In Bagujan, the voice of Tsilhqot’in elder and hunting master, Martin Quilt, guides us through how to remain with hunting luck. Throughout the video these hunter protocols are shadowed by Timothy, one of the youngest practicing traditional Tsilhqot’in hunters. As we follow Timothy on a hunt, the problem of animal scarcity becomes apparent. The Tsilhqot’in believe that a hunter must follow a strict protocol to maintain their hunting luck. Avoiding certain energies and following a set of respectful guidelines will give a hunter the gift of not being sensed by the animals, allowing them to stalk an animal closely. If the hunter’s luck is out of balance, an animal will sense them before the hunter gets close enough to see the animal. Subtly, Timothy’s hunt also reveals how contemporary industry and infrastructure, logging, ranching, foreign game hunters, and highways for example, interfere with traditional beliefs and hunter’s luck.
After becoming aware of the tradition of fansubs, films and television shows subtitled by fans, and seeing subtitled anime in languages from English to Spanish to Arabic—all done by anime fans—I decided what was missing were fansubs created for an American Indian audience. I chose Native languages with their own letter systems, rather than just repurposing the Latin alphabet into phonetic Indian words. Being a visual artist, I’m interested in how these alphabets look, and how they interact with the spoken Japanese of the videos.
I translated the original video from Japanese into English, and then into a Native language, using Indian sources and contacts. I welcome corrections by those who speak and write their Native language, to make more accurate translations. It is my goal to spread awareness of indigenous language and to demonstrate relevant applications within a format that is of interest to a global audience.
A female bear moves slowly and steadily towards you. The bear appears to question the conflicting relationship you have with her, your love, your curiosity and your desire to come close to her is contradicted by your fear. She appears to beseech you and rejected, leaves. James is praying in Cree, acknowledging the deep patience of the mountains and the ancestors. While humans, the double wise, become wise enough to care for the earth and all our relations, they become more than human.
Aski a video collaboration between James Nicholas (deceased) and his wife, Sandra Semchuk is a visual and verbal prayer to the ancestors, to the earth and to the mountains.
English Translation (pdf)
S.E.C.K resonates with the feeling that the hidden secrets that allowed our past generations to survive our tumultuous history are re-emerging. Many Aboriginal persons do not speak their traditional language. Some are desperately trying to hold on to the few phrases they know but all are united by the power that aboriginal language has over our personal and cultural identities. S.E.C.K is a series of confessions about language from four young Aboriginal people. The thoughts and emotions in these confessions create a landscape that depicts the disparate realities in which these close friends exist.
Performance and Installation, 2009
Two Speaker Sound Installation with Unframed 5x7" Photos, 2009
Glass “Box” Sculpture, 2009
I wonder what the Elders would say about this small gathering in cyberspace. There is no land in cyberspace and Elders are always talking about the land. In the words of Manulani Aluli Meyer:
Land is more than just a physical space. It is an idea that engages knowledge and contextualizes knowing. It is the key that turns the doors inward to allow us to reflect on how space shapes us. It is not about emptiness but about consciousness.1
Within indigenous epistemology, land is connected to the survival of family, community, and culture. Knowledge of the land informs survival of the body. A hunter’s knowledge of the land means the family will continue to eat. The organization of this knowledge specifically informs the creation and implementation of strategies to continue that survival. In 1912, Edward Sapir made the same point in more general terms, saying that Indian vocabularies provided valuable insight into native conceptions of the natural world and much that was significant in it.2 And within indigenous cultural practice, is the opportunity to reflect on individual relationships to the land.
The land acts as a teacher. By taking the time to walk on the land, you are participating in the history of ideas. This self-reflexive nature means that there is an openness to the creation of new objects that create meaning and reflects dialogical awareness of the self in relation to meaning and the practice of creation, which continues to inform the survival of knowledge in your community.3 In this case, the land is definitely more than just a physical space. It has potential to exist as many spaces within relation to the creation of knowledge. It can be a book, an archive, a muse, a teacher, an elder, a sister, a friend, and the continued active history of knowledge for community-based knowledge.
These Elders, who talk about the importance of learning from the land, are able to do so because of a lifetime connected to the practice of gathering knowledge that is directly influenced by and from the land. This journey is reflected as a life journey. Wherever you go on the land and how you choose to articulate this information contributes to this collective knowledge. In this way, walking on the land is also a meditation, a way to guide the development of practice and theory. And you can see the effects of that meditation in the spoken language, in the development of values that inform cultural ceremonies and culturally-based actions, and in the development of knowledge for the community.
