INDIANacts: Aboriginal Performance Art

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CD 1 – KEYNOTE – INDIAN ACTS – NOV. 29/02 (6 TRACKS: 48:33)
TRACK 1 (5:08)
GLENN ALTEEN: Hello. Greetings. Welcome to INDIANacts: Aboriginal Performance Art. And, uh, what was that? Okay, and as traditional, uh, it’s, in, uh, West Coast tradition it’s, uh, there’s usually a welcoming by somebody that’s from this territory, and, uh, from this territory we have today, who just came back from being away for a long time, I’d like to welcome Yuxweluptun.
YUXWELUPTUN: Well… Welcome to my territory, or Salish territory. Many things have happened over the years, uh and uh… It is a sacred ground. Every season changes, and, you now, it’s… How do you love this land, uh? The ground you walk on in this, in our, in our territory? And, um, that’s what it is about. We’re here to celebrate this time uh together, to walk together on this land at this point, and, uh. There’s a lot of performance artists that are here and they’re going to entertain us. And Great Spirit will guide us through this journey in the next couple of days, and see what uh natives do, and, uh… You know it’s interesting that, when you come home and … I really recognize the seasons that change here, you know I’m, ‘cause uh, I’m. I am a mask dancer and a black face dancer. And the seasons have changed now where the frog, uh, tells you that… It’s good that, uh, we understand some of these things here. The mountain that, that we see every day is, is the sacred mountains and it uh, to us it’s about the seowan comes down from the mountain in the winter and it, it, uh, shares its time with us. And, you know, I really like those people to, to be up there skiing and being children in that, in that sacred area, because it, it warms their heart. It makes their spirit really good and sometimes they don’t really understand why. But it… When you’re up there on top of these mountains where we’ve, we’ve had them for a long time, it does give you that energy, this, this area does give you energy. The rain¬¬—when your spirits are low—it, it rejuvenates your body for you. The natural world around you is, is, is for you and, uh, so that’s all I have to say. Um. I was supposed to be nice. [LAUGHTER.] They, they bent my arm. [LAUGHTER] I was not supposed to say anything political. So, so, I know that there’s, there’s, there’s been political things going on in this country and somebody said that there was a moron somewhere, but uh, [LAUGHTER] I know that in Canada that there is some morons as well, so, we’re just as bunch as much as Canadians so, as that I’ll say I will leave it at that. And, uh, that’s all I’m allowed to say. And, and uh… [LAUGHTER] This was really, really, really tough [LAUGHTER. APPLAUSE]
TRACK 2 (9:17)

GA: And it’s been left to me to do some thank-yous. And uh, there’s a bunch of people to thank here. And uh… First off is our partners right here, is Dana and Lori who’ve been amazing through all this. And uh, organizing a conference with the two busiest women in the world is what this has all been about. Like there can’t be two people that are on the go. Through the, through this, at one point in time, Lori and I were in… I was opening a show in Venice at the same time she was doing a performance in Milan. And somehow in the communication we didn’t even know we were both in Italy until we both came back. So it was like, it was, just bizarre. And uh, it, it was a, a great process to get through this. It’s been crazy trying to communicate with the, get it all together. We’ve all been, three of us, very, very busy. Which left it mostly to Daina Warren to organize this thing. And Daina’s done an amazing job at putting this together and I think she deserves a really big hand. [APPLAUSE] But there were also more people. I’d like to thank people at the grunt: Hillary, Aiyyana Maracle, Bobbi Kozinuk, uh, Peter Morin, people who helped us through this whole thing, and I’m sure I’ve left people out. And finally I’d like to thank our funders which is the Interarts Section of Canada Council, and Claude Schryer, and also Heritage Canada and Deborah Meyers who was very, very good at getting us some money at the last minute and making this happen and I’d like to thank her, ‘cause. And uh… Well, you’ll hear from me later. But now it’s Dana’s turn. Here’s Dana Claxton.
DANA CLAXTON: I’ve written something out. Um, good afternoon and welcome everyone. I‘d like to welcome our, all of our guests from out of town and as well as our local community: all of the artists, the panelists, the moderators, the respondents. I truly believe that, um, you know, this is an electrifying experience, and it will be for all of us. All of us involved in organizing this artist-driven initiative are grateful that you have all agreed to participate. Um, I just want to say that I’ve known Glenn Alteen, hiding in the dark over there. Come into the light a bit! Both of you! [LAUGHTER] She’s hiding, too! Look at them! They just look guilty! [LAUGHTER] I’ve known Glenn Alteen for ten or, ten or so years. And, um, we—him and, and, and me, and the grunt gallery—have worked together in, uh, various capacities. Often he calls me at about nine o’clock in the morning when I’m not quite awake, and he invites me to participate in some grand idea that he has. So he basically, he gets these ideas then he phones people up when you’re sleeping and he gets you to agree to things. And you know and I was thinking I wonder how many times he’s done that to Aiyyana Maracle over the last twenty years? So, for me, he’s called me up and said, “Hey! Let’s go to England and watch Yuxweluptun with a gun shoot the Indian Act.” And I’m like, “Okay….” And then it’s, or, um, you know, “Let’s do a CD-Rom project,” before I knew what a CD-Rom was, he, you know, he, he phoned and said “Let’s make a CD-Rom project of your performance when the peyote singers Primo and Mike were here.” And then he phoned a couple of months ago and said, you know, “We’re gonna go off to Venice and then to England and then to Rome.” So not very long ago, and actually this was only in the spring when this started to, sort of, form, he, he called me up and said that: “We should do something about all the Aboriginal fir, uh, performance artists.” And then he goes on to say, “I think you and somebody else should do something.” And so [LAUGHTER] so I said, “Okay. Well, I’ll, you know, give Lori a call then.” And so what does this really all mean? Um… It means that Glenn Alteen and the grunt gallery have been very committed to engaging Aboriginal voices. And not just mine, but many Aboriginal voices within the gallery’s discourse in a very meaningful way, in a very focused way, and in a very long term way. And I want to thank you, Glenn, very much for your amazing energy [APPLAUSE] and for your unwavering commitment to Aboriginal art. And it’s not a fetish. Um. So now when it comes to Lori. Lori, on the other hand, calls me at seven a.m. in the morning, because of the time difference between the Great Plains and the West Coast. And so whether its smashing, uh, fine bone china in Saskatoon, or her picking nits out of my hair on stage, or going beyond Tonto together, uh, what I think of, wh- wh-, what I think is that she also agrees, she gets me to agree to stuff when I’m half asleep, as well. And, so, um… So when I was writing this I was thinking, “What does this all mean?” Like you know, a- and I was thinking that maybe Lori actually calls Glenn at seven o’clock to, you know, plant some ideas, and then Glenn calls me at nine, then I call Lori back at eleven, and then she calls me back the next day at seven, and here I think that, you know, it, it’s all quite confusing. But…all I know is that Lori and Glenn are very dedicated to waking me up in the morning. [LAUGHTER] And actually, Lori called me this morning at eight-twenty. She rings me up, “Are you sleeping?” And so even when she’s in town she’s phoning and waking me up. Um, so, but, eh, really, is that Lori and Glenn are also both very dedicated to, not only the dis- dissemination of Aboriginal art but pr- uh, to the production of Aboriginal art through their curatorial projects and their commissioning projects and I both, I want to thank both of them for their dedication to Aboriginal art. [APPLAUSE] And I want to say that, Lori, our collaboration for this weekend, uh, has brought together a very magnificent group of artists and your knowledge and your skill, uh, has helped bring together everybody here and, um, these next few days are going to be very exciting and powerful and significant. So thanks for agreeing to co-curating these discussions with me. And we did it all mostly over the phone and we met once in Regina but we were constantly on the phone trying to figure out what to do. I would like to thank Hillary Wood. Is Hillary in here? Oh, she’s out there. Well, I’d like to thank Hillary Wood for writing cheques on the spot. She’s very generous with that. And I’d also like to thank Daina Warren for her glorious generosity in organizing this event. So, so now here we all are: Aboriginal practitioners, artists, scholars and friends, and we’re about to embark on a very concentrated and passionate discussion about our practices and our art. Um, we are here to articulate and to contextualize what we do as artists and writers and scholars, and, most importantly, we are here to acknowledge our creativity, our form, and our content and, as Yuxweluptun said, is that we are here to celebrate our contribution as Indian people to art making as well as our contribution to art history. So I just thank you all for being here. Thanks. [APPLAUSE]
LORI BLONDEAU: I, I don’t think I can follow that, but I think somebody else can. And um, it’s, it was, it’s been pleasure to work with Glenn and Dana and it was, um [mic issues - laughter] The next person I would like to, um, invite up to the stage is James Luna, who is a man I met in 1997. He came to Saskatoon and did a performance and blew the city away and I think him and Saskatoon have had a love affair ever since. Being a performance artist and being Indian and trying to find people who, you know, I could see what kind of work they were making, he was an artist that I came across, and saw his work, and, um, it’s been a real honour to see your work and engage in your work, and, um…. He says that performance art for Indian people is a way that we can engage that doesn’t compromise us. So, without further ado, James Luna.

TRACK 3 (1:04)
JAMES LUNA [FROM VIDEO PRESENTATION] “I think a lot of it, and I’ve done this several times, is sort of play with this image of the warrior.”
TRACK 4 (14:28)
JL: I wanted to mention, uh, uh, this is for Wayne. Well, I want to say, um, thank you to all those who’ve brought me here today. What an honour and a pleasure, not to mention a treat, to be up here, amongst my, uh, my peers… um… peers. This has only happened, um, one time, uh, before where, um, a conference, uh, collected these crazies. And that was way back I think, in ’93, in the States, and it was, um, three day symposium on, um, the school of, uh, contemporary Native art. And, um, our elders were there. Our elder artists, uh, the new and upcoming, and, and it was a great, uh, event, if not only, uh, just to be with one another. To, uh, communicate. I didn’t say “agree” to debate, and just to have a good time. And uh, but I think the most important thing was that um, we found that we were on the same page. And I think that’s important. And of course, uh, it took the Canadians — who I believe are, um, a little ahead of the game in many ways, uh, than what we’re doing in the States – to uh, to call this event and I thank you so much. We’re going to start, uh, this bit of my, uh, lecture with a short video.
JAMES LUNA (from the video presentation): “I think a lot of it, and I’ve done this several times, is sort of play with this image of the warrior. Not that warriors are bad but it’s not the only thing that Native men are…. You know I’m foot five foot eight, and, you know, I’m forty-nine years old…. Then I put on these get-ups that sort of amplify that stereotypical thing, you know, this headdress that happens to be a phony headdress with a bike light that’s going on and off, and these weird sunglasses and then this, glitter things, and…. So, I feel like immediately I, I, I come out and kind of change people’s focus about what a Indian’s supposed to look like…. I don’t want to say anti-macho but just sort of a more of kind of a, uh, realistic view in kind of coming to terms with how people perceive us and maybe even how, uh, certain native men perceive themselves? … A lot of our kids here, because of, uh, this identity question, have mixed ideas about what it is to be tribal. Like, uh, you know, “To be, to be t- Indian is to be tough.” You know, “To be Indian is to fail, is to be a, a failure in society, because that’s really, you know, that’s really where it’s cool.” You know. You know, uh, “To be an Indian is to be in trouble.“ You know, because you’re a rebel, you’re on the outside. When I do my work, I hope they understand that, you know, we have a lot of stories we’re sitting on here that are really important and just as valid and they don’t have to be from the past; they don’t have to be about feathers. There’s stories going on right now that are important…. It’s good to be home here. Home here on the La Jolla Reservation. I’ve been living here now since uh, ’77, ’76, so, you know, twenty-some odd years, and, uh, lots of changes. And the biggest change is people. You know, people coming back to La Jolla to live and, like me. Coming back.”
INTERVIEWEE #1 FROM JL VIDEO: “I don’t know what he does. I know he does some, uh, what, that art stuff.”
INTERVIEWEE #2 FROM JL VIDEO: “It’s humourous. And it’s strange, but he always leaves you feeling kind of, like, deep.” [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]
JL FROM VIDEO: “I did this piece. It’s called “The Feast Ritual.” And it actually came from a real situation where I was sitting at a, a place, an open air place where people eat, and this man came and sat down and he started to prepare to eat…. And he did this really wonderful ritual. And everything was salted so-so. And he tossed things, and…. He did his coffee, you know, and he was, just, I was going like, “Where’s this guy going with this?” …So then I made it Indian, and I, I added Spam to the piece. A lot of people go, “Ew, you guys eat that stuff?” Or, “You eat that stuff?” That is like sirloin tip to Indian people, if you lived out in the country or in place where economically you wanted a real treat…. So I, I purposely put that in there and when I pull that can of Spam out in performance, the Indian people go “Ooh!” An, and other people that I associate with that, with that food go “Ooh!” You know. “What a choice!” And then I, I did that and I thought, “Okay this is good,” you know. “This is good. Now where am I going to go with it?” And then I realize, you know, about my own existence here, and uh, as, as a diabetic, and, and about all the, the disease that’s in the community, and kind of tied that in. So just before I, I get ready to eat, you know, I check my blood count, and then I take a shot of insulin…. Because that is just part of the ritual of, of, of, of, that people go through here, of, of living, eating and just existing. And so I tied that in with that, and then I prayed…And so I started with the dark stuff first, you know. Because it was very easy for me to go there….People used to perceive me as just like, a bummed out person, I, you know, I mean, I felt that, you know?…You know, like, shake hands with people and it’s like, “I feel for you.” It’s like, you know, I have a life, you know, okay? So, it’s like, then I started thinking about the total Indian experience and about how much humour we have in our, in our existence…. It’s, uh, part of our oral tradition, it’s part of our way of expressing and teaching. And it’s also a way of healing…. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] That whole thing about the “Shame-man” was out, out of, sort of, anger about seeing, uh, phony spiritual men going out and selling our ways and objects and culture, and…. But also the other thing, about people buying it, you know? People buying it. And who are these people that are buying it that are in spiritual need? Well, gee, who’s the victim here, you know? So I created this person called the ”Shame-Man.”
JL AS “SHAME-MAN” FROM VIDEO: “If I see one more goddamn dream catcher I’m gonna shit! [LAUGHTER] Yeah! Sick of seeing those damn things.”
JL: “And I know that I do sometimes things that are, kind of, uh, step on some toes. But that’s part of what I do, you know, it’s part of like…I’m out there to get a reaction. Hopefully it’s a positive one, or at least one that they’ll understand. They don’t have to agree with me. Hopefully it’s one that’ll make them laugh, and maybe one that’ll piss ‘em off, but you know, go for a reaction.”
JL AS “SHAME-MAN” FROM VIDEO: “At the conclusion of tonight’s program, on a little table outside, signed and dated limited edition, “The Wet Dream Catcher!” A sacred [word unintelligible] of coloured condoms, and some [word unintelligible]! Hey! Come on! We can make a little money off this!”
JL: “It’s kind of a, a phenomenon about, about this kind of stuff that people want to put on you that I think a lot of artists don’t have to deal with. Right away, “You’re Indian: you’re spiritual.” Like, you know, people are, like, waiting for something, you know?
JL PERFORMANCE FROM VIDEO: “I woke up Christmas morning and the first news that I heard that day was that Dino had died. Dino. Dean Martin. On the La Jolla Reservation, where I live, amongst my friends and my brothers, we like a good tune. We like a good story. And we like sad music. Dino. Dino did something for us. Goddamn it, let’s dance for Dino!
JL: “I shy away from words that people use about my work, or certain pieces. “Oh, that was healing.” If you want that, you know, that’s one of the things that, uh, that you can get from that, but that may not have been my intention…. With the healing and the spirituality, I don’t want to set myself up as a spokesman, being a, a spiritual spokesman…. And also, I, I don’t know of any other community, because maybe ours is smaller, or maybe ours is so intense, that we have, you know, the cultural police. Your identity’s always in question…. At this point of time in my life I feel very comfortable with myself, you know? And being whole and being able to cross statuses in our community, because we have statuses…. So there’s a lot of questions about, you know, what I do and, and why I do it, you know. People think, “Maybe he does it for money,” you know? No one’s every really asked me, you know? And if they asked me, I, I would tell them…. When I have a good performance, you know, when I’m in the dressing room by myself, you know, and if it was a really good performance, I’ll just fall apart. Not that to say it won’t, I won’t fall apart for a bad performance. But it’s like, it just sort of, something overwhelming and I, I, I, I uh, I pray. I pray. You know, just, thanks, you know, for allowing me to, uh, you know, do this and be a part of this and touch somebody, you know. And, you know, send some prayers back home for everybody.”
TRACK FIVE (17:46)
JL: Let me have some stage light. Stage light, please. [FART SOUNDS. SILENCE. AUDIENCE LAUGHTER. MOVEMENT ON STAGE.] It’s quite easy to shock. It’s easy to be angry. It’s not so easy to, um, conjure up compassion, provocative thought, that kind of stuff. In, um, ’92, when I was 22, I was asked to give a talk, similar talk, except they were, uh, mostly white people. And it was the year of multiculturalism, the M word and the M money. And uh, I did this talk about, um, what I thought was going on. It went like this:
“Everybody wants to be an Indian. Everybody wants to be an Indian these days. I don’t want to be an Indian anymore.” Two thousand two: “Everybody wants to be a performance artist. Everybody wants to be a performance artist. I don’t want to be a performance artist anymore. I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want to be pissed off. I don’t want to be your Indian. Everybody wants to be a performance artist. I don’t want to be a performance artist anymore.”
In scripting this talk this afternoon, for this afternoon, it was, uh, pretty tough. Because, um, you’re my peers. And I’ve been at this for a while, but, um, every performance I learn something; going to other people’s performance I learn something. Take a few things. So I didn’t want it sounding like I was up here and you’re down there. Even though I am up here and you’re down there. [LAUGHTER] Dammit, it doesn’t have to sound like it. But I thought I would, uh, touch on a few things that I thought, uh, needed to be said. (Damn, I can’t read my writing.) I have, uh, kind of a basic format. And maybe I’ll start there. There are so many things to, uh, talk and consider. So many things. And the most obvious are the hardest only because of how you approach them. And the less obvious, the more difficult. Above all, looking for clarity in the message, even though the message might be unclear, but that was the intent. So many things. So many things that we as native people need to talk about. And these things, sometimes, I have to ask myself, “What does it mean to me, as a person?” Getting past the anger and the rhetoric, you know, “How, how does this hurt me?” How will it hurt my, my son? My family? And those are the most difficult. Because in, in my, uh, cultural training, unless I had had a taste of alcohol, it wasn’t easy to divulge. What I found that in divulging these things, that, uh, it’s added a few years to my life. Technology. It’s up to you. I’m no Laurie Anderson. But if it’s for you, then taste it. Just remember about the places that we do exhibit and that we do perform and if those places and that audience meets [needs?] that technology. I guess it’s all trial and error. Ain’t it? For me, the act of illusion has worked, uh, the best. Illusion. Not tricks. I ponder sometimes about, um, the power that our audiences give us. And as an artist we can make them come in, stop, move to the next work, and so forth. As a performer, to put them on that roller coaster and make them laugh and cry, sweat, twitch in the chair, go silent. Because they gave us that power. Be aware of it. And then nine times out of ten they’re pissed off because you let them do this to you, they let themselves. Everybody wants to be a performance artist so they can be cool. Everybody wants to be a performance artist because they’re a bad actor. Everybody wants to be a performance artist so they can be a victim. Everybody wants to be a performance artist so they can be on the outside. My body, your body, our bodies. To understand that. To understand…a simple gesture. To understand the power of … silence. To understand our strengths and limitations and then to push it. I’ll pay for this shit tomorrow. But it’s whatever works. Whatever works. And as I grow older and my limitations are, are more, I understand the importance more of my vision, in writing and in direction. And maybe with a dream about entrusting others to be my body. Range of emotions to conjure up. My mentor. My mentor Boss John Otter shared with our class a piece so simple, so profound. He looked at the camera, I don’t know how long. However long it took. He began to cry. Dammit. About emotions that we hide from ourselves. And it isn’t for everybody. It isn’t for everybody. But be aware of it. It’s okay. It’s okay to cry. And I mentioned anger. Well, maybe because I was one pissed off Indian. And maybe that’s just par, because we have a lot to be pissed off about. What do, what do you do with it, besides destroy yourself? I was at an Indian film festival the other day. They said, “Did you go see any of these films?” I said, “Fuck no. Who wants to go see a bunch of depressing movies?” We entrapped ourselves into a s-s-stuh, scenarios, parody of ourselves, and certainly there is more to life than dysfunction. Not everybody has a grandfather that happens to be a medicine man. But goddamn it, there’s some nice things going on in my life. There’s probably some good things going on in your community. Maybe we should talk about that. But that’s tough. Everybody wants to be a performance artist so they can be angry and get paid for it. Everybody wants to be a performance artist so they can wear black leather pants. Everybody wants to be a performance artist and they’re not quite sure but it is too cool to pass up. Everybody wants to be a performance artist because it looks easy. Everybody wants to be a performance artist. I don’t want to be a performance artist anymore. Nah! [LAUGHTER]
Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
TRACK SIX (00:45)
CD 2 – PANEL – INDIAN ACTS – NOV. 29/02 (8 TRACKS: 62:26)
TRACK 1 (00:38)
TRACK 2 (2:01)
GA: I’m going to introduce Aiyyana Maracle who’s a, a very, very good long time and close friend of mine. And uh, I first met Aiyyana in 1991 when I was in a project way over my head, and uh, her, in a very earlier transformation, came and uh saved my ass in a big way. And, uh, we’ve been working together ever since. And this is a woman who can transform in ways that I think, uh, we mere mortals will only, uh, sit back and watch. And uh I don’t think I need to say anything more. Here’s Aiyyana Maracle.
TRACK 3 (17:12)
AIYYANA MARACLE: The grandmothers aren’t usually so pointed in their, in their lessons, and. Two different people in the last week, uh, quite separately, had walked up to me, and uh, not even artists, and had said, uh, “I hear you’re moderating the op-, uh, the opening for the conference.” And they said, “You know that’s a great honour” And both of them immediately followed it up with, “And also responsibility.” And that’s very much h- uh, how we are. I’m eternally grateful to the grandmothers for all that they’ve gifted me with. And with those gifts comes equal or greater obligations to give back to the community. So I am deeply honoured and thank you very much for asking me to come and try and contextualize what it is that we’re doing here, and what it is we do outside of here. I come to what’s becoming a lengthy professional art practice from a longer history of social and political activism. To be honest, it was to see-, seek a see-, safer refuge that I came to art almost two decades ago. As an artist, I could continue doing much the same things that I was, uh, had done as an activist, th-, uh, as an organizer, but in a venue that, uh, our benighted leaders would be unable to touch. And I think back to the hundreds and hundreds of young people, native people that I first began to organize with in the early ‘70s and how very, very few of them actually survived. There are only maybe a couple dozen of us, that I know of that, actually made it through that period. And a number of us have a-, uh, not surprisingly, at about the same time, in th-, somewhere in the mid-eighties, decided that, uh, our contribution could be, conti–, could continue on, and be better served by, o- or through art, I suppose. [NERVOUS LAUGHTER AS SHE LOOKS FOR HER PLACE.] In January I bega-, uh, I’ve avoided academia for 30-some years for numerous reasons. In January I’m going to start working on my, uh, on my MFA in Interdisciplinary, uh. Been fortunate enough to find an, an institution that, uh, it’s a very self-directed programme, uh. Essentially it’s going to cost me a lot of money to pay for the privilege of, uh, getting an MFA without some vulture sitting o- si-, having to take mandatory courses and some vulture sitting on my shoulder telling me what to do and how to do it. And, being my usual cheeky self, when I applied, I’d said I had no interest or desire in studying somebody or something. That what I was good at was opening doors, and I wanted to chart new territory. My intention is to look at the last 25 years of contemporary Native art practice across all disciplines and try to start contextualizing it as cultural evolution. Uh, I’m, I don’t what to have to go to another panel or hear about another panel that says, uh, asking the question, “Is there such a thing as contemporary Native theatre?” Or, uh, what’s becoming a long hashed out debate o-, betwe-, uh, legitimacy of Native artists who choose to practice in contemporary forms, versus traditional. Like many other Native artists, I believe we exist at a very special point in, in our history and see that the work that we do…. Our job is to transform the culture. Any culture that does not continue to evolve, stagnates, withers, and dies, and so do the people. And, I think we need to admit that, um, as we’re desperately, uh, desperately trying to decolonize ourselves and figure out who it is, who we are as a people, that…. We are a profoundly changed people from who we were. And even if these white folks hadn’t come here, our cultures would have continued to evolve, and we still would be considerably profoundly different people than we were fuh-, five hundred years ago, a millennium ago. I mean that’s just human nature. We seem to, as artists, very often, live and work in isolation. To be privileged to be part of such a gathering as this, uh, I mean this is historic. And I think we all need to, as Yuxweluptun pointed out, celebrate this and celebrate ourselves and what we do. Through these gifts of the Grandmothers, it’s their spirit and passion of who we are as a people that we talk about. As James Luna said, we’re tired of these depressing stories. There are good things about us. And in decolonizing ourselves, um….oh…. In James’s little blurb of, uh, for his presentation he talks about, uh, speaking it, discussing it, an’ speaking in simple English as being the only kind. Um, I’d had a paper published in an academic journal last year. And it was a fight for three years, back and forth in an editorial process, uh, fighting for my right to speak as an Indian in the way that I think we speak, and not to have to deal, uh, speak in this rid-, foreign language called academia. At what point in (ahem), in our decolonizing, or s-, s- sorry…. With a number of us at this point embarking on creating curriculum, and I think that’s what we are doing, and in the question of decolonizing ourselves, we need to, I think, seriously ask at what point do we quit accommodating the colonizer? At what point do we put, actually put ourselves, does our, do ourselves and our culture become part of this, uh, global culture society in which we live? Uh, again, I’m sick of hear- hearing from Liberal white folks, uh, lamenting the fact that, “Why can’t we all just be one?” And I know when I hear them say that, that while I absolutely, y’know, laude the point, and yes, we should be one, I know that when they say that, that the world that they’re envisioning is this white world in which we all brown folks accommodate them and live in their world. For Native people and colonized people around the world as we uh, a-, as we fight against this, to be who we are. This global s- society and culture needs to start embracing us and we need to start putting ourselves and placing ourselves who, as who we are in that pool of human knowledge…um… Ahasiw (ahem) Ahasiw put it quite, quite lovely, uh, and I’m going to take his words a bit out of context here, “Translating between them requires truly great courage and strength, and ability to bear a huge load of grief and an inordinate amount of love. This is an urgent and crucial task. One that our survival depends on. The sky truly is falling, and we breathe and bathe in murder. We are deep in the time of emergency rituals, and because of their place in the world, required to live in these two… “uh, ech, mm, eh, pard-, pardon my, eh, huh, ff-… ‘Homununculi?’” “Aboriginal performance artists lead in telling these stories.” From Lynne, Lynne Bell: “Aboriginal performance art functions as a crucial site for the pedagogy of decolonization.” Lot of times in, in these self-congratulatory sort of ways we pat each other on the back and talk about, uh, great minds thinking alike. In trying to prepare this presentation, my scribblings, and muh, my random scribblings here, when I finally got these little blurbs a couple nights ago, it was wonderful to see little, little quotes that, uh, actually picked u-, picked up and said better than, uh, I’m attempting to essentially the same things. And, even in living in this isolation that we do, it’s wonderful to see, here, and in the works that I’ve been fortunate to watch over the last decade, as this thing of contemporary Native performance art has come into being, that we do, truly, think alike. And we do, as Native people, use this thing in a very, very different way. It struck me a few years ago, (ahem) that Native people, in, in making theatre, in what is contemporary Native theatre, uh, too much of it has been about force-fitting our stories into, into that European ff-, uh, framework, and not, uh, and it’s all been very much geared, geared into that. I think there’s been a conscious, sometimes unconscious, thing happening with, uh, Native artists who you- choose to use performance. As a, uh, among Native artists, as a proportion, I think there are proportionally many more Native artists that use performance art in whole or in part, uh, than white folks or other brown folks, uh, or whoever. And in looking at what’s, at the body of work that’s developed in uh, in over a decade now, uh, we do use it very differently. I think there’s a connection between how we traditionally told story, in it’s loose framework, why we chose to tol-, tell story at a particular time, an’ who we wa-, who we wanted to tell story to, uhm. All of thes- heh, all of these things very much influenced how we chose to tell that story at a, in a, in a particular moment. And whether we used props or whether we told it out, straight out, er, and… uh, I think very much in the ff-, uh, the vague, the vague, heh, whatever exists in, as a vague format for perf-, performance art very much lends itself to us as Native artists, uh, picking and choosing in the elements that we need to tell this particular story at this particular time. Are we using our body to tell story? Are we using image to tell story? Are we using, uh, song, dance, movement, or a combination of all of this? Is the Trickster here? Are the Clowns here? And, uh, very much so, looking at per-, uh, how Native artists use contemporary Native performance, we see all of that, in whole or in part in so many people’s work, and there has to be something more than coincidence there. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as coincidence, and I, uh. Having been a very curious little person from the beginning, these are the kind of things that keep me awake at night, wondering. And…. Throughout the weekend I think, um, we’ll get a chance to hear from all, uh, (ahem) all of these wonderful artists who’ve come from all over Turtle Island to talk to us about how it is that they make art, and why, uh, perhaps why it is that they do what they do, and…. I think it’s a celebration. Let’s have fun with it. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
AM: Next I’d like to (ahem) introduce Guy Sioui Durand. Guy is of Huron/Wendat descent from Wandake. He lives and works in Quebec City. A PhD. sociologist, art critic and independent curator. He’s interested in observing the daily evolution of relationships bet- between art and society. He’s a co-founder of the magazine “Inter” and of the artist-run centre, Le Lieu. He has numerous international, uh, exhibitions to his credit. And with that, uh, here’s Guy Sioui Durand. [APPLAUSE]
TRACK SIX (27:05)
REBECCA BELMORE ON THE VIDEO: “A video as a concept. A video as a canoe trip. A video as a long meditation. A video as a performance…. Where is a Video?!”
“I’ve made a long journey from the east to the west and I’d like to bring the south to the north because there’s important elements to include…. For those three days of performance action we’ll need to include a line of risk that we need to come to…. Normally at conference like this there’s boundaries and we’d like you to, uh, come and, uh, challenge those boundaries and put, uh, a gesture, to uh, destroy this structure that, uh, is normally found within conferences….The frontal relationship that is usually, um, provided in such a setting, uh, are challenged by artists, by performance artist, and today the key words are ‘performance action’…. I’d like to ask you all to come and join Guy on stage and, uh, he’s going to share with you the three subjects that he’d like to discuss today. So if you’d like to come and join us on the stage.”
“We’ve already, can I go over top of you? [LAUGHTER] We’ve already, uh, challenged by coming here on stage to, uh, take away the notion of, of per-, speakers and audience and, uh, here, ah, in the circle we can all see each other, we can all, uh, talk to each other, ah, on, on the same level. He, Guy, is coming with, uh, the notion of spirit that he wants to talk a bit more later, and, um, wants to acknowledge, I guess, the, uh, the history of the eastern regions, uh, bands, that, uh, he named. I don’t know if you heard them all, Micmac, Cree, um, Maliseet, um…all of them? Again?”
[GUY NAMES THEM] les Wabenaki, les Micmac, les Maliseet, les Algonquin, les Wabenaki, les Mohawk, les [?], les Wendat, les Innu, les Cree, Les Naskapi
TRANSLATOR: So he’s here to represent a little bit all, all of these people from…to acknowledge, to acknowledge all the, uh, people from the, the coast, from the land of the salmon, he wants to say, again, uh, welcome…. Guy is wondering if there are roots to, um, memorial traditions that are shared and that are, uh, foundations to, uh… of, of performance art, the, le action performance…. This jewel box is made out of, uh, porcupine, um, needles and contains three objects, again le, le trio ojects en interior? Um, bear’s teeth, some, a, um, a jewel made from, um, Aboriginal, uh, people from, uh, Japanese, uh, ancestry [Ainu?], and the third one you had? And the turtle…. He got this gift, uh, obviously, from Chile, from the Southern part of the continent [the Mapuche] and, uh, was asked to be their ambassador to the north, ah, in taking this present…. These elements, uh, for Guy are, are to bring about, uh, I guess, points of reflection, um, to see if there, uh, are roots of the ‘a’ action, uh, bec-, um, I guess, if there are roots, uh, along the those different, uh, bodies, the different, uh, bands…. He wants you remind, remember the two points that he is about the, bring up, uh, and he makes a difference, uh, that I didn’t make earlier. Uh, he doesn’t use the word ‘performance’ uh, in regards to these, uh, actions…. The two words that he wants to focus on is, uh, orality, uh, and nomadicity…. Orality, he, uh, sees it, of course, as the, um, the land of the fabulous and the storytelling and th- the myth that come, um, from that route. And, uh, right now, the um, in Montreal there is a French… Jacques Donguy specialist of, of the Situationists, and… Had, uhm, a theoretical thinking on the, uh, art practice the, of engaged actions and, um, I guess, in where they came from the, the rich- uh rituality of, of the action…. Okay, that’s a lot of stuff, okay I guess to get back to the, the Situationists a-and the Lettrists, uh, move their ideas forward, u-uh, centered a- around uh, um, well, named it ‘Potlatch,’ a-and used a, a reference to, um, this event that, uh, actually, uh, was banned in, in this land, uh, up until a- a hundred years ago, and, um. So that’s for the part of Orality. And as far as nomadicity, um, Guy also acknowledges the fact that the, um, these exchanges that we have and the meetings that we have with others, uh, where we exchange is also, I guess, crucial to this, uh, ‘a’ action art and action, um, vehicle of uh ch- of change and of, of exchange…. Again, the, um, the line the breakdown of the line between, uh, traditional, uh, th- the questions that he’s asking are regarding the, uh traditional ways and, uh, as an artist, where the transgression the transformation into, u-uh, the contemporary art practice, uh, realm, how are these challenges, I guess, confronted, and…
GUY (IN ENGLISH): I tried to say how, now we can transfer in actual question about art what the, the place of Indian art. [CONTINUES IN FRENCH.]
TRANSLATOR: Um, Guy has, uh, had the opportunity to be linked with, uh, Le Lieu in Quebec City and also magazines like L’Interier[sp?] uh, which have a-allowed him to network, uh, and, and propagate his, his questioning…. Um, I guess, these, um, markers, um, like this book, uh, an anthology of, of performance art, wi-, uh, which came out ten, more than years ago, um, yeah, uh, allows to reflect, uh, on, on the practice and um, you know where it ha- a-and question where it has gone, what it, it’s achieved… I’m sure you’ve read all of this book before coming here…. In this book, only two, uh, Indian performance artists are referenced…Rebecca Belmore is one of them and she is present with us today…. The other, uh … the other artist, uh, mentioned in the book is, is Guy’s brother Yvan Sioui Durand, uh, who…
GUY S.D.: Yves.
TRANSLATOR: Yves Sioui Durand, who might have, uh, you might have seen the work. He’s, uh, more theatre based and has, uh, produced, presented his work here in town… This is one of the book, uh, he’s written a lot and this is one of the book that he uh, he’s published…. Uh, and in this magazine he had a, a review of, of performance art from a native perspective but from Quebec but regarding, uh, all of Canada…. A-and these articles an-and books are written in French but he says, the, when you come and meet with others, uh, finding a ways of communication is part of, of this way of ex- exchange, uh, between one another…. One last word and then you all get back to your seats and get on to the, with the show…. When we come together, uh, for a conference like this we have to agree that there will be a-a-a-h… there’ll be a, an exchange, there’ll be a, and we don’t, won’t necessarily all agree. There’ll be words…. He purposefully has not been using the word performance…. To which he prefers the word, the, the, uh, combination of, of two words, ‘art’ and ‘action’…. Because, uh, over the course of the years he’s seen a, a lot of, uh, performance work and he’s, he’s seen how, uh, things have become kind of caged in and define, trying to define this, uh, this realm that was not…. Some of the concepts that he’s, he’s found to be, uh, defining that have, have become like definition of, of what performance art is, uh, he sees as, as manipulation, uh, the concept of manipulation, the concept of, um, ‘installaction’, uh, install-action, where you’ve got a, a given space that is an installation but in, in which the performer also, uh, takes part, uh, rela-, rel-, relational practices…. Uh, and also he’s seen in, in the last five years the, uh, emergence of, of all media practices that ha-, that ha-, came, er uh, together with the performance with actors, uh, in the realm of either media, like internet or, or multimedia performances and, uh, which the German philosopher, as, what’s er….
GSD: Jurgen Habermas.
TRANSLATOR: As, as spoken in, in tha-, regarding that pra- those practices of, um, communicational action, which all of this is included in Orality.
GSD [ENGLISH] It’s really important when we are in the art action that to accept to change himself, because if you want to change the way of making art, change discipline, change sensibility, you have to change. Why, it’s like you accept to change the structure of the, the, this conference, now you have to return.
TRANSLATOR: It can become more dangerous to, to ch-, uh, challenge that…. [LAUGHTER AS THE TRANSLATION ENERGY ENDS]
GUY [ENGLISH]: Sit down at your place, please. [LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE]
TRANSLATOR: It’s important to, uh, know where we come from, and, uh, and acknowledge the, uh, the path that has been, uh, made by our ancestors. And, um, one of the, uh, first, uh, Indian to have, um, come from…Zachery Vincent was this first, uh, artist who, uh, painted and represented himself as, uh, chief… Zachery Vincent represented himself as the last, uh, Indian and, and to British and French, uh, colonies, I-uh, it, they thought that he, it was really going to be the end of the, uh, of the indigenous, uh, guy from, from, from the land… [UNINTENTIONAL HUMOUR, LAUGHTER]
GUY (ENGLISH): At a period, uh, of great acculturation and great, uh, reduction and attempted genocide of our community, Zachery Vincent, by his art, tried to make, to put in the pictures, er, what was our, the sense of our culture, but also as a performer, in his time, like “The Last One.” [THE NAME OF A ONE OF HIS PAINTINGS?] He also tried also to destabilize the way of, uh, destructing our community.
TRANSLATOR: Marginalized culture also mean, uh, the youth and, uh, and the different fashions, uh, that come about and with that in the late eighties, the punks…and the, uh, appropriation of, of the look of the spikes, just like Mohawks in Kahnawake…Why he says that, it’s because the, um, reason of art-action is also the, um, sharing, er, and the passing on of information to, uh, the younger generation… It’s also, uh, ah, agreeing to, t-to change the reference codes….
GUY (ENGLISH): Everywhere on the Earth.
TRANSLATOR: Guy brought with him, um, material, that, uh, video material that spans, um, the last twenty years of what kind of performances have taken part, uh, back from the eastern region… and also more than a hundred slides, so he’s got a lot of materials…. He’s here to show that there is a critical mass, there is a, a large body of, uh, of works that are here to be shared…. And he finds that this is, I guess, um, important be-, because the, um, ten and ninety-eight, uh, Le Lieu in Quebec City, um, put out this anthology of, uh, of works…. In which there were not even any mention of, uh, Aboriginal art practices…. Uh, the, uh, principles of, of Oral Tradition are, uh, of course imbedded in Guy because he’s a Wendat…. Uh, oh er, I’ll go back to the first one… First, we’re going to go and see some performances where the, the False Mask, if it’s the proper translation from, uh, French to English, is brought about in, uh, the further, uh, the lands of further west, um, and then the second video, uh, will be… So and the second excerpt is, um, is a documentation of a performance where Guy and his brother Yves, uh, reenacted a traditional story of… oishkaya [sp?].
GUY: And after all it’s tough to be a performer after James Luna.
GUY (IN ENGLISH): Well uh, I hope that, uh, what I, I tried to, to introduce here will be, uh, uh, material for discussion.
TRANSLATOR: Guy has to talk for a few minutes while we cue up the, the other tape and he hopes that, uh what he’s brought about is good material for discussion, uh, later on.
AM: Doctor Bea-, uh, Beatrice Medicine was a dis-, distinguished Stanley Knowles Research Professor in Anthropology and Native Studies at Brandon University and is Professor Emeritus in Anthropology at the California State University in Northridge. She’s a Fellow of the Society for Applied An-, Anthropology Anthropological Association, Association for Feminist Anthropology, Canadian Anthropology Association, and the National Congress of American Indians. And she’s a board member of the Interna-, International Council of Women’s Health Issues. She’s the recipient of numerous awards in recognition of her contributions in Anthropology. Professor Medicine’s principle research interests are gender studies, aging, art, mental health issues, and socialization of children. She’ll be doing a perfor-, uh, uh, a slide presentation, um, and, Dr. Medicine.

