P r e s e n t a t i o n s
Anishnaabe visual artist Nadia Myre explores community, Indigenous identity, colonialism, and contemporary political issues in her work. Having grown up without access to her cultural traditions, Myre constructed History in Two Parts, a functioning canoe with an aluminum bow and birch bark stern, to explore the meaning of indigeneity. Myre then “performed the canoe” in a short video entitled Portrait in Motion, addressing issues of voyeurism and the Western gaze and subverting romanticized notions of Indigenous peoples. With her installation Grandmother’s Circle, Myre expands on the intergenerational transmission of women’s knowledge as a means of reconnecting with her own community. In the centre of Grandmother’s Circle, Myre has positioned a video piece entitled Wish, reflecting her desire to commune with her ancestors through rhythmic movement. Myre’s later piece, The Dreamers, similarly reflects on men’s roles within the community. In an untitled installation from the exhibition Contract, Myre recreated the Two Row Wampum alongside a canvas which presents the Wampum as a scar, reflecting on the role of contracts in Indigenous-settler relationships. Myre further engages with colonial history and contemporary political issues in 56 pages of the Indian Act, an installation created over two years which involved more than 230 volunteers engaged in the process of “beading the Indian Act.” Through this process, Myre initiated the reclamation of this controlling piece of legislation for Indigenous peoples. In Stars and Stripes, Welcome to Kanata, and Rethinking Anthem, Myre questions notions of American and Canadian identity as they relate to Indigenous peoples. Myre’s recent beadwork series Journey of the Seventh Fire reflects on corporate exploitation of Indigenous lands for profit. In another beadwork series entitled Design Schematics, Myre investigates the sexualization of piping and instrumentation diagrams. Myre’s ongoing Scar Project series again engages community members in the artistic process, with individuals depicting their personal scars on canvases and composing a story to accompany it, after which Myre selected 100 from the more than 800 canvases and beaded the most common symbols herself.
Inuit poet, writer, filmmaker, and hip-hop artist Mosha Folger begins his presentation with a spoken word poem entitled “Until the Walls Come Tumbling,” reflecting on the beginning of his people’s journeys in the North and celebrating their patience and tenacity. Born in Iqaluit to an Inuk mother and an American father, Folger reflects on the intergenerational effects of residential schools regarding his own mother in his short film Anaana, through which he attempts to move from understanding to healing. Within other media, as well, Folger’s artistic process begins with his personal experiences, through which he addresses social and political issues. Folger notes the ongoing commercialization of Inuit art, highlighting the contribution of his own grandfather, renowned printmaker Pudlo Pudlat, who epitomized self-expression in his documentation of the changes across the Arctic in the 1950s. Having worked for the National Inuit Organization and the Nunavut government, Folger stresses that Inuit youth should no longer be pushed into politics, as land claims have been settled, and instead allowed to express themselves creatively. Folger stresses that his work is informed by and is an expression of his cultural background, as well as reflecting his desire for young Inuit people to generate their own artistic visions. In the spoken-word poem “Relation/Separation,” Folger tells the story of his return to Iqaluit after a hiatus during his youth, exploring notions of community and identity. In a tripartite hip-hop piece, Folger demonstrates the breadth of issues that he explores in his work, from the exploitation of Inuit people by the Canadian government to social issues such as suicide, alcoholism, molestation, and domestic abuse. From his album Eskimocentricity, Folger’s music video for “Never Saw It” juxtaposes breakdancing with traditional Inupiat dancing to celebrate the vibrancy of traditional and contemporary forms of Inuit artistic expression. Folger describes his own transition from spoken word to hip-hop as a means of reaching a wider audience. Folger has recently released his second CD entitled String Games.
Internationally renowned Anishnaabe architect Douglas Cardinal speaks to the reconciliation of European and Indigenous worldviews in his work, having been raised by a German mother and an Indigenous father. As an Indigenous rights activist, Cardinal first pursued constitutional reform, but decided to return to his cultural roots and take action through personal artistic contribution as a more effective decolonization strategy. Cardinal stresses the importance of reinstituting the cultural values of generosity and the understanding of the interconnectivity of all beings. Cardinal’s architectural philosophy, called “organic architecture,” is centred on the harmony and balance of structures, individuals, and the natural environment. A building is like an organism, says Cardinal, with each cell possessing a particular function, over which structural systems are then overlaid. Cardinal is responsible for the interior and exterior design of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which celebrates Indigenous peoples in the magnificent Grand Hall, and for which he commissioned groundbreaking computer technology. His success with the CMC allowed him to gain work internationally. Cardinal designed the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, alongside a team of elders, focusing on the theme of reconciliation while highlighting positive Indigenous achievements. St. Mary’s Church was Cardinal’s first building, designed to honour the site where he was exposed to architecture and art. For this building, he underwent extensive training in engineering to better implement his design. Cardinal engaged the entire community for his design of St. Albert’s Place, a complex that includes a city hall, arts and craft museum, and civic centre. Cardinal has designed many buildings for Indigenous peoples, including a hospital in Sioux Lookout that combines traditional healing and western medicine, which is shaped as a medicine wheel to mark the earth in respect for the Ojibwe people. He also designed the First Nations University in Regina, a structure dedicated to archiving Indigenous knowledge. Cardinal reflects on the European worldview which is centred on disconnection, power, and control, and how this is reflected in buildings which segregate individuals. He stresses the importance of remaining connected to elders and the traditional knowledge they possess.
