Monday, November 7, 2016

Honouring Water in Vancouver

'Dying of Thirst' an Indigenous screen gathering put together by artist/curators Tannis Nielsen (Canada) and Jenny Fraser (Australia) to showcase and honour tribal lands and waterways was held in Vancouver on Thursday October 27th. Featuring a range of performances and moving image works from Canada, Australia and Mexico representing various artforms and cultural backgrounds including Aboriginal, Native Canadian, Mayan and others. The event was held in solidarity for the many water protectors campaigning around the world at the moment, particularly the struggle at Standing Rock in the neighbouring Turtle Island community. 
Dying of Thirst : Thirst Days
"With this video program we affirm the urgency of defending land and water, now and for the next seven generations to come. We compel the viewer towards taking action in the protection of our planet and present some of the voices of international indigenous women’s struggle and resistance, safeguarding our inter-connectedness with the sacredness of all living things. These voices speak to the recognition and respect of indigenous sovereignty and against the colonial, capitalist resource extraction industries that rape our ancestral territories. They speak toward the seen and the known; animated in their resistance by the fires of prophecy, the love of the land, the people(s), and all of our relations. By sharing these subjectivities and prophecies we hope to begin to recognize each other, to unify and work together toward building an encyclopedia of international emancipatory strategies" affirmed curators Tannis Nielsen and Jenny Fraser. 
Jenny Fraser and Tannis Nielsen (Via Skype) introducing Dying of Thirst 2016 photo by Mique'l Dangeli
Local Coast Salish woman Lee Maracle commented in a new video for this screen conversation between Indigenous Women Internationally. Lee Maracle is from the Sto:Lo nation. She was born in Vancouver and grew up on the north shore. She is the author of Ravensong and Daughters Are Forever. Throughout her entire career, Lee Maracle has advocated tirelessly towards women’s, land and water rights. Known internationally as an acclaimed poet, Lee’s voice was sought for the territorial and geographical grounding of the exhibitions concept. Work from other artists included Mique'l Dangeli (Tsimshian), Jenny Fraser (Yugambeh), Helen Knott (Dane-Zaa), Zoila Jiménez (Mayan), Jules Koostachin (Cree/Attawapiskat), Tannis Nielsen (Métis/Anishnawbe + Danish), Rona Scherer (Mamu + Kuku Yalanji), Alex Wilson (Neyonawak Inniwak Opaskwayak Cree), Rita Wong. 
Lee Maracle on video for Dying of Thirst 2016 photo by Jenny Fraser
Lori Blondeau performed live at the event, and appropriate to the title “offerings’, Lori graciously offered the creation of a new work, specifically ‘gifted’ towards the Dying of Thirst thematic of water and resistance. The performance was also a tribute to Inuk woman artist Annie Pootoogook who recently died and was pulled from the water in Ottowa, a tragic loss to the Native Canadian Artworld. This month Lori won an excellence award in her home Territory of Saskatchewan. She describes her performance art as high-tech storytelling, drawing from personal experience. “My own stories, my mothers and grandmothers, I draw from the women in my life that are close to me, my experience being an Indigenous person living in this crazy time". She has also recently been concentrating on water in her work such as a focus on the historic Mistassiny stone, blown up while creating the Gardiner Dam. “I wanted to pay homage to the people who have fought to preserve these sites, to these stones that represent who we are as Plains Indians. Elbow kept a remnant of Mistassiny at the Elbow marina so I did a photo shoot of me wrapped up in red velvet on top of it” said Lori Blondeau. 
Lori Blondeau performing 'offerings' live for Dying of Thirst 2016 photo by Jenny Fraser
The Vancouver opening ceremony for 'Dying of Thirst' also included a 'Feast for the Peace' organised by Rita Wong, sharing food in solidarity with the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land, who delayed clear cutting for 62 days in -30 weather this past winter. The proposed Site C dam would flood over 100 km of the Peace River Valley, destroying the last 20% of the free running Peace River. This $9 billion dollar dam violates treaty rights and is currently being challenged by several law suits. Instead of waiting for the law to rule, the BC government has instead started clear cutting the river valley to prepare for this mega dam. There is still time to stop this mega dam, which would take 9 years to build. If built, it would likely be used to power fracking and the tar sands, since there is no domestic demand for its energy. The dam will destroy a crucial wildlife corridor that stretches from the Yukon to the Yellowstone and reduce much needed forests that capture carbon in a time of global warming. It would also destroy fertile soil for farming, and make Peace farmers homeless. The intention behind the feast was to honour the food that the land provides, and to assert its importance to our future. 
Feast for the Peace for Dying of Thirst 2016 photo by Alisha Weng
Mique'l Dangeli on video for Dying of Thirst 2016 photo by Jenny Fraser
'Dying of Thirst' is part of Thirst Days which is Vivo Media Art Centres monthly series of video, film, performance and ceremony events overseen by the projects curator/artist-in-residence Jayce Salloum. He asks 'how can this, how can we, contribute to the establishing of a momentum that may have once been here in waves or pieces but over time was squandered, and defeated, with the imposition of capital triumphantly declaring its colonial (un)consciousness in our enclave by the water. Surrounded by a possible serene beauty, grief and sadness, love and hate, what encounters do we inscribe into our psyches and into our beings, what can art do to fulfil a mandate of hope and agency. What can we contribute?'
'offerings' performance remains by Lori Blondeau for Dying of Thirst 2016 photo by Alisha Weng