CD 2B – PANEL – INDIAN ACTS NOV. 29/02 (10 TRACKS: 52:55)
TRACK ONE (11:55)
DR. MEDICINE: [MAKES A LAKOTA SALUTATION] I’m going to translate this myself because I don’t think there’s another Lakota speaker in the house. What I said was [LAKOTA PHRASE] “All my relatives,” and this goes beyond the human realm, just as Black Elk other of our elders have told us. The second one is [LAKOTA PHRASE] “With a good heart” and when we speak to a group as a Lakota person we try to speak with a good clear hear-, uh a good heart and a clear mind and we hope that the audience also relates to us in this way. The last phrase is [LAKOTA PHRASE], which means “I shake hands with you,” because this symbolized in Lakota culture the roundness of the earth, the roundness of the tipi, the sundance grounds, and the hearth. I’m going to shorten this very much. Last night Marcia Crosby and I were talking of memory and so most of this is going to be done by memory, and it deals with Oscar Howe, a Dakota artist who is often credited as being an innovator in the field of modern art. So I’ll briefly tell you about him because I, I did spend some time on a faculty in s-, at the University of South Dakota in 1969, after I left Canada where I lived for about ten years. I first heard of Oscar Howe when I was a child, and believe me, I was a child once. I, my father came home very excitedly from the neighbouring town of Moberly, South Dakota, and he said, “There’s a young Indian man painting murals in the new city auditorium.” And he said his name is Howe. But I said, he said, “He’s from, uh, Crow Creek Reservation, but I never heard th-, uh, the name Howe.” Later on we found out that Oscar Howe’s name in Lakota was “Howka Hokshila” [sp?] “Trader Boy.” But his real name, a translation of a very good Lakota t-, name, was “Don’t Know How.” So he changed it to Howe. Now this is very interesting in the history of Indian art and the movement, because in those days it was very difficult to go to a university — or public school for that matter — with names that sounded like “Don’t Know How,” or names that ended like “Medicine.” So it was a change that he went through for greater acceptance in his work. Also at that time it was very shameful to be an Indian. And now it’s very interesting to me, as looking at art movements, that many of our young Indian artists are often changing their English sounding names back to their, their tribal names or the names of a, uh, like White Eagle and so on. So I think when we look at Indian art and the movement, we have to be very cognizant of the individual as he straddles two societies: his Native belief system and the dominant society where he must make his money. I was excited about hearing this, so I went in with my father to look at the murals that were really depicting the meeting of the immigrants and the Lakota people along the Missouri river. And of course these murals are going to become much more salient in interest now that there is the whole craze of Lewis and Clark in the next two years. So again that’s another thing that we have to be cognizant of, and that is the impact of certain kinds of historic events that have upon the production of art. My father was quite incensed at the t-, at that time, because he said they had this young Indian kid sleeping on the floor in the auditorium. Later on when I talked — uh, I wrote a, a little bit about Oscar Howe in his retrospective — he, I wri-, every time I write something about someone, I usually send it back to them for their approval. And the thing that I wrote then was about his treatment in Mobridge. But he said, “I was treated very well in Mobridge.” Place that in the context of the times: it was after the Depression, when Indian art was seen as not, uh, anything worthwhile, and th-, the struggles of this young man in that type of a racist society is something that many of our young artists are still going through today. I was very fortunate to, to know a little bit about his career before I went back to South Dakota. He, of course, went to a boarding school at Pierre, South Dakota. He did go to the, uh, school of art at Santa Fe Indian School, so he was ek-, exposed to the so-called ‘bambi art’ of that period. Then he came back to South Dakota and could not find a job. Although he did try to, um, uh, teach at various Indian Schools. And then the, he enlisted in the army and served in Germany. And many of the ed-, white art historians very often cite the influence of cubism on his art, and in a letter to me he said, “No, I did not have time as an army sergeant to go to museums and art galleries in Germany to really be influenced by them.” He said that his work was very strongly Dakota-based. He was a Dakota speaker, but he did not name his art pieces and productions with Lakota, Dakota terms. But he did say that basic to his art production — which ranged in all, all, except, um, sculpture or, um, any of that, it was mainly painting, uh, pastels and so on — he said this was based upon the spider web. And when you look at his work you can see that line is very important. The other great feature that he talked about was the use of colour. And I think that when you see the slides this will be very evident. Uh, I-in Germany he met, uh, a German woman, came back to the US to earn enough money, sent for her, and they married and, uh, had one child, a daughter. But when I was back at the University of South Dakota, I noticed that his art studio was in two rooms above a bank on Main Street, because at that time the Art Department there at the University of South Dakota did not feel that Indian Art had any standing in the art world. It was only after a president came there who was very sympathetic to Indians, that was when I was hired and he had been there, and then moved into the Art Department. During his early life, he had, at that time, he had summer institutes in which he brought in young Indian artists who were talented, or who he thought had talent. Among them Arthur Amiotte, whose work I’m sure some of you know, Colin Cutcho, and a young, uh, man called Robert Penn. And both of, all these men except Arthur, an, a, had a very hard life in terms of, uh, going to boarding schools. Arthur had a very — not Arthur, Oscar — had a very terrible, ar-, uh, skin condition. He was quite alienated, but did go back from the school to spend some time with his grandmother and miraculously they cured his skin. And so he was, then went back to school, went down to Santa Fe, came, joined the army, and with the, uh, use of GI, the GI bill, went to Sou-, uh, Dakota Wesleyan University, which is a private sch-, uh, school there, got a degree in art and then went on to other things. Now in 1957, he submitted a, a piece of his recent work to the Phil-, Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, and was rejected completely. And he wrote a very interesting letter—which I will read—in which he really spells his own philosophy of art. He wrote this to Mrs. Snodgrass. And it says, “Whenever, whatever is said that my paintings are not in the traditional Indian style has poor knowledge of Indian art indeed. There is much more to Indian Art than pretty stylized pictures. There is also power and strength and individualism, emotional and intellectual insight in the old Indian paintings. As we have to, as we were to be held back forever, are we to be held back forever with one phase of Indian painting with no right for individualism, dictated to as Indian always have been.” And he goes on to say, “I see so much of the mistrea-, it’s uh, I see so much mis-, the, um, treatment of Indians that it makes my heart cry. I look at suh-, my poor people,” and he talks about his father and his brothers still living back in the shacks and so on, and he felt very strongly, as he says here, that “Indian art is art and it stems from a tradition and it is to be recognized as that.” But most aw-, but most of his emphasis was on individualism. Indian persons, males and females, had a right to do the kind of work they did and it was as valid as any art in North America. So I want to then, I’m not going to comment on the slides because I, I don’t want to run over time. Also, I’m really not an art critic. I’m sort of a frustrated artist and as you know I have a son, Ted Garner, who’s a sculptor so I, I live art v-, vicariously. So I want to just show you first a picture of Oscar Howe as a young man and as a mature person, and then a progression of slides that will show you the, the great expanse and dimension of his work. I think that he’s rightfully called an innovator. And I feel that he really never had a, time to write about his feelings because he was, I think that, maybe, German women are more domineering than Lakota women. [LAUGHTER.] I want to just show these to you and then let you decide exactly how he fits into the contemporary art scene. Thank you very much.
TRACK TWO (00:52)
AIYYANA MARACLE: …For shar-, sharing such gorgeous work with us. Also, um, “Learning to be an Anthropologist and Remaining Native; Selected Writings by Dr. Bea- Beatrice Medicine.” Uh, this is last year’s publication? Yes. And, uh, if you’re lucky enough to be able to find it in a bookstore, please go out and f-, find it, uh. A wonderful, wonderful writer and thinker, thank you. [APPLAUSE] And next up is Mr. Lu-, Mr. Luna. From his earlier chat, I don’t think he needs any further introduction.
JAMES LUNA: Thank you, Bea. Such an important, um, link to, um, where we need to go, um. Our academics, our, our writers. Not that we need to, uh, prove to anybody that this is a discipline, these various forms of art, and Native, uh, culture, but it, um, it does make a difference. I was, uh, thinking about, uh, the Oscar Howe work and, uh, was wondering, um, uh, what it would have been if he had a computer with animation program, but, uh, he was before that. Quite wonderful. Um, well I’m gonna just go though a few things, um, and, um. Part about, uh, my history as an artist, that’s what, uh, Lori, uh, said this was all about, about, uh, mapping and about, uh, history in general, and, uh, maybe some personal history, um. I, I detest, uh, being called a, a trickster, uh. Coyote. I-in our part of the world, Coyote, it’s, ah, we do have those stories, but, um, i-it’s amongst ourselves these days it’s, it’s kind of, um, uh, kind of a ‘dirty word’, you know. “Oh that guy over there he was being ‘Coyote’,” you know. “We saw you over there with that chick. ‘Coyote’.” But I think, um, in all this time in, uh, being reviewed by Indian and non-Indian, that the greatest complement that I had, uh, received was from, um, a native person, one I highly admire, uh, Victor Masayevsa. I admire his art; I admire him as a person and as, and as, a leader for his village, ceremonial leader. And, uh, I’m in awe about, um, how he balances, uh, those worlds. And I’m sure, because, uh, I have a taste of it, too, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. But, uh, after a performance, uh, first time he had seen my work, and I didn’t quite know him yet, but I — this was in Minneapolis, and um — I knew he was from, uh, my part of the country because he was about that tall and ‘pretty dark.’ And, uh, after the performance he came by, and, uh, I was spent, I was in the make-shift dressing room, and he went like this: “Luna!” I thought he was gonna kick my butt or something, I don’t know. “Luna! You’re a clown.” Okay. I’ve been called many things, but after I understood who he was and what he meant, I thought, what a, what a wonderful complement. Because I do think of this as a gift. And, and for those of you out there that may know, have a concept of what an Indian clown is, at least my concept is, is that, um, in part, we’re satirists and we’ve been given this gift to, um, say things that need to be said. And for the Hopis, not that I know that much about their culture, but the clowns play a very important role in all the ceremonies, uh: they need to be there. And, uh, and if people really listen, you know, they’ll understand, you know, that, uh, what they’re saying for the good of the people. So I’ll take that. I’ll take that handle any day. Um, the other day, someone asked me - ‘acked’ me — they said, um, “You know, did you go to ‘I.A.?’” The Institute of American Indian Arts, it’s, uh, the way the, the locals say it: “Aye Eh!” And I said, “No.” And I, I, I started to say I, I was, uh, well, no, I, I did say it, I said, “You know, I was thinking of going, you know, uh, but, damn, I’m sure glad I didn’t.” Because, uh, in the training that I received at the University of California Irvine, in, uh, starting in 1970, uh, and com-, and completing my journey, after dropping out for a couple years, in ‘76, I look back and think, um, what a gift that was. Uh, ‘cause when I first went there I didn’t understand, really, what I was doing there, other than I wanted to be an artist. And didn’t kind of quite understand or know the faculty that, uh, I was working with. A-and when I came back, I had more of a sense of myself as a man - hell of a lot more mature - and an idea about what I wanted to do with my work, and really started to listen to these people. And these people were, um, the cream of the crop of, uh, California, uh, working artists, and also people they brought in as guest lecturers, and also, uh, the historical folks: Barbara Rose, Phil Leader [sp?]; the instructors, Tony Delapp, Robert Erwin, Boss John Otter, Jim Turell. I mean, I’m not tooting my horn, here; I can’t say I had an intimate relationship with those guys, but they were there. Via Clemens, John Paul Jones. I have to look in the old records, because it was phenomenal. And, um, the big thing going on at the time was hard edge, minimalism, and also, uh, performance. I remember watching an early, uh, work by Vito Acconci, plucking the hairs from his body and transforming himself into a neutered kind of species by tucking his things between his legs. And I said, “Wow. I wish I had that much hair on my chest.” [LAUGHTER] It isn’t the same when you have three. But nonetheless, you know, it, uh, it stayed with me, an- and I guess the point, here, that I want to make is, uh, in some ways I, I am sorry that I didn’t go to I.A. to be amongst my peers, uh. But at that time, things weren’t as lively as, uh, as they were prior to that. And going there now I see a-a group of people being stifled. Stifled by the market and stifled by the inability of the school to move forward, uh. Hence, the students and the work suffer. And, uh, not seeing a lot of progress and growth. And that this growth and progress is coming in from other places. People that are far removed from that “Indian market” that dictates what it looks like, what it smells likes, and how much it costs. And I have friends there and it, uh, kind of cracks me up when they say, “Hey Luna! We saw that, uh, review in Art Forum. All right!” And it made me feel really good because, because it said something: that they understood the importance of being quote ‘successful’ in the mainstream and getting recognition for it, because it’s, it meant it meant, uh, so much for the whole art movement, the Native art movement. And I said, though, “But, you know, guy, you sell a couple of those paintings you’ll make more money than I’ll ever make all year.” And that’s the imbalance of it. But I’ll take the, the low road. I enjoy doing what I do. And I, I feel sincere that it is a gift and that there is something I have to say. Not upo-, because of myself but because that comes with the territory of what I do. And it’s not all fun and games. There’ll be moments, uh, when I’m getting ready to go on and I almost break down, and say to myself, “Why me?” Rebecca Belmore and myself are of, uh, but a few successful artists, both native and non-native, that move between these worlds of installation and performance. I know for myself, there is no difference. Within an installation, you know, the only thing that it’s lacking is me. And that’s when I made that turn and started doing performance as performance, after becom-, becoming an object. And in part, part of my anxiety is quelled by the idea that, that’s how I think of myself: as an object. A toy. [LAUGHTER] A thing that, um, this is for you developing artists out there, that, uh, I want you to consider: uh, in addition to being an artist, I’m a full time academic counsellor at a community college. And as I tell my friends, I said, well this job pays for my art habit. And it does. It, the benefits are there, the pay is good, and I meet a lot of different kinds of people, uh, in that line of work And over the last few years I, I’ve really enjoyed working with the art students and, uh, the department sends me more. And the first thing that I tell, uh, these, uh, young people — for the most part they are young — uh, and we’re a feeder to four-year schools in the area, that, uh, when they tell me they’re, uh, an art student, I ask them, you know, what’s your medium? And it catches a few of them by surprise because they hadn’t really considered what they’re doing, but they know they want an art degree. And then my second question in, to them is, what are you gonna do with it? And it’s kind of harsh. You know, kind of nailed ‘em. “What are you gonna do with it?” I know that they’re… in my associations with artists, there are few of them that solely make their living by being an artist. And for them, not to, uh, not to rain on their parade, but to, you know, add to their parade as far as a dose of reality is, you know, there are very few of us that get to that point. I’m still working on getting that point. That we need to expand our horizons. That, uh, given the opportunity, if I was back in undergrad school, I really would have made an effort to learn more. Learn more other than conceptual ideas and, uh, uh, broad hard edge paintings. That, uh, given the opportunity, I, I would, I should have learned how to use a computer. Given the opportunity, I should have, uh, learned how to weld. Given the opportunity, I, I would have known the different presses and prints and the processes of…really know how to use a camera, whether it be a camera or a video camera. Because these are tools of the trade that I lack. Unfortunately, for me, in the situation I am, what I do-, if I don’t know it, I’ll hire somebody that does. But then the issue comes up about trust. And that’s a tough one. And this all comes back to the reality that, uh, this is a business. [LAUGHTER] Yes, I said that. Dirty business. It’s, nonetheless, it’s a business. It’s something that, as a professional, that you, we need to look at. And that’s why writers, academics, are so important to the whole structure of, you know, what we’re trying to do. What we’re trying to do. What are we trying to do? That’s a question for you. I know for myself, um, and it wasn’t that I was so big and so good, but I had an opportunity to, um, get an agent. And, uh, it’s made all the difference in the world for that amount that I pay her I put that amount of time and stuff into what I should be doing, which is making art. And certainly when the presenters talk to her, they talk to her much different than they would talk to me. You know what I like? I like saying to presenters, “Talk to my agent.” Because normally the presenter says, “We really like your work.” Thanks! “But we don’t have much money.” Talk to my agent. It’s about being prepared. It’s about, uh, it’s about working hard. It’s about taking opp-, uh, advantage of opportunities. Like this one. Making contacts. Being prepared so people get an understanding, of, you know, what you’re made of. Not being so “Indian” and last minute. I found that, uh, there was a calling for me out there in the universities and colleges because they needed an Indian. They needed an Indian to fill the quota for lectures and shows. Okay. So I’d go out there and do these lectures and after a while it became the dog and pony show. “Next slide!” But it didn’t really say who I was and what I did. So I devised this little thing called ‘performative lecture.’ So that my audience gets a taste and a sense of who Mr. Luna is and what he does. And it starts out immediately because I send them a press packet. Photos that can be printed either black and white or in colour and they get a sense through the imagery that, “Hey, this is, uh, not yer typical Indian.” Damn right. And in that performative lecture, you know, share what I’ve done, what I’m doing, both in actions, video, slides. It starts the minute you walk in the door. “Dino Sings Country” was no accident, when you walked in the door and that’s what was playing because I needed Dino. But I also felt that it would give a sense of order to this place, that we’re not talking about, uh, ordinary stuff and that maybe, uh, when we listen to these things, you know, we rethink some things. The business of art. It’s a tough one. It’s a tough one. But it’s something that we need to control. Not something that we let control us. So. The only thing that, uh, well, that, uh, I wanted, well, the thing I wanted to conclude with, which is the thing that it’s the most hard… the hardest thing to pass on is, um, timing. Know when you’ve said enough. [LAUGHTER. APPLAUSE.]
TRACK 4 (00: 32)
TRACK 5 (1:07)
AIYYANA MARACLE: A hand over here.
AUDIENCE #1: Um. My question is, is for Guy. I hope you don’t have a trouble with language. Um, what I’d like to discuss is the, your use of, uh, False Face in performance, uh. Certainly there are questions around the appropriateness of that, that I think this is probably the kind of forum where we need to discuss those. And for those of you who might not be familiar, um, the Iroquois, uh, False Face masks are used in ritual, uh, very specifically, and have a very, uh, there’s a very specific set of guidelines, traditionally, for using them, uh. There, this, this is an issue that has come up before and I’d just like to know how you respond to, uh, to that.
TRACK SIX (4:55)
AIYYANA MARACLE: We end up, we end up with self-appointed censors saying, and who appoints, who appoints the censors? To, to, no, what is, what is acceptable, uh, acceptable behaviour? Me a-, me, me as a Mohawk woman, what am I allowed to do? I don’t think, and you know, as an artist and as a person, I don’t believe anyone has that choice. It’s my spirit, and, and, and how I choose, how I choose to connect with my grandmothers, and that’s, uh, (ahem) very much I think how a number of artists appro-, approach the issue. It’s. uh, it is our expression, it is our, our understanding, and in moving the culture forward, and talking about who we are as a people, this is who we’re, who we are becoming. And what, what, what may have been appropriate, appropriate and froze-, a-a-and frozen in time may no longer be appropriate today. And, and a ceremony that had significance some years ago… We, we are in a different world, and how we may choose to express these new, these new relationships we have, uh, I think, I think, I believe I’m absolutely entitled to do, to do as I wish, and numerous other artists, and exactly this, uh… It’s the basis of debate, not certainly among uhuh-, among us as Indians, but also, uh, I mean, the Pope be-, huh, the Pope gets quite, quite, quite upset, uh, when a performance artist nails himself to a cross. I mean, uh, it’s not, it’s not just us, I mean it, it, it is part of a bigger discussion and, and yes it is something that, uh, absolutely needs to be addressed at some point, but I think that the question o-, the question of self-appointed censorship and, uh, uh, and that sort of thing that’s usually left out of, uh, out of this kind of discussion, and I just wanted to throw that in there. [PAUSE] Not to scare everybody else off, but [LAUGHTER.] You’re also free to say anything you wish.
AUDIENCE #2: I heard the word, I don’t know, is this hooked up? I heard the word deconstruction and decolonize, and I’ve been hearing about a lot over the last ten years, so I’m wondering, when are we really going to be decolonized, and understand it? Because every day we are part of the colonizer’s world. Every day we speak that language.
AM: Very true. Perhaps, huh, perhaps when the wor-… we’ll be decolonized when the wor-, when the world, uh, becomes a much more human, hu-, human and humane place, and we start…
AUDIENCE #2: Or maybe, um, this discussion here, where you’re totally free to express yourself. In your heart, your artist’s heart, it speaks your truth. Like, it’s globalization, all, you know, we can’t fight that. It’s here. When the colonizer moved here, others followed. So when I saw the Japanese woman, the interaction with the mask and that, um, performer, and then the other culture, I thought that was really amazing and I didn’t even think about the other, so, maybe, I don’t know. That’s what I think.
AM: Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: I’m, I’m interested in seeing if Guy’s, uh, performed this with Iroquois people, or for Iroquois people, what the, the Iroquois community have thought, has thought of this? Like, have you, um, performed this piece in front of Iroquois people? And how, how did they respond? Yes.
AUDIENCE #4: … uh, in their own work place make what they want to or, what their, you know, how the spirit moves them. But at the same time I think that, um, um, if you’re, if you’re close to a community, you have to really, um, be sensitive to material, and if you’re coming from a community that has traditional, um, elements in them, then you can’t, um, approp–, like, I, I don’t feel like I could appropriate somebody else’s, um, objects and make it for my art just because I think that I can. And I, I feel that, um, using that mask, it like, um… Somebody said that it’s, it was from many years ago, but the False Face society is very much, it like, it’s still a, a going on society, and it’s, um, a secret society, so it’s something that’s not really, um, you know, it’s not made as performance, it’s not made as, uh, something that, um, people (ahem) do, you know, for like, even for their own community. It’s something that’s done very privately. So I just think that, um, when you see a mask that’s sort of being used for performance, it is, it becomes an object rather than something that’s very, uh, like has medicinal properties to it. And I just feel that, uh, I guess I’m just not understanding how you can take something like that and just, you know, take it to Japan and, and use it in that kind of, uh, like, staged…
AM: Some, heh, some year, some year, some years ago, I made a, heh, I made a papier-mâché False Face mask. I figured I had every right as a Mohawk woman to, to make that mask. And I did. Uh, I made it, initially, uh, as part, as part of a ss-, uh, sculptural box, uh, essentially a burial box, that I, that, uh, that I made for Artropolis some years ago. And, uh, for me, yes, heh, I absolutely recognize, uh, and know, and know the source and, eh, and, and the power. As a rep- as a paper, as a paper rep-, uh, representation of what it was, I figured I had every right to place it in, inside that burial box, frozen in time, and it, though it wasn’t carved from a live tree as a, heh, as a real False Face is, I believe that it still had the power to heal, and that was my intention in putting it out there. Uh, as a woman of some medicine, how we practice gr-, ih-, in this, in this greatly changed wor, changed world of which we are a greatly changed people…
AM: Uh, practices do need to shift, and, uh…
AUDIENCE #4: But you’re a Mohawk. And you’ve lived with this…
AM: Yes.
AUDIENCE #4: And you were born into it, and it’s yours. And I think that you’ve probably went through some kind of…
AM: In the sa-, in the same way, in, I think ih-, it was ninety, ninety-two or ninety-three, Ahasiw? Uh, one of the most famous perform– uh, controversial performances in Indian country when ah, uh, when Ahasiw in, in the midst of a performance that he was doing at grunt at the time, uh, chose to pierce himself, and so seven, uh, wha-, was it five, five eagle feathers, I believe it was, to his chest. Uh, absolutely, um, evocative of, of, of piercing in Sundance. And as a Cree man, did he have a right to do that? And as, as cura-, as curator for that, for that thing, I was hear-, I was defending him for a good year afterwards, his right to do that. And, uh, it was a, I still believe it was an absolutely respectful thing that he did in that time and that it was not, uh, even by doing that in performance in the, in the moment of performance, it was still, in, in intention, was absolutely done with the same respect that somebody sundancing would have, uh, would have done it. So, um, you know. It’s a kind of round-a-bout answer but that’s uh, it’s a very round-a-bout question, also, so…
AUDIENCE #5: Sorry to keep this one going, but with all due respect, uh…
AM: It’s a hot topic. Keep, keep, keep it…
AUDIENCE #5: I am familiar with that, referencing something through your art is not the same as taking a living thing…
DR. MEDICINE: I just want to say one thing, that when we talk about these things we have to contextual them there are certain things that are sacred and they remain sacred and certain things that are secular. It all depends upon one’s commitment to one’s community and their ritual as opposed to the commodification of art – we have to look at this — [INAUDIBLE] — I think this is something that we need to discuss more. Because it comes up in every art conference and it’s never going to be solved — and it is something that we have to discuss. The contextualization of art — the commodification of art or rituals and where they are rightfully practiced.
AM: Uh, this particular issue is one that unfortunately, uh, we seldom, seldom get a chance to have this many of us gathered to actually talk about this. Uh, I, aga-, it’s, again, it’s become one of those issues where you see it, you know, plastered on, you know, people making use of this thing, but ih-, but it, heh, really, in the, in the last few years, uh, in, in spite of a number of panels and workshops I’ve attended where they said they were going to talk about this, it never actually has been. This has actually the firs-, the most productive and most, uh, actual realization of this conversation I’ve ever seen, so thank you very much. And it does need to continue on. On that note, we are beyond time, uh. We are, uh, try-, eheh, trying to keep away from that Ih, ih, Indian time thing as much as possible. [INAUDIBLE CONVERSATION] Thank you all for attending this afternoon. At the end of each day, there, uh, the discussion will be, uh, a, a respondent is going to attempt to sum up the day, the day’s discussion. Uh, a daunting task for anyone. Uh, this afternoon we have Warren Arcan. And I believe there’s still coffee out there that’s probably warm if you still want to grab a cup.
TRACK TEN (7:49)
WARREN ARCAN: …how are we generating our own rituals in order to give voice to the issues that we as, uh, Aboriginal artists need to express? I’m very interested in that question. And I’ve been hearing this ghost of a thought emerging in everybody’s, uh, uh, contributions, in everybody’s, uh, statements today. Ahm, uh, just a little bit from James Luna’s blanket statements. Um, to quote the screen, “No input is detected.” And that is our history, um. [LAUGHTER] James Luna: “I guess we’ll wait.” James Luna put out images of the warrior that’s what he does. And he converts them, he transforms them to his own purposes, the purposes that are um, as, that are hidden to even himself. Um, because that is the secret wish of art. Every art gesture has a secret wish in it, a secret hope, a secret dream, a secret impulse. And something that emerges, that is continually emerging and that we assist in emerging it. I luh-, I’m very interested in our stutters. I’m very interested in our scrawls, in, in the scraps, in the letters never sent, in our p… [PAUSE. LAUGHTER] And he says, “You don’t have to like it.” We don’t have to like it. And it, it, we’re in the midst of a tradition that, uh, that needs debate and that, that’s a question that we are having right now regarding our political identities and that is one of the secret wishes and dreams of our art making, is, what are we politically? What are we spiritually? And, uh, the nature of debate. How does that come into play in terms of how we negotiate our selves? And… The beauty of some, of James Luna’s art, and of performance art in general, is, it’s bodies at risk. It is putting bodies at risk. Our bodies, the body, a body. Um, and that body in risk is a metaphor of our bodies at risk in history, our, our, our historical bodies, our sp-, our spiritual bodies, our bodies that we want, that we need, that we crave. And that’s why we have this conference. The question is, has been raised, why is this conference? Why this conference? What need does this conference, um, why we have, have we been attracted to this conference? Why do these structures exist? And what can we make of them? To quote: “Damn. I can’t read my writing.” To quote: “Let me have some more stage light.” Aiyyana referred to, uh, performa– to this space. Creating a space, “Where our leaders—” and I’m not sure what you meant by our leaders — “cannot touch.” In a space that our leaders cannot touch. And that is very interesting because, and then she ref-, in reference to her MFA project, she references… I wa-, I want to just bring out some metaphors she was using because we’re also struggling for metaphors. She refors-, -fers, -ferred, um, to her work as being about ‘opening doors,’ about her work being about ‘charting new territory,’ about ‘cul-, cultural evolution,’ um, um, and, and the threat of that, needing to do that because, “If we don’t, we don’t evolve. We stagnate, wither and die.” We are trying to enact our own local metaphors as an, in a, in an effort to decolonize. And we create, in a performance, a historical moment, a, an uncolonized moment. And I think that’s possible. That when a creatio-, a performance is being created, it can be a ti- a, a new time, a new history, a place where new things can be ‘inputted.’ Uh, like this conference, for example. She references the white Liberals who say to her “Why can’t we all be one?” And that was a comic moment for us all. Because we’re, we’re well aware of irony. The question, why can’t we all be several? Why can’t we be ss-, why can’t we be severe? Why can’t we be severed? We have, why can’t we two, why can’t we have more than one body made out of our single body? Because… We need more than one body to come into relation, and it’s all about relations, it’s all about the Hoop consciousness. Experiencing your severance, your severe side, your several sides. Is that violence or transformation? And that’s the question we’re actif-, actively living. Maybe we all want transformation. We just want it on our own terms. Aiyyana refers to the body of work we have crea-, generated over the last ten years, a ‘serious body of work’, but she also says, “Let’s have fun with it.” Now, here’s something. Here’s something. We are always already post-modern, because we’re always have been confronted with ourselves as constructed. I’m speaking more specifically lately, like, since contact. Maybe before that. That’s a good question. When the Mandan met the Huron, for example. Or when the Cree met the Blackfoot. Mmhmm. [LAUGHTER.] We are always, as Aboriginals, we are always already post-modern, but even that does not quite approach exactly what we are trying to do in performance. Yeah, Derrida’s just catching up to us. But it’s also an act of translation, to move on to Yves Sioui Durand. We forget, I forg- we forget about translation. We’re… In performance, we’re translating our own history to ourselves and for each other. The, I have a, a belief in, um, my, my relatives, their ghost gestures, the things that got, the things that was not, were not trapped and crushed by residential school, like the way a tea, a cup of tea was prepared. Subtle gestures that are as old as the people themselves, that somehow made it through and are still with me right now. Those gestures I actively try to transform into performance. And we see those gestures in James, in Aiyyana, in, in all of you and we’re all, we, that’s what we want. We want to give voice to those gestures. I think? I think maybe yes? Maybe no? It’s an act of translation, and it’s a journey, it’s a risk. Performance is a journey and a risk. It’s hard to do. It’s very hard to do. Like this! ‘Responding.’ For you. It’s hard. Aiyyana refers to the grandmothers. History. Spiritual traditions. I feel I am haunted OR I feel I am visited by these spirits, by these ghosts. And, in turn, that’s what we will become. Potentially. Do we want to be haunters, or visitors? These, this is another question we are trying to deal with in performance. We have a choice, we have an opportunity, we have a hope. Does not performance also want this? From James’s early work, from anger, to his work now, from, hope? Yesno? You know, I think that’s it. I think I’m done. [APPLAUSE]
TRACK ONE (5:09)
DAINA WARREN: I just wanted to say hi to everybody and thank y’all for coming. Um, I think this is a really amazing, incredible event, and, um, I’m just glad everybody’s here to share it with all of us. So I just wanted to, um, say thank you to our volunteers [SP ISSUES FOR FOLLOWING LIST OF NAMES], Peter, Lindsey, Tracy, Jody, Suzie, who’s, uh, kind of the head honcho of it all, um, she’s been amazing, Elaine, our, uh, video documenter, she’s a, so if you see her around, say hi to the camera. Um, Dee, our caterer, who’s, uh, done all the coffee and everything. She came in at the last moment, and, uh, I think it’s been really good snacks and refreshments. Uh, Pat Michelle, Hillary Wood, Sophie Merasty, and Bobbi our technician who’s working the magic of the whole event. Um, to start off, as you can tell. [LAUGHTER. APPLAUSE.] Oh, and I’m just going to make one more announcement. Um, tomorrow’s panels start at eleven in the morning. So just keep that in mind. You guys can sleep in a little bit. Um, I’m going to introduce Dana. Um, she is, I’m going to read straight off this thing, here. “She’s an award-winning director and interdis-, interdisciplinary artist whose work includes film and video installations and performance art. She’s an active member in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal arts communities, and has participated in panel discussion-, discussions, juries, advisory committees, Aboriginal youth, and curatorial projects. Her fim a-, film and video installations are held in permanent collections of major galleries as well as numerous international library collections. She’s a sessional instructor at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and teaches Aboriginal History, Art History. Ms. Claxton is de-, is dedicated to a critical analysis of cultural production and how communi-, communities meet, disengage and converge.” Sorry. Anyways, thank you. [APPLAUSE. LAUGHTER]
DANA CLAXTON: Hello. Good morning, everyone. It’s so wonderful to see everybody. And we’re all so happy that it’s, uh, it’s worked out! It’s like working out. This is, uh, the first time that we’ve all worked together on a conference. Now, we’re going to, um, begin today with this panel discussion but it’s going to be sort of less formal, and we’re going to begin with Anthony, who’s going to speak from here. And then Lori is doing a, uh, performative thing, over there. And then Ahasiw will be the third one. Um, I wasn’t here for the, uh, last part of yesterday, but it sounded absolutely wonderful, and that the discussion was leading in to what we’re hoping to talk about today, and about, um, I always say, “How far will you go?” is what I wanted to name the, this panel, but we realized it wasn’t exactly the appropriate title for it, but we wanted to look at, um, ideas of, ah, ceremony an-, an-, and ritual, and how it continues to be part of our practice, and you know, what does that mean, what are the implications of that, and, uh, are there any rules? You know, when we think about the creation of art, it’s a spiritual act in itself, and, um, you know, there, art making of course is, you know, limitless and has no boundaries. So when we come to that which is “wankan” and that which is sacred, is how do we deal with that in our work without offending people, because invariably, I think we are going to offe-, I mean everybody seems to have, you know… everybody has boundaries, and then it gets to a point where, you know, um, uh, H-how do we negoo-, negotiate around that, I suppose? And, um, what, uh, and we’ve been wanting to talk about this for a long time, and have had various sort of small pockets of conversations around it over the years. So we look forward to a larger, uh, discussion after, um, the presentations. So we’re going to begin with Anthony and Anthony is a Vancouver-based, uh, artist. He’s a painter, and he has worked in performance installation as well as he’s an amazing flute player. And actually last night at the dinner I was thinking, Anthony, it would have been wonderful to hear you playing the flute. And, um, uh, so, Anthony has also taught, uh, Aboriginal Art History at the Native Education Centre. And, um, he’s just finished a series of beautiful paintings that, that are actually all quite, uh, looking at the, at the sacred within his canvases. Um, and so he’s going to talk about, uh, his thoughts about this topic. So if we can welcome Anthony McNab Favel.
TRACK TWO (23:18)
ANTHONY MCNAB FAVEL: Hello there. Well, um, as far as, uh, getting into the discussion on cultural protocol, um, I guess there’s three points I wanted to stress, as far as, um. One, as far as, uh, uh, when it comes to doing art, and, uh, researching art and doing, uh, doing performance pieces. Um, uh, one of a, I guess three aspects I’m going to be discussing or talking about is cultural protocol, research and history, and cultural permission. Um, those are the three points that I wanted to sort of, uh, discuss. First, as far as cultural protocol is concerned, I wanted to, uh, just discern the difference between urban or and/or I would call them, sort of educated, uh, artists, in comparison to, uh, artists that are, uh, have a lifetime of practice. There’s sort of differences in, in how we interpret and, uh, value our artists out there. Because, uh, in my experience as an artist, uh, I’ve been, I’ve been doing art since I was five. So, because I’ve been doing art all my life, I’ve been practiced, I’m a practiced artist. In other words, I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. A lot of my research and studies have been my own interpersonal, uh, through my own interpersonal discipline. When the cultural, uh, cultural protocol came into, came into point, came into, uh, my life, at a point when I was, uh, I was, uh, I was at a point trying to understand the difference between two-dimensionalism and three-dimensionalism and where I basically stood as an artist. And was there cultural protocol? Was there boundaries? Um, and should these boundaries exist? Uh, do I get cultural permission from my, from my elders? And if my elders don’t understand, or and/or are not involved in the modern technological society that we live in, how do we involve them? If we do do performances out there in the public eye, uh, when we do, ‘cause it’s not just the cultural boundaries, it’s traditional territorialism. Each culture has that, and Aboriginal people, uh, me as a, me as a prairie person, uh, I wouldn’t go to a west coast, uh, west coast style of art work, and I’ve been asked, uh, over the, over the decade or so that I’ve lived in Vancouver, to portray and do portraits and/or do work, and I just can’t do that. I don’t see… And I’ve always been very courteous to West Coast art because I am in their territory, and I, and I appreciate and I value their art. Now, I would never, culturally trespass, unless I was being brought into a guild, unless I was being brought into a, a, a where some of my peers and some of my colleagues have actually taken training under some, some professional, uh, West Coast carvers, and that’s something where you get cultural permissions. Now, if we go to our, there are performance art where, I guess, when it comes down to a higher thinking, what, I think, in the, in the education fields, I try to compare that with the elders that live in the rural communities out there, because they’re not necessarily involved in the aspects of how we, how we invoke, uh, as disciplined artists, and maybe not even as, maybe even undisciplined artists, depends on where we are as far as uh, our, our experiences as artists and how we want to express that and present that to the public, because presentation in the arts is very important. Now, where we, where we decipher, where we, uh, uh, the, uh, the, the Aboriginal person out there that is not ver-, that, that is not, uh, of a higher education, we can’t dismiss that their value systems from their traditional backgrounds is not as valuable or even as high standards. So I think there’s a conflict between, uh, urban or and/or higher educated and the native elders out there and I like to sort of get permissions, and I do talk to my mother, and I talk to different, uh, different elders in my community. And, uh, and when I do go home, it’s, it’s interesting the conversations that we get into. Whether they give me permission or not, that’s a whole other thing. Uh, I try to involve them in, in, in trying to, uh, sort of the analysis of it, because it’s, it’s uh, something where they’ve, they’re definitely set in their ways, and they’re not going to come to town to watch a performance that I do. And a matter of fact, I’m gonna have to go to their home to actually perform for them. And I don’t mind that. As an artist, that’s my job, uh. Now, and, uh… But, uh, like I say, I don’t, uh, like, a lot of my elders are not going to come to town to see me perform. And I know that for a fact. They just can’t afford to just come here, either, anyways, you know? Uh. It’s not a thing of, uh, lack of finances or not. Or not. They’re just set in their ways. Um, as far as permission goes, I think it’s, it’s important to, uh, I think it’s important to discuss this within your culture. I think it’s important to decipher what, what kind of boundaries there are, if there is any at all. And how far can we go? I mean, I try not to give too many, uh, I try not to give an eh-, uh, a bad example, but, um, as far as, um, um, It’s like me as a, me as a musician, okay, I play a variety of flutes. Uh, I’ve been given permission from Central American, Mexicans and, uh, South Americans to play their instruments. Well I went down there to learn their instruments. I went down there and I learned how to make their instruments. I didn’t just pick up an instrument ten years ago or fifteen years ago and start playing it. I had, I needed instruction, I needed direction. And, uh, and certainly, uh, I, I needed, uh, I needed that so that I could, uh, I could play and not only that, I could emulate, uh, their music, because I love their music. Now I love traditional music from, from the prairies, as well, but I’m classically trained. I’m traditionally trained. And I sort of fall in the, I fall in a very, uh, interesting, uh, uh, place where I can actually, uh, work contemporary as well as traditional music… Now, um, um, now you won’t see me singing a, singing a sundance songs, uh, at any given performance because it’s not, within our own culture, within my culture, it’s not something that native people, uh, would do. It’s sort of, uh, um… And I know it’s, it’s something like, uh, as far as discussions go on back home, that it’s something that’s very sacred. And we like to keep it in our back yard, you know? Uh, when, when we do invite people, and other cultures to our ceremonies and rituals, it’s a cultural exchange, but it’s done within the, uh, it’s done in a, uh, in a very responsible manner, ah, uh, where there, you have a cultural, where you have cultural, uh, integrity. As far as cultural protectionism, I think cultural protectionism is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, considering the 1980s. What happened in the 1980s, uh, as far as appropriation of, uh, spiritualism, and, uh, cultural abuse that happened in the United States. And it’s still going on. Um, in Canada here, it’s not the same. The laws here, uh… There was some attempts in the mid, in the early nineties to s-, to sort of, uh, deal with some of the cultural, let’s call it cultural, uh, uh, uh, uh, abuse, that was going on out there by non-native people. And, uh, there wasn’t any boundaries. And when I look at the perp-, uh, people out there that think they can take spirit-, our spirituality, invoke it in their own and go and charge five hundred dollars for a workshop, I go, well if you can do that, in the, in the non-native community in a workshop situation, then what is it to say that, uh, what does that say to the community out there, and then what kind of permissions do we think, as far as boundaries, I ask these questions, where and do we as native people as far as integrity goes, uh, we have to, uh, we have to police ourselves. Um, uh, and, and it is a good discussion to discuss, and, and we do have to involve the whole community, ‘cause it’s not just the artists coming out of, out of the art schools, and the established art, you know, art institutes, it’s the artists that are coming off the street, it’s the artists that are coming out of high school, it’s the artists coming off the reserve. Those artists, their, their work is just as important. Now, whether they have permissions or not, whether they understand cultural protocol, or whether they understand, uh, that there’s, uh, that there could, there, there could and there will be people out there that will, uh, uh, question, uh, and, and say, “You know, um, I have so-, you know, you can’t, you, you’ve culturally trespassed here. You don’t have a right to this. Did you get permission for that?” Uh, and not only that, then of course the artist is, uh, is put on the, uh, you know, put on the spot, because of the fact is, is that, do we, and do we question, do we, do we share this information with our elders and our greater community? I certainly talk to my mother and my elders about this a lot. Um, and I discuss it a lot, and it’s been a conversation piece for me for, uh, since I started doing, uh, art as a professional when I was fifteen. And I’ve doing art as a professional since I was fifteen. So when I got out into the so-called ‘real, real world,’ and started, uh, working as a graphic commercial artist out there, um, I realized that the bound– there was not a lot of boundaries out there. There wasn’t any real rules, You know? Nobody was regulating it. Um, as I went along, I discovered that I had to sort of regulate myself, and I started had, I had to ask more questions, and I also asked, well, what is the difference between traditionalism and contemporary art, and, and how does it affect our culture, and do, do we, and, uh, how, at one point, do we protect our culture from being exploited? Not just from our, from, from non-natives, but from our own, from our own community. Hopefully, uh, you know, this is the part of the research and history where I think, uh, uh, people have to, uh, people have to do their research thoroughly. And you do have to question your elders. And you do have to ask them, well, uh, what can I do here? I have a real interesting thing here. It deals with politics, it deals with social concerns, um, and it juxtaposes the issues that are going on right now, how do I do that without insulting my culture? How do I do that in an, in an integral way, without uh, um, uh, like, there’s one thing when an artist is out there looking to be, uh, looking to sort of, uh, for shock value, there’s a lot of that that goes on in the music industry, that’s pretty well all it is, it’s mostly ‘me-me-me-I-I-I-I.’ Um, so the fact is, is it’s sort of this, you know, sometimes I think, uh, people that get into the art industry think that, um, uh, it’s a fame game. Well it’s not necessarily a fame game. Some people are gonna find fame and it’s going to come and it’s going to go, you know. Um, it’s not necessarily something, I find that there’s a sort of a desperation. When I went to Emily Carr, I found there was quite a lot of desperate artists out there seeking to be found and, um, seeking to, seeking to be known. Now, what goes on with that is, well, we have to, uh, work on our maturity levels and, and do the research, and, and take a look at other performing artists and see what, see, see what, where they’re at, and how they press the boundaries, and learn from that. I think it’s really important to look at other artists out there, especially performance artists, and see, uh, how they accomplish that. Look at and research how they did that, because there’s some very inquisitive ways and very, um, um, especially in performance art where you can definitely juxtapose quite a lot of, uh, information and knowledge out there, um. And at the same time, uh, you can learn something and the public can learn something, without, uh, without uh, uhm, damaging the culture. I mean, it, it is, and, and I do stress, that as far as, uh, I am a bit of a cultural protectionist myself, and I do, I do go out there and certainly the intellectual battles are going on out there because it’s something that hasn’t really totally been deciphered. And it’s something that is, as far as I can tell, with the artists that are, that have been around, and doing performance art, definitely, it’s a great learning and teaching tool. And I don’t see any problems with it. It’s just discerning the differences from culture to culture, ‘cause the Blackfoot and the Cree are different, the northern Crees are different than the southern Crees, the Quebec Crees are different than the Prairie Crees. I mean it’s the same damn thing. The Algonquins are different than their neighbours. We’re all different, and we all have different cultural points of views. Just because one culture out there, uh, my neighbours, we may have a sequence of colours in the four directions that may be sequenced to our reserve, but the next reserve over has a different set of colours. And those colours represent, are representative of uh, o-, of their value systems, and their, uh, hereditary, uh, oral history that they’ve carried on from uh, uh, uh, pre-colonial times. And it’s very interesting to note that and it’s something that uh, that distinguishes us culturally from one territory to the nother, to another. And I know for a fact, that from one reserve to the next, it changes radically. And you can be in, you can be from the same tribe, you can be related to those people, but the colours definitely change. It’s not just the black, you know, it, it’s not just the white, the red, uh, the yellow and the black, it’s, or, you know, it’s not just that sequence of colours. I’ve seen green, I’ve seen blue. In different territories it’s different things, and not everybody you, some tribes use one colour. Some tribes use two colours. Some tribes use four colours, uh, through, uh, in their sundances and in their lodges. Each culture has a different protocol. And these are things we have to be sensitive to. So this is why, when it comes to research, it’s really important to really, uh, take a look at your culture. If you’re going to represent your culture, uh, in a, in a presentation format where, where you are doing performance art, even in music, you have to be, you have to be culturally sensitive to, uh, to what you represent. You are a representative of your culture. Now as far as permissions, um, uh, I think it’s really. It is important. I mean, we do, and we will, uh, be questioned by our elders and our colleagues. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with critical uh, uh, um, uh, uh uh uh, critical thinking, uh, in, as far as cultural, cultural representation. I don’t, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I mean to have your critical thinking cap on, I think it’s important, especially in presentation. So, um, but I guess it’s up to the, uh, it’s up to the person that presents it. Any artist out there should be, uh, ready and capable of having to handle critical, uh, critical acclaim or critical debate, or if somebody’s, you know, creative criticism, that’s the standard in the art, you know. And artists have to… If you don’t have a hard shell and you’re not used to being criticized in the community, then what are you doing in the arts, you know? You have to be, you have to take criticism. It’s part of it. It’s part of, uh. When an artist puts a, puts a painting on a wall, or does a performance, it’s there to invoke, uh, people, and stir their soul to question. And analysis. I think it’s very important. And, uh, I’m not saying that uh, Aboriginal art or Aboriginal culture or Aboriginal ritual, um, can’t be, uh, invoked through art, but I think it’s a sensitive issue, and, and it has to be approached with a sensitive values, and uh, and uh, and, (ough) as a representative, I think you, I think artists have to um, have to be careful about that. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sitting down with your, uh, uh, with your colleagues, your your friends, or elders, and, and, and sitting down and, and saying, “Hey, do think this is right?” Or, “Do you think I’m stepping over the boundaries here, territorially?” Because, uh, the other thing I just wanted to mention is that, um, um, I’m a real-, I just wanted to add something, one small point, is uh, I went to residential school. I’m one of the last survivors that went to residential school in, uh, and I’m quite young, actually. But I do, I do notice that it did affect me quite a lot. And this whole concept of the apple syndrome, and apples, and this and that, natives being separated from their culture, halfbreeds, quarter bloods, this, that, whatever. Well, the problem that I found, uh, as of recently, in the recent history, is that we as a culture, um, as far as cultural protocol, we need to do that research. Because not all of us have grown up in our own cultures, in our own community. Some people would say, “Oh, it’s a privilege that you grew up in your community.” Well, yeah, it might be a privilege that you grew up in your community impoverished. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that uh, that that’s going to serve those people outside of your community. Now, um, as far as, uh, uh, I guess I just wanted to get to the point that as, as far as, uh, as far as the research is concerned, native people definitely, uh, uh, have been s-, there’s, you know, when you hear the numbers, like 40,000 native people had been, uh, 40,000 Aboriginal children had been put into adoption, uh, between, uh, 1950 and 1970, I gotta go, well where are all those kids? Well I’ve met those kids, you know. I was in residential school. I was definitely separated, and it certainly had an a, had an effect on my interpretation, and how I valued my culture. Now, I think it’s really important to stress that, because as artists I think it’s, I think it’s, uh… We need to discern, and when we do go back home, we need to, we need to take small steps. You don’t walk in this world and not leave a footprint in the ground. Now that’s, this is what I’m talking about as far as cultural protocol. It, it interests me because I’ve had a long road to learning and deciphering what, what Aboriginal culture and its values mean to me as an artist. Now, having grown up on a reserve, after I got out of the, got out of the residential school, I had, I had very unique experiences, and it was like going back a hundred years. Now that was different than the residential school and it was definitely different than the uh, definitely different than the modern world, because it was, uh, you know, we’re still travelling around in wagons, in ’76. Uh, that’s was my upbringing. Not everybody has that. And people will come up to me and they’ll say, “Oh, you know, that was quite the privilege you had.” Um, well, yeah. It might have been a bit of a privilege. The residential school certainly fucked me up, and, uh, I. I have to decipher things from the language that I was taught into English. And that’s what I do. Not necessarily because I speak Cree, but I was taught it and I spoke it fluently as a child. So, I notice that, uh, as an artist, and as I grow, and as I mature, as far as cultural protocol, it’s, it’s, it’s very important to me, and I would hope that it would be important for the next gener-, next, g-, the generations that are coming ahead, that, uh, this is something that is, that will be important for them, too. Um, uh, just as not to, uh, uh, like I say, there’s nothing wrong with, um, uh, artistic criticism. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think, everybody that goes to school and goes into Emily Carr or any of the higher learning have got to get and be ready to be criticized. It’s part of the art. And that’s something I learned at Emily Carr and I learned that even prior to that ‘cause I was working in the industry before I even went to, uh, higher education. And uh, and I had to take, uh, I had to take people’s criticism, and I had to do a lot of work. I spent seven years in the industry before I went to higher learning. So I was a, I was a practicing artist, and I was working professionally for the community, and it was very important for me to, uh, go through the process. And I’m still learning it. It isn’t something that’s, that’s carved out in stone. Uh, it’s something that’s evolving as our awareness and as we go on in future, uh, because we have come out this epoch, I think. And, uh, culturally, and I think it’s important that, that now that we have, I would say, control of our, uh, of our spirituality, and we have control of our culture, I think it’s also important that, that uh, the younger generations and up and coming artists also discern the difference, uh, between cultural protocol, uh, cultural boundaries that, um, that we do need to do the research and we certainly definitely need to, need to get permission, and even just discussing it with our elders, even if they don’t agree with us, at least we have sat and we’ve discussed it with them. It’s, it, uh, it’s something that’s important to me, anyways, you know? I wouldn’t uh, um, um, I wouldn’t um, forsake my elders for my need for fame, or my need to be seen or heard or and/or the fact that uh, that uh, I have a certain opinion or point of view. I definitely need their point of view. That’s a part of uh, a part of uh, my strength as well, um. And I think it’s important, um. Anyways, I think that’s all I have to say. I hope I wasn’t talking around in circles, too much there. Um, but that’s what I wanted to present, and uh, and I just wanted you to think about it, and was there any questions? [HE CHUCKLES. APPLAUSE]
DANA CLAXTON: Thank you very much for that, Anthony. Um. It… we sure do have a lot to talk about when we do talk. I like the idea of cultural protectionism, and what that means in the context of art making. So next up we have Lori Blondeau, also known as Cosmo-squaw, Surfer-squaw, various other personas, and Lori is, um, uh, a performance artist, based in Saskatoon, and she’s the founding director of TRIBE, uh, which is, um… It was so exciting when TRIBE came on board to the artist-run centre movement, because it was a Aboriginal artist, uh, artist-run centre, and it was very important to have these things, and it was really about self-representation, having an Aboriginal organization, uh, partner with other, uh, groups in Saskatoon and bring about Aboriginal voices. And, um, when I was thinking about Lori and Glenn yesterday about their commitment to Aboriginal art, is that, if we think about the number of Aboriginal artists in Canada, and the lack of visibility in the larger gallery systems, I mean you can sort of see across the country when there’s an Indian show, and it’s you know I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of any sort of, uh, equity. Um, and Lori, by the work that she does in Saskatoon is very much fulfilling uh, I think, those kind of gaps. So she’s going to do a, uh, performance. Lori Blondeau.
DANA CLAXTON: Thank you very much, Lori. I was wondering where that was going to go at one point, there. What kind of offering was going to happen, you know? Um, oh, it’s so it’s so wonderful. Okay. So. Next up we have Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew. Um, I met Ahasiw a long time ago at the Pitt Gallery, and, um, Ahasiw works in performance and new media, cyber work, and um, has done stints with the Canada Council and, uh, is a graduate from Emily Carr, as well actually. And it was a few years there when it was pretty scant in terms of Aboriginal graduates from Emily Carr. At one point I think there was, well there wasn’t any for many years and then there was two one year, which was very exciting. And then one year there was four, and last year though we had 30 Aboriginal students. Um, so, uh, Ahasiw is now with actually the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, and he is going to… are you doing yours at the table? Okay, let’s just clear it off. So, Ahasiw Maskegon.
TRACK SIX (9:28)
AHASIW MASKEGON-ISKWEW: Good morning everyone. I just wanted to, uh, also mention that, uh, Cheryl’s in that performance art book. There’s three Indians in there.
CHERYL: Guy, you got that?
AHASIW: Got that?
AHASIW: [Starts with language.]
CHERYL SPEAKS CREE, THEN ENGLISH [PRESUMABLY A TRANSLATION] If you love me, you will move in right away. If you love me, you will kiss me right away. Let’s go in the car and ride to Edmonton. Because if you love me you’ll move in right away, and if you love me you’ll kiss me right away. [CREE] If you love me you’ll move in right away. If you love me you’ll kiss me right away. Let’s eat the main dish. Let’s drink the broth. If you love me you’ll move in right away. If you love me you’ll kiss me right away. [LAUGHTER. APPLAUSE.]