I decided to bring my parents to this cyber gathering.
My mom is a Tahltan Nation Elder. She was born in Tle go hin (clah-gaw-heen) (Telegraph Creek, BC). She is a member of the Crow Clan. She grew up in Tle go hin, and has spent the last 15 years living in an urban environment.
My dad is an Elder. He was born in Thetford Mines, Québec. He is French Canadian and has been a part of the Tahltan community for over 40 years.
In this scenario we are at their place watching CSI. I tell them, “I want to show you something that I helped make. It’s on the internet.”
I can see that they are immediately interested.
“It will only take a second.”
I get them upstairs to the computer. We wait for my mom’s wifi connection on her ancient computer. I am going to take them both to this small gathering, except now, it’s not as small. We have an Apache person, three Cree people, a Tsilhqo’tin person, a Kwakwaka’wakw person, a Kainai person, a Ukrainian Canadian person, a Secwepmc person, a Alutiq person, a Gitxsan person, and an Anishinabe person — and now a French Canadian, and two Tahltan.
My mom likes the circle of stones that make up the front page of this website. She likes the red colour of the stones. My dad keeps quiet.
I tell them, “I got these stones in Kaska Dena territory. I made a deal with these red stones, asked them if they wanted to come to the city with me, and be part of an art show.”
This gathering will never happen in the same way. The participants will constantly shift in number. The ideologies represented in this circle will always grow and develop. This is the ebb and flow of the land. The land is constantly moving. The stones on top, and inside of the land, are constantly moving. People will be drawn to this gathering, there are always people drawn to gatherings; even if it is in the Western Front home page. They will then ‘click’ the link and join the stone circle gathering.
My mom will say, “This is a nice circle Peter.”
My dad will say, “Yeah but what am I looking at?”
I will say, “This is a circle of stones that were placed in this website. Each stone has a voice. These stones are holding on to the voice of 12 indigenous voices. Each stone is connected to an artist, each artist is articulating the inherent connection between indigenous-based creative practices as a part of the epistemological knowledge of their specific communities.”
I will go on to say that there is no extra English language to explain what is going on with these stories. You have to move around the stones to complete the experience.
I will also say, “The stone circle is like a medicine wheel. You can go around this circle very mindfully, pick up these stones and create your own stone circle. Even if you visit this website more than once, it will be a new experience every time because you will never have to start the process in the same place. In the medicine wheel you can place stones down in a big circle and each stone represents a prayer. When you place the stones, the prayers come together and you have created a powerful connection between yourself, the land, and the energy of the land.
This website, and this circle of stones, is concerned with illuminating indigenous experience, and building relationships between to these gathered experiences as a practice of indigenous-determined-land-based pedagogy.”
My dad will say, “But there is no land in a website Peter.”
I respond, “I know. But there is definitely space in a website. “
I continue,“The act of knowing the land is a foundational piece in all indigenous epistemologies. Right. The land is there. Even urban living is connected to that indigenous epistemological history. I have travelled to the city. I have gathering experiences that I can eventually bring home or share with the rest of the community. The land connected to a circle is the indigenous pedagogical model that can shift the western paradigm enough to illuminate indigenous aesthetic, especially as that aesthetic relates to indigenous knowledge and language speaking.”
They both don’t look so impressed with my language. Perhaps, I put too much shape to my language.
Internal dialogue — sometimes I talk too much.
To begin properly this gathering properly, we must speak and acknowledge the language.
Dzene s hoti’e.
Tsedze susahts’a n.
E, diden tsedle usehs’an
Edu didene K’eh soga hodese.4
In a circle ceremony there are rules or guidelines that need to be followed. There are collective agreements that are made by everyone that sits in the circle. One guideline is to make an agreement to speak from the heart. Another guideline is to listen with your heart. A third guideline is that one person speaks at a time. These guidelines help shape the relational experience which is key to engaging with indigenous epistemological models. The knowledge, informed by experience, is stored in your body. And can be accessed to inform your choices. The circle ceremony, like the creation of a medicine wheel, is a personal act done in support of the continued survival of indigenous survival.