Dying of Thirst Curated by

Tannis Nielsen + Jenny Fraser

VIVO Media Arts Presents


No. 09

Love, intimacy and

(com)passion, in a

geopolitical context
Thirst Days 

facebook event
Dying of Thirst Program : 
Tannis Nielsen + Jenny Fraser
Lee Maracle
Lee Maracle
15:00, video, 2016
Throughout her entire career, Lee Maracle has advocated tirelessly towards women’s, land and water rights. Known internationally as an acclaimed poet, Lee’s voice and wisdom was immediately identified to be a central component of our project as we recognized her as being the impetus, embodiment – territorial and geographical grounding of our concept.
Mique'l Dangeli
Sm Łoodm ‘Nüüsm (Mique'l Dangeli) +  Tim-kyo’o’hl Hayats’kw (Nick Dangeli)
Aks Gyigyiinwa̱xł (water prayer)
video, Sm'algyax (Tsimshian) with English subtitles, Nick Dangeli: camera; Duane R. Grant: sound, 2016
The making of this film is a prayer offered by a mother and son (Diiłda Noo ada Ługuułgm), spoken in Tsimshian (Sm’algya̱x). Bringing together cedar, eagle down, copper, and ocean, it calls upon us to think critically about our relationships to the precious life-giving waterways inside our bodies and those of fresh and salt water that we are surrounded by. It is made in solidarity with efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, to protect the flora beds around Lelu Island, to end Transboundary Mining, and with all people who are resisting capitalism by challenging resource extraction, defending salmon habitats, and praying with and for water around the world.
Jenny Fraser
Jenny Fraser
Saltwater Freshwater
15:51, video, 2016
Jenny speaks toward the history, memory, arts, culture and society of her home territory in Australia. She discusses the destruction of territory – sacred places – and the negative effect upon her Peoples, while simultaneously calling upon the audience to resist environmental degradation and the importance of working together as community to create change.
Zoila Jiménez
Zoila Jiménez
Mayan Lords Knowledge
1:50, video, 2016
Zoila Jimenez presents teachings about her significant relationship to water from a Mayan perspective.
Jules Koostachin
Jules Koostachin
NiiPii - Water Teaching
6:33, video, 2016
My grandparents taught me if we continue to disregard the gifts of the Earth, Water and the Sky then we are no longer living, we are merely surviving.