Armand Garnet Ruffo
Ojibwe writer, poet, educator, and filmmaker Armand Garnet Ruffo discusses his experience transforming his award-winning stage play, A Windigo Tale, into a feature length film. The play reflects on the intergenerational impact of the residential school system using traditional Anishnaabe storytelling strategies. Ruffo maintains that Indigenous peoples must reflect on the past in order to understand the present, and the prominent figure of the Windigo therefore serves as a method for addressing contemporary issues. Ruffo received a CBC Arts Performance Showcase Award for his stage play, after which certain scenes were selected for filming and screening. Shortly thereafter, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation selected his play to be filmed in its entirety for television. While taking courses in screenwriting and filmmaking, Ruffo adapted the script for an image-based medium and contacted a local film production company. After a verbal agreement with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network fell through, Ruffo secured a screen writer and decided to direct the film himself. In February 2006, Ruffo set up a small-scale twenty-day shoot in Six Nations with actors Gary Farmer, Jani Lauzon, and Lee Maracle. The project included a mentoring project for youths on the reserve. To Ruffo’s dismay, financial problems forced him to shut down production with only 82 out of 130 scenes complete. Ruffo decided to draw together the footage with a narration by Gary Farmer, who would narrate the story to his grandson on a road trip. Ruffo posted casting on Manitoulin Island, through which he found Elliot Simon to play the youth. After securing money through grants, Ruffo planned a five-day shoot in Renfrew and Ottawa. Ruffo secured help with editing the rough cut and sent his film to the Banff Centre for professional editing. The film won Best Picture at the Dreamspeakers Film Festival in Edmonton, People’s Choice Award at Bay Street Film Festival in Thunder Bay, Best Aboriginal Film at the Brantford Film Festival, and Best Picture at San Francisco’s American Indian Film Festival, among others.
Git Hayetsk Dancers, Mike Dangeli, and Mique’l Askren
Leaders of the Git Hayesk Dancers Mike Dangeli and Mique’l Askren address the oppressive standards of Western art, which devalue dancing and singing for their inability to be archived and displayed. Dangeli, a member of the Nisga’a, Tlingit, Tsetsaut, and Tsimshian Nations, emphasizes that sharing songs and dances is an exercise of wealth and power which entails a sense of responsibility. Also a member of the Tsimshian Nation, Askren stresses that what are referred to as “objects” in museums are in fact ceremonial beings within their traditions. While the museums may have their tangible manifestations, they do not possess their power, as new beings can be made by calling on the power of the supernatural beings. Commending Ruffo’s inclusion of the Windigo in his work, Askren stresses the importance of referring to cultural heroes in the present tense in order to maintain the contemporary relevance and presence of Indigenous peoples. The Git Hayetsk’s “Song of the Whales” was composed by Dangeli’s great grandfather, having survived the potlatch ban through its use as a funeral dirge. Askren reflects on the ways bodies retain memories through periods of prohibition. The “Chief’s Song” celebrates the primacy of the chiefs and matriarchs in the community, and the accompanying dance involves eagle feathers being thrown down as a sign of peace. Dangeli and Askren refer to the way songs are gifted and received in their entirety, transmitting the community’s oral history and expressing their territories. Both Dangeli and Askren emphasize the importance of the “Northwind Song”, which invests the individual with strength to deal with traumatic moments. Dangeli also works as a carver, and to demonstrate his artistic intention, he raised his first totem pole at a potlatch, through which he gained approval from the community. Askren discusses Benjamin Arthur Haldane, the subject of her Master’s thesis and one of the first Indigenous photographers in North America, whose work inspired her choreography for the photography dance. This piece serves to reverse the gaze and acknowledge the importance of digital media in Indigenous arts, as contemporary forms of Indigenous expression are equally as valid as traditional dances.
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