The website is done to promote artists and their work, create awareness of the energies surrounded this style of art, illuminate ideological concerns reflected by the art in relation to the history of western art, and to achieve this in a fun and engaging way. This website attempts to create a physical presence for several significant pieces of a shared indigenous knowledge practice: gatherings, medicine wheels, ceremony, circle ceremonies, as well as linking these key pedagogues to the indigenous aesthetic choice by artists who are connected to several indigenous communities throughout North America. Is a website able to accomplish all of these goals? Perhaps not. But there is the experience of time which adds depth to the experience of this website. Besides these lofty goals, time and our relationship to time, will be forced to change. Each stone has a story — video, still image, written word — and these stories will need time to engage with, listen to, and watch. Time is perhaps the most invested frontier of western colonial epistemology, along with this driven need to see time as development. Time accomplished tasks in the west, this accomplishment is intrinsic to the western practice. Time informed by epistemology can also shift when determined by different epistemologies and epistemological forms. We have a stone circle, sitting in a place created by indigenous epistemological ideas. This circle happens on a different plane of existence and, yet, is still connected through the histories of form to the land. Indigenous land in cyberspace.
A Small Gathering for the Healing of our Indigenous languages finds its roots within the exhibitions Speaking in Landscape Tongues, and Speaking to the Old Ones. The exhibitions took place in 2009. Speaking in Landscape Tongues was hosted by Western Front, and Speaking to the Old Ones was hosted by the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The curatorial focus of both exhibitions focused on articulating the indigenous aesthetics articulated by indigenous language speaking. Hopi film maker Victor Nasayesa writes that accumulative experience is what defines and refines the indigenous aesthetic. Not only is it the accumulative experience of one individual, but the experience gets passed on to everyone that he or she comes into contact with, clinging and growing like a cobweb.5
Here we are.
At the end of my story.
I invite you to participate in this circle.
My Mom will be here, like the other Elders present in the circle.
My Dad will like spending the time listening to the stories, one at a time, and seeing the connection between the stones, the art work, the artists, and the writers.
I pick up the stones and place them back down on the land, creating a circle of stones. Each stone has a story. The collective story represents the history of the land, the history of ideas, and represents a prayer for the renewed energy of our spoken indigenous languages.
(A short piece about the stories)
Angie is throwing fish guts into a fly infested bucket of gore now, FML.
May 16th at 2:32 PM
Summer has come and almost gone. Right now I picture kids at lakes drinking beers and listening to generic rock music, Nickelback, wasting their time idly while barely clothed. That’s the problem with movies really. Life rarely becomes a scene from some over-glossed and well-lit movie. Kids out there are just like me. Working, trying to save up for college, and maybe save just enough to see the Sharks play the Canucks in early December. Behind me I hear the slop of more guts going splash in the bucket. Across the field is a tub filled with freshly caught salmon caught by my uncles at their fishing hole. I guess I could be thankful I don’t have to haul it up a rugged hill and have my clothes dripping with the slimy stuff. I won’t say anything bad about the fish, as crabby as I am right now, I can hear my aunt rattling on about respecting the animals and the gifts that they give us. Never disrespect the animals or they’ll trick you into climbing up a mountain and then they’ll throw you off a cliff. I learned that grizzly story when I was seven years old, when my aunt Katie taught Gitksan studies at my school.
Just now my cousin Bob pulls up in his sweet Mustang. He’s pretty cool. It’s a combination of not listening to Nickelback, having the windows rolled up so he doesn’t breathe in the dust cloud his 17” wheels just made, and of course having the air conditioning on. A modern day Fonze, but without sharks, greased up hair, or laughable Russian dance moves. If this was a movie his car would probably transform into some laser shooting robot right about now. The fish almost slips out of my hand when I pass it to his mother. She looks at it for awhile and mutters, “lukwil’am”.
Hell yeah, I gut that fish pretty good. I’ve been doing this all summer long, high five? Luke jumps up and smacks my palm with his. Then he runs inside the house to wash the blood of his hands. After that he’ll probably be playing some shooter game on the Xbox with his cousins. That kind of disappoints me. My grandfather made and took pride in this epic green yard, and now the younger ones don’t do anything with it. Younger ones, I sound like I’m old or something. I remember playing soccer on this field, red rover with my friends, frozen tag, and getting smacked in the forehead with a Frisbee right where those uncut salmon are waiting for us. A little young to be all nostalgic now but they’re good memories.
“You know I said sorry for hitting you in the head that one time”, says Bob drinking some real tasty looking bottle of Pepsi.
I haven’t graduated from gutting class just yet. Maybe next summer hopefully, if granny approves. For now I’m stuck cleaning the fish. I look over at my mom who is slitting the insides of the salmon into narrow strips, salting them from time to time, and keeping them neat like folders in my dads’ filing cabinet. I stand here at my bloody station occasionally spying on my mom and Bob’s mom. Bob’s mom gets the better job of hanging the fish on racks and seasoning them. My granny takes those racks and puts them in the smoke house at the end of the day.