Although the verbal communication between Jules’ Cree grandparents and her was severed because of the residential school experience, they continued to build their relationship by spending a lot of time together in the north. She spent much of her childhood observing her grandparents and helping them clean and smoke hide, she also supported the household with chores like preparing hide, cutting wood and fetching water. Her family never really spoke about the experiences of being Native; they lived their lives together and enjoyed the company of family, friends and community.  Her family comes from the Moskekowok territory, both her grandparents (non-English speakers) are hunters and trappers, and lived off the land for most of their lives. This land-based existence was part of the everyday, the respect for land, sky and water was inherent, it wasn’t spoken about -- they lived it.  
Rona Scherer
Rona Scherer
Spirit Flow
1:46 video, 2016
"For over 75,000 Aboriginal people of Australia have had a wonderful and consistent involvement with water. It forms part of our stories, our dreaming, our living, our agriculture, our play, in fact, it’s pretty much a part of everything we are as Aboriginal people. In less than 250 years since European settlement, our waterways are now struggling. The new settlers to this country, had no knowledge or ignored basic science of how trees draw water to the surface of the land, cutting and clearing great swathes of land for their own agricultural or construction purposes. This process not only denied Aboriginal people access to traditional food sources and their own country, but it has caused many parts to be now arid with high salinity and slow running or dry river beds. Once crystal clear waterways, now run murky with silt washed down through generations of inappropriate farming techniques causing imbalance where dependent ecosystems struggle to survive. In western countries, where a household can use up to 20 litres of fresh water daily to flush toilets, we must take advantage of innovative products humans so brilliantly devise to stem this abhorrent waste of water. We must do it now, before it is too late.”
Alex Wilson
Alex Wilson
10:00, video, 2016
Dr. Wilson is one of many organizers with the Idle No More movement, integrating radical education movement work with grassroots interventions that prevent the destruction of land and water. She is particularly focused on educating about and protecting the Saskatchewan River Delta and supporting community based food sovereignty efforts. Having co-developed a Masters program in Land-Based Education at the University of Saskatchewan, she is now in the process of creating an international Indigenous Landbased PhD program.
Rita Wong
Rita Wong
Feast for the Peace
Tonight we’ll Feast for the Peace, sharing food in solidarity with the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land, who delayed clear cutting for 62 days last winter. Helen Knott, from the Prophet River First Nation, is one of the people named in BC Hydro’s SLAPP suit against Peace River protectors. The Site C dam would flood and destroy 100 km of wildlife habitat and farmland. This $9 billion dollar megadam violates treaty rights and is challenged by several law suits. Not waiting for the courts, BC has started clear cutting the river valley. There is still time to stop this dam that would be used to power fracking and the tar sands. We feast to honour the food that the land provides, and to assert its importance to our future.

Helen Knott
Helen Knott: On the Site C Treaty
5:00, video, camera: Reg Whiten, 2016
Helen Knott, Dane-Zaa Activist from Prophet River First Nations speaks about her call to protect the homelands of the Treaty 8 region and development of a third Dam on the Peace River (Site C). Helen shares her views on the importance of the sacred peace treaty, and doing what she can to raise awareness about the potential for permanent loss of critical heritage, old growth forest river ecosystems, and fish/wildlife habitat in the Peace River Valley.
Lori Blondeau
Lori Blondeau
20:00, performance, 2016
Appropriate to the title 'offerings’ Lori is graciously offering us the creation of a new work, specifically ‘gifted’ towards the dying of thirst  thematic of water and resistance.

'Deluge' video artwork by Tannis Nielsen screening for Dying of Thirst 2016

Tannis Nielsen
1:30, video, 2016
Being screened in VIVO’s lobby entrance, inspired by Winona Laduke’s quote “women are the direct manifestation of Earth in human form”, Tannis performs the idea of this, by embodying the pain and violence upon Indigenous women’s bodies caused by resource extraction industries.  
Tannis Nielsen
Binaakwe-Giizis/falling leaves moon
2:00, video, 2014
For the past seven years Tannis has been utilizing static electricity, water and the reflections and sound of both the sun and moon on bodies of water in order to speak toward Anishnawbe stories of creation. The ambient images animated here were recorded under a full moon, on lake ontario. The video was later mirrored and slowed down so that the viewer may be better abled to access the sentient being of water. Using two channel projections of water, Tannis provides the elemental fundamental linkages between the women’s voices/video who are heard speaking about water here.

