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.

-8 degreesview from Bridgeland escarpment -8 degrees

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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Artist Residency Studio M* Calgary

It’s been a big week here in Calgary immersed in my research into this place and the stories of the peoples here who signed Treaty 7 in 1877 close to 150 years ago. The days have found me walking, gathering, contemplating on lands that resonate with memories of the thunder of Buffalo and the drums of the Blood Tribe, Peigan, Sisika, Stoney Nakoda and Tsuu T’ina Nations.

Last week our open library evening at Studio M*’s live-in library in Bridgeland brought forward a discussion of Métis ancestry with two guests one in person one on zoom. I’m looking forward to what this Friday will bring. If you are interested in joining on zoom contact studiomatrixial@gmail.com for the link.

Library talk 2

Sunday is the closing event for my Artist Residency at Studio M in Calgary where I’ll be performing stories, showing the art pieces I’ve been creating, and my photography.

Sunday final event

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.

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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

 

Anthropocene

My head moves slowly side to side saying no, no, no. I watch in horror as images of human devastation move across the screen, rendered in heartbreaking beauty.

Tusks from six thousand elephants aflame in Kenya; lithium evaporation ponds liquid green and turquoise in Chile; sculptured landscapes carved by giant earth movers in Germany; clear cuts in BC and Borneo; psychedelic potash tunnels in Russia, and a flooded city in Italy.

I walked the lanes beside the canals of Venice when I was fourteen years old. My parents and older sister with me, a gaggle of four English tourists soaking in the wonder of that historic city. We rode in a gondola piloted by a handsome gondolier who plied the waters between quaint beautiful buildings, under the Bridge of Sighs, into scenes only known in my history books. A picturesque magical place full of treasures, not the place I see on the screen in front of me. Golden in the evening light, empty café tables and chairs their legs deep in water, restaurant doors open to reveal flooded floors, locals and visitors in tall red, blue and yellow waterproof boots, wandering the streets. I’d heard the stories of this, seeing the evidence brought such deep sadness, perhaps intensified because of my personal childhood experiences of the place. The message of loss hit hard in my heart.

Anthropocene, a multimedia collaboration between Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky, and Jennifer Baichwal, documents the singular most significant thing we as a human race must come to terms with. Anthropocene is the age where the human impact on the planet is greater than all other forces existing at this time. Collectively we have contributed to the death of a 23 million year old coral reef, the extinction of the white Rhinoceros, the grave threat to the ongoing survival in the wild of the Sumatran Tiger, the list goes on and on, we’ve all heard these stories too.

Edward Burtynsky’s images are gloriously beautiful and profoundly frightening. There’s a Q and A with filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, the audience asks questions, we learn more, we leave. We carry on.

I get into my car and drive home. I could have taken the bus to Cinécenta but I always choose to drive. There’s really no excuse, I have plenty of time and freedom to choose how I spend it. It’s a habit I seem unwilling to change. There’s the rub. I along with all the others sitting in the movie theatre appalled and saddened, concerned, moved by what we have just shared, mostly drove there, mostly have our cell phones in our pocket. We are privileged to live in great comfort. We are players in the game of climate change. This is not an exercise in guilting each other for what is past, rather we need to acknowledge the reality. We are part of the nature that is being destroyed. We are users of the products created through this destruction. We are actors in this tragedy and by virtue of living in this age, we are actors in future productions on planet earth.

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Turning through the seasons Spring and Early Summer

A banquet of colour, texture, and tone the turning of the seasons in my new Victoria home offered a feast for my eyes and my camera. Spring in Victoria is spectacular I discovered camas meadows, Garry Oaks showing off their bright green leafing, bearded iris and roses in the gardens at Government House, poppies and cherry blossoms in my James Bay neighbourhood, and the brilliant colours of spring in all the carefully tended well loved gardens.

IMG_2633Camas meadow Uplands park at Cattle Point

IMG_2731Garry Oaks newly leaf for spring

IMG_2808Bearded iris a regal plant

IMG_2832Happy bees in simple single rose

IMG_2825Government House roses sweet apricot scent

IMG_2907James Bay community gardens

At home in Victoria the ocean offers morning views from Ogden Point breakwater walk and beach times with my best four-legged friend Bruce. I live in a beautiful neighbourhood full of gardens, bursting with flowers and food. June holds an annual treat when I visit Yellow Point Lodge near Ladysmith with a particular group of friends who gather every year deepening bonds of friendship and love.

