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Aboriginal/Art/Poetry/Singing creatures/Tragically Hip

On the adventure

Posted by MarchWinds on
On the adventure

On the day of the final Tragically Hip concert, we were travelling to south-western Ontario. All day, every radio station was playing the Hip. As we drove through Kingston, it was “Tragically Hip Day” with 27,000 people coming to celebrate the band. I’ve been reading Gord’s lyrics lately, watching him on video doing his weird salsa dances, singing about Thompson, Saskatoon, Kingston and New Orleans.

Aboriginal/Art/Bill C-45/Identity/Idle No More/Oka Crisis

Powerful reflections on the Oka Crisis at Red Post Art Exhibit

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Powerful reflections on the Oka Crisis at Red Post Art Exhibit

Here is an article I wrote for Rabble.ca on the exhibit that took place in Kanehsatake earlier this month. I made the trip out and visited the exhibit at the elementary school in Kanehsatake. I chatted with Ellen Gabriel, the show’s curator as well.

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Onekwenhtara Kanehtsote – the Red Post Art Exhibit, curated by Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel of Kanehsatà:ke and Jolene Rickard of Tuscarora, commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Crisis of 1990, also known as the Oka Crisis, by demonstrating its impacts through art.

This exhibit brings together the work of 16 artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who have reflected on their experience of the Crisis of 1990. In some cases, artworks reflect first-hand experiences of Kanehsatà:ke residents, and in other cases artworks reflect on the long-term impacts of the Crisis.

The Crisis of 1990 began with a peaceful protest against plans by the town of Oka, Quebec to expand a private nine-hole golf course. The expansion would destroy part of a mature pine forest in Kanehsatà:ke and required the destruction of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community graveyard. The peaceful protest escalated when the Kanien’kehá:ka people of Kanehsatà:ke were surrounded by the Quebec provincial police on July 11, 1990.

Many of the artists represented in the exhibit are Kanien’kehá:ka from Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawake, a Kanien’kehá:ka community which was also involved in the Crisis.

The exhibit offers visitors an opportunity to reflect on the effects of the conflict on the people who were personally involved, as well as the impact on Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies and politics across the continent.

In the centre of the exhibit is the red post itself, an installation piece created by Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel. The red post refers to the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) practice of erecting a red post in communities during times of conflict or war.

Gabriel’s installation, a post painted red, a colour signifying power and war, reminds us of the Kanien’kehá:ka people’s long history, one that began long before European settlement and continues into the present. The symbols depicted on the post include wampum beads, corn, a war club and the tree of life.

At the top is a circle of people holding hands, united in protecting the land. These symbols emphasize the richness and longevity of Kanien’kehá:ka culture and calls into question the settler notion that Indigenous people belong only to the past, or that their cultures and political systems have no role to play in the modern world.

The red post also reminds those entering the exhibit of the long-standing and unresolved conflict over land rights that grew into the Crisis of 1990 and remains unresolved today. The pine forest where the conflict took place is considered by the municipality of Oka to belong to the town. However, the Kanien’kehá:ka never ceded the land that is now Kanehsatà:ke (includes the Pines).

Photos used with permission from the artists

Among the artworks contributed by artists from Kanehsatà:ke is Douglas Tehonietathe Beaver’s  backpack called “Pelt and Pine, Armed with Healing.” This work alludes to a soldier’s pack, and reminds viewers of the Canadian Army soldiers who surrounded Kanien’kehá:ka s in 1990. But instead of being filled with ammunition, grenades and guns, this backpack is “armed” with an eagle feather, a sweet grass braid, a cedar smudge stick and pot, and other items related to spiritual healing, presenting an alternative response to land conflict both in Kanehsatà:ke and elsewhere.