AHASIW: I guess before I start, I’m trying to make a place for love. Um, I wanted to make a place for Archer. Um. I had all these elaborate plans. [AUDIENCE CALLS FOR HIM TO BE LOUDER.] Sorry. Before I start, are going to this too much, I think… what I wanted to do was to make a place for Archer. And, um… I don’t know probably, whatever.
ARCHER PECHAWIS FROM VIDEO PRESENTATION: My name’s Archer Pechawis. I’m a halfbreed. I’m also a bisexual, which means I can see both sides of any argument. But that doesn’t mean that I always like both sides of any argument. When I was growing up, we travelled. A lot. In cars.
ARCHER PECHAWIS; Can you hear me now? White man’s magic. Let’s do that part again! Turn this light on! ‘Kay, ready? When I was young, we travelled a lot. In cars! When I was a kid, I loved cars. Still do. Cars were safe. Bad things never happened in cars. Not like houses. Well, sometimes bad things happened in cars, well like the—yeah. Like the time that lady forgot to put her parking brake on, and her car rolled backwards down her driveway, and hit our Falcon. That was the shits. I hit my forehead, and I started to cry. And I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried, all the way into the lady’s house, and I didn’t stop crying until she showed me her kid’s room with all the toys. That part was great. Thanks. We travelled around a lot. We never lived in any one place too long. And, you know, that was okay with me, because I thought that was kind of traditional, you know? It’s like, we were sort of following the food source, you know. We’d go over and my Dad had were… I love my family. My Dad, he was a bit much. We had this black Ford F-100 pick-up truck, and on the doors, he wrote, he had someone paint, “The Maylings—Kay and Rod.” It’s true. I hated that. But you know, my Mom tried to raise us the best she could. And I think she felt like, we’d have a better chance if we were just like white people. As you can see, she did a pretty good job. There’s me, and there’s my Mom, and there’s my brother. We’re riding elephants, which are traditional in other parts of the world. I’m still a little pissed off at my Mom for not teaching us Cree. But she says it was ‘cause there was nobody else around there who did. I just figured she just wanted us to have a better chance. Anyway. That’s my Dad. That’s my Mom again. Cool shirt, huh? And that’s my brother. My Dad was kind of a character. See, he came over from England when he was sixteen, but he didn’t like Canada. He’d get these sales jobs and because he had a big mouth—I don’t know where I got it from but he did—he would be the best salesman no matter what he did. He sold sewing machines for awhile and made a lot of money, and in just a couple of weeks was their best salesman. In order to sort of spread the wealth, he’d buy his Mom, my Granny, who’s now dead, these beautiful expensive gifts like diamond necklaces and hi-fi stereos. And then in a couple of weeks my Dad would quit the job and sort of split the country and go to the States and the bills for the things would start rolling into my Grandma’s house. He was a real white man, that way. So my Dad’d keep going to the States, and you know he’d bum around, do this, do that. And he’d keep getting deported, back to Canada. Then he’d get another job, buy some expensive gifts for my Granny, quit the job, go back to the States, and the bills would come in. And this sort of went on for awhile. The last time he went to the States, he got as far as Louisiana. I guess he was working on some shrimp boats. Well he met this beautiful young woman…
AHASIW SPEAKING OVER THE TAIL OF THE VIDEO PRESENTATION: Those of us who know and love Archer know that this can go on and on, and he’s lovely. And he’s lovely! And we love him. Very much.
ARCHER PECHAWIS [TEXT WITHIN PARENTHESES IS SPOKEN UNDER AHASIW]: (Whose Dad was Air, retired Air Force general or something like that. They had a lot of money. Well pretty soon my Dad had a car, and a membership) in a country club. And things were going really good, until this woman said, “When are we getting married?”
AHASIW: And he gets serious. He gets quite serious. And he writes things like, “From Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew’s 1992 grunt performance we see two images: Maskegon-Iskwew piercing himself with a needle and thread to attach eagles feathers to his chest and a shot of him barefoot, legs wrapped in a mud-spattered blanket standing before a bowl of muddy water. The first image captures the crux of the performance, the moment which generated controversy for months after. The second crystallizes the painful spirituality of the first, where a mud-spattered Aboriginal monk prepares to enact a terrible ritual, the essence of the moment is revealed. The moment of public performance is transformed into personal space.
ARCHER PECHAWIS [TEXT WITHIN PARENTHESES IS SPOKEN UNDER AHASIW]: (Well, my Dad jumped back in the car and headed back to Canada. However, mysteriously, somehow, the car caught fire and burned just south of the Canadian border, and remains a mystery to this day. Stuck in a small roadside café, my Father sat there pondering his luck and wondering what he as going to do next, until along came Kenneth Grace. Kenneth Grace was a good man. He was a deacon in the Anglican church and he was in charge of the residential schools in Manitoba. A good Christian. Well my Father and he struck up a conversation and Kenneth Grace said, “Can you drive?” My Dad said, “Yeah.” He didn’t tell him about the car burning. And the next thing you know, they were headed to Canada. And by the time they got to the border, wouldn’t you know it, my Dad was a devout Christian. And the next thing you know, my Dad was vice-dean of a boy’s school in Manitoba. Dauphin.
AHASIW: When I was at a conference one time with Archer, as, uh, the quota, the quota Indians in some kind of digital conference in Banff, Archer was, and it was Archer’s turn to speak, and uh, what he did was… I don’t know if you know the Mac system, the Mac– Macintosh system well or not, but in it…
ARCHER PECHAWIS [TEXT WITHIN PARENTHESES IS SPOKEN UNDER AHASIW]: (That’s where he met my Mom. Anyway, they got hitched up and they moved to Alert Bay, BC, which is up the coast from here. Home of the world’s tallest totem pole? That’s where I was born. Now, [AUDIENCE IN VIDEO ASKS FOR SOUND TO BE TURNED UP.] I’ve often felt a lot of trepidation going back to Alert Bay because my Dad was the Dean of the residential school… Glenn says he can’t hear. Turn it up louder. How’s that Glenn? Can you hear now? [VIDEO PRESENTATION VOLUME FADES OUT]
AHASIW: In it there’s a program called SimpleText. And SimpleText can speak or sing, uh, the text that you type into it. And he, he wrote that song that Cheryl shared with us, um, brilliantly, by the way. That’s way better than the one Archer wrote, by the way, I have to tell you. Um, uh, he wrote that into SimpleText and he got SimpleText to sing that while he smudged with a floppy disk as part of our pain about why we’re the quota Indians in the digital conference scenario at Banff. Talking about ritual, ritual language.
AHASIW: One of the most important things about language—it keeps coming back around to language, it has to—um, is about what language reveals or what it, what it protects, um… And in Cree—and as is in most Algonquin language, well, as in all Algonquin languages—and in fact, probably all Aboriginal languages across Turtle Island and elsewhere – the key shape of the language, the key concept in general of the language is about animism. And very often people, when they talk about tradition or spirituality, I find I, I get kind of frightened because they fail to mention that one concept that is the most overwhelming thing about it all. They tend to talk about human things, whether or not human beings can do this or human beings can do that, or whatever. And even the shape of this, you know the, the…the description of this panel you now, it’s. it’s… [AUDIENCE ASKS FOR VOLUME] Even the description of this panel is that way, too, and the description of this whole conference is that way, too. Um, but what is animism? And what can animism mean in contemporary society, and what has it meant, and h-, wh–, how did it come about? Um, and that’s where I’d like to maybe switch it back a little bit. Can, can somebody describe what animism is? Animism? [RESPONSES FROM THE AUDIENCE.] Sorry?
AUDIENCE #1: Animacy. Of objects. And beings. Spirit living in objects.
AUDIENCE #2: And that suggests like an agency to an object [INAUDIBLE] a recipient of pure action but also an [INAUDIBLE] to create for its own, for its own sake and for the sake of others [INAUDIBLE.] Isn’t it?
AHASIW: Moshum [GRANDFATHER] and Kokum [GRANDMOTHER]. [THEN MORE CREE] It’s about the idea that ‘all our relations.’ And what does ‘all our relations’ mean? And how does ‘all our relations’ construct language and construct our language and construct our spirit and our being and our way of living. And, um, in, in Cree, um, linguists call it the ‘gender’ of the language, which is kind of odd, I guess, because they bring that from European constructs of how gender, gender is constructed in European languages. But in, in gender for Algonquin languages, it’s about inanimate and animate. It’s not about he or she. But every word in Algonquin languages is constructed by animate or inanimate. So when we, when we comes together and we start to talk about identity and, you know, what is what is Indian politics, or what is Indian art, or things like that, for me the most important thing is to, to start there. Moostoos [sp?]. Who, who are our relations? And when we, when that, when that perhaps sometimes overused phrase of ‘all my relations’ is used, there, there’s, there’s a bigger, a much bigger cosmological framework being enacted. The dimensions, the multidimensional nature of that doesn’t just stop as in conte-, current time of the speaker. It goes in multidimensions of space and time. And physicists now are beginning to look at our, at some of our elders’ definitions of what ‘all my relations’ means in its multidimensional nature. And to say, “Your culture goes beyond… We’re, we, we need to learn what your cul- how far your culture goes beyond what we can think.” Because what that multidimensional nature of time, space, and layers of reality really means. And coming back, again, to what inanimate and inani-, animate mean. For me the, the issue of ritual ha-, I guess it starts there. Um, and it starts with language. The, the place of language has always been really primary for me as a, as a, as an artist. I think it must have come from my Kokum. She was a very powerful woman. And one of my earliest memories was pulling back the blanket that she had for a door on her log cabin bedroom, and watching her and three other old women doing something to a young woman laying on the kitchen table. Of course you can assess, or you can speculate all you want, and I have many times, too, but I’m not going to, this time. Her, her, what she wanted me to be, was a priest. And, of course, it, it makes total sense when you think about it, because she knew I’d never be a hunter. There was no way that was going to happen.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: She knew you wouldn’t be what?
AHASIW: She knew I would never be a hunter. [LAUGHTER] She knew that was not, that was not, never going to happen. Because she already had, like my older half-brother was already, like, being trained by uncles and stuff to be a hunter and he was, like, ‘n he was big, macho guy, you know? So, me, it’s like, no, there was like, “No, no. Ahasiw’s not going to be,” oh, by the way, it was Donald then, at that time, I didn’t tell you that. Um, she, she decided, and, but the thing about being a priest, why, why, for her that was really important thing, was because in her lifetime, and very recently before my birth, was when Aboriginal people could become priests. And who was the biggest negotiator, and arbiter, and trader of power in our communities in the north, was priests. So she figured, “Well, now that we can become priests, what would be the most important kind of family member you could have? What would be, you know, better than a hunter! Because a hunter, you know, I mean a hunter can’t magically conjure up a, a motorboat engine, or a, you know, a flight to south if you’re sick! But a priest can.” You know? Power. Power in the community, you know, totally to know that that’s what, where, what, where it lie. So, you know, my Kokum’s medicine, she had some very powerful medicine. When I think about my medicine, there’s a huge problem with even trying to go there. Um, the medicine of, the medicine of death, I guess, if you just want to be blunt about it. Often times it has come too close to that, in… the medicine of grief. And my struggle has been to try to find a way, a path, to find the medicine of joy and the medicine of love. So much… I think that’s why I quit doing performance art. Because I didn’t know whether or not I was really capable of helping people find that path. Because I certainly knew that I was putting myself more and more into greater and greater danger, um, by speaking so much about grief and loss. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t, and the thing about it, I guess for me, anyway, as a, as a younger person who wasn’t really ready to make strong statements, but yet had the capability and the capacity to do so, um, and I was kinda good at it. But what, where I went, the spaces, the places I went, without, without, um, really thinking about who could hold my hand when I went there. I found myself really in some incredibly dangerous places. Um, and to kind of bring it back around, to close this a little bit, Archer was the one who hold, held my hand. Without Archer, I don’t think I could have done half of what I did, or recovered as quickly. And that’s the thing, too, was always about recovery, after, afterward, because you can’t go in those dangerous places without really, seriously going into recovery, kind of. But he was there. He made the most incredible requests. He achieved… “Yeah, you want that? Here it is.” Or, “You’re going through this incredible emotional thing, trying to explore this territory. I’m here for you. And, you know, don’t worry. I’ll be your anchor.” And he did that. Big time. And not just for me. Many people. So, thank you. [APPLAUSE]
DANA CLAXTON: Thank you very much for that, Ahasiw. And it was uh, very wonderful. And, uh, I didn’t what words to use, because I don’t want to say the wrong words. Generous, but proper, but, uh, also very needed, I think, for a number of people, for you to, uh, acknowledge Archer here, so I’m very grateful for that, um. Now, do we want to have a little break and then come back to a discussion? How are people feeling? [LAUGHTER] Okay! Let’s have, like, a twelve-minute break and we’ll be back. Thank you.
TRACK ONE (18:50)
DANA CLAXTON: … Our group discussion. And we’ll just sit over there and see how it goes.

ANTHONY MCNAB FAVEL: We got out powwow drumsticks in front of us…

DC: I’m just gonna say a few comments from my notes. And… I was thinking about, uh, when Anthony was commenting on, uh, cultural protectionism, and, uh, when we do these things, and work with things that are sacred, about how, what it means to, to be a cultural protectionist, and, um, a-and cultural trespassing from one culture to a next. Say, having a, you know, Salish artist work with, uh, images of, what, a sundance, or something. I mean, that’s cultural trespass. What does that mean? Is it, uh, is it okay, and, uh, Anthony brought up some interesting issues when he was talking about what what do we value in terms of urban work and, uh, uh, rural work. And, when we think that somebody can give us permission, um, can a whole nation… we don’t get permission from a whole nation to do what we do, so when, when we go ask for permission, if one was to do that, who, you know, who gives you that permission on behalf of who? So I thought these were, he brought up some really interesting, uh, points of discussion. Because, you know, how can you get permiss–, one person may give you permission, but another person may, say, you know, “That’s too taboo for me and I don’t give you permission.” So how do we gauge these things? And, um, I, I thought a very interesting point, too, when Anthony talked about how, when, uh, when we bring people, either not from our own tribal groups or, or non-Indians as well, bring them into, say, a, any sort of ceremonial setting, is that it’s, it’s, they’re invited guests where it becomes more of a cultural exchange, and it’s not a, it’s, he was… If I understood properly, you’re saying that was different than doing a-, an exchange as performance art.


DC: And… He used the word ‘cultural abuse.’ And you know I’m associating that with the sort of new age movement. Just you know, very basically. But, uh, you know I don’t think that, um, as artists we do that. And it’s like we almost have our own sort of, you know, there’s like this… we have our own radars. Having seen so much work, I’ve never seen anything I’d ever engage as being culturally ‘abusive.’ And so I think… we have some kind of internal mechanism that prevents us from doing that. But yet we see other, uh, uh, non-Indian people do that, so you know, that’s what just what I was thinking about that. And, um how we are, you were great, Anthony, by the way, to start the panel. Um, when you mentioned about represent-, representive-, represent-, being representative of our cultures, and how other cultural groups don’t have that responsibility, and why we always have that responsibility, you know, we’re representing our culture. I mean I don’t think a lot of other artists are put in that position. “You’re representing your culture, your peoplehood, your nation, and, you know, have you, do, do you have permission? Have you talked to your elders?” You know, who has to go through all that to make their art? So, um, just thoughts that came to my little mind, and [chuckles] and anybody can jump in. I’ll go on, though. Lori…

WARREN ARCAN: All these issues that you, the panel’s brought up, um, I guess, what was really interesting to me about, in these issues is the question of, um, of violence, I suppose. Anthony, you mentioned, you mentioned cultural abuse, which is really resonant, um, for me. Uh, I’m speaking as an adopted person, to preface um, uh. You’ve mentioned cultural abuse, which suggests cultural– and also you mentioned cultural exploitation, and these are fl– warning flags, things that we should be concerned or with and about. And you also referenced ‘shock art,’ suggesting how others might use it, not fully understanding their experience but still wanting to make use of it. I’m thinking about like a culturally abused person, um, uh, uh, It also makes me think that part of the mechanism maybe, you’re referencing, Dana, if I may risk it, is want–, our need to make a safe place, um, for our abused culture, and as abused cultural producers, and healers and whatever else… And now just to get into this quickly. Uh, you referenced, um, uh, the-, th- uh, your residential school experience and I have my adoption experience. We all have our separation experiences, and these are key in shaping our relationship to culture, and, uh, jus-, for me this means longing. Um, and this also means a deep desire to connect and that’s why we do the things we do, um. And we want to reconnect, and we want to be a-, and you mentioned again, you want guidance, you want to be taught how to do the puh-, th-, th-, play the flutes. Um, you want to be told who we, who you are. I want to be told who I am. Um, and certain cultural objects speak to us, as, as the flute speaks to you, and as certain things speak to me. Um. And that dialogue represents a cultural, um, that dialogue, for me, represents a, a want for a cultural coherence, um, which means parentage, which equals for some of us, and for many of us, uh, a coherent culture, and. We want the speed of that. I think I, really connect with wanting the speed of that flute, that particular, you know, gravity, um. And to tie it into, to Lori’s work, her presentation, what is the s–, my question is, what is the speed of a berry, what is the speed of a stone, um, what is the speed of fast food? Um, what is the speed of Lori Blondeau’s performance? Um, Keep in mind that the things that come to us are gifts to us, um. And, again, Lori Blondeau, you raise the question, how do we take these things apart in order to make use of them? Um, and it’s the question of creation and destruction, but I’m, I wonder how that question is phrased in Cree? And um… And my question for you now is, is this, is this the traditional question? The question of, ah, um, contemporary practice versus traditional practice? … Ahasiw, you mentioned, you brought in the priest and hunter characters, cultural roles — and, of course, artist is another one that we’re faced with, we’re contending with, we’re asking questions about, um. What do they, Priest, Hunter, Artist, take apart? How do they make use of the things they take apart? Given that, in there there’s a particular violence that can’t be avoided and that’s kind of my question to you.

AHASIW: Shall we unpack that rather complex thing you presented?

ANTHONY MCNAB FAVEL: As far as. I just wanted to make a statement on uh …[ENCOURAGED TO SPEAK INTO THE MIC] Okay, then. Our ‘powwow sticks.’


AMF: I think uh, I think you answered quite a lot of the questions that I was, uh… [LAUGHTER] You answered a lot of my questions there, so I wasn’t really sure, uh… [LAUGHTER] Were you directing that at Ahasiw, or us as a panel?

LORI BLONDEAU: Could you ask the question again? [LAUGHTER]

WARREN ARCAN: [INAUDIBLE] …putting ourselves in the way of the things we’re dealing with, there, there’s a, there’s violence, and how do you contend, how do you contend with the violence of making art and of making yourselves, as an aspect of ritual?

LORI BLONDEAU: Okay. Um. I don’t know if I’ll answer your question, but I’ll address what I think, um, I think when you’re working with performance, that’s all, there’s always, whether you’re Aboriginal or not, there’s always, because you’re working with your body, and there’s always that danger that something could, you could be doing violence to yourself, or others, sometimes, but you know like, uh, I don’t know if I answered your question but that’s sort of… I think it comes with working within that, the medium of performance. There’s always that risk.

AHASIW: One of the key words, among all that, that I found, that really struck me was parenting. Um, When you go into, um, really dark places, as a kind of a naïve, unformed child-person, um, without help, because that, because you are a part of a diaspora thing, um, a-, to try to survive that, it can be very difficult. And you, you go back to these vestigial memories, because that’s all you have. Actually, you know, that’s what I wanted to do in my talk was to talk about that idea of, um, starvation, disease and death, and, and, and how that affects ritual, because over millennia, obviously, there have been many communities where there were only child survivors, who were, who lost their histories and their ceremonies and their rituals, and to some extent a large degree of their language, because of terrible situations. And they had to reconstruct everything from these vestigial memories. And that has happened many, many times, over and over again. I mean, the Inuit, for us, are, still have living memory of those things; whereas, you know, among most of the rest of us, those generations who would remember those things are gone. But, it does happened. It has happened, many times. And, you know, when you talk about this idea of, um, tradition and cultural ownership, and, and rules and all this kind of thing, you have to remember that often times, it was a child’s memories that kept things alive. And parenting, going back again to parenting, about this idea of being a parent, or learning to parent oneself, or trying to find a place, place for love, um, in performance art, it’s most often easy, easiest to be angry. It’s, it’s re-, incredibly difficult to have that sense of trust to express love.

ANTHONY MCNAB FAVEL: Can I make a statement, myself? When I made the statement about, uh, coming out of an apocalyptic time period, uh, I wanted to stress that, um, when you do get into higher education, and I was stressing this earlier on, that there’s no difference between and urban Indian, and a rural Indian, uh there’s no difference as far as our awareness, there’s, we are not better, and we’re not less, and we’re not more. As far a traditionalism is concerned, and territorialism, in a time when native people have come out of a violent history, and it is been, it is been, uh, very, uh, I cannot always say that a lot of my work has been spurned out of violence, outside of the fact that I did come. I have lived a pretty violent life in my, in my childhood. Uh, As an adult I’m grateful that I don’t have to go through that, but I do live in the Downtown Eastside, and there’s a lot of violence down there. And I don’t mind it too much. It’s not too different than me being on a reserve or, or even on my own territory. But the fact is you have to live with it, uh. I don’t necessarily have to accept it, but as far as, uh, my interpretation, and the value, certainly there’s certain things that motivate me, and anger, aggression, um, uh, the lack of, uh, um, uh, as far as education systems, as far as, uh, history and what not, we were not given the benefit of the doubt as Aboriginal people within this country to be able to be provocateurs of our own culture. Now that in itself says that, well yes, in times, of great need where culture and history, where we set history, we set precedent, we, uh, we promote culture, uh, all of this is really, is very important in the modern time. And we do have to have these discussions. It’s not a, a thing of like, “Here’s the boundary, here’s border, and you can’t cross over it.” Uh, that’s not to say you can’t discuss it. That’s not to say that there can’t be critical debate, and that doesn’t mean that it’s stationary, that doesn’t mean that it’s at any one point, or any one moment, where history is just pivoting on itself. It isn’t. Um, we are evolving as a culture and certainly the children have memories, if, if, uh, if my grandparents hadn’t have taught me and trained me and given me what I’ve felt was necessary to survive in this world, I don’t think I’d be able to discuss these, uh, issues any further than I have. I think it’s very important to have that bridging gap between, um. If I’d been in the residential school any more longer, or any further than the time I had been I certainly wouldn’t be here today. I’d probably be in some penitentiary. And I know that for a fact, um. As far as poverty, and coming out of, coming out of poverty, and coming out of, coming out of the col-, coming out of the rural into an urban environment, uh, there’s a lot of challenges, uh, from the non-native. And there’s a lot of aggression. I mean, it’s not as if, uh, native people today can travel our societies freely without the criticism of our neighbours, uh, and you can’t even call them your peers or your colleagues. They’re just your average citizens, Joe, or Sue, or whatever, uh. If they have an opinion about you based on your culture, not based on your individualism, these are, these are things that we have to confront on a daily basis out there in our communities. And just going to the store, uh, the last time, the last time I was in Saskatchewan, I can’t believe, standing in line with my mother to buy something at a Zellers, or some stupid little store, the white people behind us, two three feet away from us, are sitting there, criticizing us out in the open about our, our economic state, or where we’re at. Now I would go in any other province, anywhere in Canada, you wouldn’t see a white person sitting there being so, uh, uh, discriminate, but you would see it in that province. Now, why that would happen? I don’t know why. Now, I don’t get it here in Vancouver, unless maybe I go to the West End. Now, you, you know, I mean… it is a point of view and it is a thing where we do have to, we do have to defend ourselves. We do, you know, we do have to stand up for ourselves. Irregardless of the dominant cultural values and moral-, moralistic sort of, uh, uh, system that they have pushed upon us, and imposed upon us. So we’re just, uh. It’s something that as far as I’m concerned is something that needs to be stressed and just discerned appropriately, uh, I hope I wasn’t too confusing there, but uh.