IMG_2836Tugs and pilot boats at the ready cruise season looms

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Spring kelp beds shimmer in shades of turquoise beside Ogden Point breakwater

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Sunday Walking with Dad, Ogden Point, Victoria

 

IMG_2874still pool reflections at Yellow Point lodge

My summer of 2018 has been full of the many things I love about summer. Travel, play, ocean and lake swimming, celebration, connection and reconnection, adventure, laughter, great fresh market food, all of this with the warm sun caressing my shoulders and the gentle summer breezes playing on the water. Living on an island surrounded by islands I spend many happy hours riding BC Ferries through spectacular ocean scenery past idyllic island hideaways.

IMG_2994BC Ferries pride!

A retreat at Loon Lake lodge in June, early morning swims, lunchtime swims and late evening swims, prayerful practices, wisdom teachings, forest walks, deeply caring conversations, nourishing friendships.

DSCF3439healing waters of Loon Lake

DSCF3441within and without deep into the green waters

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Lammas, Lughnasadh

Lammas or Lughnasadh first harvest, is the traditional celtic celebration of this time of year usually marked on August 1st. Not being a farmer nor literally harvesting at this time, addressing the question of harvest opens up the possibility for more of an internal quest. The question being, what am I harvesting?

Driving back from Brentwood Bay I found myself on West Saanich road in the vicinity of the Unitarian Church whose labyrinth I last walked on June 29 (Labyrinth as Healing).  It seemed an opportunity to stop and ponder this question with the help of the winding path, the quiet, and the wide view across the valley. I found the grass brown across large areas, the surrounding ferns and shrubs dry and taking on colours of the fall, the apple tree bearing fruit, and the big maple a strong green against the parched earth. On entering the pathway I offered my question up for an answer.DSCF3638

Step by step I made my way walking steadily along the wide dried grassways, noticing the abundant yellow flowering in any area of green.

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It is always a mistake for me to hope for some great revelation from the labyrinth, her lessons come to me in the most subtle ways, so subtle it is easy to miss them if I’m looking too much at the bigger view of life. Today was no exception. While I was certainly aware of the colours in the dried grasses, the wild flowering blossoms along the path and in the rough edges of the place, the bees, the cricket, the tiny lizard, the soft breeze rustling in the big maple tree, I did not at first ‘get’ the significance of any of these.

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I reached the centre and sank into a long contemplative pause allowing the distant green meadow edged by the pale tan of mown grasses, to soften into a blur in my vision.

I felt deep gratitude for the softness of the day aware of the contrast to my experience last Monday in the extreme heat of the Lower Mainland where I wandered with friends in the beauty of Van Dusen Gardens. That day had held many gifts from the garden and many encounters with the winged and feathered occupants of that place. I stood in communion with the grove of Giant Sequoia each tree offering me a different perspective, every one of them willing to be in communication with this human. Seated under the pines in the wild section I was visited by a small hawk whose repetitive and rhythmic call caught my attention before (s)he landed on a branch above my head. Resting on a bench beside the lily pond the great Heron landed close by, her long sharp beak pointing towards potential prey under the lily pads. Two mallard ducks came swimming by quietly ignoring my presence. A crow called loud from the landing spot he’d found at the top of a nearby spruce, tiny songbirds echoed each other’s calls from tree to tree beside the Japanese Maples at another pond’s edge. Wandering in full sun solitude beside low branching cedars in the back corner of the gardens, I came upon a barred Owl wings outspread, sunbathing. On hearing me (s)he turned her great face towards me and we locked eyes for just a moment.  The edges of my awareness blurred into the edges of the beyond human beings amongst whom I was walking and resting, extending my mind beyond individuality into unity.

So too today, that sense of my being simply another manifestation in form within the one great unity of life from which all beings are wrought. Nothing so special about me being human, nothing superior about me the human, just the fact of me and other beings rooted, winged, crawling, all together in the beauty of the winding labyrinth path displaying another shade in the many tones of the year.

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What am I harvesting I asked again, simply the beauty, the beauty that engenders in me such deep appreciation and gratitude for life, mine and all that is around me. Blessed be Lammas, blessed be the first harvest, may the wheel turn in unity and peace towards the feast of Mabon.