Another artwork emphasizing the importance of Haudenosaunee culture is a quilt called “Sky Woman’s Descent” by Carla Hemlock, a Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake. The story of Sky Woman is the creation story of the Haudenosaunee people — Sky Woman descends into our world and lands on the back of a turtle that transforms, with the help of various animals, into North America. In this blue, gold and black beaded quilt, we see the back of the turtle from the perspective of Sky Woman as she descends.

Elizabeth Saccà, a non-Indigenous artist and retired Concordia University professor who lives near Kanehsatà:ke, contributed an abstract monotype called “Maelstrom.” For this viewer, this print evokes the confusion and disorientation that must have reigned in the Pines when the Quebec police first attacked Kanehsatà:ke with tear gas and smoke bombs. It also represents the ever-present potential for violence that Indigenous people face when they protest land development on their territories.

Nadia Myre, an Algonquin artist based in Montreal, contributed “Still Life,” an ink print depicting two protesters in silhouette with flags. The image connects the Red Post exhibit to the broader history of Indigenous social and land justice issues and brings to life the widespread support for Indigenous sovereignty manifested nation-wide in the form of demonstrations, blockades and flash mobs, as well as Idle No More.

Photos used with permission from the artists

Along with these artworks, pieces include Patrycja Walton‘s “Dress for Amicee,” a sculpture of a dress made of animal hide, wire and stain glass, and dedicated to missing Aboriginal women and girls, including her friend Amicee. Julie Otsi’tsaonwe Gaspé’s created her untitled graphite drawing of the Pines before the protests against development turned into an armed conflict. Her prophetic drawing depicts a conflict between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the Pines, while above them in the trees, faces look down, watching the conflict unfold.

Onekwenhtara Kanehtsote – The Red Post exhibit moves from Kanehsatà:ke to Kahnawake, Quebec. Visitors are invited to reflect on these works and on the impact of the Crisis of 1990 at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre from August 24 to September 4. The Vernissage is on August 24 at 6 PM.

To learn more about the impacts of the Oka Crisis, and to hear a discussion by the exhibit’s curators and some of its featured artists, check out the webinar: 25 Years Later, Impacts of the Oka Crisis.

Aboriginal/Meditations/Oka Crisis/Poetry/Singing creatures

Indian Country

Posted by MarchWinds on
Indian Country
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Kanehsatake traditional pow-wow in  1991, the year following the Oka Crisis.

When I was younger, I was involved with people who were part of the Oka Crisis. At my university, I met ‪‎Indigenous people from every part of Canada, and many of them told me their stories. Many were too angry for story-telling, or too traumatized. They were veterans of the siege at Kanehsatake: survivors who spent two-and-a-half months surrounded by the Canadian Army, razor wire, military helicopters, soldiers, and the constant threat of imminent death.

During the winter following the Oka Crisis, I travelled with friends to northern Quebec and visited ‪‎Cree‬, ‪‎Innu, Abenaki and Huron communities – stood in a chief’s house in the middle in winter. It was the size of my kitchen and was heated by an oil barrel in the middle of the room. I also sat with friends in a wigwam, eating beaver, ptarmigan and bannock, passing around the salt and a tub of grease – ptarmigan is a dry meat.

Kanehsatake Spiritual Gathering, early nineties

Kanehsatake traditional pow-wow, 1991. Rebecca Belmore’s art piece,  Speaking to their Mother, is pictured. © Jennifer Dales

Then, just last summer, I sat by the blazing hot sacred fire in Kanehsatake‬, and said a prayer for my friend’s son, sending it up to God with tobacco and cedar. I walked around greeting old friends, fingering jewellery and beadwork, doing the round dance, sitting in the shade of the Pines, cooling down after the heat. 