TRACK TWO (20:35)

ANTHONY MCNAB FAVEL: Anyways, that’s all I wanted to say.

CHERYL L’HIRONDELLE: Dana, are you going to say something, er?

DANA CLAXTON: Did you have a question, Cheryl?

CHERYL L’HIRONDELLE: I have a comment. [SHE SPEAKS CREE] So, I don’t, I’m not trying to grandstand and take up too much time I just want to say I’m not an expert, ‘cause I heard this, uh, definition of expert and it’s where ‘x’ is an undefined quantity, and a ‘spert’ is a drip under pressure. [LAUGHTER] But what I said in the very last part of, wha-, of my introduction about myself is that wh-, what, what my nature is, um, and I thank James Luna yesterday for talking about this for, for the sense of being a clown from the Hopi tradition, but in, uh, Nēhiyawēwin, Cree worldview, [CREE WORD] it’s a contrary spirit, and so I bring that up because I think when we’re talking about, uh, issues about cultural appropriation, about issues of, uh, appropriateness, about issues of protocol, we have to remember that even within our world view we have a nature, a spirit that is the spirit of contrariness, and that’s really important, because if we’re all going along the same path together and agreeing with each other, we’re not understanding that there’s duality. I mean that’s part of our worldview, is there’s duality, there’s different ways of looking at things, there’s a balance of nature. So one of the other things I observe because I’ve been spending the last few years learning my language, my mother’s language, is that Cree is a relational language, a verb-oriented relational language, and so when we have to remember, like, it’s a challenge for me all the time when I say ‘my culture’, ‘my mother,’ ‘my friends,’ [CREE WORD] it’s not possessive. It’s linguistics that tells us it’s possessive. Linguistics says ‘niya’ is a possessive meaning ‘my.’ And so we translate that into English and we go ‘mine, that belongs to me.’ The Cree language has inclusive and exclusive terms of relational attitude and what’s implied in those relational attitudes is, is roles and responsibilities and how we relate to each other. And then mix into that, the whole na-, nature of contrariness. And some of you may know that ‘weetogikan’ [SP?] usually only exists, or what we think of it, in ceremony. But it exists in nature. It’s all around us. So, so there’s many of us who have that nature. And for us to deny it, and for us to have other people decide whether we have it or not, that’s not appropriate. And we have to remember that. We’re dealing relationally with each other. So that’s all I wanted to say.

DANA CLAXTON: Thank you Cheryl. Is there other comments from the audience, or questions? James?

JAMES [LAST NAME?]: Thank you, Dana. Anthony! I should, uh, go up there and punch your nose for being your ‘cos-consciousness [?] [LAUGHTER] Anyway brother, um, the uh, the whole, uh, now first of all, I like to, uh, preface my, whenever I speak by saying that I’m not gonna pretend to be wise ‘cause I’m Indian, uh. But uh, I’ll say this much about, I just wanted to come up here because, uh, I neglected to do something yesterday, which was to defend a friend of mine and his art, uh. Yves, uh, See-, uh, Sioui Durand, uh, worked with him in a, in, in a, where was it? Worked with him a couple of times in different places, and I always say that, uh, Yves is very, uh, he’s a very considerate, uh, considerate of, uh, of, uh, traditional and culture, traditionally aware, a very sensitive man. I want to defend him in the sense that whatever he portrayed in that video yesterday, uh, in, uh, in Japan, Yves is very aware of these things, and he’s one of the most, uh, totally, uh, considerate people I’ve ever met, and I want to defend him on that basis, because he wasn’t here to defend himself and because he’s also my friend, uh. Not to say that person that brought up the question, the Iroquois or the Mohawk that brought up the question of the False Face mask, certainly had every right to, uh. Which is, uh, that is part of the decolonization of the people is to be able to bring up those issues and say, “What the hell are you doing with my sacred object up there?” And, uh, I just want to say that, and uh, and uh, I really, I suppose I should be asking a question but I, I feel like, uh, I have more answers than questions, so we should be giving you answers up there. [LAUGHTER] But I wanted to say that really sincerely because, uh, uh, as a Cree person ih, ih, ih, it’s implied by, uh, by other people that I sh-, I should have some, uh, I should have some integrity as a per-, as a Cree man, and I wanted to say that for Yves, whether he’s here or not. Now further to that, I wanted to add that, um, the, the whole question of uh, of representation of uh, of uh, our sacred objects, here’s my opinion about that, uh, from my own kno-, from my own knowledge of my own elders and my own teachers, my own traditional teachers, uh, you do it, you take your chances, right? It’s an individual thing. It’s uh, it’s uh, certainly, uh, the field is wide open in terms of artistic expression, and art is about appropriation, throughout the history of art, but, uh, as far as uh, a Cree person, I could say like, uh, if I were to talk about, uh, the shaking tent, what goes on in there, or try and represent that o-, o-, on stage, I’m taking that chance, of, uh, whatever happens to me, so it’s an individual thing, it’s an individual choice… and it’s certainly, uh, you know, a, it’s certainly a very complex situation when you have, like, so many nations with so many cultural practices and traditional and spiritual beliefs with a natio-, within a nation s-, nation state, within a nation state, and nations within, uh, within the global question, right? So I just wanted to say that, uh. You do what you what you want, but you’re the one paying for it, anyway, right? Thank you very much. [LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE]

ANTHONY MCNAB FAVEL: Well I just wanted to, uh, say something, not so much to James’s conversation but, uh… I just wanted to make a comment based on, uh. When I was a little child, and I was, uh, at a powwow ground, an old lady came up to me, I don’t know who she was. She wasn’t my Grandmother, I know that. She might have been from, she might have been from some other tribe somewhere because obviously it was traditional gathering. But I remember the one thing she said as I was dancing around the arbour, she came up to me and she, uh, she kind of got my attention and we started talking, and you know you gotta realize I was five years old at the time, eh? This was just before I went into residential school, um. And it was the summertime. September, school started in residential school, just like any other school. She said something to me that affected me, and to this still, to this day still, it rings through my head so clear, I can’t believe it, ‘cause uh, you know it’s one thing if it’s your grandmother or your mother or somebody, even somebody that you respect, that you have high respect for. At this point in my life she came up to me and she was talking about culture, and she said this one thing, “You know something, little one?” She said, “You got to watch out for those ones that make it up, make, make, make it up as they go along. You got to watch out for those ones.” And this is the one thing I noticed, I wondered, “Why the hell are you telling me.” You know I think about that, I’ve been thinking this all my life. [LAUGHTER] “Why did you s-, why did you say that to me?” [LAUGHTER] Because I’ve, you know, it’s been in, it’s been in the back of my mind, and this old lady had, I, I don’t know what she saw in me, but she saw me dancing around that arbour, and that’s what she said. Now, when I was younger, um, a little older, this whole thing about identity crisis, cultural identity crisis, trying to find out, figure out who you are, even though you still have all that stuff intact, uh, the experience and what not, that doesn’t mean that you’re still not gonna go through cultural identity crisis. That doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna go through personality crisis. You’re gonna go through it all. It’s a part of, it’s a part of, uh, evaluating and also dumping character as well, because part of those characteristics may not serve you in, if you want to present something as an artist. So there’s things I’ve had to download in my life. But there’s things I’ve had to intellectually, have to sit and question, because these, these people obviously saw something, they pointed it out to me, and they gave me this thing, and I’m still asking that, I’m still, it still rings in my head. And I’m still asked that, and I haven’t just heard that once when I was a child, I‘ve heard it all the way through my life at different gatherings and different places. And it’s important to me, and it also helps me sort of, uh, maybe be even critical of myself. And I think that’s important as an artist, to, to, uh, to have that, to be critical of, of how you present, and, and how, uh, wh-, you know is it a reactionary thing, or, or do you want the, your, uh, do you want the audience to react in a negative or positive…? It’s up to you, however you wanna, however you want to set that, to an audience, put that to an audience, um. So with that I mean I just wanted to express that and say that, just from my own personal point of view, because I think it’s important. And I think all of us probably have similar, uh, experiences like that, ‘cause it’s, it’s not just a per-, I don’t just personalize it, it’s something that I think is a whole thing for the bigger and greater community and that’s why I say it that way, and uh, and if I express myself in a, uh, in a cool and calm, collected way just as I would talk to Dana or any of my colleagues, I would definitely, this is how I would, I would want you, like you, you would be sitting in my circle and sitting at that powwow and having the same conversation, like let’s go, let’s go, uh, pick some roots or something, you know? Same damn thing. “Let’s go pick those beets over there!” You know, it’s one of those conversations you have. It affects what I do as an artist. It affects my interpretation. And a-, also for, uh, future performances or future things I might do and pursue, those are things I question. And th-, there’s a critical debate even going on within myself, based on what, uh, based on, on, on protocol. And you know trying to define, should there be boundaries, you know? I mean, um, the, these are things th-, that you have to sensitive about, and like I say, you put your foot on the ground, you’re gonna leave an imprint, you know, and it’s your foot. Not, not anybody else’s. And as an artist you have to, you know, if you’re going to leave those footprints in the ground, you know, you, you, you know you’re motivated, and you know you’re going in a certain direction, and you know you have something to present to the public, and I think that’s important. I mean that’s all I wanted to say.

AHASIW: Yeah, um thank you. I just wanted to, to talk a little bit about refugee children, um, and to talk about critical timelines, of the loss of elders, and of the loss of language, um. Because in my family, I grew up with my Kokum. My next youngest brother knew her, but, and he sort of has this appreciation of Cree and a little bit, but he was pretty young. And my youngest brother has no memory of her, even though he was a baby when she died, but he still has no memory of her. That’s the timeline. That’s the compression of, how it happens, how it’s happening, um. And refugee children. My youngest brother is a refugee child. Even though he grew up with us, the destruction of our family and things was that he is a heavy-duty street kid kind of person, and, uh, what happens to refugee children? Um, well, right now, obviously, the demographics of Canadian Aboriginal kids, is that we have a huge wave of Aboriginal kids coming into all kinds of institutions and stuff like that, and who are their parents? Their parents are children. Young girls with no family, generally, and very much close to the idea of street culture and loss. And children are raising children. It’s kind of like we’re writing in terrible reality and terrible blood our own version of Lord of the Flies. And you think that gangs and things like that, that we have problems with in Winnipeg and stuff are, like, some kind of problem to be solved? It’s only going to get massively worse. How can it go anywhere else?

DANA CLAXTON: Just thinking about what Warren was saying about sort of the violence, and being a culture who has experienced this sort of external violence, and, or systematic violence and a number of different, institutionalized violence. So when a peoplehood have experienced that kind of, and also government violence, but such a sanctioned violence against a peoplehood, and then how that gets translated into the art that we make, and with James’s keynote, he was, it was wonderful when he was saying about being a performance artist because then you can be an angry Indian. And you know I’ve been accused of, me, myself, being an angry Indian, and just thinking about sort of, the violence, my own violence that I’ve experience as a result of this larger systemic violence and how it’s been, become, you know, part of my work, and then, and probably always will be. And when we think of, I think somebody said about violence of the past, the thing is that what Ahasiw has just said, there’s a continuation of that type of systemic violence against Indian people, so how do we, you know, the thought of, because even with my own self I’ve wanted to make work that was expressing, I wanted to give the audience a beautiful experience, and I wanted to really give them love, and had some fellows from Arizona come up, and, you know, I wanted to share this through my work, and but have, and it was, and I think it was successful, I just think…. It’s just very interesting when you called…a culture of violence. I had made one film and I had an Aboriginal man yelling, Sam Bob. And I had somebody said to me, “Why was that Indian man yelling? Indian men don’t yell.” And then I thought about all the Indian men who I know, and, and thought about how often I’d heard any of them yell. I hadn’t heard any of them ever yell. And I thought about their gentleness, and then I think about sort of the systemic violence that gets sort of bestowed upon you, and that you learn these violent acts, but I really, it’s a very large question and discussion, but I’m just sort of going off, but…

LORI BLONDEAU: But it’s interesting because that violence had become so covert, that you know, you know it’s there, you know it’s part of your life everyday when you go out and do what you have to do, it’s so covert, it’s so underground that it’s just like how do we deal with something that… you know it’s so much easier to recognize somebody calling you a fucking ugly squaw, than this institutional racism that’s there, and so how do you deal with it when it’s not up front? And I think through our work, that’s what we do, is we deal with that, and we do, we try to find, okay where is the positive in all this ugliness? Where is, you know, how do we turn it around? How do we make it positive?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: After all these years of studying in the different fields of native art, and I notice that a lot of the institutions really focus a lot on how the violence [INAUDIBLE] And these are the artists who are getting recognized for those kinds of things. And I was to write a story, and in my story, this woman she’s a journalist, and her boss asks her to go and write, collect stories on all these issues of violence. And she doesn’t want to do that, she’s really upset because she doesn’t want to do that, so she goes to the communities and she… different communities in Quebec, different communities, and she interacts with the people and she does all the happy stuff, all the really spiritually, spiritual uplifting stuff of talking with your elders, listening to their funny stories…


AHASIW: An important thing about expression, one of the unique things about this whole conference I think is that for some of us, certainly me, I’ve never had an opportunity to speak to this kind of an audience before, in terms of what, what it represents, and conceptualizing the audience about the idea of love. About the idea of the cherishing of, of culture. How you give that. Most of I guess, talking about refugee children, most people who grew up like that are feeling like they will never find their community and of course the idea of violence and anger becomes the only thing because that’s all that they believe that they will ever be able to expect. And that they will never find their community, they will never find their audience, and so it becomes this habit, I guess. But to be in a situation where you have the opportunity to express and to receive love, is, so… It’s unexpected. You feel like you don’t deserve it, but it sure feels good.

DANA CLAXTON: We’re gonna have a love in. [LAUGHTER] But Margaret, when you were saying about innate, that it’s in you, it’s innate, and when Ahasiw was doing his presentation, and you know I was thinking, okay, like, he was getting a bit deep there for me and I realized “Ooh, what’s he saying!” [LAUGHTER] But I was thinking, about this innateness, but also that, you know, what you were saying, that, you know, what it is, is that we’re all spirit.… The creation or the doing… comes from that place.

AHASIW: The spirits within? [CHUCKLES]

DANA CLAXTON: Any comments? David?

DAVID [?]: I just had a general question about the state of your performances. And whether you see the work that you’re doing in a general sense as being primarily therapeutic, and cathartic, or do you think that you’re also creating a body of knowledge? It seems to me that you’re also creating a body of knowledge and that’s why you want to protect it from anybody else telling you what to do, maybe? But if it’s a body of knowledge, um, how do you check your truths? You know? Can you rely on your audience and peers? Is there really a network there? Or do you have to refer back to the elders, to see if what you’re doing is true? That sort of recapturing of something that is already within you?

DANA CLAXTON: Do you want to start with that, Lori?

LORI BLONDEAU: Well I was just sort of thinking memory, and who’s memories are we talking about? Is it my memories? Is it your memories? Is it a collective memory? I think memory is really powerful, and I think it’s, because the way I will remember this thing, this conference, you aren’t going to remember it in the same was. And the way our parents or our grandparents remember things isn’t the way that people, their peers remember things. So I think it’s, memory is a really huge part of, well, I know for myself, what I do. Um, and then it kind of gets blurry. So I try to create new memories.

AUDIENCE #1: I guess I worry about [INAUDIBLE] and things getting lost again. … It’s so hard creating a body of knowledge… some way of recording it, holding on to it, passing it on. Pass on that performative [?] moment. Seeing something really true [?] and really scary …[?] performance. All this fantastic work disappearing


AHASIW: It’s an oral culture. That’s where we come from, I mean we, we are this idea of taking personal responsibility for history and culture and the idea objectifying it in books or history or whatever, it’s really about, and talk about such a provisional kind of history we have. When I talk about refugees, I’m talking about people who are carrying their history in their back pockets and getting their pants ripped off and thrown in the ditch, and still having to carry on and try to live and try to keep some vestige of history, and when there are child survivors of so many communities, and that’s all there is and they remember these, or if they do remember, vestigial memories of their language and culture. How many languages are completely lost in Canada now? That’s the interesting thing, testing the truth. Testing the truth of what you do. That’s a really profound idea. When you think about the, the entertainment industry, obviously, and Hollywood, and you think about the politics of the pedagogy of the oppressed, and how, on one hand the teachers have to teach the oppressed how to be oppressed, and to stay oppressed, but on the other hand they have to teach their own kids the myth, a mythology and a trivialization of the oppressed so that those kids will continue to oppress. And then you, then you ask the question, “How do you test the truth?” It’s like, well, okay.

LORI BLONDEAU: I was just thinking about, um, watching James Luna’s video piece yesterday and it was also something he had told, had said to me when I first met him that “You know, we’re always talking about these stories of the past, of our ancestors.” And he goes, “When are we going to start telling our own stories?” We need to tell our own stories now, because if we don’t, there’s going to be a big gap there, and I think that’s what we are doing as artists. We’re giving our interpretation of where we are standing here today, and those stories are just as important as those oral stories that were passed down to you from your mother, your grandfather, you know? [PAUSE] ‘Kay, we’re done! [LAUGHTER APPLAUSE]

TRACK ONE (3:51)

TRACK TWO (20:41)

MARCIA CROSBY: Thanks, Glenn. That’s very kind. I still get really excited before I’m going to talk. I’ve been teaching almost all Aboriginal people at Malaspina University for seven years now, and the night before I lecture I still can’t sleep. So I didn’t sleep all night thinking about all of you, and, really, how incredibly honoured, really honoured to be here, I am, because I came into university, very late, when I was thirty-six, and just did a couple of degrees back to back, and went right to work. And in these years, things have changed momentously, historically, marvelously, and I am so inspired to be here and inspired to move on. I wanted to start today with just a little clip, because something that was said this morning about the dangerous places that we go to in our work really made me sit up straight, because it’s something I’ve really thought about. I know in the work that I’ve done…I have never stopped crying. If I cry today, it’s all right. I have never stopped crying about the things I read about our people… I don’t cry all day anymore, but I have never stopped. And I believe…I am a person who believes in memorial and commemoration. And I think a lot of what we’re, what is being done here, and has been done, is that we are taking something as fragile as memory, something as elusive, something that fades, fades with time, and as it fades a part of ourselves leaves with it. And so, for those memories that were lost and for those memories that are fading and have faded, we have a whole huge generation of rememberers. And I’m so grateful for that…. A few months ago, or a couple of years ago, I was unable to work for while because of a, … because I got very sick and almost died, but in that time I realized that this work that we do, that one needs regeneration, that we need restorative work. And so I… I’ve come to think of my little computer as my spirit guide, so when it doesn’t work, and I lost my whole little typed up essay today, I just think, that’s okay, I’ll do something else. So today, I wanted to just talk to you a little bit about memory and trauma before I introduce…Yuxweluptun and Reona Brass, who will follow, and Rebecca Belmore who will close this afternoon. We decided we’ll open the questions after the three performance artists have spoken and done their work and at that point Steven Loft will respond. And I’m sure not be able to summarize it all. But I just wanted to briefly play this piece. It is something that I turn to myself as restorative work. To record my own family history in the most… I didn’t have any idea how to use a camera, I just bought one and I just thought that it was important for us to record our history, to be joyful. I believe in, in recording the formation of…contemporary Aboriginal community. I was born into a very multiple Aboriginal community of Nisga’a, Tsimshian, and Haida people, and plus many many different relatives, native and non-native. This was actually inspired by a preview I had this morning of one of the films, Reona’s film, to show it. [PAUSE] Oh. No sound. The spirits are speaking again. [TECHNO PAUSE] I think I’m gonna let it go. Well, it’s up on here, it’s just not, it’s not on on here. So… [PAUSE. BELL SOUND] Let’s see if it works now. ‘Kay. [VIDEO PRESENTATION AUDIO.]

WOMAN IN VIDEO PRESENTATION: [SPEAKING IN HER LANGUAGE, THEN ENGLISH] My loved one thinks I belong to him, and here I am. That’s why he’s acting smart, ‘cause he thinks I belong to him. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]

MARCIA CROSBY: We are all here together as artists and historians, sometimes as family members and good friends, and as people who do not always agree with one another, and I am so grateful to be part of this huge conversation amongst Aboriginal people, and, uh, those people, friends of Aboriginal people, who have been interested in our history and who have stood beside us for many years, and uh supported our work. When I looked at Yuxweluptun’s work, and I’ve actually followed his work a lot because of the visual arts, I’m not, I don’t know much about performing arts. But I did kind of laugh to myself yesterday when he spoke when he said he was asked not to… you were supposed to talk nice? Yeah. Because I think that, I think that being angry is such, a such a part of our history and a part of our journey, and um it’s something that, it’s impossible to bypass. If there’s somebody here who has I’d love to get to know you and hang around with you for awhile. It’s an important part of confronting or coming to terms with the broader history of our more recent past, of our colonial history. And I also think it’s an important part of our memorial…of memorializing those people who died because of incredible trauma and because of the incredible holocaust of colonialism. I think that, I think that being righteously indignant and being outraged, absolutely outraged, at what happened to our people and continues to happen to this present day is absolutely important. Joy Kogawa speaks of anger as a huge pool of water, and she said that there are some of us that will drink from it all of our lives. And it is something that at times will push us up a mountain and that it is love that will pull us up to the top and pull us over. And of course there is all that dan- there is always the danger of drowning in it, and um there is always that moment when…in our history we began to ask, “Why?” Why did this happen? How could this happen to our people? How could these things take place by a civilized society? How could someone do these inhuman things to our people? How could they send three hundred people up north in 1862 knowing that small pox would decimate the whole Northwest Coast and still do that, and make that decision? Those questions are not easily answered, but they are larger questions about our very existence and our continued existence. And they are, they are compounded by the reality that almost all Coast Salish people, many many of the Coast Salish people were also inoculated by the oblate priests, and so they didn’t experience the great dying that the northern people did. And so there are all of the people who that are a part of our history, and if we could divide it into evil guys and the good guys, that would be great, but the truth is that many of our people have survived great trauma, and many of them have survived unheroically, and they even must speak that history, even though it does not have a heroic ending. And we as the rememberers, as the speakers, as the performers, as the writers, those people that take these events and remember them and represent them. We’re called to even represent them, as we know, as they have been passed on to us. Even when there is not a good ending. Even when there is no closure. And so, when I… this morning I came in, I hadn’t seen, we had gone to see Rebecca’s work first, yesterday and I’d had a really good conversation with Yuxweluptun—I knew I should have practiced this more—but we’d had a good conversation and I’d followed his work so I felt comfortable about that, but I hadn’t seen Reona’s work, and somehow from not sleeping I came in and I wasn’t quite ready for it. Because something that I do, I have to do now is I have to create a bit of a space before I see work about trauma, or it embeds itself in my body, is what it feels like, and so I didn’t quite do that, but I still, I still really believe that these people that make work about those memories that are actually unspeakable, that make representation of unspeakable acts, that people experienced is very important, and it’s loving. It’s loving to remember them. All of them. When I watched it this morning, my heart really hurt, and I felt breathless by it, because it was such a compression of information and issues of representation of Aboriginal people. It wasn’t a narrative. It wasn’t about one person. It was this incredible compression of what has happened to women, to our children, to our men, to us, to all of us. And it was so big, I was so glad that there were no words. I was so glad that there was so much space. And in some of the cases there was this sense of completion and I was glad for that, too…I’m as glad for that relief of finding our traditions, as they talked about this morning, because sometimes I think that tradition is like this ex-lover that left me… or someone that you just loved so much, and you just get tired of longing for them. And I get tired of that, but I still long for that, I still cry when I see those, in a good way, those things. I still want to stand up when I hear the old songs. And I’m made strong by it. And I don’t know the degree to which I’ll incorporate it into my whole life, ‘cause I’m already past the mid-life stage, but, um, it’s good, it’s good those places where we have relief, and growth and integration of all of our, our selves. I’m grateful for it And when I went to see Rebecca’s work, I actually couldn’t finish watching it, because it made me physically sick and I didn’t know if that was, we were supposed to get physically sick from the camera work, but um, I was sick for a long time after, for hours, and my experience of that was that my cousin, my cousin’s daughter was one of the girls that is missing and um, I just kept thinking about her because Bonita died before she found her daughter. She died just last year, and that was her father, one of the girls’ grandfathers that was on the stage—oh that’s why I showed that, okay. So all of these places where people are doing this work, I feel gratitude, um, even though I may not even understand the rationale or the reason, I don’t feel as much as I did when I was new into this business as, um, as coming into this profession, to this place of responsibility, about what is right and what is wrong any more. I actually feel more and more like I don’t really know anything. Um, but when I saw Rebecca’s work I thought very much and Lori and I talked about it and we got two very different things from looking at the work. But my sense of it was… the whole business of creating a place of remembrance, of cleaning this place and washing it clean, of water and the whole cleansing effect of water and this wonderful feeling of sweeping away, you know when you hurt … people would sweep all this pain from your chest, sweeping away all this pain and creating a place for… to commemorate the dead. And yet there was that blast of anger, that loud loud voices, a pushing those voices into history. Insisting that they are a part of this history. Insisting in this history, be recognized and heard. Because memories need context. And what I know is that these places where we remember our dead and remember those people who have experienced such trauma are not always places where we can educate. Sometimes those are very different things that we do. And so again there’s this place of not, of not speaking. But just to conclude I wanted to say that when I first met Dana Claxton and she sa- gave me a piece of her work. I can’t remember the name of it. This might even be the name of it. But in it she would yell—I won’t do it, but—“I want to know why!” Do you remember that piece? Do you guys know that piece? And I want to know why. I want to know why, because, because I want it to stop happening. I want it to stop happening… And what I really love about what’s been going on here, the incredible thoughtfulness of people that I get to work with and think with and be with. Is that we are asking why. We are asking how did this happen. We are a creating a much better world by asking these very hard questions, of returning to a place where we are absolutely hurt and angry. And not living there, not drowning in that pool, but returning there because we must. Because we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our families to take care of ourselves. We have a responsibility to our students. We have a responsibility to create life-affirming work that gives people hope as well as create a space in. In S_____ [SP?] in our territory, one of the things that we do is we sing a crying song. It’s called a L_____ [SP?]. And the reason we sing a L____ around places of great loss is not to fall into our sadness but to enfold that loss into our history. To enfold those people’s memories into our history. To stand them up and to raise them up. And never forget. And they become a part of our continuous history of change, and the amazing ways in which we have survived, and the terrible ways in which so many of us have ended. But it speaks to our complexity and I think it’s really important. So I want to just say one last thing before I leave and that’s in memory of one of my students who committed suicide this fall. And I… she was one of our most brilliant students and it left me really thinking about this great responsibility that we have and I… I really honour all of you. I thank the panel for being here. I’m looking forward to your presentations and to what you have to say today. Thank you.



YUXWELUPTUN: Can I have the lights? Can you turn the lights on? Well, let’s get down to business. You want to know why. Where this derives from. I read a lot of legislation as a kid. Colonialism, Royal Proclamation, BNA Act, the Indian Act, the New Constitution. I read Joseph Trutch and what he had in store for Indians, and how provincialism came out. How we came a free human beings…

TRACK FOUR (00:51)



TRACK FIVE (12:00)

REONA BRASS: All my relations. I’m so honoured to be here. I thank the organizers of this historic event for inviting me here. I’m going to stand here because I need something to hold onto. I’m not an academic, although I’ve attended many years of university and art college early on in my career. In fact, it was ten years ago this year that I left post-secondary education to begin making performance art. It was in 1990 when I was an art student in Toronto that I was was invited to what I found to be an equally historical event in my life, when I was invited to go to Quebec City to attend the International Performance Art Festival hosted by Le Lieu which Guy Sioui Durand mentioned in his presentation. And at the time it was both an artistic epiphany and a cultural epiphany for me. Rebecca Belmore was the Indian I met in Quebec City. This thing called performance art, uh, immediately got into me, burrowed its way into my heart and my mind and in the last ten years it has merged with my life. In fact I find it very difficult to separate my art and my life more and more. For me it was something that was a language that I could speak to my people for the first time, with. Like many of you, my father did not, could not teach me his language. His mother and father broke that line when they chose not to teach their children. For myself and for many of us it has been a challenge to find ways of communicating with one another. With performance art, the elements of ritual, ceremony are all there. Increasingly over the years, it has become more and more important for me to have more of my relations to hear what I am trying to say. So for me the audience is the second half of the action. My action finds meaning when it is heard by the people it is intended for. Over the years I’ve never had a problem with giving myself licence to do whatever I want. Many people don’t like that, but many more do. My Kokum comes to my performances. This is something that the colonizers never took from me. I have a language. My Kokum understands. She hears it. In my work, I’ve tried to address the effect of colonization on our people and the effect and the form that it’s taken within my life. It’s become more and more important crucial urgent for me to address the deep trauma that Marcia spoke about that goes beyond words. In fact, it’s through my actions in my performance work that I’ve come face to face with my own trauma which I’ve never put words to. Recently, I did a performance with a very dear friend Bently Spang, who is just up here a few minutes ago doing an action with me. It is through this experience which happened not too long ago, a matter of weeks, that I have been yet again profoundly changed by an action that I’ve set out to do creating a situation where something is going to happen and I don’t know what, but I hope that it changes me. And it did. This experience has reminded me why I create performance art. Why I sacrifice a more financially stable life. A more stable life for my children, because this work takes me away from my children, a lot. But it reminds me what we have to do as Indian people in our life. We have to take time out for ceremonies, for fasting. A lot of these things that require a lot of time are the things that change us, ultimately, which is why we set aside that time to do it. I don’t know if I want to say any more than that. But I would like to finish off by mentioning that the work that you’re going to see now is yet another example of my attempt to communicate through an action something that I find impossible to put into words. It comes from a deep, deep place of trauma, outrage, anger, pain, and compassion. Because, ultimately, this is what I seek in my own life and with all my relations.


TRACK SIX (3:31)






REBECCA BELMORE: Video? [PAUSE] Video on? I’m in control of this light? [PAUSE. MUSIC FROM “HI-TECH TIPI TRAUMA MAMA” PRESENTATION.] Louder! [MUSIC FROM PRESENTATION. APPLAUSE AT 5:30. NEXT TAPE, SHE SINGS THE NATIONAL ANTHEM IN FRENCH.] Ah, first video, uh. Performance. Thunder Bay. 1987. Um, I organized an event called “Ho-wah!” And I invited Tommy Hawk and the Pine Needles who I had heard on the radio, CBC radio, on Brave New Waves, it was a program at that time. And I thought the guy sounded pretty cool so I just invited him to my town to come and collaborate with the community. And so that time I wrote the song, my song, “Hi-Tech Tipi Trauma Mama.” The second song. Video number two. Ten years ago. Le Lieu Biennale in Quebec City, the one that Reona spoke about, the one that Guy spoke about. I was, I was the Indian in question. And at that time, that was 19, 1990, actually. It was 1990, the fall of 1990. And it was just on the heels of the Oka crisis, and what I did is I just basically sang the national anthem in French and English while I strangled myself. So that was the extent, that has been the extent of my singing career, [LAUGHTER] so I just thought I would share that with you. Um, now I just want to kind of quickly move on to some other works, and we’re gonna kind of, Bobbi and I are gonna play tag, here, and I’ll just gonna talk about what you see and let’s just go for it. Okay, let’s go! First slide. Performance. 19, what? 19 something. Nineteen hundred and something. [LAUGHTER] 1989, I lie. ’88. I can’t remember, actually, oh-oh. But anyways, Thunder Bay, again. I’m glad I left that town. Thunder Bay. Royal family was visiting. Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson came to the reconstructed historic fort Old Fort William, to embark on a canoe-about. They jumped in a birch bark canoe, and were paddled down the Mistikwa River to the Fort and where they probably had tea and cookies or something like that. And so I participated in this work where I was just on the street with a group of women parading. I was the only First Nations person so I demanded that I lead the parade and be the First Lady, so here I am in a dress that I created from shopping at the Sally Ann for my materials, and the dress is called “Rising to the Occasion.” Next slide please. Could I have the audio? This is, uh, a work titled “Speaking To Their Mother In English” and Nishnabe [SHE NAMES IT IN NISHANABE. AUDIO.] This is a six-month-old baby protesting. Can you hear the echo? [AUDIO] This is 1992, after, again, the Oka crisis. This was Thunder Bay. The photo is Halifax. The baby is Thunder Bay. This is Halifax, this music. Next slide, Bobbi? [AUDIO.] Just keep the audio going. [AUDIO.] Next slide, Bobbi? [AUDIO.] Next slide? [AUDIO.] Cut the audio. Next slide, please. Uh, 2000? Or, no. 2001. That is the Art Gallery of Ontario, in the Grange House, and it’s a work titled “Wild.” And that’s me in the bed being wild. So what I did is I was invited to participate in a six person, I think it was six people, a group show, and artists were invited to do works, site specific works in the Grange house which is a historic house. It was originally built, I think, the building of it took from like 1817 to something like 1835. And so what I did is I chose the master bedroom and the master’s bed and I just redressed, I took off the bed clothes and I redressed in clothes of my own making. Next slide, please, Bobbi? That’s a detail. So it’s actually human hair, and it’s uh, hair that I purchased out somewhere in Port Coquitlam at a wholesaler who imports Chinese women’s hair. Next slide, please? So I was there for the month of September, and every Saturday I would just simply lounge around in the bed. I’d go out partying Friday and be kinda, a little hungover and go to bed on Saturday after shopping. And so basically it’s one of those rooms that has a railing and you can’t go into the space. People would just come and gawk at me, and, like I was in a zoo. I kind of felt like I was a wild animal in a zoo. And I would just, I would just ignore everyone. I would never make eye contact or communicate, but I would just be myself and relax and lounge about. Next slide. This is long ago. I think this is 1995. I just thought I’d throw these in just for hopefully a little chuckle. This is, again, Thunder Bay (oh my God.) But anyways there was a big ski competition, international. I think a bunch of people from the Scandinavian countries came over to jump off Mount McKay. On skis. But, uh, the Indians were invited to put together our arts and crafts, and it was that kind of hotel thing where they rent a big room, and you rent a table and you display your wares, and you try to sell it to tourists. So I made these things, which are, which are small. They’re like five by seven. I thought they were quite affordable. I was trying to sell them for ninety-five bucks. And this one is called “Fetish.” Next slide. And it was available in many many colours. And you could actually assemble it at home so the feathers could be put into a little bag. I sold, I don’t think I sold one of these. Next slide? Uh, this is called “Talent Scout.” And I think this is how I began my performance art career. And, uh, next slide, I think. I have my fantasies. [LAUGHTER] And I know a real man when I see one. So this piece is called “Refuge,” and I’m all cozied up there in a Hudson’s Bay blanket, of course. That’s 1995. Next slide. And the love affair continues. This is 2001. This is at Toronto. And I was trying to sell this as well. No one wanted to buy it. It’s a little miniature of me in the actual blanket you saw at the AGO installation performance. And of course my main man, my hero, my dream man. Next slide, please. That’s me. This piece is called “Sportsman’s Paradise. Upsalla, Ontario, Canada. 1960.” I was born in Upsalla, Ontario, in 1960. I was born at home. And our town was basically a hunting, fishing, gathering place for Americans, rich Americans coming to hunt and fish and kill things, and take them home. And so I was there kind of doing trade at the corner store trying to get candy and stuff as a child and smiling nice at the tourists, and so I just thought this was interesting because I found this paper mask at somewhere on Commercial Drive at a shop, and it’s based on the Victorian, uh, Victorian mask of Indian chief. It’s a male chief, but I thought, It’s okay, I could do with a heavy heavy eyebrows. I can pull it off. So that’s me as the chief of Upsalla, Ontario. Next slide? This is my hall, my wall of fame. These are the people who have influenced me. And you look up there on the, is the pair of shoes and the lights. I’ll show you some details. Next slide. This is my mother. It’s a little photograph of my mother. Her name was Rose. She died in 1982 of cancer. But I just had the gallery put a fresh rose when, when that one started to wilt and light a candle for her on a daily basis. So my mother was a strong influence. Without her I would not be doing the crazy things that I do. So I credit her for giving me some, some balance, anyways. Next slide. Now this piece is called “Mister Luna.” And it’s, because he’s a, also been a major influence on my development as a, as an artist and I met him in 1988 and, um, I just thought, well, he has a lot of shoes. I think he has a shoe fetish thing happening. And the vanity lights. Well they’re self, you know, they explain themselves. Sorry, James. But I think you’re, I think you’re amazing and I just want to thank you for coming here and sharing your experience and generosity with us, and definitely, for me, you are the moon, so, with that I’ll just take out this slide, please, and I’m going to show you just a video clip, which is from, it’s the video document of a performance which I’ve turned into a, an installation out at the Belkin. So I’m just going to show you a little clip and that’ll be all for me. Thanks. Oh, this piece is called “Vigil,” and it addresses the women who are missing from the downtown core, the murdered women. [AUDIO FROM PERFORMANCE VIDEO. NAILING. THEN TEARING. VIDEO ENDS. APPLAUSE.]
TRACK ONE (1:12)


TRACK TWO (43:04)


MARCIA CROSBY: So, uh, do you want to take that conversation up to the mic?


MC: Hellooo! Don’t ignore us!

AUDIENCE #1: What I want to ask is, a First Nations student just finishing off at Emily Carr, and I first of all thank you all for your work, thank you for discussing it, thank you for sharing, I just think it’s really important as a member of the dialogue that you’re putting out into the world, it’s a real gift, thank you. And I wanted to say as an artist who’s currently working, how do you see, how do you see your work as passing on… how do you see your work as passing on the torch, as it will, and how is a young First Nations voice… like, right now, my work is about First Nations youth, and hip-hop, and about how that’s a really important voice that people often discount for a number of reasons and it talks about economics and race, and sometimes I feel like, I don’t know if I’m talking… I’m talking about something I’m interested in. I’m talking about things from my heart, but sometimes I feel like, it’s not enough, I think, and that I need to be… I don’t know, and that’s all I really had to ask, is…

YUXWELUPTUN: When I’m dead and dying I’m gonna throw it at you.

AUDIENCE #1: Your what?


BELMORE: He’s not gonna give it up. [LAUGHTER.] That easy.

AUDIENCE #1: Oh. The torch. Oh, okay, thanks. [LAUGHTER.]

AUDIENCE #1: I think that’s it. I didn’t really have a question. I just wanted to start something.

MC: Thank you.

REONA BRASS: I’ll respond to that. I feel really close to this issue as well, in terms of the youth in my community. I come from Regina, and there’s a large Aboriginal population that, by and large, is under twenty-five years of age, so this whole concern about contemporary First Nations culture is really close to my heart. And I love that whole powwow rave culture, hence the music in the last video. I think it’s something that we, is going to be addressed in the near future, in Aboriginal art. Certainly as performance, too, because there’s a lot of crossover happening, in terms of different artists from different disciplines getting involved in that discussion over contemporary culture.