The first time I tried cutting salmon, not gutting but actually cutting, I gashed my arm up and Bob raced me to the hospital. My parents wouldn’t let me cut for the rest of the summer. Instead I had to work at the Johnsons gas bar in Kitwanga, making minimum wage, losing my weekends, and having to serve ice cream to rude German tourists. Two lessons learned last year. One, hold the knife naturally and don’t force the cuts, feel the force flowing through you, guiding you. Two, bottom end retail is not where I ever want to be.
After washing my hands and grabbing a cup of tea for me and my granny I sit down on a lawn chair next to Bob. I’m still watching how my mom cuts the salmon neatly. It’s an art form. I’ve never been good at three dimensional spatial relations. That just a fancy way of saying I’d chop my thumbs off if I tried doing what she does. What she’s doing is carving the fish up like a book, with fine thin pages of salmon attached to the spine. You don’t want to cut the meat too thick or it’ll just go bad when you smoke it for the next couple of days. It has to be thin enough for the smoke to be absorbed and to dry out quickly.
When you’re hungry in the winter time and want something to snack on quickly Hooxsw is what you grab first from the freezer. White people would probably call it salmon jerky. When that first frozen strip of Hooxsw hits your tongue and starts melting in your mouth you realize this isn’t jerky, pal. Right now my mind just flashed forward and made a mental note to stash my share away when I’m at UBC this winter, I must buy a mini-fridge for my dorm room. OMG, my first year away at school school in Vancouver. I hope it’s alright.
“Are you having a Lost flashback?” asks Bob. I just missed my granny analyzing the suicide/murder of a girl a couple of winters ago. My granny contends that the girl didn’t know how to tie a fisherman’s knot on her noose and that the boyfriend probably killed her and then set it up to look like she killed herself.
CSI Gitsegukla would make for an interesting tv show. I picture my granny making a witty remark, putting on sunglasses, and the CSI Miami intro in the background:
I can’t take this stupid grin off my face.
Bob is looking at me disapprovingly. That was his other cousin who died. Not my relation. She worked at the gas bar too. She was so pretty and nice to me when I started high school. I’m not smiling stupidly about her death. I tell him that later on, and fill him in on the CSI Gitsegukla mental movie.
Bob makes some decent coin down south making video games. We’re on our way back to the village from Hazelton. The car is filled with the smells of cooked cheese burgers, fried rice, chow mein, and hamburger steak for the smoke house crew. I hope Vancouver has a place that makes Chinese food as good as Totem Café. Looking down I don’t see the blood stain on the car floor from my accident last year. Guess he finally took the car to Terrace to be cleaned. I open up the steaming paper bag and grab a dry garlic spare rib from the Styrofoam container. If there was anything that tasted almost as good as Hooxsw it would be Totems dry garlic spare ribs. They come in third after Hooxs and my mom’s fried bread.
I look up from the bag and take a peek at the parking lot of Seeley Lake. No drunken half naked teenagers there. There never are. Just mosquitoes.
Everyone is digging on the food we just brought back. It’s a decent crowd made up of aunts, uncles, and soon my granny. Right now the big news is that Vancouver signed some decent defensemen for the upcoming season. The XM radio is tuned into the sports news channel. I’m finishing off the ribs and beef fried rice and my two uncles are teasing Lonny about the Oilers. They had a miserable season last year. Bob’s mom is still racking up the strips before the sun goes down, she hasn’t cracked open her order just yet.
I’m sitting next to my mom. My granny comes out of the house with the order of hamburger steak. Everyone is quiet. She hands me the plate and asks me to do it. I try to casually blink away the tear that’s forming in my right eye. I take the plate from my granny’s hands and walk into smoke house. Everyone starts talking again outside about sports, the weight of the lead line for the fishing nets, and what happened on Young & the Restless that week.
Here Ye’ah, we brought your favourite.
I drop the plate of mashed potatoes and hamburger steak into the fire. The fire jumps up and takes it quickly before dying down again. I sit down next to my granny and grab a sip of her tea, it’s so sweet but not too sugary.
“He must have been hungry for that for awhile, did you see how quickly it went?” says my granny.
“Yep,” I reply.
