P r e s e n t a t i o n s
Inuk film producer and director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril focuses her work on the preservation of Inuit culture, history, and language. Her independent production company, Unikkaat Studios Inc., produces films in a range of genres, from animation to documentary. Her films have been screened at film festivals internationally and have garnered numerous awards. Arnaquq-Baril’s short film Inuit High-Kick celebrates the Inuit tradition of games and features Inuit games athlete Johnny Issaluk. After graduating from high school, Arnaquq-Baril pursued a computer science degree at the University of Waterloo, only to be drawn toward Sheridan College’s illustration program. During her illustration degree, her career took another turn when she acted as a film editor and translator for a filmmaker from the South. It was at this point that she fell in love with filmmaking, and shortly after finishing her degree she opened her own studio and began work on Tunnit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos. Although the film has been screened primarily for a northern audience out of concerns surrounding cultural appropriation, she is looking to expand its distribution in the future. Arnaquq-Baril speaks to the revitalization of tattooing in Inuit communities and the decolonization of traditions on both a personal and communal level. Her works focus on “un-shaming,” decolonization, and the revitalization of traditions that have been prohibited from without. She stresses the necessity of cultural recovery in order to overcome colonial forces both within and without. In an effort to create a dialogue within communities, Arnaquq-Baril’s films often tackle sensitive issues: from homophobia within Inuit communities to the anti-seal hunt campaigns. While traditional Inuit conflict resolution techniques often involved humour and games as a means of diffusing tension, Arnaquq-Baril stresses that non-Inuit audiences sometimes underestimate Inuit people’s rage and frustration. She calls to her community to speak out against injustice while remaining “brave, bold, and unflinchingly [themselves].”
Katherena Vermette is a Métis poet, novelist, and children’s author from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her first collection of poems, North End Love Songs, earned her the Governor General’s award for poetry in 2013. The collection explores her experience of growing up in the notorious North End of Winnipeg. As well as being an author, Vermette is actively involved in coordinating art programs within her community. Vermette traces her lineage back to the Red River resistance, citing her family’s innovative survival strategies in the face of oppression. In her practice, she draws inspiration from the rivers that snake through Manitoba. Unlike the gentle Assiniboine or the blissful Seine rivers, the Red River, she says, is a fierce, temperamental river, into which things disappear and never return. In August 2014, two bodies were found in the river, and these tragedies prompted community members to take action. Vermette’s friend Bernadette Smith started Drag the Red, an initiative of dredging the river to find clues regarding missing Indigenous persons. Vermette collaborated with NFB filmmaker Erika MacPherson for This River Is a Woman, which documents the Drag the Red movement. The documentary also tells the story of Vermette’s brother, whose body was found in the river more than twenty-five years prior. Shot entirely on the Red River by an all women crew, the film also tells the stories of some of the Drag the Red volunteers. Although the initiative has yielded very little viable DNA, hair and clothing has been brought to the surface. Law enforcement has been at times supportive, and at others, dismissive of the initiative, seeing it as unrealistic. At the same time, Vermette sees the dredging process as a way of moving the energies around within the river, thereby allowing the river to “give back.”
Painter, curator, critic, and educator Robert Houle is a contemporary Saulteaux artist based in Toronto. A member of the Sandy Bay First Nation, Houle has been exhibiting internationally for more than forty years, and earned him the Governor General’s award for Visual and Media Arts in 2015. Houle also worked as an instructor at the Ontario College of Art and Design for nearly twenty years. Drawing on both Indigenous and Western aesthetic and spiritual traditions, Houle’s work addresses intercultural relations. Houle proudly self-identifies as Blue Thunder, his Indigenous name, recalling the oppression and denigration of his culture in residential school. Despite coming from a large family with a very modest income, Houle’s parents supported his pursuit of higher education, and he attended McGill University for art history. In his 1985 series Parfleches for the Last Supper, Houle draws inspiration from the life of Christ as well as traditional Indigenous medicine bags, or parfleches. Houle designed an individual parfleche for Christ and his twelve apostles, using raw pigments and porcupine quills to embellish the simulated leather bundles. Houle describes the process as a way of “exorcising his Catholic upbringing.” With a grant from the Canada Council, Houle recently participated in a residency in France to study the French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, from which his multimedia installation Paris/Ojibwa originated. Focusing on the disappearance of Indigenous peoples, Paris/Ojibwa series also honours the famous 19th-century Ojibwa dance troupe that performed for the Parisian Court. Similarly, Houle’s Seven Grandfathers series combines ceremonial drums with contemporary abstraction as a means of honouring the spiritual grandfathers. The work is permanently displayed in the Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Speaking to issues surrounding the aesthetic appropriation of Indigenous cultures, Houle makes an important distinction between inspiration and careless repetition.
