An artist’s inquiry: Weaving Place, Settler and Settled

I acknowledge with gratitude the Blackfoot, Stoney Nakoda and Sarcee nations whose traditional territory I am visiting and engaging in my arts-based inquiry. I apologize for the inevitable inaccuracies in my use of language and description of these nations and their lands, as I learn more of their history and culture.

17th Avenue SW
17th Avenue SE, Calgary, Studio M* heritage house in far distance

I came with intention to find my footing on land far from home, to inquire with feet and heart how this place might communicate with me. I learned that I am on Treaty 7 lands of the Blackfoot, Stoney Nakoda and Sarcee nations, prairie nomadic peoples who followed the buffalo. So different from all I have learned in my inquiry on BC lands closer to home on the traditional territory of the K’ómoks nation and the territory of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, the Songhees, Esquimalt and Wsáneć nations.

Following the wheel of my inquiry, with input from place and my co-generative hosts at Studio M*, (https://studiom.space/residencies/) Barbara Bickel and R. Michael Fisher, the form and frame of my residency research, making/marking and performance began to develop. I visited the settler site of Rouleauville on 17th Avenue a short walk West from Studio M* downtown, a primarily french speaking village that grew from the oblate mission established in 1873.

French Settlement

St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral

Honouring the nations

French at the Elbow River

A rich text on Treaty 7 came forward from community, containing elder stories held and passed on through the oral traditions of the Treaty 7 nations people of the Blood Tribe, the Peigan , Siksika , Stoney Nakoda and Tsuu T’ina nations. These stories speak of a people who brought their perspective from spiritual traditions and culture to the treaty table in the spirit of sharing and mutual respect.  Nations whose people suffered great loss at the hands of settlers directing a flawed and misunderstood treaty process. People whose rights were extinguished, their lives diminished and their trust broken through the dishonouring of commitments on the part of colonial governments.

True Spirit Treaty 7

Responding to the opportunity for community connection and conversation I offered as the focus for the Friday evening drop-in at Studio M* 920A library ‘An Artist’s Inquiry: Weaving Place, Settled and Settler’. Community responded with a deep and engaging exploration of our roles and experiences as settler/settled peoples enriched by the presence of two women discovering their own identity as Métis in their adult years.

The stories of intertwining ancestry, brought us to a recognition of the work we are interested in for the healing of our own conflicted feelings, and for the seven generations past and the seven generations to come. In healing the past generations we touch on those very ancestors whose settler stories we are now retelling.

Crowfoot

So begins the inquiry, so turns this wheel, in following where the story leads me, I await what more will unfold during this challenging and humbling work.

 

cold winds blow through my breath
grey streets
grey buildings
grey fog
the wintercity landscape
shifting under the wintersky clouds

buffalo roamed these lands
their pounding hooves
a thunder of sustenance
prairie hare roams now
white fur camouflage
in winter’s snowy cape

Prairie Hare #1

nomad prairie nations
encamped at river’s edge
tree sheltered from
winter’s snowbound trails
buffalo hide their dwelling
their clothes skin of last season’s hunt
warmed by fur
fed by meat
life gifts in great roaming herds

an aesthetic of dreaming
cloaks the land on which
I place my feet
feet of a 20th century settler
I came in privilege and right
seeking a new life on this new land
the colonial empire of my ancestors
like them I knew not of these first peoples
like them I carry my culture hidden
in the folds of my white skin

winter white covers grey grit roads
soft quiet blankets the escarpment hill
while I sit blanket wrapped in warmth
cozy from the cold outside

stories I tell of days colder still
days when my young body
exalted in the sharp sting of
sub-zero ice particles shining
in Yukon sun’s noon rising behind the hill
ice fog hung low wrapping logs of
cabin walls hand-hewn hand chinked
rags and dirt cementing in the
cozy woodstove warmth

this journey now to winter’s cold and snow
this body now her aging frame and form
finds not exaltation more penetration refrigeration
chill as lungs labour chest clings tight
fingers freeze      feet numb
this air’s exhilaration momentary
soon lost in the longing for
sheltered warmth of home

 

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