It’s not long before the boys head out to the fishing hole, even city mouse Bob goes with them. The sun is 2 hours away from setting. They’ll be refilling that tub again, even though we worked so hard to empty it this week. My granny cusses under her breath about the supply of fish never ending. Her work is never done. She doesn’t mean it of course. We have so many people to feed every winter. Bob’s family, my family, my uncle’s crew, and granny’s lot. When we’re done making Hooxsw we’ll move onto canning and jarring it. Canned fish with Kraft Dinner is one of my favorite winter meals. I imagine I’ll be eating that a lot at school. I wonder if any of my white roommates will like it, or if I will even have roommates.
My dad pulls up in his truck. Looks at the buckets of guts next to me and rubs my head saying, “Am Ni’in”. He takes the two buckets and puts them into the back of his truck to take them to the garbage dump.
I don’t think I was ever a wild crazy party girl when I was still in high school. But I’ll have to admit that patch in grade eleven wasn’t the best between me and my parents. It’s weird not knowing where you belong sometimes. Losing my grandfather, Ye’ah. His house felt empty that winter. I just didn’t know who to talk to about it. Bob would check in on me on MSN messenger once a week. In the winter time it’s so easy to isolate yourself. Then one morning my mom kicks me out of bed early on a Saturday in May and tells me granny wants to teach me how to cut. That’s the first and last time I’m allowed to bring my iPod touch to her smoke house.
The day is nearly over. The boys have refilled the tub and have gone home. My dad is dropping bags of ice in the tub to preserve them for the coming days. I’m sitting down done for the day drinking some more tea. Bob’s mom finally opens up her plate of chicken chow mein. My granny is rummaging about inside the smoke house hanging today’s stash. It’s dark out but the sun refuses to give up its grasp on the night sky, it just physically can’t. Even at 11 PM it’s still light out despite the sun having gone down two hours ago. I can hear the sound of a car driving east towards town. That’s another thing that makes me sad, kids don’t play Go Go anymore.
Bob pulls up in his car again. He rolls down the window. “It doesn’t look like we cut these fish a break”, he says putting on a pair of sunglasses and turning on his stereo:
It takes me a couple of minutes to stop laughing. He drives off to town, leaving me there looking like a goofy nerd in front of my baffled granny. My parents chuckle a bit; they’ve watched their share of Caruso. Soon they pack up the XM radio and put it inside the house, then head home for the night. It’s just me and my granny now. A warm breeze rustles the big blue tarp that covers us from the daylight sun. “Tomorrow I teach you how to cut”, she says as she hands me the first Ziploc bag of Hooxsw the smoke house has made.
She’s gone to bed now; the day starts again early tomorrow at 8 AM. I’m ready to go to sleep too, just catching up on emails and status updates. So many bored friends out there and some of them hate their crummy jobs. I sneak a piece of Hooxsw, dipped in Oolichan grease, to my room. Hell no, I’m not sharing this with anyone , it’s all mine. Another long day awaits me tomorrow. I log out and head to bed.
Angie knows what makes Hooxsw taste so awesome, family.
2 minutes ago.
Bob likes this.
I have just heard the news of the passing of a respected elder from the Secwepemc Nation. I felt it appropriate to honour her in some way by reflecting on some of the words of wisdom she has left behind. Dr. Mary Thomas was a passionate and outspoken advocate for the preservation of the environment and a tireless supporter of language and cultural revitalization. She received many accolades throughout her lifetime for her generous teachings. In collaboration with faculty members at the University of Victoria, she published a book titled, The Wisdom of Dr. Mary Thomas 1, that consists of a series of lectures delivered by her to various classes throughout the university. This collection of lectures makes an important contribution to Secwepemc cultural knowledge, particularly to furthering the understanding of the Secwepemc worldview and its key cultural values. The central theme of her lectures resonates with an urgent call to restore healthy relationships within our world. Within her lifetime Dr. Thomas shared knowledge of great importance to the Secwepemc Nation and to all humankind.
The book is comprised of five lectures that were presented to student audiences between February 2001 to January 2002. The lectures were transcribed and organized by staff at the university including Dr. Nancy Turner, Robin June Hood, Jennifer Infanti and Diane Peacock. The first lecture in the series is titled, “Nature and Culture from a Secwepemc Elder’s Perspective” and was presented to the School of Child and Youth Care in February 2001. This lecture focused on the value of relationships within family life and presents comparisons between traditional Secwepemc practices with those today. The lecture also took students on a historical journey through Thomas’ experiences at the residential school, during the Second World War, and at the B.C. Native Women’s Society. Within this lecture Thomas shared traditional teachings and stories used to educate children and related the ways in which the telling of these stories was incorporated into real life experience. The lecture continued with her view of child development today and her thoughts on the importance of instilling a sense of self-discipline from birth. She emphasized the value of relationships and the importance of family in a child’s life.