BELMORE: I was just impressed with, uh, what Dana Claxton said earlier about the growing number of students that are entering into this college. I think it was like from two, four, and then she mentioned something like thirty or something like that. So I think that’s really great, and I think that, um, I don’t think there is, I don’t know if there is a torch. But I think, but I know what you mean by that, I know what you’re trying to imply, and I think that just as, …as young artists… you’ll find your way if you just keep on, keep on doing it, basically, and not feel, and basically I think to, to also try to find your peer group, and develop your own, your own, kind of discourse and energy, and not be overly concerned about who, you know, the old farts… I think it’s really important just to do it, and to just keep on doing it.

MC: I also think that a lot of the energy that you feel up here with these performance artists are people who are involved in art, engage, is that they come from a very authentic place, and that’s, that’s what you’re talking about, it’s this piece about, you can only be who you are. And it sounds like you’re doing something that you really love, you know? And that’s a really important part of being a student and growing and being, being in that moment, and that’s what, that’s what was so amazing about listening to you, to your evolution in this, in performance art, and how much things have changed, just in ten years, there’s been this much change. In just these few years, from four to thirty people, so you’re right in the middle of huge change. Historical change.

AUDIENCE #2: My name is Bradley. I’m from Saskatchewan. Somehow I got wrangled into getting coffee for everybody. [PANEL SAYS THANK YOU.] Oh, you’re welcome. I have a question for Reona. I noticed that in your video, it was very much about the video. I wanted to know, like, the experience from the actual performance is probably different for the audience than it is for the audience here. So what was, what was the priority when you were filming the video? Was it the video, or was it the, uh, the audience, I guess?

BRASS: When we were filming the video? Um, actually this is the first time I’ve ever worked with a professional filmmaker, so it’s a completely new experience to me. I was shocked when I saw the video. Because I’m used to really poor performance art documentation…. But we gave him carte blanche. Just said… He’d never filmed performance art before, and he, uh, he was quite blown away by the experience, and really allowed himself the freedom to be very creative in interpreting what he felt was happening there. I have mixed feelings about it because it is another artist that’s been thrown in to the mix to do, to do yet another interpretation, but it’s…. It takes a life of, on of it’s own, and for me, doing the performance and for the people that were there, I’ve spoken with a lot of the people that were there, and I know for Bently and I, and everyone there, it was a very profound experience. I’m not sure if I will ever have that again, or work with a filmmaker again, but it is what it is, and I’m happy to let it live the way it is right now.

BELMORE: Actually I’m going to respond to you. I actually find it interesting because I think that, I mean if you look around the room, and if you look at what we did in the hallway and the stairwell, with Paul Wong’s direction, there, I think that we’re very accustomed to, in performance, having the camera around, and being sometimes intrusive. And it’s, I think it’s basically up to your, as a performer, as a performance artist, or as the artist, you have to decide, I think, how close or how much, or if at all. So I think, you know, it’s a choice that you make and I think that in looking at your piece I think that I can still, I can still see that people could, even though they were, maybe having to move around, or having a camera move around, that they were still engaged, and it becomes part of that whole, the work itself, in some way. So I thought that was very interesting, ‘cause I could see it, and it didn’t bother me in the least.

BRASS: In addition to the camera, there was this element during the week when Bently and I were doing actions. It was one of the highest tech media type performances I’ve ever done, because we were having a website created simultaneously and downloading images as we, we finished them, before the day was even over. So we, we found ourself almost responding immediately to the documentation and altering our actions accordingly. So it was very interesting, and very virginal experience, for me, in terms of working and dealing with technology right in my face.

AUDIENCE #3: It seems to me that the, sort of a subtle horror of late colonialism is speakable, but that from your actions, that the darker side of ‘all my relations’, relationships between children and parents and men and women, is the unspeakable. Would you like to respond to that, Reona? Or anybody?

BRASS: Well, I agree, these are the unspeakable things, um, and not so much because I don’t want to speak about them but because I, I lack the language to describe what I feel. But in all of my work I use my body to push myself beyond my body, to this place where it’s very deep inside and I want to know more about it. I want to address it, I want to feel it, I want to heal it. So it is an unspeakable thing, these things that you remember from being a child and then being a parent and having children. It all comes full circle… I think my work is more, increasingly, addressing the horror through, through images and through actions that… well, they, it becomes my, my ritual, it becomes the, the place where it’s safe and it’s contextualized and I can put it away when I’m done and move on.

AUDIENCE #4: I have a question about traditionalism. Lawrence Paul mentioned something about traditionalist and he said something about uh, I got the image, at least, of forsaking traditionalism, or having to leave traditionalism and I was wondering what that was all about, and what your thoughts on traditionalism are?

YUXWELUPTUN: There’s boundary of place and space within communities, tradition. And in the Salish culture, it’s very much protected and it, uh, it’s not for sale. We don’t make masks, Salish masks, for consumerism, so it doesn’t come into the mainstream world. The longhouse—where prayers and drums and songs and ritual and performance, altered states of minds and being, even to the masked dancing and all the rituals and performances that are created within that space. It’s sacred and it’s, it’s ours. And, uh, if any Salish person tries to cross that boundary, it’s not about policing. It’s not allowed, but it… There’s ways to look at it and share it, a philosophy. So it, you can take the philosophy, of your reason, and share it. But there are rules and guidelines for tradition, and it, it stays in the longhouse with our people. So that’s what when I was… those are, it’s a secret society. And because things… I can’t give you anything any more than you’ve already taken, and I’m not about to give up the secrets that we possess. So those are, those are my medicine men that look after me and the journeys I go, and the things I do with them, and how they look after me. So there’s… It’s like two worlds. It’s a whirlwind out here… It’s by example. The Salish community has watched over me and seen everything that I do. But I, we always, we take the responsibility from the traditionalist position. The mask. You know, that was the question earlier, was the mask, when is the nail, when is it nailed, when it comes into public domain that you open yourself up to those things? Well, we don’t open it up. It’s closed. It’s for us. For Indians. For our people. For ourselves. There’s a lot of things. There is a book out there on native healing, the Salish native healing. You can find out. We had the anthros come in, and then we chased them away. A lot of things have happened. Years ago. A priest came into our longhouse once, with a cross, and tried to stop us. But we just kept on. And then he had to leave. The Vatican, about seven years ago, they had problem with a priest. Couldn’t relate to the people in the community because the Indians weren’t going to church. And he couldn’t accept this. He had to, even on our reservation they still have to encroach. But, we looked at it, and we initiated him, and he became a dancer, man of the cloth, and accepted him, because he wanted to be with us. So we changed him. There’s different things in life like that. A man marries a Salish woman, and he beat her. Violence. So we went and grabbed him. Put him through rituals. Said, “You can’t do that.” We have governance of law: the longhouse. It’s a lot of things. I put on a mask and I got sick because of the journey of how powerful the mask was. And I was sick for three years, and then they come and grabbed me. So it’s tradition. I’ve had a long time with those things, to, to honour those things. So it’s… It’s there. It’s alive and well. People have to understand that if I’m not at your church, if I’m not praying with you, but I am— in my own way. So traditionalism is alive. Modernism is a creation. Modernality. They are separate. Does that answer it?

AUDIENCE #5: Hi. I’m just wondering, I’m Elaine, um, I’m just wondering, um because of the ban of traditional ceremonies by the church and different bodies in authority, I’m just wondering, do you think that has any influence on, um, people and First Nations protecting their culture, now that there isn’t such, you know, the secrecy, and the need to protect it from, you know, from people going to jail and all these consequences for people practicing their culture and doing traditional ceremonies. Do you think that protectionism of being underground is still there when it comes to practicing ceremony and talking about rituals and all these things? Um, anyone of you?

BRASS: Are you directing this to anyone?

AUDIENCE #5: Anyone, yeah, who, or, yeah, that’ll be fine.

BRASS: Is there a need or is it still happening?

AUDIENCE #5: Yeah, do you think it’s still an influence about, you know the reservation or, you know, the unwillingness to talk about that. Do you think that’s still an influence?

MC: I've been teaching in Coast Salish territory for seven years and we’re allowed to teach about anyone else but we’re not allowed to teach about them. I’m serious, we don’t—

AUDIENCE #5: Who’s ‘them’?

MC: Coast Salish people. We’re in ____ Territory, and when I’m in Duncan, sometimes the people there bring in, I think it’s very much about each group, it depends on what their history have been, and I would go back to the trauma of incredible great loss, and so it may, so if you look at people, the amount of people who died up north, ninety percent of the people died in 1862. Gone. Small pox travels one month at a time, takes a month to run its course and then to go to another village, so within a year and a half decimated up there. But down here it wasn’t, and I think that’s so… and the ironic thing is that is wasn’t because of the, as I said before the Oblate priests, but here’s the most amazing paradox is that my experience of being in this territory and of just going and standing, being invited, and standing, sitting as an observer with students and elders, is that… Number one, there were things we weren’t supposed to look at, there were very clear about that, and once I could feel it in there and when I went, it was just your… The protocol was that we didn’t talk about that, and the books that, that were mentioned, they were also, um, they were available, and we would bring different books that we thought maybe, you know, because it seemed odd not to be teaching about the culture, but, um, they spoke for themselves. We brought in local people, and I think up north, where I’m from, more and more Aboriginal, there’s um, there is a more of a history of us being represented by others, and um, and there was way more decimation and uh less, memory left, and so the ceremonies are not as closed, they’re really, in Haida Gwaii, for sure, it’s a lot of dinners and passing on of names and those sorts of things, but not anything like what I’ve experienced here, not anything like that.

BRASS: Um, I’d like to address it just from a, a point of view of coming from Saskatchewan. It’s probably very different in Saskatchewan, because my experience is been, and is, that there um, is all different types of camps, traditional camps, and when I say camps I mean philosophically. Um, and there are some that are very open, uh, and they allow, you know, just about anyone. And then there are ones that more closed. And then there are ones that are, ones that I share in that I share in, that are just with people that I know, and get to know through people that I know. So there’s different levels of activity, and the level that I function in is on a very one to one basis and getting involved in different rituals through people that I know and trust.

BELMORE: Maybe I’ll say something about this because, um, I’m a very non-traditionalist person and I have nothing to do with a lot of, beyond like the social powwows, that kind of thing, but I usually stand on the periphery. And I’m comfortable there, because I think that, my experience is basically one of family and just hanging out with kokum, and my grandfather and my brothers and sisters and cousins, and just living a very ordinary, I guess, Indian life. Town Indians, actually. So there’s a big difference there. We were town Indians. Small town. And I just think that for me it’s my, my sense of things is that I just think about my childhood and the joy that I found in that childhood, along with the pain as well. And I think for myself, what I wanted to talk about when I was showing my slides, but I kind of sped it up to compress it and hurry up, and save some time, but now I’m going to elaborate here, a bit. But I remember when I went to public school in Upsalla, Ontario, before I became chief, [LAUGHTER] I remember being, I remember spending every day of school of all my eight years having to stand at attention in the morning and sing O Canada, and look up at the clock at the front of the room which beside it was the picture of the Queen, and even as a child, without anyone telling me, I knew something, I don’t know a lot, but I know a lot. So I think that’s how, in some way memory is, it’s somewhere inside of me, I think, and it’s through my experience and my love for my family.

YUXWELUPTUN: The Salish longhouses that are on, there’s a lot of big houses. Over in Nanaimo, Duncan, Tla-o-qui-aht over on Vancouver Island, and then they come over to this side, and then they go down into the States, down into Tulalip. So even in the States, even with both sides of the border that, everything that has surpassed in the colonial construct, we have to protect it. You can take everything away from me, but you’re not going to take this culture. So it was protected. And hidden. Names. You earn your name. By law, I was Lawrence Paul. But they wanted to know what I was gonna do, and figure it out in tradition, and they wait, and wait. And then I became Yuxweluptun when I was seventeen years. It took me that long. To become man of the masks, man who possesses many masks. So it, this traditional metamorphosis of tradition that continues on, and all those things that we look after. So it’s, you know, there… It is true that it’s, the guests that have come into the long houses that have been overwhelmed by its essence… We do allow guests from time to time, and so it, that’s the way it is, if you want to… If I want a guest I have to ask… It’s a beautiful thing to have culture. I know some people that don’t have it, that I’ve met, natives that were born without it. But that’s responsibility for the ones that do have it. And those are the journeys that they’ll go through.

MC: Some of us have hip-hop culture. Can I ask a burning question I have? Uh, You said it’s becoming more important, Reona, more important for me to have my relations hear what I’m gonna say. And then you went on to say that, um, that your work finds meaning when it finds the audience it’s intended for. And Lawrence, when you were talking, you said, “Fuck the British. I’m not angry. I don’t hate you. It’s the legislation.” And Rebecca, you set up a great big speakerphone out into the wilderness. I’m really interested in really who your audiences are. Who is you when you’re talking, Lawrence? Who is, what is this work for? How much does it go back on yourself and go out?

YUXWELUPTUN: You want to talk about your funnel?

BELMORE: Yeah, I’ll talk about my big funnel, as Lawrence loves to call it. Asshole. [LAUGHTER] He’s my friend, nonetheless. And that’s how tolerant we really are as people. But I just think that [LAUGHTER] I just think that, specifically for the big funnel, the audience, it was, I see the work as very much as a conceptual work that is linked or akin to this idea of oral tradition, and based on my broken relationship with it because I don’t speak my, mother’s language. And I think that in that work specifically, the, my concept was that the land would be the audience, and the land would hear, and the land was, was what we were to address. And hopefully in the experience, what I was hoping for is that the people would somehow experience some kind of, I don’t know, humbleness, and connection and be able to, I guess, place themselves in some kind of situation in their relationship to mother earth. One of the things that I was going to talk about with my slides, just to mention a story which I’ve never shared it publicly before, but I’ll share it with you. The six-month year old, six-month old baby in Thunder Bay that was going “Uh! Uh!” and hearing the sound of it’s own voice, that very day we were gathered on Mount McKay just outside of, on the Fort William Indian reservation, the mission reservation, Fort William band. And Mount McKay is like this kind of flat-top mountain close to the airport just outside Thunder Bay, so the city is actually very close to the reservation. And when we gathered on the beautiful mountain on August — it was August 1st, 1992 — and I was so happy to have my family, my friends, And I was so happy to bring, I felt such relief to bring this idea, this art work, to my home and to see how people would respond to it. I wanted to place it in my home territory. So what happened was the baby, we had it like a feast, someone was making, we had an open fire, someone was making tea and bannock and fry bread and all that kind of stuff, and we’re just hanging out and enjoying this beautiful day looking out at the sleeping giant Lake Superior, and people began to speak, my family, my friends. Strangers. And behind us there’s a further kind of part to the mountain and I think it goes up at least, I don’t know, two hundred, three hundred feet. And it’s kind of shale rock, it’s very loose, and it had been raining previous to our arrival there. So the rock was, the ground was wet and the rock was kind of slippery. And two tourists from the city, two guys from the city, had come up, and they weren’t coming to see my work because it’s a public tourist site. They had come up to the landing where we were and they had climbed up this trail, this back trail, and they were at the top of the, the very top of the mountain, a couple hundred feet above us. And we were looking, we weren’t looking at them, we were looking out towards the lake, so our backs were to them. And my brother in law was videotaping and I think he was probably bored with my work. So he was like zooming around with his video camera, and he was looking at them with the telephoto. His camera was new, so he used the telephoto and he brought them in closer, and as he as looking he said, “Oh my God.” And we all looked, and what happened is one of the guys slipped. And we, and as we all, I saw it with my eyes, his body kind of went, like a couple of somersaults, and he fell to his death. And, so, for me, to have that experience of the baby and the man dying. And the man was probably in his, I don’t know, he might have been mid-thirties or something, he was a young man. And for me that was such a powerful, um, moment, and I didn’t know how to make sense of it. But luckily there was a friend in amongst us, who was a traditional man, and he, he, um, he kept us all until, you know the ambulance came, and the helicopter rescue people, because what happened is the other guy got trapped. And it took at least about an hour, hour and a half, to get him down, so he’s up there standing against the edge of the rock looking down at his friend, and it just turned into chaos. And we stayed and my friend managed to calm us all down, and we said a prayer, he said a prayer and led us in some type of ceremony, prayer, so for that I was very grateful, and it meant a lot to me. So I think that, I think, um, I just wanted to share that with you. I forgot what the question was. But anyways, so that but I mean the audience is. Audience is audience, but I think real life is also, you know, it’s a mind warp. I think it’s really. Life is intense. And art is, too.

YUXWELUPTUN: My audience, uh, is both, native and non-native. I did a painting on a reservation. It was titled, “Red Man Watching White Man Trying To Fix Big Hole in the Sky.” And there was a world conference on the ozone. And they were trying to fix it. And I had a scientist phone me, tracked me down, and said, “We’re having this world conference. We don’t have any image for a scientist to deal with this ozone for all of us. Can we borrow it?” I said, fine. You can use this. So I made a post card to communicate. Commercial card, very romantic. One of those Benjamin Chee Chee cards you see hanging around. Mine is kind of the same concept. Ten years later I get another call. They had another conference in New York City, they said, “Well, can we use this image again?” And the ozone was getting a little bit bigger this time. And then they said, “Well, can we make a poster as well?” And I said yes. And that scientist was really happy. I don’t know where he was, or where was phoning from. I kind of recognized the voice, and I said, “You know I’ve allowed you to use my image for the world once, and twice. Now, don’t ask again, because if you do ask again, for the third time, it might be too late. So it, it was beyond just my reservation. I did “Native Indian Snow.” And Chernobyl happened… You couldn’t use your rain catchers from the north from Chernobyl. So it was beautiful to see all this, so I look … These things that happened are where… I was just on a reservation, but that encroachment came to me… This country confined people to a space, and the toxicological encroachments start. The dioxins, furans. What right? Might is right. So, I just wanted to record it. How it is. Record history as a real event. So it, the audience is for, is for everybody. I may use different mediums, but that’s, that’s the kind of tactician that I will be.

MC: We’ve run out of time. So, we’re going to move on to our respondent. Yes. And then you’re going to make announcements after that.


I hate going last because everyone’s trying desperately to get out of here. It’s been a really long afternoon and a really profound and powerful one. If you could just bear with me for a few minutes, if I don’t say a few things they’ll make me pay for the hotel. [LAUGHTER] So if I could, I promise not to keep you too long. There’s just a, I mean, this is really a shitty job, actually. [LAUGHTER] I mean, respondent? I mean, what do I say? After all that’s happened here today. And I try to define what it was that I would be doing, uh, and I thought, what I have to do is take the thoughts and the stories and the expressions of a very distinct community of people, in this case, native performance artists, and I have to distill that, and simplify it, and then feed it back, like I’m the only one who got it. [LAUGHTER] And I thought—that’s what anthropologists do. And I don’t want to do that. So at the risk of telling you a lot of things that you already know, I would just like to sort of just kind of shoot out some thoughts that I had during mostly during the afternoon, um because I don’t remember much of the morning. Uh, no I do, the morning was wonderful. Sorry, I shouldn’t have joked that way. Um, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by the panelists and the moderators today, to the body of critical dialogue around performance art, around Aboriginal art, and around Aboriginal performance art. And um, I’m just so tremendously honoured to be here and to be asked to be a part of this, uh, I do think that it is groundbreaking. And I think that this is the kind of discussion, this is the kind of critical analysis of what we do that has to continue. Um, we don’t get to get together this often, so let’s really take the opportunity to get in there and really hash it out. I’m really looking forward to a lot of people here writing critical texts on these kinds of issues, and if anyone out there wants to publish one, I’m thinking of writing one, so, if you got some money for me that would be great. Uh, But I would like to talk about a few things, and just sort of, I guess they just came off the top of my head, so I’m not going to reference them to anybody in particular because well you were in the same room, uh. Collective memory of oppression and genocide is our memory. We have that. It’s a right and it’s a legacy that we have and that also comes with a responsibility. And the responsibility is to express that and to make ourselves and make others aware of that. We have to and we are, and our performance artists, and our other artists are creating a language of subversion and resistance. I think we have to look at that and see where that has taken us, where it’s from and where it’s going to take us. Subjectivism. There’s a myth in Western Canada, or Western canon, that exalts this concept of objectivity. I would argue that that doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as objectivity. There is no such thing as objective history. We know that. We know that history is, is made and created by the dominant cultures. And this myth of objectivity that they talk about when it’s about news or it’s art, it’s a load of crap. Let’s not be afraid to say we are talking from our perspective, from our memory. And this is the memory we have. We weren’t the first people to be a part of this collective of oppression and genocide, and we won’t be the last. Let’s not, let’s unmask it, often, whenever we do, what we do. Um, well, what are the risks, though? Well, the risks are that we can hurt each other and we can hurt ourselves. And that’s, that can be very difficult, I think that in the work we’ve seen, we can see, it’s painful sometimes. It’s difficult sometimes, but we have to do it. We’ve talked a bit today about anger. Um, and I would add one more in there and that’s um rage. And there’s profound power in rage. It’s okay to create works that are expressions of pure and profound pain without them having to be about healing, or without them having to have any other reason to exist except to express that pain. Yes, we can indeed be heroes, warriors, or villains. And we can do it without being victims. Not through some presumption of power or privilege, but through cultural authority. We have it, we need to express it, and we do. What do we come here for? Bradley was saying out in the hall, and I don’t know if he jumped and did it while I was still out having my smoke, but he was going to come up here and say, “What the hell are we doing here! Who do we think we are? I’d do anything to go to Vancouver for four days!” But I think we know why we’re here. We’re here to question, we’re here to challenge. For too long, and we all know this, everything about us, including our art, has been defined by others. We’re doing it for ourselves. And that’s why we’re here. It’s important that we question each other, we challenge each other, because we’re the ones now who are doing the defining. We’re creating a language, an aesthetic, and that’s exciting. We have to always do it with respect, and with a fundamental notion that we have intellectual artistic and cultural freedom. I don’t want to play by anybody else’s rules. I don’t want to use their canons. They’ve been used on us enough. All kinds of cannons. [CHUCKLES.] Okay, I must be getting tired now. [LAUGHTER] We have to do it with integrity, and we have to do it with trust. We have to discuss cultural trespass, cultural protection, um, intellectual property, cultural property. How do we navigate these dichotomies? How do we do it differently? How do we respect our traditions? How do we maintain our contemporary focus? The great thing about conferences is that all the really great discussion happens in the bar after the talks. So that’s why I’m trying to plant some of these, because I’m thinking I’ll buy anybody a beer who wants to talk about this. [LAUGHTER] I know, see. First the picture, now this. I’m laughin’. We’re developing an indigenous aesthetic. We also need to talk about an indigenous ethic. A friend of mine calls me an idiot, and I take it as quite a compliment because he explained it one day, he said, “Well, there are two kinds of people, there’s stupid people and there’s idiots. The only difference is the idiots know that they don’t know much, and that’s what idiots are— knowing that you don’t know everything. And I think that’s an important topic. I don’t want to play by anybody else’s rules. Anybody else’s moralities, that’s not what I’m talking about. We have an ethic. We need to use it. We have an aesthetic. We always have. We need to get out there and make them open the front doors of the galleries and our other cultural institutions, and we have to be that voice. Language is vital. I don’t have my original language, but even in English, and I mean this is an arguable point, we can create our own language with it, a language, an ethic and an aesthetic that is distinct to us. I’d like to especially thank Ahasiw, though, um, for, for mentioning Archer, who’s having his problems, and I won’t go into that, to the details. I don’t know Archer really well, but I know him pretty well. Not as well as Ahasiw, and I just, I was humbled by what he had to say and also try remember that we need to support each other all the time, and not just natives, but artists… Just choosing to be in this line of work is hard enough, and it’s a rough journey and you do need people along the way to help you through it, and I just wanted to thank you for reminding me of that. And I would like to sort of, I promise I’ll end now, but I would like to read a couple of very short excerpts from Thomas King’s book Truth and Bright Water. They kind of have a little bit of meaning for me right now. This is a discussion between a father and a son. Okay I hope I have the right one. “I’m almost asleep and I’m not sure if it’s my father talking to me or if it’s someone on the radio running for office. ‘You know what’s wrong with the world?’ my father reaches under the seat and comes up with a bottle. The label says ‘Wiser’s.’ ‘Is that whisky?’ I say. ‘Whites. It’s as simple as that.’ My father passes me the bottle. I take a sniff. It’s iced tea and it’s pretty good. ‘That’s because they took our land, right?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘Because they broke the treaties?’ ‘Double nope.’ ‘Because they’re prejudiced?’ ‘That’s what they teach you in school.’ My father takes the bottle and has another drink. ‘Listen up. It’s because they got no sense of humour.’ ‘Ski’s tells some pretty good jokes.’ ‘Telling jokes and having a sense of humour,’ says my father. ‘Are two different things.’ And then a little later, ‘You know what’s wrong with this world?’ he asks me. I figure he’s testing to see if I’ve been listening. ‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Whites.’ ‘Who told you that? Indians,’ said my father. ‘What’s wrong with this world is Indians.’ ‘Indians?’ ‘Because they’ve got no sense of humour.’” I wanted to say is that what we do is sometimes difficult, challenging and it’s a bumpy ride, and it can be a fight, and it can be all those things, and there’s pain, but let’s make the journey and let’s make sure we keep our sense of humour. Thank you.
TRACK ONE (4:09)

SPEAKER FROM VIDEO: What were you expecting, anyway? A noble savage? Sitting Bull? Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce saying, “The earth and I are one.” [LAUGHTER.] Like we’re not supposed to think. Just react. Like we’re peripatetic pagans, strolling through a steaming forest after a June rain. Not supposed to fart, or screw, or be what we’re supposed to be: people with weaknesses. Victims of a lot of bad breaks like the repeating carbine rifle. Charles Darwin. Same thing. Small pox. Influenza. Haley’s Comet. What were you expecting, anyway?

TRACK TWO (00:44)

LORI B.: Thank you, Shelley. Good morning everyone. Welcome to the last day of the conference. I think Glenn was going to make an announcement, but I guess he’s not here, so I will. Tonight is there’s the cabaret and that will be at the Western Front and starts at eight. The next panel is “Tussling in the Public Spectacle.” Shelley Niro is moderating. Speakers are Edward Poitras, Lynne Bell, and Greg Hill. And here’s Shelley Niro. [APPLAUSE]


SHELLEY NIRO: The piece you just saw was called “Overweight with Crooked Teeth,” and that was a poem written by my brother about 1972. No reference to myself, thank you. How does this go on again? Okay, got it. Is the slide projector on? Thank you. The first recorded artist slash magician in Haudenosaunee territory was the Onondaga prophet Hiawatha. In collaboration with the Huron holy man Deganawida (sp?), now known in post-modern times as Peacemaker, they travelled together, bringing words of hope, comfort, tranquility, peace, power and righteousness. At this particular time in the world there was great turmoil and distress. After first contact in the Americas, populations dwindled from 19 million to a devastating number of about five hundred thousand, caused by death and disease. This decimation was to have taken place over a period of about six months. The remaining members of the nations were out of their minds. In Haudenosaunee communities, people became suspicious of each other, killing each other, hating each other. They were destroying themselves. Ahasiw referred to modern day Indigenous children as refugees, as refugee children, and I think this is an excellent term for these survivors. These refugee children also lost everything. They lost their families, their communities, their culture, their collective memories and their table manners. They were, they were physically unhealthy, they were mentally unstable, emotionally, they were misguided and they had no spirit left. Bringing together a group of people who today might be compared with street people was not an easy task. Peacemaker had to convince people who he was, and he had… so he had to ask people to go through different things just to show that he was sent by the Creator. Hiawatha himself had to be absolved of grief for the loss of his own wife and daughters. When I read the written text and versions, it sounds like one person at a time had to be healed. The Human Beings, as they referred to themselves, wanted a change, once they saw examples of change in others. And why did Hiawatha develop his skills? Because of love for his community and family. He developed the language of wampum. He created the symbols and what they represented. He made codes and designs for the status quo so they could participate in shared knowledge and philosophy. But to get to the intellectual exercise of sharing thought, of appreciating the circumstances which surrounded the issues, very basic needs had to be addressed. Peacemaker realized what had to be done. His job was to arouse the senses. The senses are ingredients used to make survival a more adequate day-to-day living strategy. The sense of smell is induced by the burning of tobacco. Smell is an interesting sense as it invokes memory. The sense of hearing: there is always drumming and singing, representing celebration, grief and important markers in oral history. The sense of taste. Whoop, that’s not the sense of taste. What happened? There it is. The sense of taste: the Haudenosaunee had gone through periods of time where cannibalism is a part of oral history storytelling, and humans had to be retaught what animals were given to them by the creator to be used for their nourishment and to benefit the welfare of everyone. And the sense of touch: shock people from their state of bewilderment to a state of reality, snapping them out of their state of confusion. And finally, wiping away the tears from eyes so we can see clearly and begin to think with minds absolving grief from the individual. And once the body, mind, spirit have been awakened, it is then we can start to look after ourselves and look after our brothers and sisters, creating places of security, and letting people of likemindedness come together, enriching people’s lives and leave something for the future. And what does this have to do with hierarchies and non-Aboriginal government? Everything. I think we have to remember, discuss, debate and make space for new thought. We are at a time where we can recognize the influences and make and create works that are acts of resistance. And at this time I’m going to introduce, um, Edward Poitras, who… Edward is from Gordon First Nation, Treaty #4 territory. He’s also a multimedia artist. I recently used one of, I referred to one of his works in an essay I wrote for the ImagineNative festival in Toronto, and again it’s about memorial, and memoriam, and this one specific piece was called, um, I don’t know what the title is, but one panel had a black with white text and the text was “Wounded Knee, 1890.” And the next text was “Merry Christmas, 1990.” And I think it compressed the whole history of um Native North American resistance within that one hundred years. And now I’ll let Edward speak.

TRACK FOUR (28:41)
EDWARD POITRAS: I thought I would begin my talk with, by mentioning this woman, Maria Tallchief, who is a, a ballet dancer. So, I would probably consider her the first modern performance artist. She was the, recognized as America’s first premiere ballerina and her studies were with people like Najinsky, not the dancer Najinsky but… I think it was his brother, something like that. Anyways, I thought it was important to mention her because it raises a number of interesting questions, namely one. Ballet as an art form: is it just a technique or is it an actual form? Should she be recognized as an artist or as a technician? Which I think is an interesting question, especially in regards to the… the public spectacle and where we’re positioned in that, coming from two different fields where we create work, the very, what we call the traditional and of course the contemporary, both which have different publics. In the city we’re working with a very specific public. Out on the reserve, again, it would be very specific. It would be more a community and more varied. Whereas in the city, in the galleries, the theatres… we’re exposing our work to a very specific segment of society, whereas on the reserve it would be more broad. Or if we’re doing public works outside of the gallery or the theatre you would be confronting a wider range of people. And looking at these two different areas, the, the one that’s, where we’re in right now, would be, I’ve been trying to come up with names for them, so I figured this one would be just the city state, and then the other one, you know, the savage other. Both with different economies. The city state being a, a capitalist democracy. The rural also a part of that, but in the past having a more natural based economy. Also in the city we tend to become more individualistic, whereas in the savage other world, the extended family is much more important, your relations are much more important. Also in the language, there’s a tendency to be somewhat conditioned to uh, in how we view things. When we think of self-government, again, it’s very, it’s very individualistic, whereas, as Cheryl had pointed out yesterday, the Aboriginal languages are more… there’s greater emphasis on relationships, so it would be more like the people. The people would take precedence, I think. “We the people,” as opposed to you know, self, uh, “Myself.” … In the area of creation there’s … let’s say, three different ways of functioning. One would be as the individual, which is very fluid within the institution, which tends to be very rigid and structured. And then of course sort of cellular activities or groups. These three different possibilities also function in both urban and rural situations. The individual creation tends to be somewhat private. The institution… when I think of the institution, I think of a lot of theatre production, production that needs a large environment to create work. Theatre, dance, other forms that require that institution. Anyways, there’s a tendency for a serious amount of structure within the institution. The individual has a lot more freedom to create, but doesn’t have the support that an institution could provide. Cellular actions or activities, it gives the support through collective works where you’re working with people who have abilities that you don’t have. And it gives you a certain amount of flexibility to create and interact with different possibilities. Anyways with that, Maria Tallchief would have fallen into the more institutional art forms, such as ballet, where you do need a very large structure to create works. Although she was also working with a director, there tends to be in these large institutions, there tends to be hierarchies where you sort of slot yourself into different areas and sort of develop through there. Now if she had been a choreographer or had gone on to direct other works, I believe that would have made her more, more of an individual artist, I would think. That’s how I think of artists as being ones who create, the ones who conceive ideas, and the ones who coordinate the creations of productions. So the choreographer I would think of as being the artist, but even that’s not necessary. Maybe it’s the writer, the person who wrote the piece, is the artist. Or maybe it’s the, the person who created the music. It’s hard to say which where it’s coming from, where the original creative spark begins. Again, and getting back to these two different areas, the savage other and the city state, and in working with public spaces, there’s, and when you start thinking about the spiritual and the religious, and is there a place for these within the these different spheres. When I was going through my slides and thinking about this presentation, I came across some really old slides I had taken back in ’79 and one of these images was a sundance lodge and these other images were of the powwow grounds and places where they’re you know playing hand games. And even in this rural situation, there was different performance sites: one for the sacred and one for the social. And there would be other sites also for other activities. Gambling. There they were very separate places. And when you look at…where we are, we do have, you know the theatres, the galleries, and the temples, where religious activities are carried out. Personally, I have problems entering group activities where religious activities are being carried out because of, we’re so varied and different and I think religion is something that’s very individual. But yet, as artists, I believe that we have the obligation to question and to work with these, work with this material simply because of our, the nature of what we do as people involved in culture and cultural development. But it’s with, how we do this I think is very important. Do we stumble into it, or do we walk into it with consideration and respect. And I think here it’s important that we consider ethical movement as people who create, people who move, people who are involved in change. I think ethical movement is something that should be considered in our practice. With a lot of my own pieces and some of the things I’ve been doing since the beginning, a lot of the things that I’ve done I think have been questionable, where I’ve been pushing, trying to push this little envelope to see what I could do. So in my own, I guess, development as an artist, starting back as a child and being raised as a Catholic and having religion put on you or being affected by a religion, of course there was a fascination with ritual. When I was eight or nine, getting ready for my first communion, we had to look at these little books and there was you know image sequences of the ceremony, so naturally I made my own little chalice and little altar, and you started going through this whole process on my own, [LAUGHTER] and of course at a certain point you start to wake up or change [SOMEONE HOWLS OFFSTAGE. LAUGHTER] And so I think as children we’re very impressionable and I think that’s where we first start becoming, we’re very much aware of performance and creation and play and as we get older we tend to lose certain abilities. So when I started, I guess somewhat of a formal training, it was in an experimental Indian Art program in ’74 and it was in development. We would have pipe ceremonies every week and we would talk about where we were going. In that situation it was good because we were somewhat, it was bringing us together and at that point in history we were very much interested in I guess a recovery of what we’re losing, so to go through these ceremonies once a week, it was enlightening and but also very impressionable. And I think because I did not understand the language, I was more interested in the visual. I was usually looking at what was happening visually, what was happening with movement, just the change that was taking place with materials and what that meant symbolically. So from there I became interested in ritual and how these, how this form was expressing very abstract concepts. So in ’79, I was very much interested in visionary works and how they would be ritualized or performed, or expressed in other forms, such as hide paintings, shields, etcetera. Also tipi paintings. So it was this visual language that I was very much interested in. Also the change that would happen with materials. So when I first start playing with this strategy, I was taking things like, this would be like ’83, in this one exhibition I just went there with a small package of material: rocks, hair, these tubes of colour and some drawing utensils. And I was left alone in the gallery and I set up this piece, just stringing up these little objects, drawing on the floor, arranging these rocks. At the end of it I realized that I’d just I did an action. I had ritualized a creation, and I found it to be a very exciting moment, even though I was alone at that moment. So there was no public. And even still I don’t really consider myself a performer because I’m not… [LAUGHTER] Just not interested. I’d rather hire somebody else [LAUGHTER] “Here, go do this for me.” But it’s the process that I thought was extremely interesting, and its impact. Performance, ritual, I see as being a very high form of expression, more so than just the traditional forms such as painting and sculpture. In ritual performance, you’re uh using time, you’re using movement, you’re using materials that are also changing. So in ’84, ’84 is when I did my first performance and it was in consideration of all this stuff, but also I was curious in the process of creation for the stage, and I was working with a choreographer. I was structuring the piece, and I wasn’t that interested in rehearsing, so they didn’t really know what I was going to be doing, but yet I knew where everybody was going to be and I knew what was going to be happening, so when the piece did happen, it was you know just a matter of walking on and you know doing these actions because it was all scored, so I found that interesting. But at the same time, because I was interested in ritual, I was, even with the other piece, there were certain things that I shouldn’t have been doing. But which I was doing and… It was, you know, things do happen. Things do happen when you play around with things that maybe you shouldn’t be playing with. And it made me question what I was doing. So. And in working with the public, it made me question, should I be exposing the public you know to … the things that I was doing. Was it the right place? So after that I sort of ended up falling back more into just working in the galleries again, doing actions. The following year I did this one piece. It had to do with a pile of bones, it was just an action where I took this image and wrinkled up the paper and tried to recreate this pile. It was very much somewhat interested in, I was interested in doing these install-actions, where you take nails and wire. Again doing these little rituals. And you know construct these pieces on the wall. And I thought it was interesting. I was still very much interested in nomadicism. So the work had to be very compact, and I had to be able to go into a gallery with this small amount and you know assemble these works. Also tried a few big ones, but they’re, a few large pieces, but they’re. It’s a pain. It’s a pain working with big pieces. But the small pieces, very compact pieces I thought were more reflective of my nomadic roots, and it just made more sense to have that flexibility. After that, oh, it just goes on [LAUGHTER] I still have this interest in performance and I still every now and then I will do actions in the gallery space, and it’s a possibility of doing things. But again it’s with that consideration of who is your public and what is it that you want to say to them, and do you want to, who do you want to speak? Do you want to speak in a gallery? Do you want to speak, do you want to do this on the stage, do you want to go out into the public and interact with the public space? Or do you want to go out to your community and do something out there? There’s a lot of possibilities, but I think each one is a little bit different. At one point, I brought Richard Martel [sp?] out to Saskatchewan to do a workshop with us, and it was in engaging the public where we would wear the same outfit and we would function as a team. And this is an example of the cellular activity or possibility, where you would, there would be a team of five people and you would do these art actions, engaging the public. There’s always, you’re also always confronting figures of authority when you’re going out into these public spaces. In the gallery space, the authority is the curator. Supposedly they know what they’re talking about and doing, and out in the public it will be the police [LAUGHTER] the police, you know security guards. Out in the powwow grounds it’s going to be, you know elders, and traditional people. So these authorities, they change, but when you’re doing public actions, you’re always going to be you know confronting these people, because they’ll be wondering, you know, what are you doing? There’s a lot of weird people out there [LAUGHTER] And sometimes, you know they’ll just walk by… There’s a tendency to push things as far as you can, so you do run into things. So again, it’s with this idea of ethical movement that should be considered, you know, where you’re performing, and to try and foresee you know who you’re going to be confronting. I think that’s all I’m going to talk about. There was all these videos that I wanted to show you, and actually after Maria, I was going to put up this, the AIM logo and recite they’re, some of the documents they had out out in regards to misuse of ceremonial objects and just the exploitation that is taking place and how that is damaging how we’re perceived. I think if anything it’s doing more damage in how we’re perceived. Also possibly to the individual. But it’s I suppose one thing I could compare it to would be those little rubber Indian dolls that they have in the souvenir shops. I find them very degrading but yet somehow somebody decided that people want to buy these things. And I find it odd that things like that are… like, do people buy these? [LAUGHTER] So it, how we’re perceived I think is what’s really important, and somehow taking control of that. And realizing that there’s two different performance or that there’s different kinds of performance sites, and that it’s not… again when you’re doing something in a gallery, you’re dealing with just a certain, a small percentage of society that’s actually politicized or intelligent, and they’ll understand what you’re doing and will be open minded. Whereas out in the public, you’re going to run into a lot of very narrow-minded people and uniformed, and there’s always that possibility of a negative I guess engagement. I was also going to talk about [LAUGHTER] the artist as activist, and the mask and Bradley as an artist and also an activist, and the, when you think of performance it’s not all everything that happens on stage, it’s art action, and it’s also individuals out in the communities are doing art actions, and yet it’s not recognized as being art action. They’re basically doing ceremonies and working with materials, but they don’t think of it as being art, but yet it’s still very much the same, they’re healing something, bringing about some kind of change, just as we’re doing the same thing, in what we did… it’s reaching out to people and making contact with people, and I think that’s what we do as artists is make contact. Anyways, I’m gonna leave it at that. [APPLAUSE.]