Being in Indian‬ country gets into your blood. When I meet people who have been there, I can feel it, the way I feel the cold on a person’s skin when they come inside on a winter’s day. Indian country’s such a big place; it’s as powerful as an earthquake, strong as a hurricane. From out of nowhere, it changes everything; it rearranges the earth and stirs up the winds. It doesn’t need anything from you. There is nothing you can do for Indian country. It flows on, day and night, under stars and the sun. I hear it asking me how it can help me. Where is my heart? Do I hear it beating? You won’t ever put it behind you now.
Aboriginal/Idle No More/Meditations

Honour the Treaties

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Honour the Treaties

Yesterday morning I watched Aaron Huey’s TED talk on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Lakota Sioux. To me, the most important thing that he said was:

“Honour the treaties. Give back the Black Hills. It’s not your business what they do with them.”photographer_aaronhuey_thephotolifepodcast_0061

In these few words, Aaron voices the transformation needed here in Turtle Island – a shift from the patronizing, controlling approach to First Nations politics, land and culture – to one of respect. Canada needs to get out of the business of Aboriginal nations. It’s not up to us how a Mohawk or Ojibway or Haida community decides to use its land or organize its community. It’s long past time for us to get out of their business and start listening instead of dictating. I believe our future depends on it, because resource extraction in the form of mining, drilling for oil, forestry, etc is destroying our ecosystems. Maybe Aboriginal people will treat the land the same way. But if past experience is any indication, I believe things would be different. I also think that our colonial relationship with Native peoples is stunting our growth as Canadians, and undermining our humanity.

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I recognize that ending our colonial relationships with Indigenous nations does not mean that First Nations become closed societies that don’t need or require relationships with other societies. It’s just long past time for use to get out of the way.

Thank you, Aaron Huey for saying it so well.

Aboriginal

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

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This week’s word is  Onkwehón:we:  “the original people” (oon-gway-hoon-way). It refers to First Nations people, but I also once heard elder June Delisle from Kahnawake refer to it as meaning “real human beings.”

In any case, the dispute about who is allowed to live in Kahnawake definitely errs on the side of Onkwehón:we as meaning “First Nations people,” since only they are allowed to live in that community.  And it raises the question of who is a “real human being” as well.

There would perhaps be no controversy about who is allowed to be a member of the Mohawk nation if it were not for the federal government’s divide-and-conquer blood quantum policy. which basically means that if an Onkwehón:we person has less than a certain “quantum” of Aboriginal “blood,” that person loses their status, and is no longer be considered a member of their band.

The Iroquois Confederacy’s great success in the past was partly based on its policy of adopting peoples from every nation and integrating them into the nations of the Confederacy. The blood quantum policy, band councils and the reserve system broke down this tradition and ended it as a strategy for expanding the Confederacy’s numbers, as well as its geographical, military and political reach.

Fast forward to the present day and we have a community of 6,500 Mohawks, where the majority of the membership support the band council’s policy of removing all non-Native people from the community:

Kahnawake eviction controversy gets personal10122659

montrealgazette.com/news/Kahnawake+eviction+controversy+gets+personal/10122658/story.html

I would like appeal to the better nature in us all and say that Onkwehón:we refers to all of us, and that we are all real human beings, regardless of the federal government’s racist policies, and despite the sad state of affairs in Kahnawake.

Aboriginal

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

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Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

On the Elsie Menola, Bay of Fundy near Grand Manan, NB

This week’s word is ocean = kanientara’kehkó:wa. I have chosen this word in part because I could not find the Mohawk word for whale. If you know it, please share!

I have just returned from spending time on Grand Manan Island, which is in the Bay of Fundy in the Atlantic Ocean. While there I saw two different species of whales – the minke whale, and the finback. I also experienced incredible tides and walked several beaches, including one that has a fresh water stream that runs into the ocean. We saw seals, a harbour porpoise, shearwaters, black winged gulls, puffins and many other species of birds. While on the Elsie Menola whale watching yacht, we stopped three times to remove helium balloons from the ocean waters. They float out to sea and then land on the surface of the sea, where they sit, looking like nothing so much as jelly fish. Whales will sometimes eat them and die. Paul Watson, founder and captain of the Sea Shepherd also defends whales (a lot more aggressively than the Elsie Menola). Two other boats used by Watson’s organization, the Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter, have been granted a registry and flag by the Iroquois Confederacy, after the Canadian government revoked the Canadian registry of the Farley Mowat at the demand of the Japanese government. I suppose I can’t find the world for “whale” because Mohawks don’t usually live near the ocean! But the Haudensaunee are helping to defend whales in their own way. Anyway, that’s the word of the week. Hope your summer is going well.