Waneek Horn-Miller is a former Olympic athlete and the current Storyboots ambassador for Manitobah Mukluks. From the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, Horn-Miller spent nine years as a member of the Canadian Women’s Waterpolo Team, earning a Gold Medal at the 1999 Pan American Games. Named Carleton University’s Women’s Athlete of the Year for three years in a row, Horn-Miller was also inducted into the Carleton Athletics Hall of Fame. In recent years, Horn-Miller has worked as a sports commentator, motivational speaker, and brand ambassador. While not an artist herself, she loves the vulnerability that is allowed in the arts community compared to the athletic sphere. During the Oka Crisis, Horn-Miller was stabbed by a bayonet and nearly died, after which she had her first experience with motivational speaking. After her Olympic career finished, Horn-Miller returned to public speaking to tell out-of-the-box success stories. During this period, she encountered the Indigenous-owned company Manitobah Mukluks, which strives to make traditional footwear mainstream. Owned by Métis entrepreneur Sean McCormick, the company focuses on giving back to the community. They provide scholarships and bursaries to Indigenous students as well as supporting Métis-owned housing. With an Indigenous hiring policy at all levels of the company, Manitobah Mukluks focuses on authenticity as well as quality. Horn-Miller emphasizes that fashion is a place where some people first encounter Indigenous issues, seeing Manitobah Mukluks as a stepping stone towards reconciliation. Horn-Miller is the director of the company’s Storyboots program, which passes on the skills of mukluk-making to Indigenous communities. The program allows individuals to then sell their mukluks for fine art rather than craft prices, from which they receive 100% of the profits. For Horn-Miller, Manitobah Mukluks has an integral role to play in both cultural revitalization and public education.
Andrea Menard is a Vancouver-based Métis singer-songwriter, playwright, speaker, and actor. Menard has released four award-winning CDs blending jazz, theatrical, folk, and Indigenous spiritual teachings. Two of these albums have been adapted for TV specials. As an actor, Menard starred in the award-winning programs Black Stone and Moccasin Flats and she is currently playing a role on The Switch, the first sitcom focused on a transgendered person. Menard describes the process of walking into her spirit name, Grandmother Wind. Seeing her life in relation to the medicine wheel, Menard describes coming into the four parts of her gift: as a singer, Menard became connected to the spirit world; as an actor, she learned to feel through the telling of stories; as a writer, she became a vehicle for her ancestors’ words; and as a speaker, she communicated her own story. Five years ago, Menard experienced the trauma of heartbreak, at which point she became sensitive to melancholy lyrics. Describing the experience as being “hurt by music,” Menard decided to create an “uplifting, joyful, playlist” for herself. Recognizing the dearth of positive music, she made the decision to write an uplifting album herself that celebrated the miracles, rather than the hardships, within communities. Entitled Lift, the album title comes from the experience of her late friend, actor Gordon Tootoosis, speaking to her from the spirit world. For Menard, artists have earned the right to share the stories and teachings for the wellbeing of the community, because artists have a vision of where the community is going. Menard cites the New Sun Conference itself as part of envisioning positive Indigenous futures, which she affirms will be marked by wholeness, health, and beauty.
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