Returning and reviewing

Returning to BC where I make my home I am shocked and dismayed to learn of the arrests at Gidim’ten checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory near Houston. I read of armed RCMP forces breaking down barriers and arresting Indigenous elders, protectors of their lands. I see images of peaceful protestors put to the ground and handcuffed. My distress  more intensely felt in the context of my healing inquiry in my Calgary residency.

So much in two short weeks. My intention to re-enliven my arts-based research practice  was well met in this residency. The walking, gathering, listening, learning with place and people broke down a fear barrier I had been encountering, as I sought to find a way through my art to engage in the question of settler and Indigenous relationships. I am no longer afraid of saying the wrong thing, I am learning and in so doing becoming more attuned to the languages and atmosphere of Indigenous cultures and peoples. I am clear in my intention, and firmly grounded in my own integrity. I am excited to be continuing this work in partnership with collaborator(s) and together co-create the spaces and places within which to manifest our shared intention for healing and renewal.

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bluffBridgeland escarpment

902A Live-in Library drop-in Friday January 4, 2018

Nine of us came together for Friday’s second drop-in at the 920A live-in library. We learned from a neighbour that we were on lands where the original trails of the first peoples came to the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers located nearby in downtown Calgary. Sharing some of the themes emerging from my inquiry through images and stories, I learned a new phrase ‘dominant culture’ which perhaps more accurately describes all of us in the settler population. I learned more of the complex and nuanced realities of life as an Indigenous or Métis person from friends in the group who told how with some members of the dominant culture ‘They want our culture but they don’t want us’. They spoke of the ‘fashion’ of these post Truth and Reconciliation days to have an Indigenous friend as evidence of political correctness. As I write this I feel the pain in my heart for the cultural disconnect and renew my commitment to an inquiry practice that carries me into these conversations with honesty, integrity and intention for healing.p1120917

Final Installation and Performance Sunday January 6, 2018

Sunday’s final event was an opportunity to install, to perform, to discuss and to deepen once again into the community engagement that had been such an integral piece for my residency and my inquiry.

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The installation of photography, art pieces and video gave rise to consideration of how we all in our own ways and lives weave place, settler and settled. Guests commented on the courageous nature of the inquiry into a topic at the heart of current discourse, rubbing against fragile edges in the Canadian cultural context. Settler perspectives shared in discussion differed one from the other, the conflicting and sometimes challenging views held in a space of open, compassionate learning resonating with the desire for both present time and ancestral healing.

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Blackfoot Crossing

p1120875image by Barbara Bickel

I carry still in my mind and heart the images and energies of the sacred environment at Blackfoot Crossing. The land holds resonant memory in its folded beauty, and on the day we visited we were blessed with warm clear still air as we walked, observed, prayed, and smudged.

smudge stick

We offered our own ceremony of respect, re-imagining traces of the absent Buffalo, encampments, people, fires, drums, songs of the tribes in whose sacred gathering place we were now present. Breathing into the land that lay before, behind and around us, the bright air, the wintersun, we re-membered.

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many are the stories of Blackfoot Crossing
where a treaty was sign in September 1877
in the year when the long rains did not come
the year of starvation and hunger
a year which was not to be normal

the berries had been picked in summer
the meat dried in fall
the birds had begun to migrate
and the elders saw in the sun
that the winter would be hard and cold

hunting had been poor
life for the people was changing
the buffalo were diminished
wild game by the rivers depleted
clothing was hard to make
with no buffalo hide
tipis were wearing thin
gopher could not replace buffalo

the great smallpox sickness of 1869
had brought death for too many
of the people of the Treaty 7 tribes
hunger and starvation
weakened the remaining two thirds
white man’s fire water
brought a sickness of its own

they were given promises
of money
of hunting tools
of food
of medicine
of protection
of education
of a safe and peaceful life

they were fearful that
they would be wiped out
they saw the White man
heading west
they had not fared well
with the white man

they knew of other treaties
with tribes who suffered
after signing
promises broken
people left to starve

they were hungry and weak
the leaders knew
they needed to find
a way for the people to live

these were the conditions of the people
who came to their sacred gathering place
seeking help
offering peace
offering to share their lands
at Blackfoot Crossing

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