In his book Fugitive Poses, Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence (1998), Anshinaabe author Gerald Vizenor reflects on the concept of “survivance” as it is played out in the arts and lives of contemporary Aboriginal peoples. He writes: “Survivance, in the sense of native survivance, is more than survival, more than endurance or mere response; the stories of survivance are an active presence…The native stories of survivance are successive and natural estates; survivance is an active repudiation of dominance, tragedy, and victimry.” In Postindian Conversations (1999) he adds: “Survivance stories honor the humor and tragic wisdom of the situation, not the market value of victimry… Stories of survivance are a sure sense of presence.”

Stories of “survivance” and “a sure sense of presence” are what we gather to share and celebrate today; visual, verbal, and musical stories of contemporary indigenous experience: in the films of Ernest Webb, which seek to promote linguistic and environmental preservation and find humour in the possibilities of community television; in the drawings of Annie Pootoogook, which depict, with unflinching detail and gritty realism, the challenges facing present-day Inuit communities in the North; in the efforts of artist/curators Barry Ace and Ryan Rice to increase the public visibility of Aboriginal arts, and expand indigenous scholarship; in the plays and poetry of Daniel David Moses, which draw from both oral and literary traditions to animate what is particular and what is universal in the lives of Aboriginal peoples; and in the songs and performance of Elisapie Isaac and Taima, which transcend cultural and linguistic borders to strike a common cord in all of us.

These stories of Aboriginal survivance, expressed through a range of artistic media, testify to the vitality of contemporary Aboriginal culture and affirm a sure sense of presence that enriches us all.

All my relations,
Allan J. Ryan


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