Biographies :

As a Cree/Saulteaux artist, Lori Blondeaus artistic practice continues to explore the influence of popular media and culture (contemporary and historical) on Aboriginal self-identity, self-image, and self-definition. She has been an artist, instructor, and curator for the last 20 years and is currently exploring the impact of the colonization of traditional and contemporary roles and lifestyles of Aboriginal women by strategically deconstructing popular images of the Indian Princess and the Squaw. Blondeau uses humour as a performative storytelling strategy to reconstruct these stereotypes, reveal their absurdity, and reinsert them into the mainstream. The performance personas she creates, like Belle Sauvage, refer to the damage of colonialism and to the ironic pleasures of displacement and resistance. 

Mique'l Dangeli was born and raised in Metlakatla, Alaska. She belongs to the Lax̱sgiik (Eagle Clan) and carries the Tsimshian name, Sm Łoodm ’Nüüsm and Tlingit name Táakw Shaawát. She served her community for eight years as the director of the Duncan Cottage Museum. She has also worked for the Annette Island Service Unit in Metlakatla as the curator of their Healing Art Collection. She is a dancer, choreographer, and dance group leader. Since 2003 she and her husband, Nisga’a/Tsimshian/Tlingit artist, carver, and singer Mike Dangeli, have shared the leadership of the Git Hayetsk (People of the Copper Shield), an internationally renowned Northwest Coast dancing group. She is currently an Assistant Professor, at the University of Alaska

Jenny Fraser was the first Murri to have her video art broadcast into outer space in the 2015 Forever Now project – a follow-up to the NASA Voyager Golden Records sent into space in 1977. She has a PhD in the Art of Healing and Decolonisation from Batchelor Institute in the Northern Territory (Australia). Jenny recently received the 2016 Mana Wairoa Award for Advancing Indigenous Rights, and she received an Australia Council fellowship for her project Midden in 2012. She founded the online gallery cyberTribe in 1999, the Blackout Collective in 2002, andWorld Screen Culture in 2015. She is on the National Advisory Group for the Centre for Indigenous Story, and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at The Cairns Institute.

Zoila Jiménez was born in 1978 and is a native of Merida, Mexico.  She studied at the Autonomous University of Yucatán in the Faculty of Anthropological Sciences in the specialty of Social Anthropology where she completed her  thesis ‘Religious diversity. Beliefs and rituals in a Mayan community.’’ Her work focused on the the Department of Social Sciences at the Autonomous University of Yucatan, in the CIESAS Peninsular, The University of Florida and the Center for Comparative Migration Studies at the University of California-San Diego.  Zoila is part of theKayche Collective that runs El Festival de Cine y Video Kayche' Tejidos Visuales, “which is a window that evokes dialogue in order to promote self-representation, and demand catalysts for change in an unequal world.”

Jules Koostachin is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation. She was born in Moose Factory, northern Ontario. Her grandparents in Moosonee raised her, as did her mother, a survivor of Ste. Anne’s residential school. After many years as a performance artist she completed graduate school at Ryerson University in Documentary Media where she was awarded an Award of Distinction and an Academic Gold Medal for her thesis Remembering Inninimowin. Her activism, artistic and educational endeavors focus on environmental and Indigenous issues. Jules’ companyVisJuelles Productions Inc. co-produced a youth television series entitled AskiBOYZ. The series was created, written and directed by her and is now airing on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Lee Maracle is a member of the Sto:Lo nation. She was born in Vancouver and grew up on the north shore. She is the author of Ravensong and Daughters Are Forever. Lee has also published a book of poetry, Bent Box, and a work of creative non-fiction, I Am Woman. She is the co-edited My Home As I Remember and Telling It: Women and Language across Culture. Lee is an instructor at the University of Toronto, Traditional Teacher for First Nations House; the Centre for Indigenous Theatre; S.A.G.E. (Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education); and at the Banff Centre for the Arts. In 2009, she received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University.
Tannis  Nielsen is of Metis (Anishnawbe) and Danish ancestry. She holds a Masters in Visual Studies from the University of Toronto. Her dissertation addresses the need for asserting localized Indigenous contexts accurately within the structures of the academy by illustrating the negative consequence of colonial trauma on Indigenous culture, land, language, familial relationships, and memory. Tannis’ thesis also sought to decolonize the structures of an English literacy, by repudiating the politicized devices of punctuation and capitalization. In doing this, she refused to use the language of the colonizer because “to use the language of the colonizer was to pay homage to them” (Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o). Tannis is currently teaches at The Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Rona Scherer comes from the far North Queensland areas of Australia, born to a Mamu woman and a Kuku Yalanji man. Although her early interest in art through ceramics took a backseat to assisting her children with their education and living costs, a fat tax cheque some years ago allowed her to invest in a camera and begin exploring photography. She hopes to document her people and homelands in a meaningful and connected way. Rona is connected with elders and traditional custodians from other homelands and is looking forward to recording unique moments which do them justice in a cultural context.