TRACK FIVE (00:41)

SHELLEY NIRO: Thanks Edward. Next we’re going to have Lynne Bell. And Lynne is the Professor of Visual Culture at the University of Saskatchewan. She has published many essays and interviews on the activist practices of contemporary artists in numerous books and journals, and, Lynne Bell.

TRACK SIX (21:16)

LYNNE BELL: Well first I want to say that I’m very honoured to be here, and I want to thank Dana and Lori for inviting me to speak. What I want to talk about today is a performance event called the anti-panel, which took place at the High Tech Storytellers Festival in Saskatoon in July 2000. This conference brought together a distinguished group of Aboriginal artists and performers who use storytelling combined with new media technologies as a powerful mode of political action and testimony. The festival, developed and hosted by TRIBE, was a combination of performances, installations, exhibitions, panels, cabarets, and lots of informal conversation. The anti-panel was the last event before the evening cabaret, which wound up the entire festival. In talking about the anti-panel I want to say something about the lessons I learned from it as a non-Aboriginal viewer who teaches in the university system. And I want to explore a little bit the tactics of cultural intervention that I saw at work in this performance event. Well, first for those of you who weren’t there, I’ll just walk you through the event using Bradley’s wonderful photographic documentation. In the anti-panel, Lori Blondeau’s persona Cosmo Squaw moderates the panel discussion designed to allow indigenous and non-indigenous artists at the festival to get together to talk and share insights about their work as performance artists and high tech storytellers. Billed as an anti-panel, the panel featured four performers, James Luna, Rebecca Belmore, Cosmo Squaw as the moderator, and Lori Weidenhammer. Arriving in a white stretch limousine driven by a chauffeur, the anti-panelists descended onto the street outside the gallery where the event took place, like Hollywood starlets on Oscar night. Met by fans and assistants, they posed for photographs. [LAUGHTER]. Sad to say, I missed this part of the performance, as I was already upstairs in AKA gallery, where seats for the audience had been arranged in a semi-circle. For those of us already in the gallery, it was the arrival of Cosmo Squaw that signalled the show was about to begin. She walked into the room dressed in a red sequined coat, beehive wig, feather boa, sunglasses, cowboy boots, carrying a cigarette holder, and a cell phone, and then a glass of wine. The three panel members were already seated in chairs, casually chatting with audience members and amongst themselves, drinking beers and martinis, which they placed on the TV dinner tables in front of themselves. At this point, audience members are attentive. They’re not sure if the performance has started yet. [LAUGHTER] Then Cosmo Squaw raps out a series of orders to the gallery staff. “Where’s my wine! Where’s my table!” Then she mops her face with a napkin and fits a cigarette into her holder, and this brash manner really indicates that we’re in for a lot of fun. After the commotion settled down, Cosmo Squaw welcomes her panelists and audience to Saskatoon, which she calls “Paris of the Prairies,” and to the anti-panel which she describes as ‘Kinda like a girdle.” As it unwinds, the panel is a mixture of scripted and unscripted events, moving between storytelling, dialogue between panel members on difficult issues, and explosive performance vignettes, which provoke conflicting emotions in the audience members. Just as we begin to feel comfortable in our role as viewers, one of the panelists demonstrates their ability to both delight and disturb us, disrupting the comforts of the familiar academic event. And throughout it all, Cosmo Squaw entertains us and keeps things moving. At times she treats us to her quick wit. At other times she appears bored. I think she even looked like she fell asleep at one time. [LAUGHTER] She raps orders to the attendants: “We’re hungry. I need an ashtray.” During one presentation she called to an attendant, “There’s a fly. Kill it, please.” This scene stealing was a hard act to follow. But as they talk about how they work, who they talk to, and why, the anti-panelists focus on the significance of storytelling. Wearing pigtails, shorts, and an enormous pair of reading spectacles, Lori Weidenhammer is the first speaker on the panel. Looking like an infant prodigy, she launches into a series of riveting meditations on high tech, low tech, and no tech storytelling. And although she uses the traditional slide show format to deliver her talk, she refunctions it, exposing its unwritten rules about the decorum of the body, gestures, and high serious tone. Addressing the issue of high tech storytelling, she talks about the narratives that will be lost in what she calls the “New globo, techno, crazy millennium.” And she asks a series of questions: “What about the narratives which can’t be turned into sound bites and video clips? Where will they end up? What about the stories that are too untranslatable into the dominant global discourses like English and artspeak? I worry about the low-tech no-tech storytellers,” she says. “What will become of them? How will we survive without their wisdom?” In addressing the notion of high tech storytelling, James Luna tells stories and performs a series of short performance skits interspersed throughout the event. In one little vignette, for instance, that lasts about three minutes, he plays on a pipe with exaggerated gestures, as pan-Indian music begins to fill the room, And then he stops still, looks at the audience, snaps the pipe in half, snatches a bite out of it and throws it at the audience, which erupts into shocked laughter. The pipe, we realize, is a big sausage. [LAUGHTER] In his last little number, which closes out the panel, Luna appropriates an iconic pop moment and reroutes it to hilarious effect. As the music of Jimi Hendrix floods the gallery space, Luna, with sudden violence, kicks a chair out of the way and paces up and down with a guitar, screaming, “Is the video on? Crank it up!” And the back wall, (I don’t have a slide of that) fills with a projection of Hendrix in a highly erotic stage performance, rubbing his guitar against the sound equipment on the stage before taking it off and placing it on the ground. Luna mimics Hendrix’s act, throwing his guitar on the ground. He then scatters what looks like lighter fluid over it. And as Hendrix begins to sing “In the Name of the Fire,” Luna whips out a stick, crouches low over his guitar, and starts to make fire from the low-tech friction of rubbing a stick between his hands. (I don’t have a slide of that.) This use of parody and abrupt switches in mood provokes another big response from the audience. And with his brilliant shifting from neutral to strong moments in the structure of his work, Luna creates explosive flashes, performative shocks, which demand the audience complete the meaning of the sketch, taking responsibility for their own reflections and thoughts. Rebecca Belmore also performs short skits as she speaks to the topic of high tech storytelling, and meditates on her own working process as a performance artist. In one, she tapes pieces of blank foolscap paper on two walls in a corner of the room, and as she paces back and forth, she slowly begins to tell the story. “I wish I could go to the studio, make notes, read books,” she says. “I wish I could do artspeak. I wish I had something to show for my work. I wish I had pieces. Big pieces. A locker full of pieces. I wish I had notebooks, sketchbooks and photographs. But all I have are scraps. Pieces of paper.” And here she goes to the wall and starts drawing on the paper with coloured felts tips she holds in her fists, writing phone numbers, question marks, dates, fragments of thought. At a key point in the performance, she says, “I have a process but I can’t really articulate it. I look at the newspaper and I see something that pisses me off. It really makes me angry.’ And here her agitation is palpable. Her breath comes in short gasps, and she paces rapidly back and forth, scribbling notes on the papers on the walls. “You know what I do too much,” she continues. “I read the newspaper. That’s what really fucks me up. It’s the world. That’s what makes me so confused. And in my work I try to make sense of this. I just try to make art.” With these words and the reference to reading the newspapers, the audience is taken back to her performance, “The Indian Factory,” which she performed on the previous night in the same space in which the anti-panel is being held. In this site specific performance, Rebecca used storytelling to testify, to bear witness to the tragic recent deaths of Aboriginal men in the Saskatoon community, and to raise questions about the police practice of routinely driving native men out of town and dumping them by the Queen Elizabeth power station, leaving them to walk home and sober up in freezing temperatures. The space in which the anti-panel takes place still resonates with the transformative effects of Belmore’s performance, which helped the audience to think through terror, to borrow Michael Taussig phrase. The panelists and audience members are surrounded with traces of this performance. Blood spatters on the wall, a fetal shape on the floor made of dried mud, broken feathers, shirts stiffened with plaster, pails of water, revolving police lights, an image of a large rock bristling with nails on a column covered in red signs reading “Danger Do Not Enter.” Having worked up to a frenzy of energy and anger in her performance skit, Rebecca then calms back down again, her voice smooths out and her movements relax as she says, “One of the things I do a lot is read the newspaper, and I hate myself when I do it. I just try to make art. I don’t know how to explain it, but I do what I do, which is to make art.” Cosmo Squaw then brings us down after this brief, intense vignette. And as the panelists are being served with TV dinners, she asks them, “How is the dinner?” [LAUGHTER] “It’s on TRIBE. It’s all we can afford.’ [LAUGHTER] Then while eating her TV dinner steak, she asks the audience conversationally, “How are you.” [LAUGHTER] “Hungry,” comes the reply, and we all think she’s a very fine hostess as we are served with martinis. So how did the anti-panel focus critical discussion and awareness on Aboriginal concerns and artistic praxis, turning to the subject of this panel? Well for this viewer, who works in the university system, I was delighted by the anti-panel’s subversive mimicry of the conventional conference panel. I loved the way it appropriated the traditional academic discussion forum, only to turn it on it’s head. When I asked Lori what she had in mind when she designed this particular event, she noted that she wanted people to sign up to be anti-panelists, a sort of group, because she knew she was not the only one who didn’t like academic formats. “I didn’t go to school for the longest time,” Lori noted, “Because I thought I can’t do this academic crap. I can’t speak it. I don’t want to speak it. I thought, unless you were able to put up with all of this, university wasn’t a place for you. But being there has made me realize you can play with all of its hierarchies.” And this is what the anti-panel does. Conjuring up the image of a formal academic panel, Cosmo Squaw and her anti-panelists inhabit it differently, puncturing its rules and procedures with transgression after transgression. Consider for instance the event’s spatial dynamics. Conference panels, colloquials or symposiums are usually cordoned-off affairs with panelists seated behind tables, microphones and glasses of water, facing an audience trapped in rows of hard uncomfortable chairs. Mimicking this hierarchical separation of academics and audience, experts and non-experts, the anti-panelists are installed behind flimsy TV dinner tables. Having offered these spatial framing devices, however, the production then disregards them. And throughout the anti-panel, the panelists move around, drink and eat, gossip with the audience and shift chairs and tables as they prepare for their individual vignettes. All of this movement, energy and liveliness unravels the formality and tedium of the customary academic panel. The arrival of Cosmo Squaw and her panelists in a white stretch limo sets the style and atmosphere of the entire event, explicitly linking it to the world of entertainment and performance. Stripping academia of its seriousness, the panelists inject the concept of serious play back into academic exchange. Rather than being spaces of friendly discussion, panels and symposiums today are more likely to be competitive forums where ambitious academics attempt to outdo and impress each other, and where delight for the audience always lies in escaping. [LAUGHTER] In contrast to western formal academic speak, which I am now performing, [LAUGHTER] the anti-panel not only uses serious play as a pedagogical tool, but it also foregrounded a dialogic model of talk, where the conversation grew and developed as it moved from one panelist to the other. And as the panelists performed their vignettes and talked about their differing practices as high tech storytellers, highly charged issues of racism, sexism, censorship and exclusion were raised and discussed. And as the conversations linked, a collaborative discourse developed which offered important insights into a decolonizing performance praxis which links lived every day experience with anti-racist struggle. In choosing the format of the academic panel while barely using it, the anti-panelists drew the contested geography of the university into the centre of this viewer’s thinker, thinking. In its comic disruption of the rules of the academic game, the anti-panel performs a cultural ethnography on the dominant model of the western university. For this Anglo-Canadian viewer, trained in the British colonial education system, the alternative pedagogy offered by the anti-panel makes visible the highly constructed nature of the university as an institution whose notions of culture and civilization have been built on the exclusion of Aboriginal peoples. This is certainly so at my own workplace, the University of Saskatchewan, which was built in 1907 at the height of British imperial power. Founded as a white settler university, it is still, in the words of my colleague, Sákéj Youngblood Henderson, director of the Native Law Centre, “A strange mixture of a remittance man’s boarding school education and a residential school.” As the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal people’s noted in 1996, Canada’s universities are still a key agent of colonialism, producing and reproducing a selected Western knowledge. And as this report concludes, the Canadian academy must decolonize it’s traditional presumptions, curricula, research, teaching, and hiring practices in order to live up to its obligations and mission statements and alleged priorities for Aboriginal peoples. As the Maori educator Graham Smith notes, universities are important sites of struggle for indigenous peoples, especially when sited within sizeable indigenous populations. And this is certainly so at the University of Saskatchewan where recent demographic studies forecast that in the next fifty years the Aboriginal population of the province will grow to about one third of the total population. And while the university has flagship Aboriginal programs in law and education, and it uses an ethical and inclusive rhetoric in all of it’s mission statements, referring to itself as “The People’s University,” in practice it still does not serve the province’s indigenous peoples. Well the anti-panel is gone and done now, but the memory of it is still alive for me and for its viewers, and it’s creative radical space points out, certainly to this viewer, that before the U of S can be post-colonial anything, it needs to understand the colonial character of education in a more complex manner than has been, that has happened before. In closing, I’d like to point to some of the tactics of intervention that I saw at work in the anti-panel. The High Tech Storytellers Festival fore grounded Aboriginal performance art that is about a passionate engagement with the politics of decolonization in a still colonial world, mixing pleasure with decolonizing enquiry. The festival was at once a space to talk back to the colonizer’s stories and a space for performers to tell stories about their own and their own community’s lived experiences. It was also a site where humour was used constantly to appropriate, rewire and disempower the ways of the dominant culture. Above all, the festival demonstrated that Aboriginal performance art is a potent site for seizing control of self-representation, a central strategy in any decolonizing process. It was also clear from the events of the festival and the discussion on the anti-panel, that there are many differing forms of decolonizing performance practice, many differing modes of high tech storytelling. Because as the Maori educator Graham Smith notes, “Multiple sites for change require multiple responses.” In her sketch on the anti-panel, for instance, Rebecca Belmore talks of the need to bear witness, to create a testimonial to what is happening, and to what is going unnoticed. And as Edward Said notes in a recent interview, “Bearing witness is a powerful historical practice, something that is worth trying.” And Rebecca also uses the tactic of insistence. As Marcia Crosby said yesterday about Rebecca’s work, she insists these histories be heard, and she testifies to issues camouflaged by forgetfulness and silence, provoking a dialogue where none was intended. In his sketches on the anti-panel, James Luna mixes differing cultural traditions, creating brilliant transcultural forms, which refashion indigeneity as a politicized and unsettling force. “I like to appropriate things and make them Indian,” he notes elsewhere. And of course he uses humour brilliantly as a strategy for underscoring serious issues. And in Lori Blondeau’s persona of Cosmo Squaw, we see the strategy of fighting cultural stereotypes with stereotypes. As a performer, Lori tactically inhabits the colonial representations of indigenous women as squaws or Indian princesses, using parody and humour to unfix, unsettle and refunction the discourse of racialized representations with which she works. And in her role as a moderator on the anti-panel, Lori uses strategies of excess and calculated exaggeration as she both uses and refunctions the form of the academic panel. In taking hold of the academic panel as a cultural vehicle to foreground Aboriginal cultural knowledge and issues, the anti-panelists create an open, creative, energetic world of humourous forms and decolonizing pedagogies, opposing the official and serious tone of western academic discourse, much to the delight of their audiences. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]


SHELLEY NIRO: Thanks Lynn. Next we’re going to have Greg Hill. Greg is Mohawk, and he’s a discipline–

TRACK ONE (13:07)

GREG HILL: Trying to find a safe place to put water up here. Well what I’m gonna do, first I’m going to say how honoured I am to be here, to be invited to be here. Thank you, Dana and Lori and Glenn and Daina of grunt gallery. I’m gonna show you some slides that are elements of performances, that become elements that I use in performances. As Shelley said, I’m not primarily any one type of artist or any one particular discipline. I’m very much interested in using just whatever makes sense at the time. So I’ll just get into this. And this is an installation that was recently in Banff at the Walter Phillips Gallery. And Shelley mentioned the Kahsto:'wah which is a Mohawk headdress, and that’s at the back, the three feathers standing up to symbolize Mohawk. And a lot of my work is about looking at what these symbols of what identity of nationhood are, and reworking them. And I began to look into what, how do we express ourselves as Mohawk people, as Cayuga, what are those symbols, and that I’ve taken that further or into different directions with subsequent work. So these … elements at the back, they’re exhibited in museum display cases as art-ee-facts. Because this is post, using them in the performances. So they’re back there. And the canoe is another piece but the flag is the warrior flag that you recognize perhaps from Oka, from the warrior society, a flag designed by, by Louie Hall, Kahnawake, the warrior society. So… 1990 was the year of the Oka crisis and it was the year that I was going into my last year at F_____ College, Fine Arts. An intense time for me to feel like I had to be part of what was going on in Oka. Or I went through this struggle, you know, should I be going there as a Mohawk person? Or where’s my place? And I decided to stay and I think I made the right choice. But those images were very much in my mind and if you recall any time you saw news, CBC television, there was, there were two images that they showed. One was of the warrior Lasagna, Ronald Cross, and the other was of this flag, the warrior society flag. How we look at that now, how do we unpack that a bit, how do we inject a little bit of humour into that perhaps? And my work was about redoing these things but also using materials that were accessible to me in an urban environment and I had this other idea of not wasting anything. So I was making anything that couldn’t be recycled at the time became art materials, which leads you in interesting directions, like where a pizza box label, the Flying Tomato Pizza Company then becomes the Flying Mohawk Pizza Company, which is a twist on, on that flag. And there’s the Kahsto:'wah. So this is modeled after this traditional headdress just using what I considered traditional materials to me, living in the city. I don’t have eagle feathers falling down on me [LAUGHTER]. What’s available are cereal boxes, and they have many great uses, so why not? That’s interesting to. On the label, you can’t see it but on the box itself is a, is this, it’s a, I think it was from a Raisin Bran, and they have their, their logo is the sun and across it it says “No Preservatives.” I think kind of like the perfect label for the front of the headdress. And then this was made strictly, the other pieces were about 90, 93 and this is a shoulder bag that I needed for my performance. So I made one. So continuing on with the idea of symbols of nationhood, of identity, where we always look, we’re looking a lot internally at ourselves. So the twisted, to look at it another way, why not play with what Canadians consider their sacred symbols and switch them around and have some fun with that. So… I took the Canadian flag, as you can see, put the three feathers in the middle. It’s a very Mohawk-centric version of the Canadian flag, I admit. But what it is actually I’m balancing that out by saying the three feathers represent all Aboriginal peoples, the Indian, Inuit and Metis, and those two, those red bars are to represent Aboriginal peoples from coast to coast to coast. And this is the design for the flag of Kanata, which is the original Iroquoian word which eventually became Canada. So this is part, this is a show I had at Indian Affairs in February [SPEAKS PHRASE IN MOHAWK]. Which is “Welcome to Kanata, Bienvenue a Kanata.’ I printed out the flags, did all kinds of things under this premise that Canada was being renamed to Kanata, that they were launching a new flag in, which is this flag [LAUGHTER]. In Ottawa this is a big deal, not that [LAUGHTER] That’s a big deal as well, but in Ottawa, February 15th is Canada Flag Day, which nobody knows that out here. This show opened on the 14th, so I did a media campaign before the show opened announcing that at a small and subdued ceremony at Indian Affairs, Canada is launching a new identity and we’ve designed a new flag and all kind of stuff, and I sent it out to CBC and all media around Ottawa. And I thought it would cause a big furor, nobody showed up at all. [LAUGHTER] I couldn’t believe it. But I did provocative things, too. I made this twelve foot banner of the Canada word mark, changed it to Kanata, and put the flag in there, and hung it up in the lobby above the show. Nobody said anything. It was like, whatever. Okay. So. That’s good. We’re waiting for the police to show up, this public performance, things are supposed to happen, but it didn’t. [LAUGHTER] So part of that, too, was a video that we made and we wanted to gauge public opinion about these, the changes to the new flag, the new name for the country. So we uh, we went to Parliament Hill and we interviewed people, showed them the flag, got their opinions. Most people liked it. [LAUGHTER] So that’s actually on top of the TV, is the media release, so I’d give people the media release and then, it’s a, it’s amazing just what a piece of paper can do to, to convince somebody that this is actually happening. So. So that was there but I had also sent the media release to all the national Aboriginal organizations in Ottawa. We went around. I did two things, I sent the media release around, and I also sent the invite to the show around, so if you got two of them together, you go, “What’s going on here? Okay, it’s an art exhibit.” So that’s probably why no one showed up. But uh, but I wanted to be fairly, I didn’t really want to dupe people, because I felt guilty about doing that. But some people had both of those elements and they still didn’t quite put the two and two together, and they were duped, and uh, and we went to, well, actually I shouldn’t name the particular national Aboriginal organization, but [LAUGHTER] they were good sports… they took it hook, line and sinker, and got very angry about not being consulted. [LAUGHTER] And it went on from there. It was, had to edit it down for the video. But this is at the Congress for Aboriginal Peoples, and this particular person had a great reaction to the flag. Okay. Also, other elements of that show, I don’t know if you’ve been to the Indian Art Centre Gallery in the lobby of Indian Affairs, I should have mentioned that’s where this takes place, the show, federal government building. It’s this little satellite, right there in the lobby. And so that was, that became the land of Kanata. And of course they needed to have a customs system. So for the opening, I became the customs officer at a lectern a lot like this, and controlled entry into the land of Kanata, for which you needed a passport, which was doubled as the catalogue for the show, so someone showed, they said, I asked them if they needed a passport. “No.” Well, here you go. And you could get it stamped and you were allowed entry. If the video’s ready to go, then we can do that. Can you do the video? So this is uh, so these are the elements of the performance and the other, the personal level of that is my father is actually for thirty-two years a customs officer at the peace bridge at Fort Erie, Ontario. So that’s where I got the hat.

TRACK TWO (1:48)



GREG HILL: We’ll move forward here. Back to the slide projector. Thank you. So the performance, that’s “Anything to Declare” is my most recent performance. Earlier performances since ’96 had to do with the Tyendinaga Joseph Brant, painted here by William Berksee [sp?], and those early performances were collaborative with my partner, Sue Allen Gertsen [sp?], who is also an artist, and Tyendinaga is an interesting, is a very interesting figure to a, a character to inhabit for performance because he is so multilayered. He’s revolutionary, Loyalist, and a traitor, depending on who you are. As an Iroquoian person, he’s viewed in at least these three very different ways. So he became my performance identity. … So this first performance was in Prague. I had somewhat of an auspicious performance beginning, having never done one before. It was mostly my partner that kind of roped me into it by getting us into the- the Serpens International Festival of Performance Art in Prague. And we did this performance based on the two-row wampum, the Kaswehnta, which is an important wampum belt for Iroquoian peoples. Very simple design. A white background, two straight purple lines. Each line symbolizes a canoe, a nation, two individuals coming together, travelling together, always parallel on this line. So uh, we wanted to do a performance that communicated these ideas, but also threw in a little bit about what our impositions in travelling down this line and trying to maintain these parallel paths. So we made or had a replica made out of cloth of this wampum belt made. Ten metres long, and which is basically what you see on the ground there. The white background and two purple lines, and this is a different, during the performance in Ottawa. So the whole, in essence what it’s about is trying to navigate, trying to walk down these two lines, but what’s in the way are these stereotypical objects. And the physical act of just trying to balance on that four inch strip, and bend down, pick those up, exchange them, we did various things, but the very simple idea of trying to balance when those things are in your way and those things are what are affect your identity and they’re there as Barbies for women, so, and plastic cheap plastic pink plastic girl toys as impositions of female identity and the same sorts of things, all from Hong Kong as impositions on Aboriginal identity. So then we get to Samuel Champlain. And uh, and this leads into uh, the more recent performance work. In Ottawa, there’s this monument of Samuel Champlain, and at the base of the monument, what was formerly known as the Indian Scout, is now the Anishinabe Scout. [LAUGHTER] And Jeff Thomas, photographer in Ottawa, has done a lot of work, photographs of the Anishinabe scout, and there’s a controversy at the time, which I’ll show you some of the newspaper headlines, so we have to go to the computer please. Can we have the computer? So what the Assembly of First Nations did, I forget what year, it was ’94, something like that, is they wanted to do a media… What the AFN did in Ottawa, they wanted to raise some awareness of Aboriginal issues. They used the Indian Scout at the base of the Champlain monument to do this and they did a performance, and what they did is they went out there, and they covered him in a blanket, because he’s barely clothed, and they wanted to point this out as a demeaning stereotype of Aboriginal peoples. So that caused a whole, a whole ruckus in the media in Ottawa. … So this was this whole thing, and these were some of the headlines at the time. And uh, and there was this battle to either remove the scout or keep it there. Jeff Thomas became involved in it because he was making photographs of this and he has, and he also had a very different view about whether the scout should be removed. He argued that it should stay as an example, something that we can learn from. And the media loved that, to have and Indian person that conflicted with the AFN. So they had two different ideas. AFN wanted to remove it, Jeff wanted to keep it there, so it was like “Oh yeah! Internal conflict!” So that was part of it. And then the sculptor’s family became involved, and this is the daughter or the granddaughter of the sculptor. [LAUGHTER] It became a legal issue, and artists, artists rights, you know, like how far does copyright go, and all this kind of stuff. So then the NCC, this is Ottawa again, the National Capital Commission, so this huge bureaucracy, they became involved. And they were going to remove the statue. And then… the statue was supposed to stay put because it became a legal issue. And finally, they reverted, the NCC reverted to history to say, “Well, the scout was never there in the first place. So, you know, we might as well remove it.” [LAUGHTER] So this great story, and we’ll go back to the slides. And just the slides. I need the slide control. Thank you. So this site. [LAUGHTER] became this great place to do performances. And so they removed the scout but they left the stage. [LAUGHTER] So if you’re ever in Ottawa, let’s do it. [LAUGHTER] so this performance is about these identities and do you recognize, and it’s these four poses that I use, I wanted, the scout was removed, and I wanted to do a ritual that would rejoin the scout to the monument, and so what they did, NCC took the scout, and put him basically across the street in some bushes across the street. [LAUGHTER] So he wasn’t too far, but uh, but they erased that part of the history. There was, they killed that dialogue a little bit… So this was to, to reignite that, and to ritually kind of rejoin these things and get the discussion going again. So this I did this by doing this series of four poses repetitively. And I’ll just zip through slides. The first one was the Joe Brant. And in doing these performances and in inhabiting the character of Tyendinaga, Joseph Brant, I now, I’m on a first name basis with him and I just call him Joe. So this is the scout pose. This is cigar store Indian. And Lasagna. So it’s these four performances. And that’s why the title for the performance is “Joe Scouting for Cigar Store Lasagna.” So after I do that for a while, then I get down, I use my cigars as tobacco to make tobacco offerings along the way. And I do the scout pose from there, so it’s as if the scout is moving from there all the way to it’s new site. [LAUGHTER] You have to, it’s a long way. You have to go all the way past the [LAUGHTER]. But the interesting, there was a whole other techno side to this performance. It was a live web broadcast done by Art Engine. I don’t know how to do that, and it was a really neat kind of thing that happened all in and around and behind. But we’ll continue on here. Okay, so we’re across the street [LAUGHTER]. So when we get there, we find the scout. I wanted to protect him a little bit so I put down some red cloth and some plastic Indian guardians around him, six of them, for the Six Nations, the plastic Indian happened to come in at least six different colours, so we have all of our Iroquoian nations represented. And just put a circle around him. And that kind of concluded that. I do have this on video as well. Which is pretty short. But one thing, one thing the NCC wanted us to know, about the new location where the scout is, is that he’s surrounded by indigenous plants. He’s more comfortable there. [LAUGHTER] If we can do the second video?


GREG HILL: And these were just source images for…



GREG HILL: Just as a side, the reason the scout has his finger like this and his other arm like this is because he’s supposed to have a canoe, but they ran out of money, they couldn’t cast it, so they stuck a bow in his hand, and you can’t really figure out why his finger is like that unless you know that. So it’s that was another thing that, photo that we did with Jeff Thomas was to use that canoe that you saw earlier, the cereal box canoe, bring it up there and offer it to the scout, and we did some photographs of that. So then in doing this performance and, well especially through doing this performance and holding that pose over and over again, I had to do this about three different times to get the video that we needed for the web broadcast, so it was a few days of being out there and doing this with, for the live performance there were some audience that was there, so it was seen as an art event. For the other times, we just went out there and did it as kind of a rogue thing, and that’s when the cops showed up and other things, but the public also interacts with you in a different way, and uh if you stay there long enough they start to actually think you are the sculpture, and uh, and interesting things happen that way, but in my own mind, in being in that site, and Jeff Thomas talked about this, and thinking about the scout and actually what is in the view of the scout. From that place you can see the museum of civilization. You can see the Canadian Parliament buildings; you can see the National Archives, the National Library. Right behind is the National Gallery. All these cultural institutions. And also one site of resistance of that, Victoria Island, or I like to say Victory Island, which is the, which has been a very contested space in Ottawa, also NCC property, which is, that’s a long story, but now it’s going to be hopefully a site for Aboriginal peoples and a new building built by Douglas Cardinal, and an elder William Commando, an Algonquin elder, is really kind of pushing this on as his own, as his legacy project, so it’s a very interesting space. So anyway, in doing the performance, I started to develop an empathy for what the scout goes through, what it means to be a representation, and soon after, I got, I did another, okay well here we go. This is actually what happened. In being there, in doing that performance, one run through, a group of tourists came up and they wanted to pose with me and I said sure. So we took some photos, and this is what got me thinking about this more, and soon after, had an opportunity to do an installation based on this performance in a building, local in Ottawa, city property, this time. But in this building was, of course as an artist, you go inside, you look around, see what’s there, what can you make out of that space. There was this mysterious huge box that was in the way, and that was supposed to be my space and we were trying to think of how to move it, what to do with, so we lifted it up and underneath it was all this, and it’s hard to see, was all this architectural stone. I immediately thought well, this is kind of like the base of the monument. And so we started, and thank you to Barry Ace and Claude Latour, big strong guys, in moving all this around. There happened to be exactly enough of this architectural stone and brick to rebuild the base of the monument. And so I did the rest with slides, and did the four poses going over and over again. But for the opening, I did a performance because that also became a stage, and this performance was “Real Live Bronze Indian.” I’ll go to the computer. Can we switch to the computer please? It has to warm up. I’ll just explain it. So that became, doing the scout pose again, but really inhabiting what I saw as the persona of the scout, so I just stayed on the stage for a sufficient amount of time still in the scout pose that everyone get bored and left, and then I became alive, and instead of this passive object, I became this obnoxious subject and I started to yell and scream for people to come back and to be with me, [LAUGHTER] Because I’m still frozen, I couldn’t do anything, but I did have a digital camera and I made that available to people in the audience and I asked them to take the camera, because I needed people to take pictures of me and to pose with me and to do what they do, and I encouraged people to do that and a number of people did. People really got into it and treated me like sculpture, warmed my knee, stuck gum on my leg. All kinds of poses. [LAUGHTER] And were terrified on me like I was Santa Claus. I guess I’ll leave it there, actually. [APPLAUSE]

TRACK SIX (0:12)



SHELLEY NIRO: We’re going to have a very quick discussion period because the next panel starts at two o’clock. I’m really curious to see how people thinks of the performances that were presented in regards. I’m interested in seeing what Lynne Bell has to say in regards to the performances that were presented to us from an academic point of view. Because I can’t think of anything else to say.

LYNNE BELL: Which performances? Oh. Well I loved your, I loved your “Overweight With Crooked Teeth” piece. It’s a piece that I really love because I think you do the same as many of the artists that I’ve seen here today, like Lori or James Luna. You inhabit those cultural stereotypes and through the use of parody, it’s you know when a parodist, you hold two texts together in the attention, you hold the original text and then the way you’ve refunctioned it, and the original can never be the same again. That strategy of repetition with difference. And I love your work with, I’ve known your work before through seeing Jeffery Thomas’s… the reworking of the scout of the bottom of the Champlain monument, it’s quite remarkable, it’s just shows I think that array of kind of living everyday small scale strategies by which you can subvert the original which I think is how a great deal of colonial resistance has happened, jus on an everyday basis. Just kind of mimicking, mimicking and changing it. And I was talking with Edward and I loved his, the way he widened the whole notion of performance, pointing out that it’s a part of the everyday in your cultures, and all the different locations in which it can occur.

EDWARD POITRAS: One of the things that I’ve noticed… in looking at performances is that you can see that it’s sometimes coming out of another discipline or that it’s some kind of format. Some of the performances that I’ve seen here have been very much storytelling, also like art action, posing, is being a way of presenting. The clown. The trickster strategy or coyote way of being. Dance. Reona’s piece was very much a dance coming from a dance position. So there seems to be a lot of number of different ways of actualizing work. And I’m sure this could be broken down even more. One of the reasons that I showed Maria Tallchief was because it’s a very traditional form that is, well ballet being somewhat questionable, or at least that I sometimes question it… The higher institutions seem to accept this form as being high art, but yet it’s traditional dance background is another way of approaching performance. It would be the same as a traditional powwow dancer coming into the performance art area and I’m sure he would bring with him what he already knows. That’s what I was saying, with all the performances was just these different ways of presenting coming from different backgrounds.

LYNN BELL: You also mentioned the different audiences and the different sites and of course I think those always determine the strategies that you will use.


SHELLEY NIRO: Greg, what do other native people think of your performances in Ottawa?

GREG HILL: You mean the ones that aren’t sculpture? [LIGHT LAUGHTER] I think just uh, my peers being Jeff Thomas and other artists, William Kingfisher, Barry Ace, Claude Latour, everybody, I think everybody is interested in reworking those visual signifiers of what Aboriginal are supposed to be that are out there in the urban centres. Because those are the things that supposedly represent who we are and that we refashion to say that no, that isn’t exactly the case. They’re stereotypes, and you can work with them or against them or through them, transcend them, whatever. So I think groups of artists in Ottawa do that and uh and we talk a little bit amongst each other about the kinds of things that can be done. Jeff Thomas is continuing to do an interesting thing at that site by having people, by having anyone, go to the monument and pose with it in any way they desire so he’s doing a series of photographs. So I think it’s continuing and I hope it expands to be something, a place where, that people go to and think about doing something there, it’d be really interesting to make it more national, international, this site. Maybe that’s what the Assembly of First Nations wanted it as a lightning rod. Well we can take it as artists and do more with it.

AUDIENCE #1: Can I ask a question?

SHELLEY NIRO: Let’s have questions. [LAUGHTER]

AUDIENCE #1: So my question it was basically about the title of this panel “Tussling with the Spectacle,” and when I hear the word spectacle I’m thinking a lot about western intellectual discourse, specifically the works of Guy Debord and Susan Sontag, and I’m wondering about, don’t through shoes at me because I’m raising up September 11th, but as a spectacle, specifically the spectacle of disaster, I was really watching the way that that worked and the way it was basically a snuff tape that was broadcast globally live as it happened and repeated over and over and over and we watch thousands of people die within seconds and this image is so much a part of our iconography now, and I’m thinking about, and I’m mainly discussing here the spectacle, I know there’s different forms of spectacle, but here specifically the spectacle of what I will call the macabre, and I’d like to open up my question also to yesterday’s panelists, about the trauma, and how do we as Aboriginal people relate to the idea of spectacle, especially living in a country in which the ongoing murder, torture and genocide of our people is largely hidden by our governments, and there are not a lot of visuals, and is our notion of the spectacle as Aboriginal related less to visuals than western society’s idea of the spectacle, or is it an ethical strategy within ourselves to try and represent the unrepresentable in a way that respects human dignity and especially the dignity of the dead? So, for anyone who wants to discuss this.

POITRAS: For me, to think about the spectacle, a major spectacle would have to have been the Aztecs and their sacrifices or even a buffalo pound and the carnage that would take place with all of those animals running over on top of each other, just crushing each other, or even historical events where massacres have happened and people have died. Uh, A simple tragedy on the street where someone is being beat up. For myself spectacle is simply the visual and with this panel and “Tussling with the Spectacle,” it’s basically just questioning you know what is what is the public, what visuals are we sending out into the public and how are they being perceive and that’s what spectacle is all about, just this visionary communication

MARCIA CROSBY: Shell? Can I say a little thing about spectacle? Just in response to the, the whole way that the spectacle of the macabre or death or people’s deaths in the world have become naturalized, is that what you’re talking about? One of the things that I didn’t yesterday which I thought was a really important part about memory and the fragility of memory and the importance of individual recollections and public recollections of individual memories is that this bus- it provides a detail and inspires an empathy, that incredible connection between people that you don’t get through history as it’s told, like, you know, the broad picture of history. And so that’s one way of looking at the answer to, but this is kind of a weird shift because it has something to do with Greg’s, You know Greg, when you were saying how no one came to the show? Well and this has to do with looking at your comment, Edward, about how you have to look at where we put our art. Well the truth is that Aboriginal systems of signs have been appropriated to within a Canadian national consciousness for, since the turn of the century. Let’s say, well we know in British Columbia that we became totem land, specifically in the fifties to locate this province as a cultural site that had a culture that reached back thousands of years, and so we gave this province a provenance of sorts, right? So everyone knows that stuff. And somehow I thought, well of course the reason people aren’t ‘ough! Kanata!’ Is because, what how many streets are there named, so many streets in people’s municipalities are named after native names, I mean there’s been a lot of work done on that, and I would venture to say that that’s become fairly naturalized to the point that people aren’t outraged in fact it’s become such a part of official history, but that was so funny when they walked in there and they’re like, “You got your passport?” And they all, most of them fell in. “Yes.” This is sort of like they bought into the authority, the policing, and you talked about police and public sphere, right Edward? Who’s authority out there, the police; who’s the authority here? The elders. So, those are just kind of thoughts but I do believe that there is a place where the violence of colonial history has become naturalized. In fact when you read historic books that talk about the whole history … of killing, of murdering of Aboriginal people, it’s mostly stats. It’s hard science, right? And even what we have are the uh let’s say the perpetrators versions of history, the stuff that comes from the boats and the voyagers and the settlers and the Indian agents and all that, so that’s what’s there. So all these books are huge and they’re footnotes and end notes are fabulous, you know, but there’s such a deadness to the books and it doesn’t nearly bring in the, it doesn’t evoke the empathy and understanding that is necessary. You know even if you look at the World Trade Centre, you know what I think about when I think about that is there’s this place where you think about the US as some kind of, the fascism that they’ve been involved in, but the other part that is absolutely necessary to I think a humane way of writing history and thinking is not just in terms of structure, but in thinking about the fact that there were children. I know I’m raving on here, but really one of the things that media has provided with the deaths of all the people in that building, I mean how many videos have you watched on it. Incredible, very personal narratives of the people that were in there, don’t you think? Weren’t there lot of, and I guess that’s what we’re doing, we’re trying, we’re doing, part of our project is provide the memoirs, the memories, you know, the performance, to evoke that heartfelt response to our history so that people, Canadians themselves begin to really understand this thing that they’ve been complicit in, so I think that’s that’s just part of our work.


