief wrap on head, people standing looking at the sculpture
Brick work and ornate decorative patterns carved in stone and white text painted that reads Watch Your Head
Street art project with words Before I Die I Will painted with chalkboard paint and peoples answers scribbled in chalk
Street art project with words Before I Die I Will painted with chalkboard paint and peoples answers scribbled in chalk
Old white brick building boarded up against blue sky full of clouds
One story high brick industrial buildings painted in yellow and other bright colours against a blue sky
Large neo-classical building with clouds in the background, The Brooklyn Museum
Photograph of a museum show reading Connecting Cultures
Photograph of a museum show reading Connecting Cultures
Young black boy with notepad and pencil looking up at classic European painting of a white woman
close up shot of wood paneled structure with holes that show other structures behind it. The shape repeats a crescent moon
A poster on the ground that says This Is Indian Land. Cardboard stencil with words Surveillapocalypse cut out of it and lying on poster
Spray painted outline of a motif that is an Ojibwa Thunderbird
Cut out of birds attached to a mobile that moves around a screen with a photograph of a man projected on it
A bridge at night, lined with lights that are out of focus.
Drag show in nightclub, white queen descending the stairs with black queen in back with microphone
stone and pavement on a street with the words Protect Your Magic painted on it

BEFORE I DIE I WILL: Go to New York City


Woman's feet in sandals standing on concrete slab that reads Brooklyn Concrete Made In CanadaAbove images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Sakahàn at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Group of children Tlingit / Aleut artist Nicholas Galanin (top right) with some of the kids of the Sakahàn Youth Camp.

Sowing the seeds of change in programming for youth.

All of us have a story or two about a moment that was magical and breathed life into the parts of our mind that weren’t aware that we could dream so big.

Ottawa based Anishinaabe artist Melody McKiver tells of her mother, as a teenager, meeting Daphne Odjig – one of Canada’s great artists. Her father had taken her to an exhibit in Dryden, in the mid-70s. That chance encounter, although short, was powerful and pivotal in her mother’s life because she never knew that a Native woman could aspire to what Daphne had become.

If you can’t locate yourself in the faces of the makers of culture it may be impossible for you to know that the light inside of you has the potential to shine bright. Which is why programs like Sakahàn Youth are so critical. We won’t understand the full generational impact of Sakahàn on the Canadian cultural landscape  for a long time but I don’t doubt it will be pivotal for this country.

Left to Right: Some of the members of the Junior Curator Program. Children from the Summer Camp Program all at the opening night of Nigi Mikan / I Found It: Indigenous Women’s Identity at Fall Down Gallery, Ottawa. Curated by the Junior Curators.

Sakahàn – meaning “to light [a fire]” in the language of the Algonquin peoples.

Artists working outside on rock carving with machines for cutting into stone. Tlingit / Aleut artist Nicholas Galanin and assistant working outside of the National Gallery on his piece “Nature Will Reclaim You” just one of the many outdoor works.

For Melody, also a co-organizer for Niigaan Treaty Workshops, it is the first time in her lifetime she has experienced Ottawa engaging with Aboriginal artists in such a meaningful way and she is encouraged by the positive change. The exhibit also engages the people of Ottawa as it extends out into the city in many different venues and events – inside / outside, Government institutions as well as artist-run centres, university campuses, & urban powwows. The exhibit even extends beyond the city to include Decolonize Me currently on at the Art Gallery of Windsor and shows like artist Jeff Kahm at Urban Shaman, Winnipeg.

Melody goes on to say that because of  “the way that Sakahàn is set up it commands a different level of thought and introspection than other exhibits of this scale.”

And it is this insertion and inclusion into so many spaces that repeats an important motif across the Nation’s Capital – that contemporary Canada includes strong Indigenous voices.

Woman standing in front of an art work at a gallery speaking to youth sitting around her on the floor.

Photo by Patrick Doyle of the Ottawa Citizen

Métis artist and the National Gallery’s Sakahàn Educator Jaime Koebel relates this story:

LARA – “She was a young girl who had participated in the Sakahàn summer camp tours. I explained to the youth about “Āniwaniwa” and how a building that the community had a special connection to was overtaken by a flood. This flood was created by industry people in New Zealand who needed a hydro-electric dam to produce energy for the diamond mine they were putting in. She cried because I related it to losing Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health or the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and having love for a building. [The loss of that building would mean] not being able to practice your culture or traditions or have community gatherings anymore “because, what if the Ottawa River covered it all?” like the Waikato River in Hora Hora did? It was an example of how much this can affect our next generation. The very next visit, she was explaining to a new summer camp youth about Brett Graham’s “Āniwaniwa”  piece – she was confident and she wasn’t crying, she was participating and had learned a little piece of Indigenous history.”


Aniwaniwa
from Tony Clark on Vimeo.

Maori artist Brett Graham’s “Āniwaniwa”  is one of the moving installations at the National Gallery that communicates, in an aesthetically stunning way, a painful memory. I doubt that there is a single work included at Sakahàn that doesn’t touch on deep pain but with 150 pieces by over 80 Indigenous artists from 16 countries it is clear that there is a growing global movement to express and explore the best way to communicate the legacy of trauma to audiences of all backgrounds.

While visiting Ottawa from New Zealand Brett Graham had a chance to lead a workshop with the summer camp kids. With incredible experiences like this, where the youth are up-close and personal with some of the leading international artists of our time, they get the chance to have many magical moments.

The spark created by Sakahàn will give our youth the chance to go on to create a new cultural legacy for this country. It’s going to be amazing to see the artistic fruits that these children grow.

Can’t wait!

Logo for Sakahan Youth


Trailer by filmmaker Melody McKiver for Sakahàn Youth‘s Junior Curator project – Nigi Mikan / I Found It: Indigenous Women’s Identity

SAKAHAN CLOSES THIS LABOUR MONDAY, SEPT 2. DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO SEE THIS GROUNDBREAKING EXHIBIT!

Sakahàn’s Youth Programs through the National Gallery include:

Youth Tours
Junior Curator Program
Sakahàn Youth Ambassadors
Our Ways; Our Stories
– a lecture workshop series

As well as partnership programs with the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition:
Sakahàn Youth Summer Camps
Concentric Circles – Artists stay at 3 local reserves (Kitigan Zibi, Pikwàkanagàn, Akwesasne) for 1 week
Sakahan School Programs – this program will continue past Sakahan’s closing date of Sept 2 into the school year.

Follow  Sakahàn Youth on Facebook and twitter @Sakahan_Youth.

Also check out the CBC’s Waubgeshig Rice’s coverage of the Sakahàn Youth program
Teaching through aboriginal art camp: Children in Ottawa are learning about the First Nations culture through the Sakahàn camp”

Poster for Youth programming for Sakahan with image of a stone carving of two hands joined by a lock.