P r e s e n t a t i o n s

Dorothy Grant

Haute couture fashion designer Dorothy Grant draws symbolism from her Haida culture to create high fashion pieces that are known around the world, many of which have been collected in museums and galleries. Born in Ketchikan, Alaska, Grant attended college in Seattle and moved to Canada in 1980. She grounds her artistic practice in Haida notions of respect for oneself and others, learned from elder Florence Edenshaw Davidson who instructed her in traditional weaving when Grant was in her early 20s. Graduating from design school in 1988, Grant had her first fashion show at a hotel in Vancouver in 1989, which included 55 hand-cut and stitched pieces, many of which were purchased on-site. She then established her own boutique in Vancouver to house her unique clothing line. Making efforts to bring her clothing line to the international stage, Grant collaborated with an Italian wool company to produce five unique designs. Regarding concerns of cultural appropriation, Grant emphasizes that she not only has the cultural rights to the motifs she uses, but that she is selling a particular aesthetic, which is not the same as commercializing ceremonial garb. Over a 17-year period, Grant owned three retail stores in Vancouver, at first producing exclusively high-end pieces, and then creating more affordable works to reflect market trends. As well as employing Indigenous models, Grant mentored young Indigenous designers at her boutiques, providing them with the ground-level business knowledge that she had to learn on her own. In 2011, Grant recreated her business model, closing her boutique and instead operating out of a small studio, selling her pieces online and at trade shows. She continues to mentor young designers while also lending her expertise to an Indigenous mother’s centre in downtown Vancouver, where single mothers receive training in sewing and knitting. As a fellow at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, Grant began work on a book outlining her life story and philosophy of art which she hopes to publish in the near future.

Daniel Heath Justice

In his presentation entitled “Imagining Otherwise,” author and educator Daniel Heath Justice articulates his methods of indigenizing the academic community. The discussion should not be divided between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, Justice affirms, rather between individuals and systemic discrimination. In his position as an Indigenous literature professor at the University of British Columbia, Justice outlines some of the impacts of the Idle No More movement, which include increased Indigenous solidarity. Reflecting on the title of the movement, he reiterates Lee Maracle’s observation that Indigenous people have been engaged in this type of resistance for decades, but that different work is now required. Justice envisions different kinds of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, which can be achieved through lived relationships, ceremony, language, and story. In his role as an author, Justice emphasizes the transformative nature of stories, which have the potential to heal or wound. He values narratives for their role in healing: stories honour the relationships entrusted to Indigenous people and affirm a sustained Indigenous presence in the world. Growing up Cherokee in a small mining community in Colorado, Justice found sanctuary in fantasy literature, which featured characters who could transform the world with their thoughts. In university, Justice became exposed to Indigenous literature for the first time, focusing his graduate studies on Cherokee literature. Reflecting on the potential of Indigenous storytelling, he affirms that “stories remind us of what has been lost but that not everything has been lost,” encouraging empathy for others while reminding individuals of their shared futures. Justice is currently based in Vancouver, where he writes “wonder tales” rather than fantasy, a term he prefers for the humility it implies. While fantasy is often criticized as escapist, Justice distinguishes between the escape of the prisoner and the flight of the deserter. As well as appealing to many Indigenous readers, genre fiction such as fantasy or science fiction can be a safe space for Indigenous authors to discuss challenging subjects such as colonialism, politics, sovereignty, and spirituality.

Tantoo Cardinal

Award-winning stage, film, and television actress Tantoo Cardinal is well-known for her roles in such films as Dances With Wolves, Black Robe, Where the Rivers Flow North, Smoke Signals, and Legends of the Fall, as well as her recent stage work in King Lear. Cardinal began her acting career with a short cameo role in a CBC docudrama, in which she plays a young woman who unquestioningly trusts the Oblate priest Father Lacombe, a position far removed from her own experiences. While she vehemently disagreed with the idealized depiction of the Church, she used the role as an opportunity to honour the stories of family members who had such experiences. Born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Cardinal was raised by her grandparents in the bush community of Anzac, where she experienced the intergenerational effects of colonial violence through her grandmother. Growing up without access to her culture, Cardinal still learned some Cree from her grandmother, but, more significantly for her, she learned methods of living in the bush as well as respect for animals and hunters. Reflecting on the legacies of colonialism, Cardinal describes her process of reconnecting with her culture as one of “digging through the rubble” to discover the things of value. While acknowledging the misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples and histories in many Hollywood films, Cardinal strives to draw out the truthful elements of each story. Speaking about the alienation of Indigenous peoples within the education system, Cardinal explained how she chose to forego formal training in favour of Indigenous forms of experiential learning. Having no stable community or family, Cardinal developed strong connections to the Creator and the land. It was this foundation that gave her strength upon arrival in the city, which was an alienating experience for her, as it is for many Indigenous people. Cardinal has spoken in schools as part of an effort to change the education system to be more inclusive of Indigenous experiences.