NIRO: I have a hard time answering those kinds of questions on the spot but I always bring it back to the very personal [SIGNAL CUTTING IN AND OUT] tussling with spectacle … I bring it back to being you know a kid living at home … a little story about tussling with spectacle … we were having supper and we were pretty young and … we were having a good time, laughing. My father said ‘stop laughing,’ but not so … but we’re still laughing and my sister… and the milk…


NIRO: Thinking about spectacle, it has a shock value and it carries a lot of memory and history with it. That’s all I have to say about tussling.

AUDIENCE #2: That young lady sure asked an exciting question. … What I’d like to ask, Edward, is, my dad’s from Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan seems to produce a lot of art or artists from every tribe. Of the last ten Governor General Award writers, six of them were from Saskatchewan, and my question relates to the land of Saskatchewan itself. The question is, how does this impinge or affect or reflect on the kind of art or where your art goes from the power or the lack thereof, of the land which you’re on, and I know it’s different in different geographical areas for different tribes, but I’m interested in the Saskatchewan syndrome [LAUGHTER].

POITRAS: With my own work, first the isolation and the nomadicism historically, nomadicism as a way of being and being able to travel someplace with a small package as opposed to being tied down with something large… The isolation of Saskatchewan affected my work that way, just how do you leave this place and not be weighted down with something large. Which took me into nomadicism, which to me into the ideas of bundles and ritual and ways of leaving and moving, I suppose would be, it would be that. But as far as the writers go, I have no idea. I imagine it’s the isolation and nobody to talk to [LAUGHTER].

AUDIENCE #3: I just want to say how fantastic this whole deal is and I’m just vibing off all of the interconnections and all the things that are being generated by the questions and by the panels over the last few days. It’s very exciting. In light of that, I’m very excited by James’s question because it connects to something Dr. Medicine was saying earlier today and I’d like to do a little connecting for my own pleasure, as a preamble to the question I’m going to put to y’all, if that’s all right. Um, you guys were talking about, from my perspective, the relations of the institution and of the institutional to the historical in your ways, and um, it’s clean clean clean, so to speak. And for my own pleasure, this connects to other things that have come up over the conference, such as ritual and performance, ritual and performance, ceremony and performance and those issues and those things have been coming up. Now the story of Maria Tallchief was very exciting to me because of the way you put it, Edward, … what she accomplished and how she worked within an institutional form, and I was reading that in light of what Dr. Medicine, her call for us to consider the impact of the historical events on our production of art. And of course James’s question, and your response, and it’s all quite marvelous and beautiful. And then you Edward, were making reference to, you said ‘ethical movement,’ which is a beautiful thing, a beautiful idea, and you referenced in your art production, in your art process, the effect of the Catholic church and how you dealt with that, and of course it connects to other panelists’ ways of dealing with… take away Roman Catholic church and it becomes a variable and we’re all on the same page. Now leading up to the question I have for you, is the time and place of Aboriginal performance possibly a space where nothing is true, everything is permitted, to quote an Arab elder? Because as some of you have been suggesting to me, history tends to be, tends to feel monolithic, and which monolith means “really big stone,” um, and Dr. Medicine’s talk, presentation made me think of medicine wheels, on the plains, how they’re comprised of many many stones, many rocks, heterolith, I don’t know, suggests, there’s a kind of neolithic attitude that this conference is suggesting to me. And finally in reference to ritual and ceremonial in performance is one of the big issues that has been coming up and around, haunting this conference, is it not that when we first uncover buried things that they seem a little dirty and that we feel a little dirty? I mean, ‘cause after all, didn’t Lori Blondeau in her tape yesterday say, “Smash cut pound tear rip pray pray pray”? Heh?

EDWARD: History as monolith, I think… over the years there was a real move to revise history and much of the expression that was coming out in the early nineties was very much in light of revision. Since 1990, even beginning with the Oka crisis, one of the things that I realize, even if you revise history, you still constantly confronted with the media and how we’re still influenced by the media and we’re always going to be in a process of revision. My little mask story, which I wanted to speak about well there’s two parts to it. One was when I was taught how to make masks when I was a student but yet questioned the function and the why am I making this mask when I know I won’t be using it, but yet the possibility of selling it was, you know, very tempting. The other mask story and it’s relation to history as a monolith would be, even with Greg’s presentation and his comment about Lasagna, how we became very accustomed to this image of the warrior confronting the soldier, and even last spring I went out to, I felt it was time to buy a book on Canadian history, and I was told about this one book, this illustrated book of Canadian history, how good it was, but even when I went out and bought it, and took it back to the apartment and leafed through it, right away I noticed a mistake, and it was in regards to that, you know that image that we think of when we think of Oka, the warrior facing off with the soldier in there it finally… It’s like giving us bits and piece of information as we need to know. And in there it didn’t have Lasagna this time, it had the activist Brad LaRocque who I had, I phoned him up and told him, “Hey, things are changing. You’re no longer a warrior anymore.” First, “You’re no longer Lasagna anymore, and you’re not being called a warrior, you’re being called an activist.” And I told him, “You know next they’re going to be calling you a performance artist.” [LAUGHTER] And again it’s the media and it’s confronting. It’s not a monolith; it’s just a very sluggish beast.

AUDIENCE #4: [HARD TO HEAR. Question about a new government terrorist bill and how it affects performance practice, artist responses to political responses.]


POITRAS: My practice, some of the pieces that I was working on, there’s this one little digital piece that I have which is a PDF document but when you open it, it’s the maximum size that you can get a PDF document, and it’s the DNA sequence of small pox, and as I thought it was a very nice minimal piece which I was very proud of. But then with September 11th, things like that I started to think about, maybe I shouldn’t be, um, you know, showing this stuff. Maybe it’s going to start drawing attention. Maybe I should stop looking at these possibilities of confrontation. And I was at that point I was also working with Joe David who is one of the Mohawk warriors who was shot a couple of years ago and is paralyzed from the neck down. And at that point I was working with the idea of doing research into the extended body and how the body can function under these conditions. But even with that, working with individuals like that you start drawing attention to yourself. It just started making me consider how do we work as activists under that kind of, this new light that’s looking for people.

GREG HILL: Somewhat naively I participated in a show recently at Potsdam, New York, and brought that Kanata work across the border. I drove it across in a van. And they, and uh before I left they said, well I hope you don’t have any problem at the border. That was the first time I thought about it, and “Oh!” And I did have a problem. They wanted to know what I was doing. They looked through the van, and they were out there for a very long time. They looked through all the work, and at first the questions were just the usual about is the work for sale? And I learned, never say yes to that, or even hint that you would sell it, because that raises a whole lot of other issues. I eventually got around that one and they came back inside with a video tape, and the video tape was a backup tape for, in case the, part of the show is this live webcam that’s mounted on the Peace Bridge, pointed towards Fort Erie, Ontario which is like this live link to my home town and you can see my parents’ house in the back of the video image because there’s a water tower in our backyard. So as a backup I made just a video tape of that just in case the web cam was down, and it was just labelled “Peace Bridge Cam” or something, and the border guard comes back in and he says, “What is this?” I said, “Well, that’s just a tape of the webcam video.” Like okay, he gives it back to me and lets me go. And I said, don’t you want to watch it? And they didn’t bother, but uh, …there are changes. I don’t know practically in your own practice where that comes in, but if you’re going to cross a border you should think about it.
(7 TRACKS: 64:18)

TRACK ONE (9:48)


AUDIENCE #1: [BEGINNING OF QUESTION CUT OFF] …critical discussion and awareness to Aboriginal concerns. And that’s something that I have to write about, as being a graduate student in academia and it’s, it’s not a fun task but it’s something that I have to do to satisfy academic requirements, is talk about Aboriginal performance art and how it relates or doesn’t relate to the theoretical models that are in use in talking about mainstream performance art, so I was hoping that people might feel like commenting on those issues.

POITRAS: First of all, I don’t see how doesn’t it relate. It does relate.

AUDIENCE #1: Did you say it doesn’t or it does?

POITRAS: No, it does. Does anyone here think it doesn’t relate?

LYNNE BELL: I think it’s deeply theoretical, but I think what live art does is it makes theory very accessible, very pleasurable. And it also requires the audience to be an active witness, to actually take part in making the meaning of what’s going on, and to be responsible for their own reflections and thoughts on the piece. I think it’s actually a remarkable medium.

GREG HILL: Laura [?] Is your question to how do we devise our own conceptual frameworks to speak about Aboriginal performance art? Something like that?

AUDIENCE #1: Yeah that sort of thing, I mean it’s a huge issue.

GREG HILL: Or what’s applicable and what’s not in trying to unpack it? I think we have, as Aboriginal artists and writers, we have a great opportunity to think about art, performance art, as the way we do things, and that we do do things in a different way and that performance art comes out of traditions of ritual, of action, and that it can be talked about that way. So much is made out of the notion that different Aboriginal languages don’t have a word for art. I think too much is made out of that. When we think of Ghonengayha [SP?], the closest phrase is, “The way we do things.” And we’ve talked in this conference before about art and life and where is the boundary and then… we separate ourselves into different disciplines, performance art and video art and digital art, and we do all those things, but really… all these things are intermeshed along with those… traditional, those ancestral knowledges that we can combine with what we’re doing… I think we have full reign, full reason to devise our own languages, our own ways of talking about what we do. And you can react to other conceptual frameworks but it’s a great time to be able… to create in writing and thinking. It’s exciting.

AUDIENCE #2 (AHASIW): Thanks for continuing to amaze and inspire and to shake the ground and to sneak up. One of the things about performance art, Aboriginal performance art, in terms of why it might have a different origin, maybe, is about language, I guess, and it’s also about, also about spectacle. When you look at Aboriginal language and its animist roots and that idea of animate and inanimate being completely enmeshed in that language, it reminds me of a definition I heard about “all my relations,” that it refers to all the animal spirits, it refers to the power and the spirits of the land, and the ancestors and those yet unborn, and different levels of reality and time. So when we look at the origins, what our philosophical origins might be, I think it’s particularly evident in the shape of this conference. Why is that this whole thing is about, has ritual, the idea and the question and the struggle with ritual, completely woven into it? Because we can’t escape it. And the poison of colonial language is that they are, in they’re enterprise, continuing to use their language to atomize and fragment each other and enforce each other to be these anxiety ridden beings that can be easily manipulated and transfigured according to whatever the enterprise requires. To be dehumanized. And that’s evident in how spectacle is constructed. Because the idea of real human human-ness cannot be spoken. It must not be spoken otherwise it will destroy the colonial enterprise. And so when we speak from a real deeply human and nonhuman kind of ancestral knowing, that in itself is a radical act that tends to want, tends to destroy that colonial enterprise, or try to. So I think it is, we come from a different place.

NIRO: Wrap it up, now…

DANA: Shelley, he’s going to comment at the end of day after the next panel. Sorry, I don’t mean to horn in here, but I want to say one thing. I’ll be real quick, but I just wanted to say that, I suppose I’m taking some responsibility for the writing of the panel discussion descriptions, and Lori Blondeau is implicated in it as well. [LAUGHTER] We’ve written those, but really what was sort of a starting for me was that during the Live at the End of the Century Performance Festival here in Vancouver is there were a number of non-Aboriginal curators who were looking at our work and saying, “Well this isn’t performance art,” you know, because we didn’t fit into their ideas, for one sometimes even of art, or performance art… or descriptions or explanations of that. And so that was really the premise of writing these things and of having a discussion. And what Ahasiw has just said is really…if we have to use words as difference, I think that’s, I think he…That’s sort of what the difference is. And so western or non-Aboriginal academics are explaining our work, and if they can’t access into it in a profound and a human level, somehow they’re…it’s something there that…It’s a different worldview. And then I think is it a different way of being? Are beings that different? So there is a … clash. But there is also, you know, we do converge, as well. So I just wanted to say I wrote those things! [LAUGHTER, MINGLED COMMENTS FROM DIFFERENT SOURCES.] Very good point, though, just in case people didn’t hear, and I’ve forgotten your name… what Lori said [NOT BLONDEAU, BUT AUDIENCE #1] is that it’s not the sort of academic research can do for you, but what you can do for them.

TRACK TWO (1:58)
GLENN ALTEEN [MAKES ANNOUNCEMENTS AFTER THE BREAK] And how it’s theatre and performance art. I remember, it was nice Ahasiw was talking about Archer, and I remember in the early 90s when we used to do these performance festivals which were quite the nightmares because we would do ten performances in ten days, so we’d have a new act, a new artist there every morning and have to figure out that performance by suppertime and put it up that night and start again and it was just like so I mean there’s worse than these three day conferences. But I remember at one point, somebody asked Archer what the difference between theatre and performance art was, and Archer just said, “Well, it’s kinda like this: performance art is undisciplined and self-conscious,” and he said, “and theatre is self-disciplined and unconscious.” [LAUGHTER] Now I don’t know that that’s the case because in Vancouver, and especially in the Aboriginal community in Vancouver, the line between performance art and theatre has been drawn many ways, in many different ways, and the person hosting this, moderating this panel was a person who’s probably at the forefront of that and has been for many many years and that’s Margo Kane, and the first First Nations performance artist we ever programmed at grunt in 1990s was Margo Kane and Margo has been an inspiration to anybody who’s been around this community for a long time. So without further adieu, here’s Margo Kane. [APPLAUSE]


MARGO KANE: Thank you very much, Glenn. It’s great to be here and thank you very much for inviting me and making this happen, to Dana Claxton and Lori Blondeau and to the grunt gallery. And thank you for all the ancestors …in this territory. And I’d just like to honour them in just thought. Because this has become my home… I’ve lived here for twenty years, I am from Edmonton and my people are from the prairies, all across the plains. So I looked at… what we are going to talk about, and I’m all over the map in my own mind how to begin talking about this subject, and always of course…I’ve been kind of interrogating this notion of what is performance and what is theatre. I kind of have to tell you just a little bit about how I come to be here and how I come to be included in this event. Since I was a kid, as many of you have heard me say, I have always been a blabbermouth. I’m a storyteller, I tell stories, I make up stories, always thinking of something to say and I always finding song and story and entertaining anybody who would listen to me, actually. Since I was a child I always did this. And I…mention this many times because my own kind of journey to express myself has been at the forefront of what I do, and I never, I never tried to label it. Which brings me to the whole conversation about what is theatre, what is performance art, and for me that was something that I never really thought about because by the time I had actually studied in various art forms, from dance to theatre to singing to voice, mask, bit of clown, by the time I had tried all these various disciplines, I was and began to work in the theatre and in contemporary dance when I was younger. After I moved through those places, I kept seek- there was something that was pulling me, and I was seeking an expression that I was having difficulty naming. It was like a magnet, pulling me actually away from those other art forms. And part of that could have been also just the natural… becoming aware that I was an Aboriginal person, that possibly had a whole history and stories and ways of being that I didn’t see on TV and that I didn’t see on the stage and I didn’t hear about in songs on the radio. A lot of my early performance work, where I began to create my own work, as opposed to being an actor on a TV show, an actor in somebody’s script on stage, directed by a non-Aboriginal person, produced by a non-Aboriginal theatre, with a non-Aboriginal audience, the early work that I began to do was my attempt to express all of who I was which included and was very much an Aboriginal perspective. Now that posed a lot of problems for me because I was adopted, raised in Edmonton by a non-native family, raised in an area of serious racial discrimination against Aboriginal peoples, and I grew up in the middle of working class people in this town. All the influences that I had were predominantly, obviously, dominant culture influences. How to connect with who I really was became a serious journey for me. And I did it in a variety of ways. By the time I started to do my own performance work it was because I was attempting to express myself as an Aboriginal person, women, artist, whatever. And I used a lot of different ways to do it, so I wasn’t writing a play. In fact I wasn’t interested in writing at all. I was interested in acting, telling, expressing, being, embodiment, animating. This is what I was attempting to do. And so I used a lot of different forms, and…ended up mixing a lot of different medias in order to express myself…I pause because sometimes it’s like a runaway train. The feeling that I have is sometimes a lot more articulate than the actual intellect that I…attempt to express and I found that when I performed I work from impulse and instinct very easily. I wasn’t interested in labelling and describing and articulating the language of whatever. I was interested in the act and the presence of being expressive. And what began to happen in my work was I realized something was happening that the audience perhaps was taking something from the work more than I even realized that I was expressing. Now this was an interesting place for me. So a certain amount of work that I did and that I searched out…was a variety of different… theatrical kind of research kind of movements that worked from impulse, …was interested in action and the physical action and happened and how that affected the language and the movement and the feeling and the story that came from the body. It went very nicely with these foray into these various teachers who, who had different perspectives of teaching theatrical form, which wasn’t about writing a play. The interesting thing about it was that it went along very nicely with what I already was finding in my own development as an artist. That I was responding instinctively and impulsively to things and I began to witness for myself and I began to witness other people and I began to be inside and outside of my own work. And I began to actually become conscious of what was happening. It was very confusing for a while, because… being present means you have to be fully present. Sometimes people, if you’re in improv and if you’re in a conversation, you get sharing jokes and get talking, you find you can’t remember the exact gist of what happened. And part of the discipline and the kind of the practice that I started to work on was trying to be aware and be a witness at the same time I was actively engaged. So I was researching, how do I create work that comes from that very impulsive place, and how do I create story that speaks of my Indianness. How do I create it in a way that, in a form that is true to my nature? As opposed to writing a script for a play or for TV, or, you know. How do I create my own form? So my work actually, even though I was trained in some disciplines in the theatre and in music and in contemporary dance, in voice, I actually walked away from that because I was interested in… If I worked from my own impulses, and began to work with my own desire for form, ritual came out of that, different storytelling forms came out of that, and I embodied different ways of expressing the journey of my emotions, as I told a story. All the feelings I had actually as I began to work with them and be available to impulse that perhaps came, impulse that I didn’t understand about myself, about my story, about somebody else’s story, would resonate within me, that actually be available and go for the ride. That I could actually create work that was really, that really developed it’s own form. I wasn’t interested in the form first. And I actually, partly that was the dilemma for me as a performer, as an actor, was that all my training had led me to be actor in a…dominant entertainment industry. And I wasn’t interested in going there and I couldn’t understand why not. I thought it would be so simple if I could have done that, but I was moving into unknown territory that I didn’t even understand myself. I like the conversations that you’ve been having this weekend, and I’ve always enjoyed talking and being around people in the artist-run centre movements, and performance artists and people who have worked a long time in this field, so I thank you for the camaraderie that you’ve offered me because it was here and it was in these circles and in these conversations that I actually began to feel that my work was valued. Because my work was, did not seem to be valued in the theatre. They didn’t speak the same languages I did. And in this way I began to create my own work because I was waiting for writers to come and at that time there were no or very few writers of stage work anyway, and I was out west and there was even fewer and so I began to create my own work and try to write my own work. And I couldn’t write. I found, it was easier for me to tell a story. So I’ve always said I’m from an oral storytelling tradition because it is my first love. The writing of it …makes me commit to a form which I’ve really had trouble with. In this, these conversations through the years, when I present my work, I’ve found it very exciting and I was able to explore. I was able to do work that I didn’t know what it was going to turn out, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I was still in exploration around my own form and what it is that I was attempting to do. And I found that the artist-run centre movement really provided a safe haven for my exploration and I really appreciate that. I also, though, found that being labelled a performance artist was not really to my liking. It wasn’t so bad but it wasn’t really true to my nature. You know, the performance artists, there’s a whole other theory, there’s a whole other history that I don’t belong to, and so to label me that way is for myself is incorrect. I have a company I call Full Circle First Nations Performance and I started it ten years ago, just a small idea, and for me, my notion was to create performance. You can call it anything you like, but performance was pretty open-ended. I sought to express my and develop my own form and be funded where I possibly could. So I’ve moved from theatre to interarts to media to dance. I mention all of this because I think the people we’re going to meet tonight have also varied histories. I’ve known all of them for a long time. I’ve watched some of their work. Some of them I haven’t been able to see for sometime. But I’m really excited about the possibility of spending some time with them today… Dolores Dallas is someone that worked with me when we were doing some developmental work on a piece I call the River Home which is a video installation and performance piece that I’m still was still doing some research on. And Dolores was one of my cast members, and did some physical theatrical work with us on that one. Marie Humber Clements also worked with us on the first River project and any number of workshops that we did early on in the early 90s and it’s obviously, she’s a very prolific playwright and performer in this town as well, so it’s, I get to see her a little bit more. Dolores is gone off to Emily Carr, and it was really wonderful to see her develop her own artistic expression and go off into the visual arts and performance. Floyd Favel is a, is also someone that I met years, many years ago, when I began developing my first, one of my early pieces called Moonlodge. Floyd and I did some improvisations because I wanted to create this piece and so Floyd later directed me in that piece in Native, for Native Earth in the early 90s as well. I’ve kind of known and worked with these presenters through the years and really respect the directions they’ve gone. Sometimes our paths cross. Sometimes they don’t. So I really welcome them all and look forward to our conversation today. I want to begin with inviting Dolores Dallas. She’s going to perform for us right now. She says this performance blurs the line between performance art and traditional native culture, and I’d like you to welcome Dolores Dallas.




TRACK SIX (00:50)

MARGO KANE: Thanks Dolores. As Dolores just finishes up here for a moment, I’d like to call to the stage now our next two presenters and ask them to join us at the table, and Dolores join us when you’re ready, as well. And we’re going to sit and have a conversation amongst ourselves and also have time to invite your questions as well. So Marie Clements and Floyd Favel, if you wouldn’t mind joining us at the table.



MARGO KANE: Good afternoon everyone. It’s just a pleasure to have you all with us again today, and I have some very special guests with us. First of all, I’d like to introduce the well known Cree writer, playwright and researcher in theatrical movements. His name is Floyd Favel.

FLOYD FAVEL: And also explorer.

MK: Explorer. Floyd, I understand today that you’ll be talking about alternative corporeality, which involves investigating alternative biophysical structures outside of contemporary western paradigms in order to reaccess the ancient physical impulses of our bodies.

FF: Correct.

MARIE CLEMENTS: Wow. [LAUGHTER] Well, that’s a lot, eh?

MK: I understand by doing so that one can begin to alter how one executes action in today’s contemporary performance practice. Wow!

MC: Wow! Woah!

MK I wonder if maybe you might like to share some of your thoughts on that subject?

FF: Well it’s like if you know anything about Marshall McLuhan, right? Like, he says the medium is the message, right? So of course for theatre the body is the message, right? And because for theatre when we say to do an act, an actor, right? It’s based on the biological act of the physical body, and so in order to begin to access, to bring forward different ways of presenting culture or world view of course one would have to begin to alter the body and the different structures, right? So you start to create different structures for training, also different structures for montage and editing in order to start to bring forward a different way of presenting your own culture, instead of limiting your own culture or breaking down your own culture into amateurish cliches or else stereotypes that we can’t get out of that in a way then the game starts to play us, right? Rather than… us presenting forward art and, which is a game, then it starts to turn on itself and then the game starts playing you and then you can’t get out of it, do you know what I mean?

MK: Marie, would you like to respond?

MC: Wow, that was a lot! Thank you, Floyd. I was listening to your opening remarks there…and you said something about like the body morphing and changing. Is that…just to put it into context for myself, living in the city, being an urban Indian, is it something like Jenny Craig? You know? [LAUGHTER] Like, you change your image, you know, by eating, and… learning how to eat?

FF: Well it’s related, but [LAUGHTER] still, like, you’re still left with the same body, right? You change your image, but it’s the person underneath the, you know, underneath the clothes.

MC: Wow. So your naked body, is that what you’re saying? Because you are Cree. I know you guys have like weird erotic, you know, like um—

FF: Yeah, nudity.

MC: —mythology. So, that’s what your theory’s based on, is the naked, nude, body transformer?

FF: Yes. Yeah, it is, that’s what it’s based on. [LAUGHTER]

MK: Well that’s given me a lot of food for thought. Hi Dolores. Thank you for that wonderful performance. Now, Floyd, and Marie. So we’re saying that we’re going below the skin.

MC: Like not under, but below.

MK: We’re going deep. [LAUGHTER]

FF: Well at least under, below the shirt, you know? [LAUGHTER] Like to the body.

MC: Below the shirt. Under…

FF: And then eventually get to the flesh.

MC: Woo, it’s getting hot over here!

FF: Skin. Nudity.

MK: We’re talking about the movement. We’re talking about the movement of…

FF: The body. How the movements start to, how you need to almost deprogram the body and take it out of contemporary programming and in order to do that is you need to develop programs, like software, based on traditional culture.

MC: Wow.

MK: You’ve done a lot of research in this area?

MC: With your body?

FF: Software? Heh heh! [LAUGHTER] Yes, I have! [LAUGHTER]

MC: Woo! Don’t want to touch that one!

FF: Hardware. [LAUGHTER]

MC: Hardware. Sorry. In your case, very hard ware. Do you wear a helmet?

FF: Uh… [LAUGHTER] Anyways, Dolores? [LAUGHTER]

MK: Out of the hot seat. Dolores, do you want to talk to us a little bit about your exploration into the body, the action, the physical work that you’ve been doing?

DOLORES DALLAS: Um, okay. This was really a crash course in developing a piece in like two weeks because I came on board this ship very late and kind of agreed to the project and then got blocked for a couple weeks going omygodomygod, what am I gonna do? So, from all my training from Floyd and from Margo, who have, you know, I’ve taken Native Theatre training with Floyd and learned some of the body movements, you know, exploring body and what it is, and it’s more than just a vehicle to transport me, it stores stories and memories and… and Margo’s workshops, similar exploration, is like more than just me, the human being, it’s stories that are locked inside, I don’t know how they are, myself, either, so I’m exploring this. So when I thought about the project, I thought what do I know? Well, I know the drum really well, so that’s what prompted me into this, and also what took me into deciding I was going to go to Emily Carr was this footage, very raw, the backdrop? The water was all in camera edited, handheld camera, and I never did anything with it. I wanted to juxtapose the linear of the tripod camera, drum workshop, very linear in its stages, and then juxtapose this grandmother coming out of the drum and she has no path. … She’s impulse, like Margo says, impulse. I work impulsively also. Very much so. So. That’s basically it.

MK: Which reminds me of, when we talk about impulse and we talk about… you’re talking about form, in a way. You’re talking about software, hardware. When we start to take that apart. Talk to us a little bit about the work that you’re doing in terms of taking apart a physical dance, Aboriginal dance movement, or a song, to use theatrically, how would you approach that?

FF: I guess ever since I was a little boy, I watched a lot of Aboriginal dance and Aboriginal music, and then when I got into the performing arts was… I always never felt completely satisfied with presenting of, the direct transposition of a ritual traditional act of like… a tribal ethnic group within Canada, to put it directly onto the stage. I always felt it takes it out of its context and loses its power, I always thought. So I began to think, well what would be the solution to this… to access that power which is behind the songs and dances and bring that same power into the contemporary stage? Because the contemporary stage has its own rules, right? If one was a sociologist or ethnographer, you would say the theatre is its own society, it has its own precise rules, almost its own ritual, you could say. What do you think, Maria? Marie?

MC: I think I agree.

FF: It has its own rules?

MC: Yeah, I guess we’re getting serious. I’ll take my glasses off so I can see. [LAUGHTER] I think that it has a very strict sense of rules that have been set in place for years and years, and I guess working in theatre so much as Floyd and Margo and Dolores have, is that a lot of things, I think you start out wanting to do it because that’s where your passion is, and you learn the form and then you learn how to deconstruct the form and I think that’s what more and more I’m seeing is that people are taking the form and making it real for them. As Archer used to say, it’s a dead, it’s a 911 art form. And I think in some ways he was right, that it had lost its passion, because the stories have been rehashed and retold. You know, it’s using the same source material over and over again until you’re in …Hedgehog Day or whatever that movie was called. You wake up and it’s the same show.

MK: Groundhog Day.

MC: Groundhog Day. You get excited, it’s going to be a different show but it’s the same show. So I think what’s been exciting is different artists starting to come into theatre, or whatever, with a performance attitude or with a different sensibilities, with something that they’re working on. Theories, active theories in theatre and exploring that.

FF: ‘Cause along the lines of what Marie said about, about not always working the same source material, like, I would take that further and say, not with the same, you would need to find a different technique to work with source material to access it. So that’s been a part of the research which has been to deconstruct, through a process of reductionism, a song and a dance to its basic elements, its basic technical core and structure. And within that technical core and structure is then, you eliminate any talk of spirituality or philosophy. It becomes technical. And by working technically, you do begin to access more, how you say, nebulous and spiritual qualities within the person, within life.


MK: I love this conversation. We’ve had this one with Floyd before. We started to have this conversation about, and in some workshops that we have been working with Full Circle has, we’ve started to deconstruct song and dance to the actual physical action. So at some place this might intersect with your conversations and your, the theory and the history of performance art and the movements in the visual arts, out of the visual arts, around action. And I find, that’s where I find it’s very similar, because there’s a certain amount that happens, that can happen when you’re actual, just physically engaged, and you’re not, your mind is not making up the story, your mind is not, you know, going on a psychological journey, which a lot of, there are a lot different acting movements that have happened that develop a story and develop actors based on psychology and a psychological journey. So it’s kind of a relief, actually, to talk to you about this and actually work on work when you’re actually just engaged in the action. Physical action. And what happens when you actually engage, and what impulses come to the surface that you, that have, yes possibly have a psychology, but not one that you’re consciously actually focusing on, which you may if you were writing a story with, that has characters and has motivations that have to go to, on a journey. Predictable, you know, script, theatrical script. What happens if you actually work from the physical, from the actual action. That’s what I liked, and that’s for me I think why I found it, kind of, the camaraderie within the artist-run movement because, because of your history, because of the history and the theory that comes with performance artists, as I understand it, the limited understanding that I have about that. Marie, you also, you actually, when I met you, you were training at Spirit Song, at that time, I think, and you then began, did some performance work with the grunt, which is very exciting, because the grunt gallery really opened its doors to a lot of Aboriginal artists that were performing, whether they were called theatre artists, performance artists, writers, clowns, etcetera. So you want to talk a little bit about your, …how you came to that place and what you found there, working out of artist-run centre. Yeah.

MC: I think that, like, a lot of people that want to be actors or an actor, you take, you try to take the route that’s out there at the time that you see, and I think I did that. I trained. And of course I wanted to do the acting thing and be great at it. But what I started realizing is… most of the scripts that came to me from the mainstream theatre were scripts that were… it was the same role over and over again. And since I’m not into my medicine woman role years yet, I kept getting you know like… rebel without a cause or sleaze or you know like…highly simplistic characters that didn’t really lend anything to humanity and certainly didn’t lend any challenge as an actor looking to do their thing and challenge themselves. So I started writing my own work which I think that’s an evolution that happens to a lot of native artists, because, either that or they get, um, I don’t know, something bad happens to them. And so I started with a performance show called Urban Tattoo, which wasn’t my first show but it was one that I was really investigating my thoughts between word and physicality and it was kind of there with the grunt and working in that way that I started to realize the way that I wanted to put a script together was in layers, in visceral layers, so that text was only one layer of the story being told and that…the rest of the layers, the image layer and the sound layer and the physicality of the actors…are different layers that could go up and down and meet at different, and cross and meet at different places and collide and where action and drama could take place. So that’s where I started kind of really getting, I guess, conscious of what I was starting to think of as my own practice, and it’s kind of the fusion of layers, really. It’s not as exciting as hardware.

MK: Maybe Dolores could share a little bit about your process. How is it that you came to performance in the first place…. I can’t remember right at the moment what you were doing just before you worked with us for while and then you moved on to Emily Carr. Maybe you could tell us about your journey, creatively?

DD: I have always been a very quiet person. The stage really frightened me. Acting really frightened me. Talking really frightened me. So I have two children. My son here is in the audience and when he was in high school, he was in a theatre program and I really noticed how he became to know himself through exploring the issues in his life while he was up on stage and I thought maybe this is something I should look into because I always kept my writing and everything hidden and I was really behind, like hidden. And when Spirit Song accepted me, I couldn’t believe it, I just could not believe it because I cried through my whole interview and I thought, boy, did I blow that. And then they called me and said, well, we’ve accepted you, and then I went omygod, what am I going to do now? I don’t know anything about acting, I don’t know anything about bodies or stories or anything, because I was taken away from my family and put into foster homes and really silenced. So it was a great exploration at Spirit Song. A lot of head butting and attitude, and you know, stubbornness, you know, discovering yourself, who you are. And it’s been a long journey. About ten years, I guess, of exploring. Not intensively, like some of these people on this panel but at my own pace. [LAUGHTER] At my own pace because I had two kids, and you know, they keep you at home pretty much and I had my addictions and all that stuff and when I was ready to give up and start really working on myself, then I committed. It started out with graphic school in Nelson and, for a year, when the kids were little, we moved over there and I found that was really square, like, too linear for me, you know, just too much mathematics and wasn’t really where I wanted to go. So I came back and settled down for while, watched more life and… Actually my first step was taking Theatre for the Terrified at the YWCA. [LAUGHTER] … It’s been a journey but you know I am really enjoying getting to know myself and the stories that are inside of me, and I don’t know where they come from sometimes, because I don’t censor. I stopped censoring, you know. Just go and see where, where the character goes, where the character wants to take me. And it’s great. It’s been really a healing part of who I am now, but now I’m ready to give back, you know, like, I feel like there’s a give and take in this. On your journey you’re given a lot of tools and sometimes the light doesn’t go on. You hear something and it might be years later that all of a sudden you heard that person say that, and you went, well, that’s what they meant. But sometimes the process takes, and for me it’s like a creative process, right? It’s the process of digging deeper and finding.

MK : I just want to ask any one of you if you have a question for each other, before I open it up to the audience.

MC: That’s scary. Do you have a question Floyd?

FF: I’ll ask Marie a question which is, I guess, I’ve heard a lot about you but as we were talking earlier, I’ve never seen your work and so for me I guess … I’m curious, if someone was to ask, if I was to ask what your artistic vision is, if you can explain it?

MC: All these big questions, I better put the glasses back on. [LAUGHTER] … I like those terms but I sometimes find them hard, it’s like, you know, what’s my favourite band? I don’t know. What’s my favourite colour? I don’t really know. I think it’s … it’s starting to become… vision… a sense that I can see what’s, a largeness. I mean sometimes in theatre proper I’ve been accused of thinking too big and it’s not because I’m brilliant or things like that. I think what it is, is that mainstream theatre thinks too small, and I think as a Métis woman, you know, we’re, genetically, we see… our world is just bigger. The possibility is bigger. The possibility for drama and interaction and depth is… it can go backwards and it can go forwards, and both ways forever, so think when you’re, when you’re given that scale to create in, and it’s a part of you and it’s part of your understanding of your universe, the way the world works for you, then you will think big. Your stories will be bigger. They will go further or deeper into something that a lot of people won’t really get. And that’s not… just kind of a science of being you bring. And listening to everybody the last couple days and certainly today, also, is that, you know, when you’re bringing what you are and who you are to your art form, whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, it starts becoming an applied practice, that is becoming your artistic practice. So you’re fusing that together with, you know, how you started out in the world and you fuse that together with your blood and your memories and what you want to say, your witnessing, and that becomes this fusion that gets on stage or gets in a space that other people are going to witness. So I think that’s become important for me to know, because like a lot of people, I often like to separate what I do with who I am and to find out that it’s not, I can’t separate it any longer. It’s both one and the same. So, there you go. That was kind of long, wasn’t it?

FF: Thanks. Maybe questions, from audience, or…?

MK: Yes?

AUDIENCE #1: I have a question that’s making my heart pound; it’s for the panel. Just to start, I read your program description, and as we all know, talking about these issues are, talking about software issues is really hard. And Margo, you brought up your interest in how your practice, the panel’s practice intersects with the practice of other panelists and other people in the audience, and for me it seems to be about, again, history and how we deal with it as individuals and as artists. And following up your thing about the forms you’re seeking, what forms do you need and what forms do you find. And how do we talk about that. And what I‘m hearing from the panel and from reading the program, are the words like science and experimental, vision, impulse, ancient. The ones who used those words, you know who you are. And for me these are images of, of truth, that we provide ourselves to pursue, to chase down, and for myself I’m really interested in our bodies at risk and our relation to the apparatus, whatever that is, and that’s exactly what you guys are talking about, for me. Just now Marie, you used words, in clarifying your vision in answer to Floyd’s question, to clarify that you used the word ‘genetic’ and you also talked about fusing things to your blood. And Dolores, in your performance, the text — this is the heart pounding moment, for me — the text you chose to put on the drum references genetic structure as part, or basic to, or all about the songs and dances, and the songs and dances of the body in question, your body in question, or our body in question. So the suggestion of the text that’s on your drum, I’m assuming it’s your text, is that the body is in service of the songs and dances, as if the body, even before it is a body, because of the genetic coding, is somehow in service of the drums and songs, as if the meaning of the body is in the music and songs, as if the body has no meaning beyond the music and songs. As if the music and song body is the only body that body can have? Where do you sit on that particular fence, oh panel? [LAUGHTER]

MK: Now that’s a performance!

MC: That’s a serious question. Margo!