In lecture two titled, “Environment, Culture and Education”, delivered to the Faculty of Education, Dr. Thomas introduced the theme of spirituality and our role in the natural world. By adding in personal narratives about the residential school era and the negative impact this experience had on the development of her own cultural identity Thomas contributes to our knowledge of Secwepemc history. Her personal challenges are characteristically met with a spirit of strength and survival and her personal experiences artfully interwoven with passionate reminders of our role as humans within the wider context of the natural world.
The third lecture titled, “Looking After the Land: Our Connection to Mother Earth”, demonstrated Thomas’ vast knowledge of traditional plants of the Secwepemc territory. This lecture was delivered to the School of Environmental Studies in 2001. Within this section Thomas gave examples of several plants from the local Shuswap Lakes area traditionally used by the Secwepemc people. She talked about man’s destructive habits and the ways in which they are threatening the survival of our natural world. Her comments, embedded within stories and personal anecdotes, presented complex knowledge of great importance to the survival of our world.
The fourth lecture centred on the theme of respect and appreciation for nature. The value of community is emphasized throughout with comments such as,
And when you have a strong community and strong families within that community, you don’t have the problems that we’re having today. ‘Cause everybody helped one another.
(Thomas, 2002, p.59)
Many of her teachings were supported by her observations of the natural world. She used the example of the birch tree to show how one species can hold so much significance for a culture. She talks about the variety of uses for the birch tree, including basket making, canoes, kindling, medicine and syrup. Her story of the birch tree introduces a discussion on the practice of “clear-cutting” and its damaging effects on our forests. She deftly handles environmental issues by utilizing her skills as a storyteller.
In her final lecture, “Nature and Culture from a Secwepemc Elder’s Perspective” she reiterates many teachings from previous talks. Within this section she includes teachings of child development gleaned from her memories of her childhood and expands on the theme of relationships.
All these adults, young moms, young dads, uncles, big brothers, sisters, grandparents, were on the outside of the circle. In the middle was the little children and each one of these people on the outside of the circle had an obligation to teach these little ones in the middle how to become strong, to be part of the strong family circle. (Thomas, p. 8).
Throughout the lecture series the theme of relationship is central. Thomas wrapped up her final lecture with a plea to recover the good parts of the past and to revisit the values that helped keep traditional society intact.
This book offers a lasting legacy for the Secwepemc Nation and for society as a whole. Although Mary had already generously left the Secwepemc people with many stories and important ethnographic resources, this book offers a wide range of her teachings. She delivers an extremely eloquent and powerful argument for sustaining a harmonious relationship with our natural world. It is only those who have spent a lifetime working alongside Mother Earth that are afforded such perception:
Water is gentle and yet it can be so powerful. Water can tear a whole mountainside down. It can move boulders, it can tear big trees out and yet it could be so gentle. (Thomas, p.20).
Now that Mary has passed on we cannot dwell too long on the beauty of her words without unmasking the ugly truths behind her message. Within her lecture series she made use of a common characteristic found in oral tradition, repetition. In this case we can assume that her message is important enough to be heard time and time again, until we begin to listen.
Kukstec kuc, Kye7e Mary, you will be deeply missed by all.
The Alutiiq words in “wake up waniska” are taken from a song that was translated into Alutiiq by master elder speakers from Kodiak Island in 2005. As the lead artist on the project, I composed the English lyrics and asked for the support of the Alutiiq Language Project for their translations. This song was developed for Native Village of Afognak’s Alutiiq Song and Dance Creation Workshop.
Tanya Lukin Linklater (M. Ed.) originates from the Native Villages of Port Lions and Afognak in southwestern Alaska. She is a choreographer, performance artist, and writer.
Tanya studied theatre and Native American Literature as a Mellon Fellow at Stanford University, where she received the Louis Sudler Prize in the Creative and Performing Arts. She has trained in dance at The Banff Centre for the Arts and Mile Zero Dance.
In 2007, her essay, “Avva’s Telling,” on the The Journals of Knud Rasmussen was published in an anthology by Isuma. She coordinated, with Marilyn Dumont and Anna Marie Sewell, the Honour Songs Project for the 2007 Edmonton Poetry Festival to honour the contributions of aboriginal women to the City of Edmonton through poetry, performance, and installation.
