P r e s e n t a t i o n s
Multimedia artist and educator George Littlechild creates narrative work that both undermines colonial/setter narratives and unveils personal and cultural histories. In the painting Written History, for example, Littlechild discusses traditional warfare and the relationship between his Cree ancestors and the settler community, highlighting the effects of Christianity on Indigenous ways of life. Littlechild first pursued formal artistic training at Red Deer College, where he was cautioned to not use Indigenous imagery in his work. After college, he attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where he had the space and support to artistically embrace his Indigenous heritage. Many of his pieces from this period address the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, from contact to the present day. While addressing serious and oftentimes brutal histories, Littlechild often approaches these issues with humour and wit. In Mrs. Smith See Her First Teepee, Littlechild playfully critiques the ignorance of colonial racial hierarchies. Other works, however, maintain a more sober tone, delving into issues surrounding forced relocation, residential schools, racial stereotyping, the 60s Scoop, and RCMP violence, which Littlechild approaches through layering, collage, and text. Littlechild often draws material from national archives, bringing photographs of Indigenous people back to consult with elders on reserves and attribute names to the individuals depicted. Many of these images are then incorporated into his collage work. Throughout his prolific career, Littlechild has seen the educational value of art as a way of both transmitting stories and histories to others as well as being a path towards personal and cultural healing for Indigenous peoples.
Actress, playwright, and founding member of Spiderwoman Theatre, Gloria Miguel has been telling Indigenous stories for more than 40 years. Miguel is of Kuna/Rappahannock ancestry on her father’s side but grew up in Brooklyn, NY, away from her community. Miguel’s father worked for rodeos and Wild West shows while she was growing up, which brought her and her family into contact with Indigenous people from across North America. Disillusioned with show business from a young age, Miguel instead pursued music at the church, through which she became very interested in theatre. Miguel started a family in Stanford, California, but once her children had grown older, she decided to start a theatre company with her two sisters: Spiderwoman. The first Spiderwoman production addressed the violence the sisters had experienced in their lives, catapulting them onto the artistic scene. The sisters continued to write and star in their own productions at Spiderwoman, totaling nearly 25 productions before Miguel’s eldest sister passed away. Later in her career, Miguel also pursued solo autobiographical projects. In Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Miguel talks about her role as a wife and mother and how she and her daughter reconnected with their Indigenous roots during the early years of the American Indian Movement. Through her work, Miguel hopes to bridge the gap between Indigenous elders and young people, telling stories that can bring generations together.
Journalist and author Waubgeshig Rice has been working in radio and television media and literature for nearly 20 years. Rice considers himself a conduit for other peoples’ stories, while he sees the elders as the true storytellers of his community. Rice views the sharing of stories as a method of healing and as a way of undermining colonial narratives. Through stories, we can “teach, learn, entertain, and heal,” states Rice. Discussing his experience covering the family gathering at the roundtable on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, Rice was struck by power of storytelling and sharing. Individuals who had lost family members were willing to re-open wounds as part of a collective desire to teach and to learn. Growing up in Wasauksing in the 1980s, Rice was interested in English writing from an early age. He pursued an international exchange program in Germany for his final year of high school and was contacted by the Anishinabek News to write a monthly article series on his experiences, marking his first foray into professional journalism. During this period, Rice found himself in the role of ambassador for all Indigenous peoples of North America. At the same time, he realized the power of media storytelling to educate people about Indigenous cultures. Rice pursued studies in journalism at Ryerson, joining the CBC in Winnipeg in 2006. Rice also maintains a literary career alongside his full-time career as a journalist. In his 2011 novel Midnight Sweatlodge, Rice reflects on tokenism and the challenges of being an Indigenous person pursuing post-secondary education. Despite challenges, however, Rice has seen significant improvements in the educational system for Indigenous peoples over his lifetime, both in the inclusion of Indigenous languages in curricula and in the incorporation of Indigenous pedagogical structures.
Tiio Horn is an actress, writer, director, and producer from Kahnawake, with recurring roles in such television series as Defiance and Netflix’s original series Hemlock Grove. Horn decided early on that she wanted to pursue a career in acting, but very few arts programs were available on her reserve. Instead, Horn focused on sports during her adolescence, which, she affirms, prepared her well for acting by teaching her body awareness, discipline, and perseverance. After high school, Horn attended Dawson College for theatre and shortly thereafter was signed with an agent. Horn auditioned and secured a role in a film on the Oka Crisis, an event that she had experienced first-hand alongside her sister, Waneek Horn-Miller, who was stabbed in the chest by a soldier’s bayonet during the conflict. Horn has gone on to have roles in short films and festival works such as The Trotsky, The Wild Hunt, and Leslie, My Name is Evil among others. After an exhausting and uninspiring pilot season in Los Angeles, Horn decided to write a short film that would allow her to speak about her own life experiences. The film, entitled “The Smoke Shack,” is a humorous take on her experience of selling cigarettes on her reserve. Horn produced and starred in the film, which premiered at ImagiNative. Horn wrote another script with her sister Waneek that tells the story of their mother, Kahn-Tineta Horn, who was prominent activist for Indigenous rights in the 1960s and 70s. Future projects include a short film called “Rats” as well as a film on the Oka Crisis from an insider perspective. Horn aspires to tell more Indigenous stories in the future, particularly those of her family.
ShoShona Kish and Raven Kanatakta together form the Juno award-winning musical duo Digging Roots. Kish and Kanatakta have been travelling, composing, and raising a family on the road for nearly 10 years. After starting Digging Roots in 2004, the duo release their first album, Seeds, in 2006. Their second album, We Are…, originated through a process of song mapping called songlines, which is based on the contours of the landscape. For this album, while they had originally approached the process very academically, they eventually responded to the landscape more organically, recording sound samples and allowing to the landscape to resonate emotionally. In their travels to Norway, Kish and Kanatakta had the chance to collaborate with Sami musicians as part of a cultural exchange program. Together they composed a song for Digging Roots’ most recent album, For the Light, which is named for the fleeting sun experienced in northern regions during winter. During this collaborative process, Kanatakta learned that the Sami people also “read” the contours of the landscape to create their music. This experience of shared cross-cultural practices also came to light in the duo’s travels to Mexico, where they shared tobacco and sang songs with the Indigenous people of the region. Kish and Kanatakta see music as a tool for healing, as a force that “vibrates despite language or culture.” Digging Roots have participated in many workshops with youth on reserves and have seen firsthand the power of music to heal and to bond individuals together. Despite the undertone of racism in Canada, Digging Roots views music as a powerful tool to allow individuals to relate to one another.
Synopses by Anna Eyler
Please note: All presentations have been archived on DVD and can be borrowed individually from Carleton University’s MacOdrum Library.
A presentation of the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture
with the support of the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and the New Sun Fund
administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa, plus the generosity of private donors