Aboriginal/Writers

Mohawk/ Kanien’kéha word of the week

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This week’s word is friends, as in “these are my friends”: Onkwatén:ro ne’ kí:ken

I had a nice weekend in Montreal visiting with friends, sitting on the patio of the Burgundy Lion Pub.  Saw a Shakespeare play that was broadcast live out of London. Feel asleep in the second half, unfortunately.

Not sure what that says about the play, but I am an early riser by nature, and the play was over 3 hours long – King Lear.

I can’t find an online reference to just the word “friend,” so if you know it, please share with me.

Aboriginal/Meditations

Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

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Tree roots – karonta’shón:’a ohté:ram

http://www.firstvoices.com/en/Kanienkeha-Mohawk-EN/word/d71d4009d469ecd8/tree+roots

This week, I wanted to do the word “perseverance,” since I know that many friends and family have been struggling with physical and emotional challenges over the past six months. The winter was hard on everyone – my Dad hurt his knee, my Sensei shattered his elbow, I got sick for 5 weeks, aImagenother friend broke his foot, still another experienced depression.

But we have all persevered, and now the land is green, if not as sunny as I would like. Like the roots of trees, we have deep connections between us and in this beautiful, if broken world. So this week’s words are “tree roots” – karonta’shón:’a ohté:ra.

The word karonta’shón:’a ohté:ram also makes me think of the Great Tree of Peace, where, under its roots, lie all the weapons that were buried when peace was made.

So Creator sent a Peacemaker with a message to be righteous and just, and make a good future for our children seven generations to come. He called all warring people together and told them as long as there was killing there would be no peace of mind. There must be a concerted effort by humans for peace to prevail. Through logic, reasoning and spiritual means, he inspired the warriors to bury their weapons and planted atop a sacred Tree of Peace. – The Great Law of Peace

If you know how to say “Tree of Peace” in Kanien’kéha, please let me know.  I was not able to find a translation for this phrase. And does anyone know if the expression “bury the hatchet” comes from the Great Law?

 

Aboriginal/Bill C-45/Idle No More

Too many first nations people live in a dream palace

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Too many first nations people live in a dream palace

SImpson’s Dream Palace

Wow, does Jeffrey Simpson not get it or what! He rolls his eyes at Attawaspiskat’s unreasonable refusal to move their entire community closer to Timmins for jobs and to avoid flooding! Cree people have been hunting and fishing at Attawapiskat for longer than western history, but I guess a few jobs in Timmins mean more than that. Geez, why doesn’t Simpson tell those unrealistic, out-of-touch Venetians to move from their city that has already BEEN flooded? And how come the Dutch are not living in a “dream palace” for insisting on building dykes instead of moving their country somewhere drier? Theresa Spence is full of “dreamy, flamboyant rhetoric,” he says, or implies. What about Martin Luther King? Mohandas Gandhi? This man is very, very out of touch with life in his own country.

Aboriginal/Bill C-45/Idle No More

Harper’s Terrible Mistake

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Chief Spence on Victoria Island

Chief Spence on Victoria Island

Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike for three weeks now. She will not eat until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to meet with her and talk about the changes his Conservative government has made to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and many other laws. These changes directly affect Indigenous people in Canada – they affect all Canadians.

It’s taken me a while to understand why Harper’s government made changes to the Indian Act in particular. The changes will make it much easier for Band Councils to enter into lease agreements governed by provincial laws. Band councils would only need a simple majority from a vote, regardless of how many people show up to cast their ballot.