Alex Wilson gathered her first lessons on leadership in her home community Opaskwayak Cree Nation. “I have always been surrounded by women who lead, most of them leading steadily, some quietly, a few raucously, but always with love in their actions.” This understanding – that the most valuable leadership is driven by love for the people – has been borne out in her work as a scholar, educator, community activist, and mentor. In 2007, Alex became the first First Nations woman in Canada to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. Her groundbreaking work on the identity development of two-spirit people is widely cited and has become a touchstone for many LGBTQI Indigenous people. As Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education, Alex co-developed a Masters program in Land-Based Education. She is an organizer in Idle No More, which works to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and the protection of land and water. Alex’s home remains in Opaskwayak, where she has helped to established a community garden and nutrition program.

a news article from The Koori Mail, p61, Edition 639 Wednesday November 16, 2016

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

the cyberTribe Odyssey

Jenny Fraser: the cyberTribe Odyssey

noun od·ys·sey \ˈä-də-sē\
1: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune.
2: an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.
[Meriam Webster dictionary ]

Interview with Djon Mundine

When did you first go to Canada?

In 2000 I was really keen to attend the International Curatorial Summit that was being held at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta. I was a High School Art and Media Teacher at the time so I had to take time off from work. As I didn’t have a full grasp of the travel time or distance then, I flew into Vancouver on the West Coast, then was off on an 18-hour bus trip, inland to Banff, then all the way back again, just for the three-day summit. Walkabout. Flyabout. It happened to be my birthday, and the whole program for that day presented by the Banff New Media Institute was specifically about New Media Curating – could I have asked for a better present? There was very little (if any) Native representation in the three-day program, but I remember that Australian Aboriginal artist r e a was an invited guest, speaking about New Media Art. It was also a particularly memorable experience for me, because a ghost visited me in my room there – the only time that I have seen one in my life.

Banff Camp is like Club Med for artists, so after my three-day experience I was keen to return. Later I did an eight-week Work Study program in the Photography Department in 2003 for their first all-Indigenous International Thematic Residency (which was initially supposed to be a focus on Indigenous Digital Arts, but it was re-jigged shortly beforehand to include visual arts in general). Titled ‘Communion & Other Conversations’, the residency had 35 participants from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Mexico, and also included the curatorial symposium ‘Making a Noise: Aboriginal Curators and their Environment’ presented by the Walter Phillips Gallery and the Banff International Curatorial Institute. ... I found it weird that there were no exhibitions planned for the residency, so I curated my own as a gift to the group: ‘Turtle Island’ for the artists from Canada, the USA and Mexico; and, for the artists from Australia and New Zealand, a show called ‘Niiksowkowa’, a name given by Blackfoot artist Faye Heavyshield, which means ‘my blood relative’. They were two of the best cyberTribe exhibition opening parties ever, DJ’d by Navajo artist Bert Benally.

Aside from trips to other parts of Canada over the years, I also returned to Banff in 2005 to do a self-directed artists residency. Lita Fontaine took me to my first Pow Wow, Alberta style, which was held in a giant indoor rodeo arena. During my time at Banff, I also curated a small group exhibition titled ‘Feathers Float’, which was later featured in the Native online magazine and included some words by you Djon Mundine :).

proposed Digital Art Banff gathering

When did you start cyberTribe, and how did this become an outlet for advancing international Indigeneity?