She has shown her choreographic and performance art works at LIVE Biennale, Art Nomade, Expanse Movement Arts Festival, “Acts of Transfer: Women and Performance in the Americas” at UCLA, Visualeyez, and elsewhere. Tanya is a dedicated educator, having instructed at University of Alberta in Aboriginal Literature and Aboriginal Dance.
In 2010 she was awarded the Chalmers Professional Development Grant by Ontario Arts Council for a mentorship with Penny Couchie, co-Artistic Director of Earth in Motion World Indigenous Dance. Tanya writes from her home on Lake Nipissing in northern Ontario.
The story I would like to tell is about engaging with Nahkawēwin, or the Saulteaux language. It is also about moments of sharing these experiences with Elder-language speakers and the process of coming closer to one’s centre by entering the realm of the language of one’s ancestors.
In 2005, I began learning to speak Nahkawēwin through my performance art work. This was a pivotal moment in my life. I had never heard the language spoken in childhood and exceedingly little in my adult life as well. But I had for many many years felt a strong desire to learn it. I knew that my grandparents and great-grandparents had been multi-lingual and had been told by a family friend that my late Mihšōmihš was known as an excellent speaker of Nahkawēwin.
My process was to write in English and then work with translators. I wanted to say exactly what I meant, precisely what I felt for the context of the event I’d been invited to. It wasn’t easy! Neither the writing process nor the translating. I’m laughing now…but at the time, I was diving deep. I had been expecting to receive the translations back, or some word on the progress, by a certain date; the performance was coming up and I’d yet to learn to speak the Nahkawēwin text. One week prior to the performance the call came and the translator was unable to complete the work. Now what?
I called a friend to see if she could recommend someone who might be able to translate on short notice – and do it over the phone. Names came and one by one I phoned people explaining who I was, what I was attempting to do and asked if they could help me. One by one, the people I called tried to help with the translations while I held my mini-cassette recorder close to the phone, repeating the Nahkawēwin words. This would work until we got into some of the more complex conceptual phrases and then my sources would reveal, that no, they could not translate certain phrases as they really weren’t fluent speakers either. They’d been to residential school, lost a great deal of their language and really hadn’t gained enough back. “You need to find someone who always spoke their language and never had it broken”, one person told me. And he gave me a name. As it turned out, the person recommended, was a relative of mine. Someone I had never known growing up. My quest led me back to family. And so the translating began over the phone with one of my aunties, who lived in Canora, SK, a 9 hour drive away.
Once the text was recorded, I had just a few days to prepare to speak/perform it in front of an audience. I had such passion for the words though and such hunger for the language; I dove deep for what I felt needed to be said, and how it needed to be said. I practiced around the clock and before long I was driving the 7 hour drive from La Ronge to Regina where I would be performing. It was a very special time, that solo road trip, with the translations playing over and over, and me speaking them again and again.
Performance night came and I decided to write the Nahkawēwin text on my hands and arms, initially thinking, “Just in case”, but it actually looked pretty cool too. As I moved around the room, writing syllabic text on the floor with black paint and my hands, I spoke not syllabic but another text, the Nahkawēwin my Auntie had translated for me. As I wrote with the paints, the water began to wash away the text I’d written on my hands. I’d used water soluable ink! The Nahkawēwin text I was supposed to speak was disappearing from my skin! My cheat notes were fading. But the words still came, all in Nahkawēwin. It just poured out of me.
A few years later, I told my aunt & uncle about this experience of feeling the Nahkawēwin there with me in the venue room, more than being there with me, coming through me. In speaking the language of my ancestors, a new realm of my self was revealed to me. I spoke from this place for the first time in my life.
We shared a bit more with each other about language, spirit and culture that I won’t repeat here out of respect, but they knew that I’d experienced, if only briefly, the heart of the language. After I’d told them my story, my aunt’s eyes lit up as she began to speak and the old guy leaned back in his seat and said, “Right on!”