The changes move us in the direction proposed by Pierre Trudeau’s White paper. The White paper was laughably naïve. It was obviously written by politicians who had no idea what land means to Indigenous people. Its authors proposed that the Indian Act be abolished, that all treaties be dismissed, and that land belonging to First Nations be privatized, so that individuals could sell their portion if they chose.

Opposition from Indigenous people to the proposals in the White paper mounted and eventually it was shelved. At least that Liberal government had enough respect for the democratic process to propose changes and listen to the opinions of others about the proposals.

Harper’s government has no such respect. Why propose changes that you know will not be accepted when you can use your power as a majority government to legislate the changes without meaningful consultation?

But I don’t believe that the changes to the Indian Act, which will make it much easier for business to take advantage of natural resources on First Nations lands, were pushed through without debate because the Conservatives do not respect democracy. At least, that is probably not the main reason.

I believe that Harper made the changes – a terrible mistake – because he is completely out of touch with the hopes and needs of Aboriginal people. He has no idea of the importance of each nation’s territory to its people.

He is so out of touch that he forgot all about the Oka Crisis, a 78-day stand-off between Mohawks (along with other Haudenosaunee peoples and their supporters) and the Canadian Army. The Army was called in when the government panicked and realized that the Mohawk people were not going to back down and allow the municipality of Oka to expand its golf course over a Mohawk graveyard and a very old stand of trees belonging to the community of Kanehsatake.

The land meant something to them.  The Oka Crisis happened only 22 years ago.

If Chief Spence dies because Stephen Harper will not meet with her, First Nations people of this country will not be humiliated. That role will go to Harper, whose lack of grace and inability to connect in the simplest, most basic way by having a conversation with a woman named Theresa Spence, will have led to a conflagration– an explosion of anger and rage that would make the Oka Crisis seem like a schoolyard fight.

It is not too late yet for Harper to walk to Chief Spence’s tipi and share a drink with her. But soon it will be.

Aboriginal

Demonstration on the Hill for First Nations education

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Aboriginal/Art/Meditations/Oka Crisis/Poetry

In the country

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In the country

I got lost in Indian country. Don’t know when, exactly. Maybe a few weeks after traditional people walked out of the treatment centre in Kanehsatake, holding up sacred masks. Could have been on a trip up north in the middle of winter, riding in a cold van, sipping my Haisla friend’s twist shandy, listening to him strum guitar. We got out along the way. Looked up at the stars. They were so bright. Like somebody plugged them into a socket on overload. I could feel the shock. Somebody picked me up out of the snow where I was lying, gazing skyward. Brushed off the ice. We got back in the van and drove north. Once I went out to Kanehsatake and sat in the Pines by myself. Walked a road for a long time, looking for my friend’s place. Somebody stopped, gave me a lift to his tiny house among hay fields. I was definitely in Indian country then. Full of memories and desire. I buried a silver bracelet under a pine tree and said a prayer for the stand of trees. That was years ago. Surely an animal has made off with it by now. And the friend is dead, shot in the back. He helped carry masks from the treatment centre; walked into the army’s perimeter. Climbed into a waiting bus and was driven to prison. We used to talk on the phone sometimes, about the Lord of the Rings, and how anxious he was—didn’t want to come out of the house some days. I sat with him on his front steps, drinking grape juice. Watched the sun shimmer over the fields as he raked grass. Had dinner with him and his girlfriend in the yard, back of his place. I don’t know where this is going, or where it’s from, and I didn’t know then, sitting in his yard, under the maple tree. I can’t get in and out of Indian country at will. Maybe it’s an illusion as deep as corn fields in summer. There might be only one country. I don’t know how it came to be, or how it’s growing through me, filled with electric shock and pine roots; the dust of old friends.

 

Photo of Joe David, taken in Kanehsatake, courtesy of Elizabeth Sacca

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