The cyberTribe odyssey was founded in 1999, in residence at an Indigenous New Media gathering held in Darwin. But the first cyberTribe show went live in 2000 at the Alchemy International Masterclass, which was the first gathering held at the newly opened Powerhouse in Brisbane. Titled ‘eyesee’, the online exhibition included the work of Brook Andrew (AUS), Tina Baum (ACT/NT, AUS), Jonathon Bottrell (now Jones) (NSW, AUS), Brenda L Croft (AUS), Jason Davidson (NT, AUS), Nellie Green (WA, AUS), Latuff (Rio De Janeiro), Mwema African Gallery (Uganda, AFRICA), r e a (NSW, AUS), Skawennati Fragnito (CAN/USA), Troy Hunter (British Columbia, CAN) and myself Jenny Fraser (QLD, AUS).

This was a time before social media, so it was amazing to get instant feedback like this from a Filipino artist: ‘I have been looking at your gallery section and am especially impressed with Cyber Tribe: Indigenous Art Eyesee. The section on ‘kitsch’ was especially striking. The consciousness of aboriginal representation and the positive action of the arts circle in this issue is truly remarkable and commendable. My dream is to awaken similar sensibilities in art in my country and enable art to become an active agent to some degree of ethnocentricity.’

The idea for cyberTribe was seeded some years before ... As a student, in the final year of my long undergraduate degree, I remember drafting up my selection criteria for an art teaching job to include a section on how the internet would open up the presentation opportunities for museums and galleries and how that could benefit schools in regional and remote areas.

Then in the late 1990s, I took a year’s leave from teaching in Cairns to return to study in Brisbane for a postgraduate course in film and media. For an independent study project towards academic credit, English computer artist and academic Paul Brown invited me to work on, an online magazine running out of Brisbane. A lot of the students and academics working in different roles were from all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Ukraine and many Asian countries. It was enjoyable and fulfilling, there was a distinct feeling of working on something that was innovative, had a big picture approach and reach, and a continuous publishing program.

We had inherited from an American University, and one part of the original site was ‘Trophies of Honour – Art Chronicles of Indigenous Peoples’, independently created and maintained by Native American artists and performers. It was set up by Donna and Jeff Lee-Hand in an effort to preserve Native culture and art by presenting museum quality works on the Internet for future generations. So it was up to me to think about how to present an Aboriginal version from our country.

A year or so later, when I had finished the course, my leave was over and I had been transferred to the Gold Coast to go back to work as an art teacher. But I didn’t last long, as shortly after I officially resigned. My passion for Hobby Curating had started to take over my life :). Fortunately, I have received some in-kind support from people like Sam De Silva, who has provided cyberTribe with server space over the years. To me, this is as valuable as land or prime real estate, and should be populated by Blakfellas. As they say, the internet doubles every 90 days.

In 2002 marked 15 years, and closed down that year. At that stage, it was the longest-running arts magazine on the internet. This influenced the international approach of cyberTribe, which started out online as a love job ... and it still is. Indigenous people make up 6% of the world’s population, which doesn’t seem much, but it’s actually the largest minority group, and also constitutes representation from 20% of our planet’s land mass, and therefore 80% of the worlds remaining Biodiversity. So we are always proud to show alongside our cuzstodian Indigenous brothers and sisters and other artists in the international community.

Brazilian artist Latuff in eyesee - the first cyberTribe online exhibition

How many exhibitions have you mounted and promoted as cyberTribe?

As the founder of cyberTribe, I have been the centrifuge or spearhead for realising over 50 projects, taking on the roles of curator, webmistress, writer, designer, publisher and sometimes producer. This has been a mix of online and white cube exhibitions, live events and screenings, all without annual or triennial funding. This year cyberTribe will be marking 15 years of presenting exhibitions. It also happens to be a triennial year, so we will be marking the anniversary to coincide with the other APT in a then-and-now approach in Brisbane and Cairns.

cyberTribe showcases are often innovating ahead of the arts industry. But some of the projects have taken up to a decade to get up, and are usually done without any funding support. Over the years, it has been very difficult to get around the anti-web-specific rules of some funding bodies due to the lack of interest or assessor insight into the field. Insults added to the burden of working without budgets have to be endured, as some institutions have stolen our ideas and run with them, while then trying to write us out of history by publicising that their own ventures are a first. It’s ugly, especially when it’s done by our own mob.