Robin Brass is an Interdisciplinary Artist whose practice explores Indigenous orality through Nahkawewin (Nahkawe/Anishinabe language). She is a recipient of the Lynch-Staunton award in Performance Art and currently resides in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Welcome to this website
My name is Peter Morin
I am a Tahltan Nation Citizen
My mom is Tahltan
My Dad is French——from Thetford Mines Quebec
Before we begin
I want to take this time to acknowledge the memory of the land——we carry with us
I acknowledge this presence of the land——it is with you wherever you are right now
The land carries us——and we carry this land
the land nurtures and inspires us to create new ideas
I acknowledge our ancestors——ancestors are the physical connection——this is history——these are the people who connect us to the land
Our ancestors dreamed up systems which nurture ideas——and our ancestors continue to inspire new ideas
And growth of new ideas
On this website you see a circle of stones
This circle is one of the systems designed by our ancestors
In the circle we are all equal
No body sits about or below
No idea sits above or below
No voice sits above or below
In the circle we take turns speaking
In the circle we practice listening
The circle isn’t over until we have all spoken our truths——our ideas——our stories
You can never enter a circle the same way twice
I invite you to join this circle
The idea for this circle was born out of two visual art exhibitions
The first exhibition was——Speaking in Landscape Tongues 2009——the exhibition took place at the Western Front gallery in Vancouver——the exhibition featured visual works by Faye Heavyshield Marianne Nicholson Cheryl L’hirondelle Jason Lujan——Sanda Semchuk and James Nicholas——the exhibition focused on bridging the connection between the act of speaking and the act of making——both acts becoming a contribution to the development of ideas that shape indigenous ways of knowing——the gallery site becomes a place of transformation——a place of connection for these ideas————coming to the gallery becomes a ceremony for these ideas
The artists language speaking and language learning——dance with these creative acts or the visual——these pieces play an interesting role in the development of new ideas for the indigenous community——ideas that articulate connection to the land
this trifecta——idea——practice or speaking——and creative acts——has an influence on what we would eventually call Nation——but that’s a story for another time
in Canada——what we have————are Nations within Nation
The second exhibition was Speaking to the Old Ones 2009——this exhibition took place at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia——this exhibition featured videos by Helen Haig-Brown Kevin Burton Jason Lujan Sandra Semchuk and James Nicholas——the videos were played on TVs——the TVs were placed in the Museum’s Great Hall so that the totem poles could watch these stories
the artists featured in this exhibition——told stories about the community to these old Elder beings——totem poles tell stories——they carry the history of the community——or the history of the Nation shapes the final sculptural form
Stories are a structure which will eventual carry ideas values ways of knowing——the transfer of these pieces is important to the continued development of the people——old stories are held in the museum——new stories get told all the time
from this we get A Small Gathering for the Healing of Indigenous Languages
but there is a trick
because this is a website and not a gathering
this is a gathering with no food
this is a ceremony and not a website
this is a talking circle and not a website
this is a medicine wheel and not a website
this is a small gathering but the number of people who come to the gathering will always change
this is a gathering of language speakers——for indigenous language——language is represented on this site and Indigenous language is spoken on this website———————— this is a website but land is present
the red stones come from Kaska Dena territory
the white stones come from Tahltan territory
this website is a ceremony
this website is a reminder that our indigenous language need to be embraced and practiced
and finally some of the stories will always be present——but the circle will always change
To participate in this circle——you click on the stones——you can follow the circle each stone will lift up and share the contribution of the artist——there is one blank stone————this stone represents your voice——your contribution to the circle——you are invited to sit and reflect on what you’ve learned from participating in the circle you can also voice your words to the universe if you like
I want to acknowledge the Western Front who hosted my year long residency in 2009 this residency supported the creation of the Speaking in Landscape Tongues and Speaking to the Old Ones exhibitions
This residency was supported through the Assistance to Aboriginal Curators for Residencies in the Visual Arts program through the Canada Council for the Arts
I want to acknowledge Candice Hopkins for her support during my residency with the Western Front
I want to acknowledge Mark Soo——Mandy Ginson——Andrew Lee——for their support of the exhibitions and the small gathering for the healing of indigenous languages website
I want to acknowledge the artists and writers for their contributions to the exhibition and website
I want to acknowledge language speakers for their strong contribution to the survival of our indigenous communities——you are heros————meduh for being brave
I want to acknowledge The Future and their beautiful work on the design and implementation of this website
This website——the art presented on the website——the artists presented on this website were supported by the Artist and Community Collaborative program fund through the Canada Council for the Artist
This circle is a circle of stones——stones that speak with a land-filled voice
Your voice is also a land-filled voice
A land-filled voice is a steeped in history——in ideas——in practice of these ideas
Remember your land-filled voice
Use it to speak
Museum of Anthropology
September 3 to October 18 2009
Featuring media works by James Nicholas and Sandra Semchuk, Jason Lujan, Kevin Burton, Helen Haig-Brown
September 10 to October 17
Featuring Faye HeavyShield, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Marianne Nicholson, Jason Lujan, James Nicholas & Sandra Semchuk
Documentation by Mark Soo