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Potlatch 67-67

Sunday July 22 I returned to Victoria from an incredible journey in the Comox Valley with the K’ómoks First Nation. Not, as you might immediately think, a landscape traverse kind of journey, this was a journey of the soul. In the past I’ve been privileged to attend a number of first nations ceremonies, enough to have given me a beginning in my personal education process about the true history of Canada. Through stories told during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, I’ve become aware of some of the atrocities inflicted on children in buildings just like that the big white school building in Carcross, Yukon that I knew back in 1971, which was at the time an operational residential school. My return to the valley was to attend Potlatch 67 67 events.

As a privileged, white settler immigrant, I had heard the words ‘potlatch ban’ before, read them in museum exhibits, it was not until I heard Hereditary Chief Rob Everson’s clear articulation of the importance of the Potlatch and the impacts of the ban, that I in any way understood the significance of those two words.

Potlatch 67-67, The Potlatch Ban Then and Now, is an unprecedented collaborative program between the Comox Valley Art Gallery and the Kumugwe Cultural Society.  An undertaking of monumental proportions, demonstrating a level of commitment and collaboration we need to see more of if we are to effectively move towards reconciliation. My journey to the Comox Valley was specifically to be present for the opening of Hiłt’sist’a’am, The Copper will be Fixed exhibit at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, and a day of ceremony and cultural sharing at the K’ómoks Big House.

images Medwyn McConachy

I was moved to tears by what I witnessed. I learned through drum, dance, voice and heart, how the ban had ripped the soul right out of indigenous peoples’ culture, just as the residential school system had ripped the hearts right out of indigenous families. Cultural genocide are appropriate words to describe how the settler government systematically set out to destroy the indigenous peoples not by war – Canada is proudly not a war-mongering country – by a slow and painful extinguishment of rights and culture.

I have always felt welcomed in the K’ómoks Big House. My experience of the generosity, education and sharing flowing from the Kumugwe Cultural Society at annual ceremonies on June 21, the Walking with my Sisters exhibit, and the Red Dress campaign, has been the ground for so much of my education about BC indigenous history, stories, culture and traditions.

Potlatch 67-67 served to deepen and expand that education far beyond anything I have experienced to date. In the presence of esteemed elders whose wisdom guided the creation of the event, the Kumugwe Cultural Society offered teachings, ceremony, celebration, and dance to a Big House audience of their neighbours who occupy and live on the unceded territory of the K’ómoks nation in what is generally referred to as the Comox Valley.

DSCF3570 Karver Everson leads the Womens’ Dance with sister Keisha in the background – image Medwyn McConachy
DSCF3573 Lee Everson in the Womens’ Dance – image Medwyn McConachy
Grizzly Bear dancer – images Medwyn McConachy
Across the generations – Honored Elder Mary Everson, Hereditary Chief Rob Everson and youngest dancer
– images Medwyn McConachy
One mask many faces – images Medwyn McConachy

And everybody danced, to the drums and the powerful songs, danced with eagle down clouds around their heads, danced in gratitude and celebration.

DSCF3606image Medwyn McConachy
DSCF3614image Medwyn McConachy

Elder Mary Everson spoke of how important it is to ‘hold people up’ always keeping them in a positive light, always encouraging, always teaching.

Hereditary Chief Rob Everson spoke of the Everson family history:

” My grandparents were very instrumental in preserving our culture….. my grandmother was a princess a very high ranking woman ……..my grandmother carried a chief’s name, it was given to her so that she had standing in the big house so throughout her life she had standing in the big house ……..that name was passed down to my mother (Mary Everson) so that she would have standing, she could carry anything we had as a family and she could potlatch without me or any of my brothers, and she had the authority to do what she needed to do within this house.”

Andy Everson spoke of how the name of the gallery exhibit ‘The Copper will be Fixed’ came to be:

“We have been slowly putting that copper back together to give it back that value so the symbol of the show has these pieces riveted back on and there’s still one piece missing and that’s to illustrate that there’s still work to be done to make that copper whole to make it as valuable as it once was.”

To say that I felt privileged to witness this event is an understatement, I was humbled and awed by the power of this culture, recognizing yet again how very much we have to learn from the ways of our indigenous brothers and sisters.