MK: Okay. My investigation around the body and the impulses within the body, two of these panelists here have been part of some of that investigation, and in talking to Floyd, he has trained from a Growtowski lab in Italy, and working with Tukak theatre in Denmark, and just his whole history, and his Cree history as well, and the language that he carries. You know everybody comes from a different perspective and so for me it was really important because, because of my own… grappling with my identity and who I was as an Aboriginal person and… as an artist as well, it was really important for me to get inside myself, and to be aware of physically who I was and what I carried and how I expressed myself through my physicality. So through my actions, through my sound, through my text, through my memory, how I used that was really important. And then what I discovered was a variety of teachings… Euro-centered teachings some of them, theatrical research some of them, my own participation in… Aboriginal cultural situations and ceremonies and talking circles and song circles, that I actually made every attempt to, to become aware and to become available, to allow my physicality to be available to anything, to the story, to the memory, to the impulse. And I began to be aware of how we’re shaped, how I’m shaped by my environment, by my parents, by the society I lived in, all of that. How it shaped and formed me. And my job as a person, as someone who was really desperately attempting to become truly who I was and to express fully who I was, was to… use a variety of training disciplines to begin to fully be in command of my body, of my self. And for me that was a very holistic intent. To me, that’s where it meshed with my own sort of sense of spirit or intention in this body, was to be… as available as possible, and aware as possible and to begin to allow myself to, and the mystery that is life, to express itself through. For me this was just, that was my search. The various forms that had been taught me were fun. I love musical theatre and I love, you know, I love all of that, but for me it wasn’t enough, because there was so many more forms and stories and ways of seeing the world in Aboriginal cultures, in a variety of traditions, not just my own, that I began to kind of look at, if we’re going to create our own work, our own theatrical traditions, if you like, or if we’re going to create our own performance traditions, then we need to be able to see… what is the form, what is, we also need to able to be not restricted by our conditioning to a form, a certain form. So I needed to push the envelop in terms of experimentation. I needed to be able to physically, myself, emotionally, myself, mentally, myself, be willing to go to the edge, and maybe fall off, and maybe crawl back up again to try and experience a sense of being really available and conscious about a communion, if you want, with something greater than myself or my art making might be inspired from, by being able to be in communion with others that are… are trying another kind of form or their work is accessing other language that I don’t use, but I need to available to that, I need to able to go there. So for me, my work in form and physicality was really about me here on this earth. How— [RECORDING ENDS]

TRACK ONE (10:57)

MC: I think for me the physicality has manifested itself in my love of words, and I feel that although … I believe everything is a language, whether it’s spoken or unspoken, and whether it’s physical or whether it’s verbal, or on the page, and what I loved about the sense, I’ve always loved about words is that it’s physical for me. Words are physical. Putting them together is a physical act. It’s the muscles. I feel that… it holds strength and it holds a lot of things. If you put them together in certain sequences and rhythms and… I was taking one of Margo’s workshops and something that stuck with me in that investigation was of course there’s many different languages, whether they’re real languages or whether they’re ones that we… interpret out of silence between communications in different ways, and when I was working physically with Margo, that was a language that I was able to connect to, because it was also connected to word. So what I started finding was that if I had the words, and the power of the spoken word, and I put that into my body, and was able to access the physicality around that, the connection of that, then that’s where things, those languages started getting really exciting for me. Because I do, I used to go to a lot of theatre, I don’t as much anymore, and what was starting to really irritate me, that’s a nice word, was the talking head syndrome, meaning, something like this, but, the talking head syndrome, where all the theatre, you know, is was just about here and everybody’s kind of talking like this, and they’re talking about things way up somewhere and you don’t even, you don’t know what it’s about, and after awhile you really don’t care. So what was great to find the marriage between the spoken word and a physicality around that is that it drops, the word drops into the body, and then you’re able to, you know, it’s a deeper place. And I think it’s more, it’s more real. Go figure.

MK: Is there someone, or a comment, or a question from the other participants in this room? Someone approaching?

AUDIENCE #2: I was going to ask a question about dance, because I’m a performance artist that goes between theatre and performance art and I find that each sort of tradition kind of wants to kick you out if you’re not within that tradition. Whereas I find with dance, if you’re a dancer, you just dance and, you know, we’re talking about being driven by the body, and so in dance, you’re allowed to be driven by the body and you don’t have to justify which direction that goes in, but with theatre, like sometimes I start out in a theatre piece and it ends up being performance art or visa versa. And you’re always asked to justify why. Why why why. But in dance, you just dance. So I wanted to know if there, is there a way that we can change that, or what’s your experience with that kind of situation?

MC: It must all fit in the box. Or people get very confused.

FF: …At a certain place, the performance arts, they all meet. And for the body in dance, …I guess it’s more acceptable of so called performance art, what we call performance art, it’s an acceptable dance form because nowadays dance isn’t so much focused on a specific technique. It’s not like the Cunningham technique or Martha Graham technique. In fact if you obviously show your techniques, it’s like… yeah, it’s like a faux pas to be doing like …Graham contractions, and also [PANEL HUMOUR BUSINESS - LAUGHTER] that’s a faux pas I just did. Fox paws. Also ballet. We had a show, I did a, my first dance show was a fluke, was a, I managed to make a good dance show because I didn’t follow any modern or classical training. I just wanted to make movement with trained bodies, to make something. And then the next dance show was a mistake because it was, we used the classical vocabulary, classical ballet, and then I watched the show on stage and I realized I’ve made a horrible mistake, I’ve just spent fifteen thousand dollars and the audience is coming in a day, and I just made a horrible mistake, because it looked, it was working within the realm of classical, the classical dance vocabulary. And we looked like a student production. National ballet two-month choreographer training and he’s doing his first show. And I was so humiliated. And I was crying in the lighting booth. [LAUGHTER]. So nowadays, there is no, there’s not really a specific form that’s followed, and you can basically do whatever you want, as long as you have some physical training or you’re in reasonable good shape. And you don’t even have to be in good shape, actually. Just go on stage and then put some lights on, put some music on [LAUGHTER] and you have a show. Charge admission. Get a grant. [LAUGHTER]. Get some friends on the jury

MK: I don’t know if, you say how will these things, can they be changed in other disciplines, or I don’t know if that’s really something we’re going to see necessarily, because change takes a fair amount of time, as I’m discovering. Things that I thought I could have ten years ago, it’s ten years later and I still don’t have them and I’ve been working my ass off. So I’m kind of getting… I’m kind of accepting that change and time, things like that, takes time, a lot longer than I thought. And I don’t know if it’s really, my concern has stopped being about how can… my work be accepted in the theatre community in this country, or what have you. My concern has become that it doesn’t matter if they understand or if they will change to accept the kind of work that I’m doing or not. That really what’s starting to become very assuring, is that you create the work, whatever the work looks like, and you express it, and you keep expressing it, and you show up and you make yourself available to your creativity, whatever those impulses are and whatever form they take and I really don’t think that you can look outside yourself and say what will it take to change those? I used to think that was really… the focus of some of my attention, was how can I be a part of making change happen. … It’s not to invalidate that… that time that I spent or that process, or anything, but ultimately, for me, I don’t think that… I see change happens. I see more … people, Aboriginal people in the performance field, that call themselves performance artists, or call themselves theatre artists, or call themselves, they can call themselves whatever. To me… there’s a larger community of people that are actually expressing themselves, in all kinds of performance and for me that’s the most important thing. I could say… we’re seeing in the dance community, and in the larger dance community, too, not just the Aboriginal dance community, we’re seeing that, they’re grappling with text. And they’re really poor at it. And it’s really painful to hear them speak some of that text [LAUGHTER] because they haven’t the technique. They don’t have the technique of vocal voice text work in. They don’t have the writing yet. And it’s evolving in all, one would hope, that all art forms or disciplines have their own evolutionary path, one would hope, but I guess for me, I’ve… just kept doing my work. And there is a reward in that. There is a, the possibility that my work which hasn’t been accepted as theatre, or isn’t a well-written play, will one day be, you know, accepted or invited to be in a regional theatre. … I’m discovering that that doesn’t really, isn’t really as important as I thought it might be. That the audience that I have and the audience that is fulfilling to me as a performer, is not just in a theatre context. There are other audiences that we avail ourselves of by just showing up and daring to express. Daring to act, daring to be present with our work. Any other questions? [LAUGHTER]

AUDIENCE #3: I have no doubt that all of you are actually quite honest in,

TRACK TWO (53:59)

AUDIENCE #3 (CON’T): — turning inwards and being honest with your process and digging deeper, but I think that the performance, I think that performance also requires that you take into account your audience, like to externalize your process. So if you could discuss for a bit who your audiences are? Are they urban, are they rural, are they… and I know that they’re often mainstream, because ya’ll are some of the most successful performance artists anywhere. Is it the Aboriginal community? Are they other performances? Are they festivals? I think it’s important to acknowledge who sees your work who your process, you think, your process is for and how they accept you or hate you or, or the like.


FF: I think it’s that question, it’s that thought actually that leads to, that leads to divisions and almost the holding back of the growth of theatre and performance in this country, when you start to think of who your audience, ‘cause then you start, you’re target marketing. You’re saying, “Our audience is forty-five year old middle class people with an income of $60,000.” And that’s who will be in your theatre, right? Rather than saying, for myself, I never think of who my audience is. I just want to make a show. I am the audience, and “l’etat, c’est moi.” [LAUGHTER] I think of myself as the audience and hopefully that when the audience does come in that they can get something out of it and I use Cree in my shows, and even if it’s not a Cree speaking community, because for me it’s important, my little formula for my own self is the health of your culture is directly proportional to the use of Aboriginal languages in media, like in theatre and books and radio. There’s a direct relationship. If there’s no Indian language on there, that means your living culture is in danger, so there has to be, they work with each other. So I never think of audience myself, I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but that’s my solution.

MC: Yeah, sometimes I wonder in theatre, is there an audience? … “Is there any body out there?” I don’t often think about it either, because then I think it’s a little bit like editing yourself. I feel I know it’s a practicality of what we do, but a lot of times if I think, well, this is too weird or outrageous to put on stage, because people won’t like it or get it or want it, then will it stop me from writing it, what I think to be true. So I don’t really tend to think about an audience. I like them to show up, because that’s part of the art form, but, I know living in Vancouver, and Margo and I talk about quite often. You know three years ago I got really kind of pissed off that, you know, like, who cares if we’re here and we’re still doing theatre and performance and you know nobody really in the mainstream world or the world that we have to work in really, you know, acknowledges much but themselves, so who really cares? It was a good thing, because I started trying to working in other cities and I think what happened for me there is I got excited again about the possibility of what was happening in different parts of the world with different artists and that interaction kind of gave me a new, like new, a new excitement about what I do and why I do it. That maybe nobody will like what I do anywhere, and that’s kind of a freeing thought, really. [LAUGHTER] And I was, I was doing a lot of research into my last play, it had to do with, you know, there’s some physics in it, and I really hated doing it, but what I got interested in was that, like theories are meant to be blown apart, you know, and changed. So what was great about it was this experiment that we are doing in theatre of performance, it doesn’t mean, it’s not an absolute truth, you know. It’s an absolute belief that we have in it, but that truth is going to keep evolving, and a lot of times I feel that the stories that I tend to want to tell that’s the most important thing, that these characters that were based on real people or whatever, they get to be heard, and someone witness that. So that need sometimes overrides a more practical idea of, you know, who’s going to come to this weird play?

MK: Got any thoughts to share about your audience? Or audience?

DD: Basically I just do the work and whoever sees it sees it, I just need someone to witness it so that maybe there’s a discussion later. I really do not create for an audience. For me it’s the process and then completing the work, doing it, and then having a look back again to see where I’m going to go next, basically, for me.

MK: God, audience. There’s just been a lot of thought through the years for me about who is your audience and does your audience understand your work and probably there was a time I suppose for a lot of theatre artists who were trying to create work and just like any other art form where you found that your work wasn’t accepted or there was… your work wasn’t accepted because it didn’t kind of fit, because it didn’t kind of fit the idea of what theatre was. And I think probably we’re concerned that the practical concerns of actually being funded and being juried and being accepted had a profound affect for awhile and probably still does have a profound affect obviously on some people about whether or not their Aboriginal perspectives are being respected and acknowledged and therefore what kind of audience… really understands or accepts what you’re trying to do. As I said, though, I think for myself, just my continued desire and need, also, need to work in a performative way that becomes crucial to me. I’m aware that I affect an audience, I’m concerned… I like the conversations about being ethical about what one does or what one considers the concerns about the obligations about the sort of, cultural development… of our communities, perhaps, that we’re contributing in some fashion. So all of those concerns, I’m concerned therefore what I’m creating is going to affect the audience. I know that it is in some fashion… it’s certainly important to me. And I’m that there’s a larger and larger community and communities of people that are in my audience. Not just Aboriginal people. Not just people in the theatre, or not just people that are my friends and family who are… I’m actually heartened by the expansion of the kinds of audiences that … we’re developing.

AUDIENCE #4: I was just thinking about art, uh, audience, and, for me, when I think of audience and I think who I’d like my audience to be and who I’m creating my work for, and I think working, doing performance art because you’re usually invited by a gallery or an artist-run centre, and this is the sort of difference I see between theatre and native theatre and performance art, Aboriginal performance art, is in theatre when you have a native play playing in any city across Canada, you get a huge audience of native people. Like probably that’s the majority of your audience. Where with the gallery system, whether it’s artist-run centres of the public gallery system in Canada, like how many native people do you get at openings? Like I think that’s a real concern for performance artists when you’re presenting in a gallery, because those institutions, I think, have really kept Indian people out of them. And they aren’t really comfortable places to be, like James Luna, I think I interviewed him once and he said, you know, bingo, art gallery. Where are you gonna go? [LAUGHTER] … I don’t know if… that’s just a statement, just wanted to…

MK: But it’s the same with the theatre. The reason that there is larger audiences for native theatre, as you say, is, for me, that’s a whole other conversation that I always say there is no such thing as native theatre. Theatre’s a Greek word, it comes from a certain culture, etc, etc, etc. You know the conversation. And for me that’s why I choose the word or the label performance. Not performance artist. Performance, because because me, I’m a performer. But it was similarly… the theatre community, if you want to stay with that, native theatre, has been developing an audience. It’s the same criticism that was leveled at the mainstream theatre community over the last ten fifteen years. To actually include Aboriginal perspectives. Well, they are, to a degree, and of course it makes sense in the bankbook, eventually, because there are places where if they develop a relationship with the Aboriginal community, they can get a large audience. And theatre is built that way. You know, theatre, audience, you know, 250 seat, 600 seat, you know, and they’re to fill that house for that run. Artist-run centre movement, different kind of movement, still concerns with who is your audience. Who’s involved, who’s actively involved with that art centre? Who’s actively involved with that theatre centre, and how do you develop that rapport and how do you get your audience in? Similar concerns, but different, you know, different kinds of venues, too.


MK: It’s the same in the theatre.

AUDIENCE #6: Could I sort of respond to you? I think also too when I look at the artist-run centre movement, it’s only been, like NIIPA was one of our first Aboriginal artist-run centres in Canada, and they’re fifteen years old? Fifteen? And then we have TRIBE/Sákéwéwak in Saskatchewan, and Nation to Nation which is sort of a loosely based group out of Quebec, then Urban Shaman in Winnipeg. And these are very like, we’re all under ten years, we’re very young. Where you think of native theatre in Canada, you know, you’ve had the Native Theatre school since 1974, which is now the Centre for Indigenous Theatre, so there, I think, in that way there’s… we’re sort of playing this catch-up game in the visual arts when it comes to the institutions that present visual art and performance art in this country… I just see this difference with the institutions.

MK: But we don’t have any native theatre institutions that are quite stable. Even though the activity has been happening, you seem to think there’s this illusion, there’s an illusion that somehow we have these institutions. We don’t. I have a small company. It’s me. I hire and contract people and I’ve been operating for ten years. Native Theatre School went through a lot of transitions, over and over, and they’re probably the oldest, starting with ANDPVA, Floyd was involved with them farther back, and they’re not stable. Like they’re not stable. There’s an attempt. And you’re probably right, they are a lot of probably a lot of people that come from various places, you know summer schools and various things, but they’ve never been year round projects. They’ve never been like the National Theatre School or something. Not in their wildest dream. They’re like hand-to-mouth organizations that survive because a couple of people, two or three or four people, have kept them funded year after year, and artists and actors have come through, certain directors and people have been able to do little works. So we somehow have managed to in a long period of time, since, what ’74, when ANDPVA was started by Jim Buller, managed to do these little wee projects. And of course, you know, theatre, too, requires a cast. Larger number of people. Not just solo artists, or a couple of artists together, requites a large cast with designers and directors, you know, stage technicians, so yes, the art form itself requires a lot more people. So maybe that’s somehow given us the illusion that we somehow, people involved in theatre have a lot more going on for them than artists coming out of the artist-run movement, artist-run centre movement.

AUDIENCE #7: Hi. I’m going to try to word this properly. I have a disability, so it’s not easy for me to word things properly. But… I kind of wanted to know your thoughts about the hierarchy of theatre. In my experience as a performance artist with a disability, like anxiety disorder and a repetitive action disorder, I’ve actually used performance art as a political tool, as a alternative mode of exploring movement and existing in the world, but I find when I’m in an… when I’m in an environment where I work with performance artists that either have a theatre background or in a multidisciplinary environment, that kind of mode of operating, because of the hierarchy, seen as more like preferable. So I was wondering if you could talk to ideas around perfection and theatre and performance art, and exposing the imperfect and vulnerable as a political act and working within a dominant culture. And… yeah because I find sometimes the whole issue of training and the multidisciplinary effect of, can be really oppressive as an artist with a disability. Thanks.

DD: I also have a condition called post-traumatic stress syndrome. I’m diagnosed that way and I have a disability card. I don’t advertise that, though. I don’t know about hierarchy. I think that at all, as far as for me, just keep doing it. Keep going on, keep meeting, keep doing, going keep doing keep meeting and pretty soon you’re invited. Pretty soon you get to know the people. They get to know your work, if you’re serious about it, you know, your work. Keep doing it, that’s my advice.

MC: Well, I think in theatre, which somebody might agree or not agree, but I think it’s a brutal place. I laugh. I thing it’s very brutal and I think it’s very easy to be dismissed and it’s very easy to be dismissed if you’re an Aboriginal artist. So my pursuit then becomes: I will not be dismissed. You know the people I work with will not be dismissed. And that has driven me to want … things perfect. To want things right, because we’re capable of it and because we can do it. Not for their standard but for ours. So in an environment that is unforgiving and you’re responsible not only for the story that you bring to the space, but to your own, your own, then I am I feel even more so, it drives crazy, but I need it to be undeniable. It doesn’t mean perfect, but it means it is an undeniable act. You cannot deny this from happening and you can’t deny what’s going to happen. So even if they don’t like it or whatever, at least it’s there, and it’s… it’s there, you know?

AUDIENCE #7: I guess the issue I have is, like, theatre as a medium, trying to make, trying to impose perfection upon the body, which is a lot of what my work is about, and… just being aware of that as artists, practicing, that medium is, it can like, I think for myself when I engage in that medium, it’s almost like people want my disability to disappear, you know? Can be trained out of me, and I refuse that politically, like, so…

MK: I think…what you’re talking about for me, I understand that. When I started, when I determined to become a professional performer and I decided to enter professional training, I was already way too old to be a dancer. So, I had to come to grips with, and I’m a dancer. I’m a mover, I have quite a gift of rhythm and expression in movement. But I was not up to snuff to the classical training that I had to undergo, and the perfection of that training was very disturbing to me because it was something that I would never meet. So to face the failure. The failure of that experience was very traumatic for me. But I have to say, though, that it was very important training for me, nonetheless, because in that process of me coming to grips with that fact, of this hierarchy of training and of discipline and what is high art and what is good art and what is art, for god’s sake, never mind this barefoot stuff, it was a very important experience for me, as an artist. It doesn’t mean though, I have to say that, as a kind of perfection in the work that I do. Because I seek an honesty and a truth for myself and in my act for my performance, for my ability to create and to perform. And they’re not necessarily the same thing, either. And so, for me I seek that and I also have to accept in the seeking in that the inability to reach that, for myself. Not for the viewers, because I also have to accept that I’m doing this in the face of those witnesses and viewers that will not see things the way I see things, and I have to accept that if I’m going to perform. If I’m going to put myself out there like that. And for me the journey is to become comfortable enough, because I will make, it’s still a discomforting act to create something and to present it anew. I must accept that as part of the discipline or of the performance or of the theatrical act. I accept it in the rest of my life. Or I learn to live with a certain amount of it. Some of it I have great difficulty living with, in the world we do. There are hierarchies and all kinds of things around us that we learn, we attempt to learn to live with or to transcend or we do any number of things in order to keep out… to be truthful and faithful to our own vision and that’s the journey and so for me facing the fact that I’m not perfect in the face of this classical dance work is a big experience and a big journey for me. I can still move. For a long time I thought, “One day I’m gonna show them,” I said to myself. “One day I’m gonna show that you can dance at fifty. You can dance at sixty, and you can have a body that isn’t as thin as a toothpick, and that doesn’t have the extension of the legs and all the rest of it.” You can still be a dancer and do beautiful dance work at 50.… It was kind of like fighting the windmills, you know what I mean? Railing Cervantes, railing at the windmills. You know, I am, I’m over fifty. I can dance, I love to dance. For me the journey wasn’t about changing the perception out there, it was changing the perception in here. And learning to live with the fact that some people don’t think, you know, yes that’s true. I will never be a classical dancer, but… does it matter? No. There is, yes, it can be brutal, and still is, but… that’s okay, too. [SHE SOLICITS MORE QUESTIONS FROM AUDIENCE AND PANEL]

AIYYANA MARACLE: I guess more of a commentary than actual question from the audience, but I have to get my two cents in here. I started directing theatre, like some of us in the mid-eighties I started a small press to start publishing the writings of native women, and I did that for a few years and then at some point my daughters discovered theatre and very soon had me, initially came to ask me to help them as an editor with the new work that they were trying to work. And very quickly after trying to put these pieces on their feet in my living room, and I’m sitting there and very quickly … sliding over from text editor to editing their physical movement and discovered that I, not just loved theatre as a director but that I was fairly good at it. And so that… sort of came at the same time that I was editing and working as a publisher but I could no longer write at that point. And a fabulous Mohawk writer, Beth Brant, told me in ’87 that, “What you need to do is find another medium. Master that medium and the words will come back.” So I pursued theatre as a director, recognizing in ’88, ’89, ’90, that as Margo was saying earlier, at that point we had a sizeable pool of talented native actors in this country. We were getting a, beginning mushrooming pool of talented native playwrights. What we didn’t have was directors. One of the other reasons that I had started a small press was that final interpretive process, native writers writing their stories and then being subjected to even the most well-meaning white liberal, their stories ended up being changed terribly. And absolutely so in theatre, we were having supposed native work being presented, but again largely it was being, that final interpretive process was being done by white folks, and again the most well meaning ones can’t, don’t understand the subtleties and the nuances in our humour, in our daily lives, and in our approach to the world. And so for me that was why I started to- wanted to pursue theatre as a director. And one of the very, I think, outside of Margo, one of the very few of us have chosen to do that. And… Quickly, in the process, in ’93, I was, I was invited to Banff and started my training and studies of opera as a theatre director or as a stage director. And had all kinds of Indians all over the country got on my case. “What the fuck you doing that for… What does opera have to do with us?” And writing my artists for the John Hirsch prize in 1997, I had said, for me as a theatre practitioner or as an artist working in theatre, if contemporary native theatre is an evolution of our traditional storytelling practices then inherently then it had to be comprised of movement and dance, text and oratory, music and sound, integrally combined. And the primacy or not primacy or mixture of those elements was absolutely linked to why we’re telling the story, who we’re telling the story to, why we’re telling the story right now. A number of variables would determine which moments we chose to use in telling story, and about the same time that was also when I decided that as an artist, theatre was not … a medium, outside of a director, a medium that I wanted to approach. For me as an artist, performance art seemed to me the most viable medium for me to work in so I performed performance art with all these other knowledges and background but for me it was always about telling story. I had a conversation with Byron Chiefmoon, a fabulous, fabulous dancer, by passion. He came to my house a couple of years ago with a portfolio under his arm and showed me some fabulous, fabulous paintings that I didn’t even realize he was a painter. And he talked about essentially we are, it doesn’t matter the medium in which we work. We are storytellers first and foremost, and whether we are telling stories in music, in text, in visuals or we’re telling story and that’s what it is about and for me I guess the difference for me in my practice in theatre is, is there is there such a thing as contemporary native theatre? My answer is—my assessment in looking at Centre for Indigenous Theatre is—I said, occasionally there is. Too often we are force-feeding our stories into a European theatrical framework. I’ve heard it echoed up here in different ways, and for me when I approach performance, and again it’s simply telling story, my acknowledgement to the history of performance art is for me I approach performance is a visual way of telling story. So first and foremost I’m telling story visually, relinked and underneath or underneath that I layer using text and sound and movement, uh, my body as the instrument, all of that also tells story that may or may not be the same story that’s visually being told, but for me that’s the distinction that I make between these two forms. I’ll leave it there.

MK: Thank you Aiyyana. I’d like to thank you all for your presence and I’d like to thank Dolores for your performance. I’d like to thank Marie and Floyd, and I’d like to thank this person who’s come to the mic. Go ahead.

AUDIENCE #8: I’m coming so late because I’ve been having such a difficult time forming a question, just being here as a very privileged witness to this conference here. I’ve heard from the vanguard of performance art and I’m coming from a perspective as a writer, a journalist first and foremost, theatre had really been my creative emphasis, you I’ve directed, acted and that kind of thing, and so I’d love, to attend a conference on native theatre because just really scratching the surface with the dialogue here, I was since I don’t know all of your work, It’s been hard to try and form a question, but one thing that I’m looking into is displacement, and how displacement like for instance Margo being from someplace else, like how do you negotiate and navigate that displacement and maintain a storytelling that is connected to home? And that’s coming from somebody that’s displaced himself. I’m travelling around a lot and in theatre we’re telling stories and often times creating characters so how do you explore characters within that context and create characters that may not necessarily be linked to your own experience? So two questions but both within the same sort of context.

MK So you’re talking about displacement? You’re talking about…

AUDIENCE #8: Character.

MK: Creating a language, which comes through a character. A perspective, if you’re not that character, how do you do that? Clarify for me. Because it seems to me, I overheard, I heard an interview with some fiction writers and I thought it very interesting because they tell stories but they come from themselves, right? But there are stories about characters and things that have happened, don’t necessarily happen to them and I was interested in how they described that process, because it seems to me that’s what we do in theatre. That’s what we also do in, when we write other screenplays or other theatrical kinds of texts. Maybe you have something to offer? Any of you, about this subject?

MC: Floyd.

FF: I guess— for example, displacement. I guess everybody’s displaced. And there’s, like a classic example would be Marc Chagall, the painter, who resided in France, was, his most famous series was his series of describing his life, paintings from memory and childhood and folktales of Jewish folklife in, in the village he grew up with in what was then the Soviet union. And I think it was, think, Latvia? I’m not exactly sure. But as a displaced person, he had moved to France. So as an exile he, his most recognizable works were from his childhood. So there was a direct link. But also he did other work and… the last show I wrote, the Governor of the Dew, was, it was a folktale and it was completely fiction, but for me it was true. But I didn’t have to… I didn’t write directly on real life experience, like describe an event, but for me it was, it talked about very true events for me that I had not been able to express. I had wanted to express these but I didn’t want to be direct like that, so it was through a fiction, to express something that was very personal to you, through fiction.


MK: [TO MC] Talk about the Iron Age.

MC: No, I don’t want to. I just think if you’re a creative person, I think… I mean we’re continually, just human beings, reinventing our own mythology every time we go into any kind of different room or different place. And I think for most of us, most of us feel displacement one way or the other. So I think the constant, obviously, is yourself, the home, and what, you know, what stories are held within, I say again, sort of a cellular feeling, and I don’t know. I think as creative people, those stories naturally come, because we always want to be different yet the same. We always want to be ourselves, but better but different. You know, we want to be a man or we want to be a woman, we want to be rich, we want to be blonde, or, so, you know, we can easily go, we can easily put the face on and go into those worlds and explore what that is and write from that place or create from that place. So I think that’s kind of a natural thing that people do to create. As a writer I often feel that it’s not a, that the story’s coming through me, that I’m writing it, but I’m writing, uh, something that I’m hearing that I’m channeling through. It’s a little bit weird, but I think that way it’s not always, it’s not always my experience, it’s their experience, but I’m embodying it, and in that way I’m being responsible to the story in letting it happen and taking care of it. But it’s an out of body experience. Do you like that, Margo?

MK: I love it [LAUGHTER]

DD: Like the text that came onto the drum, there, that was purely uncensored writing. Just writing, and then finding. I don’t know if it’s the ancestors talking to me, or what, but like Marie said, it’s like channeling. Your body is not, it’s not you anymore, it’s… I think it’s the ancestors. All my relatives pushing me forward to let this story come out. That’s my… I’m still questioning this, too. Like in my writing, in my process, in creating the character that came out here, it’s like, I don’t know. It’s like a continual search and I don’t know if anybody has the answer, it’s just… a search, for me.

MK: I do a lot of solo work, and … what’s most interesting and disturbing at the same time was that people thought when I did a performance was that was my story. My autobiographical story. And sometimes there’s real close, it was real close to actual events that had happened, and sometimes it was a few actual events that had happened, but it was an amalgamation of fiction, of self- my own experience. But for me, what was always fun about it, it was always quite serious, was there a lot of, I love this term, serious play. It was very much a journey of imagination, as well as impulse, as well of character, of voice. Sometimes I’ll start a work, when I worked with Floyd and we started doing the improvisations for Moonlodge in 1989 or whatever, I had all these voices. I said, there’s all these voices, I hear these voices, and I began to… speak these voices and what they had to say. And sometimes I would get stuck and Floyd would say, “Well, lie.” [LAUGHTER] So I’d start a little lie, start a little fib, and I’d get this little story going, and away we’d go, this fiction about sliding down the hill. I really, I really … find my different stories, my different scripts, my different texts have started in different ways. It could be a voice. It could be a character. And oft times, the last piece started with a physical, a physicality that I couldn’t… I paced the floor because I trying to get it, trying to voice it, trying to find it, and it came out in characters. It came out in all these characters. So I suppose that a variety of ways to talk about… the issues of displacement. And I like what Marie says, it’s still always coming through me.

AUDIENCE #8: Have you ever created characters, through in works, even in solo works but in ensemble works, too, that are from another tribe? [PANEL PAUSE] Do you write intertribal works? Because I’ve looked at various plays some that come from a very specific community and are one’s that are intertribal. Coming from Oklahoma, it, forty tribes in one small area, and so it’s, … it’s curious for me, you know, when I consider what I want to write, how could I write for a character from another tribe? … How should I, even? And I’ve situations, like this past spring, for instance, when, ‘cause I’m an Osage from Oklahoma living on the Leech Lake Ojibwe reservation, and Elaine Fleming asked me to direct her play and it was an all Ojibwe cast, and I said sure, great, I’d love to. And we’re lucky to gather enough people to fill the cast, and we actually didn’t have enough men, and so she asked to play the role of an Ojibwe, right? So I did it and was the only non-Ojibwe involved in the production, too, so, in considering representation, I was a bit conflicted about that, you know, coming from another tribe, and… I that that translates to creating characters, either as an actor or director or as a writer, so how do you handle those kinds of situations?


FF: Right now, I’m writing a play that’s based, that had Evenke characters from central Siberia. And so one of the things that I did was that I went there, to Russia in the spring time, and because I had developed the character of a reindeer herder, and also that the event took place in the Evenke homeland. So I started to write this character, because I write… my plays like by myself, in the studio, like I improvise, and them I record myself, and then I transcribe. And so I started creating this reindeer herder. And so for me it’s… I went there and plus I’m reading all I can. Like, you can never get him totally correct; the main thing is you’re going to create a human being. And there’s some details you’re going to have to get right, and for example my reindeer herder woke up one morning and had a strong cup of black coffee. Now reindeer herders don’t drink coffee, I found out. I didn’t know that. I thought everybody drank coffee. [LAUGHTER]. They drink tea. They’re continuously drinking tea in Evenkia. And that was a detail that was pointed out. They said, “He wouldn’t drink coffee.” Until I went there… and so I think a native- specific type of Indian, like native, they’re a role like any other role. You just have to act like an Ojibwe. Or act like a Cree. [LAUGHTER] Or something like that.

AUDIENCE #8: Thank you.

MK: I think the believability factor is something that… as, in the theatrical tradition, that’s at the core… of theatrical traditions, is the believability and the way that you achieve that is… probably everyone has their path to trying to speak as trying from a text… they have various technical approaches to making that text come alive and believable by an audience. And one of them, as a performer, is that you have to believe yourself. So therefore you have to give yourself, you have to feed yourself if you’re going to take on a character of a specific place, you feed yourself with as much information as you can and still, within that, you, there is a leap of imagination and faith and imagination and believability where you have to believe as the performer that you can be… as humanly as … using all of… this information being, trying to create a human.

FF: Yeah, you can start from the outside in. Like, copy the habits of Crees. Like for example, little things, like, pointing with lips, and like every tribe has their own peculiarities like it’s recognizable, and so you start, that’s one way to develop a character. Pick out their habits and ticks. Well not like ‘ticks’ [LAUGHTER]. Tics. Physical tics.

MK: I see someone at the mic.

AUDIENCE #9: I guess it’s my turn, right? I’m interested in commenting on the displacement idea. I don’t know if this in the common understanding of people, so I may just you know, no need to mention it. But to me, I thought it might be important to point out that for some of us that are not living in, what ever you want to call it, ‘our communities of origin,’ that one of the reason we’re here or we’re in…is, I’ve always considered it, well, like for a long time kind of an exile type of status. And some of that is pretty real for people, like in my case; I guess a majority of my relatives are Pentecostal. And so again if you’re… it turns out some of the young people in the community are thinking at some point, “Hey, maybe I would like to learn more about Ojibwe culture and history.” They are probably going to be the terrorists in their generation, because they’re going to have to overturn this particular occupation of the church there. I know for myself when I started to write, I didn’t even want to use my name because knowing my relatives would, you know think my work is somewhat satanic, I thought that would be a good idea, just to, like use another name. I guess… I remember being on a listserv having to do with native literature and there were, there came this sort of, whatever trend or something, mostly the native men to refer to themselves as Rez Boys. So I kind of threw it back, thinking, yeah, the ones saying Rez Boys, they weren’t even living on the Rez. And then I tried to imagine, what would that be like, to call yourself a Rez Girl? So for me, I mean like when I look at some of the women in countries like Afghanistan, I think I can identify with them pretty fully some of the women are suffering. What I know, or what it seems like, this isn’t the common body of knowledge here. That, uh, yeah, there’s some people that are not living in their communities, and there are many reasons for that. And some of us do not have the luxury or privilege of never even returning there. So I thought I’d just drop that dreary note on [LAUGHTER] on people because I thought I needed a grounding here, because, I don’t, as I say, I’m writing from a different perspective, and I feel like the exile status, and I was talking to someone else who also had that exile status, that, it’s worth to mention because there are those people that want to chest pound, oh I’m indigenous this, I’m tradition this, but they’re… I think they’re, you know, lucky to be able to claim all those identities and privileges, but again there are some people who, their right to a community is uh, they’re going to have to negotiate it and do it probably on a daily basis. And I don’t know at this point if they’re going to get help from the artists, or… the people that are occupying some of the bureaucratic positions that affect our people. Like I said, I just don’t know it uh… What does that French guy, he’s around and he’s talking about nomadicy [sic] and I was thinking, okay, fancy word to call it. But again, I’m still calling it exile, and I became acquainted with that term in the sixties. And I think it’s still okay to use it.


CD 6C – INDIAN ACTS – DEC 1/02 (1 TRACK: 11:42)

TRACK ONE (11:42)



BENTLY SPANG: I hope this, is this thing on? No? Good lord. The technology. Can you hear me? Can you hear me? Well, okay. [PREPATORY AMBIENCE] I don’t care. All right. [INAUDIBLE]…the deal here. [INAUDIBLE]…respondent. And uh, the boys sent the bar pretty high, Steve and Warren, so I’m going right underneath it. [LAUGHTER] So anyway. It’s not on. Um I’m not from around here. I’m from Montana, um, I per- appreciate being invited here, um. This has been a wonderful experience for me. I, I, as the last respondent I feel like I have to encapsulate the whole thing. So, uh, you guys got some time? Um, No actually, Hoo! Hoo! Now I have to speak down. Um, so anyway here, I’m gonna, we’re gonna do this in, like, four minutes, um, ‘cause I know everybody’s tired. I collapsed in the corner. Um, a, but there’s been some great discussions here, uh, I’m sort of, uh, just getting to meet this community, and, um, I feel, uh, you know when I come into a new community, there’s always a little bit or trepidation, a little bit of fear, a little bit of worry, um. And, um, of course I felt that coming in here, but I knew a few people, started to meet a few more people, and one of the things that I noticed, um, that’s sort of come through in this conference, is that, um, you know I might be from the states, I might be from Montana, um, but there’s so many similarities, I mean, um, I think that in terms of meeting people and getting to know people, um, I feel like I met a lot of you before, because you know, I have a pretty, I come from a strong community. The arts community in the states is uh, pretty tight. We get together when we can, and, so I feel like, uh, a- and I’ve watched what’s been happening up here in Canada for a long time, and uh, I’ve been very impressed. I mean there’s, um, James Luna mentioned it in his opening, uh, keynote that, uh, you’re ahead of the game and I believe that. I mean I’ve been around, doing this stuff, not that long, you know, about 12 years, um, but, uh, in terms of the complete package of dialogue, the work, the opportunities, all those things, I see happening here. And, um, to be able to participate in that, uh, would be an honour to me, and it has been… um, and, um… You know some of the things that I come away with, from this experience, are sort of reiterations or, or uh, uh, reinforcements of, of the things that I’ve, I’ve experienced, um, and I’ve learned a lot of things. You know one of the things I think that’s really important that’s been talked about here is, um, being in control of our own definition of ourselves, um, and that includes you know t-, the work itself, but also the dialogue around it. And so that’s why it’s so nice to see, um, that there’s going to be a publication that comes out of this, um. But also i-, in terms of that dialogue, w-, I, I think it’s important that we um, look at, look at ourselves as the primary source of information. We’ve had this discussion a few times over the weekend, but position ourselves as the primary source. And it’s, it’s great to see so many writers here, and uh, uh, hear their responses. And I do a little bit of everything in terms of, you know I do some curating and I, and performance and installation and video and stuff like that, um. And so, um, I’m able to, to sort of look, uh, at the big picture sometimes, and uh, just see the importance of all those elements. It’s all got to be there. And I see it. You know, in my experience here, in, in my limited experience in this uh, in, in Canada and with, with First Nations people, um, I see all those elements coming together in a really powerful way… um, and, the fact that we’re here all together, I know that in the, in my experience down south, we uh, we don’t get to hang out a whole lot. You know, we’re pretty isolated from each other, um and so these moments like this, they’re really special, they’re really important, um, and, you know, you take full advantage of them. You don’t go to bed ‘til four-thirty in the morning, in uh, night after night after night! [LAUGHTER] And uh, and uh, and then you collapse in the corner. But um, it’s all worth it, you know, because we can sleep when we go home, right? [LAUGHTER] But, um, I wanted to do something as we’re, as we’re leaving. I, I don’t know what else there is to say. I mean I think this has been for, for me, and I can only speak from my experience, uh, an amazing experience, um. Powerful on a lot of different levels, you know. Dialogue, the incredible work that we’ve seen, uh, the closeness I a few of people that I’ve just met, you know, uhm, watching the conflicts happen, watching the stuff come together, um, and getting a sense of another community that’s not very much different from my own, and feeling comfortable about participating in that community, um, and I’m hoping in the years to come to able to contribute in some way to what’s happening here, because, you know, for me, I think we’re all, this continent is just a bunch of rezes, you know, um, and whoever drew those other lines, you know, they missed the mark, um, because, you know, all, all we need to do is, is go from nation to nation and, and kind of communicate and share and uh, uhm, you know, shake hands. So I’m have you, we’re gonna, everybody’s gonna go. Let’s go. Come one. Stand up. Okay. I want to touch everybody. So I’m gonna shake your hand on the way out. Okay and I washed both hands pretty well. So feel free to hold me. Feel free to hug me. I’m very approachable. [HUGGING HANDSHAKE AMBIENCE]