I went to a really interesting conference this fall hosted by the University of Alberta. The presenters were Indigenous scholars working in “research-creation” – or to put it another way, the products of their academic work is not just publications, it could be art, films, video games, anything they could imagine as a good way to share a message. I felt this was an important conference to attend, because a lot of art, and working with artifacts, is about imagining and finding new ways to share messages.
All the folks at the conference had one thing in common, they were trying to unsettle settler-colonial presence. It was the first time I had been confronted with real, intentional, active work to diminish my privilege in favor of a new paradigm for this land. I imagined that I might feel ashamed or uncomfortable in this gathering, as a white settler person myself, but actually it was really inspiring.
Sometimes I feel like intentions of Reconciliation are often sort of unspoken. We’ve more or less agreed that as a nation, we’ll try to recognize the horror that colonization caused to Indigenous people… but the discussion of this harm being ongoing, or reparations, or of the changes that this recognition could encourage is sort of absent. There is a growing chorus in the Indigenous community of discontent with reconciliation – could this be because none of us are sure of its goals or intent?
This conference made clear to me some of the goals Indigenous folks have for this land and their space (and mine) on it. The most encouraging thing I came away with – is that their intent feels like it would make this place better for us all. Far from imagining a world where settler people are relegated to some contemporary-reserve-like-retributive-space, the future these folks aspired to was one in which our relationships to each other and the world around us are central to the ways we interact together: thus all our decisions are made based on our needs to support and sustain each other. If this sounds a bit utopic, fair… so I’ll include some highlights from their work that are bounded in reality. Hope you enjoy!
Mandee McDonald… is engaging in research that she envisioned that would allow her do spend as much time as possible doing her favorite thing in the world – tanning hides with her friends. Her work explores how embodied experience is rewarding and meaningful, and worth pursuing.
Elaine D. Alexie… makes beautiful jewelry, and has an inspiring life story. She presented on museum research and material culture.