Gerald McMaster

Curator and visual artist Gerald McMaster received his Master’s degree in anthropology from Carleton University and his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam. As a curator, he organized such landmark exhibitions as Indigena and Reservation X for the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC), where he served as the curator of Indigenous art. McMaster also helped launch the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, overseeing the work of several curators and collaborating extensively with architects. He is the recipient of numerous awards including a National Aboriginal Achievement Award and the Order of Canada. McMaster also curated Edward Poitras’ exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1995. He served as an artistic director for the Biennale of Sydney, his largest project to date, as well as being an artistic director for Nuit Blanche in Toronto, which included the work of artists such as Kent Monkman. McMaster most recently served as the curator of contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and was one of the key figures responsible for its redesign, significantly improving Indigenous visibility within the history of Canadian art. He participated in the First National Conference on Aboriginal Arts in 1978, which would later develop into the Society of Canadian Artists of Native Ancestry (SCANA). Growing up on the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan, McMaster was cared for by his grandmother, from whom he learned many stories. He relays a traditional Indigenous creation story as an analogy for his own experience growing up and expanding his views through travel and interacting with different people and communities. Beginning his curatorial career in his late 20s at the First Nations University of Canada, McMaster then moved to the now CMC. He acknowledges the importance of mentors in his artistic and curatorial career, and, in his own role as a mentor he emphasizes the importance of moving forward and looking for new experiences. Drawing parallels between the Idle No More movement and his own experiences as an Indigenous rights activist in the 1970s, McMaster emphasizes that he and other activists were attempting to alter prevailing narratives that they had grown up with. Regarding the challenges he faced throughout his career, McMaster emphasizes the prevalence of ethnocentrism, but he also stresses that circumstances have improved significantly since the 1990s through improved scholarship and quality of artists.

Lucie Idlout

Blues-rock singer/songwriter, recording artist, and television host Lucie Idlout was born in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, but now calls Igloolik home. Citing the historical treatment of Indigenous people by the Canadian government, Idlout refers to the denigration and dehumanization of Inuit people, evidenced in such measures as the removal of names in favour of a numeric system. Idlout’s mother sent her away from her community to receive an education, but she became disconnected from her traditional roots in the process. As a young woman, she was able to reconnect with her Inuit roots by learning traditional songs, throat-singing, drumming, and contemporary Inuit music, while also maintaining connections to Southern music. Idlout emphasizes that Inuit people persevere in the face of adversity, and it is because of the negative perceptions of Inuit people that she “hears the music.” Idlout attended Carleton University in Ottawa, initially studying politics and working at the National Inuit Office (now the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami). She experimented with a variety of art forms, eventually deciding on music for its potential to express her own voice. Idlout was offered her first music show in 1998, which was a challenging experience as she had never played with a band before and found performing on a stage to be very formal; however, she trusted her instincts and impressed audiences with her powerful voice and lyrics. Idlout is currently working as an economic developer, emphasizing the importance of tourism and the arts in the North as primary sources of income. She is also raising her young son Thomassie and considers her role as a mother to be paramount because of the difficulties of growing up in the North. Idlout reflects on the low quality of education available for Inuit youth, emphasizing that it is necessary to learn English as well as Inuktitut in order to access better education in the South. In regards to distinctions between traditional and non-traditional music, Idlout affirms that any music that comes out of Inuit people is traditional because it comes from Inuit people, who have the right to determine their own culture.

Synopses by Anna Eyler

Please note: All presentations have been archived on DVD and can be borrowed individually from Carleton University’s MacOdrum Library.

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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