On a personal level I know I am lucky because most things that I have wanted to do in my career, have been achieved already. This has not been without sacrifice or struggle, but I have been guided along the way by spirit and my ancestors. Being a modern day custodian of screen culture is what I am meant to be doing.

When we, as Aboriginal artists, go overseas, we are usually respected and hosted really well, and that is a good feeling. I like to go on mystery flights, and have my Art Family wherever I land. Naturally we want to return the favour and show off our beautiful country, but sometimes simple gestures of culture can be problematic in Australia, because Aboriginal people have very little access to public space or funds and we don’t really want our guests to suffer racism while they are here.

Aside from others, in 2014 I brought over Lori Blondeau (Tribe), Michelle Derosier (Thunderstone Pictures), Ariel Smith (National Indigenous Media Arts Collective), Hiona Henare (Wairoa Maori Film Festival) and others from around Oz, for the SOLID Screen retreat at Innot Hot Springs. The events over a week in July were the culmination of ten years of chasing funds and planning, and intended to be a consolidation and acknowledgement to the field of Indigenous Women Screen Makers over the past 30 to 40 years. The screening festival component was also a reciprocal gift to the local Far North Queensland community. As a leadup to the 15th anniversary of cyberTribe, SOLID was shaped to showcase and enhance the local, national and international wealth of creative talent in the variety of artforms made by and for the screen.

The artworld in Australia is male-dominated, a reflection of Australian society in general, which in 2014 was ranked as 24th in the world for the Gender Gap Report. Even women can be misogynistic, and this is alive and well in the arts, with women curators also favouring and constantly pandering to the boys clubs. The arts industry here is also very individualistic, and focused on the art star model of presentation and promotion. So it is very reassuring and good medicine to be able to rise above the misogynistic blanket of oppression and reach out to the SOLID sisterhood, nationally and internationally, also to allow ourselves some time out to realign with the stamina of the warrioress energy that we are a part of. We all need to do our bit to grow the industry, and to seed and nurture our own collaborations. I feel so satisfied that I am doing my bit, and this has already been rewarding in so many ways, including invitations to tour to Indigenous Screen events in Yucatan (Mexico), Saskatoon (Canada) and Nuhaka (Aotearoa/NZ).

With the final Blak Screen Festival happening in Melbourne this year, and with Messagestick Festival in Sydney going multi-artform in recent years, it seems that there is now only one dedicated Indigenous Film and Media Arts Festival currently running in Australia, and that is the Colourise Festival in Brisbane.

SOLID Screen Arts Healing Retreat and Festival - Innot Hot Springs July 2014

How do indigenous Canadians get on in the general Canadian art scene? What about their idea of themselves?

Listening to the Native Canadian experience at their gatherings like the Conferences run by the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, has helped me to make sense of the Australian Aboriginal experience. One term that has stuck with me – ‘cultural apartheid’,– is acknowledged to have come to us via South Africa, but the magnitude of truth in the expression has made it part of the vernacular in Canada, and should be here as well.

Effective Indigenous activists all around the world are less interested in complaining, and more interested in devising a strategy to deal with the issues at hand. Early on I had been aware of the beginnings and motivations behind imagineNATIVE, that was founded by Cynthia Lickers-Sage and is now held in Toronto every year. imagineNATIVE is a world-class event that generously includes perspectives from other Indigenous peoples as well, but it was originally born from an identified lack of Native Canadian representation at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. This is the spirit and strategic approach that I am trying to evoke in the other APT exhibition and other cyberTribe events and exhibitions, which aim to redress representational imbalances. In the case of the other APT, no amount of complaining or highlighting the cultural apartheid entrenched in the selection process of the Queensland Art Gallery has worked to get more Australian Aboriginal artists represented in the Asia Pacific Triennials, so we just have to show them how it’s done.

For a long time I have believed that if I go with the flow and am true to myself, then my ancestors will smooth the way for me. Cultural integrity in itself is an effective methodology or framework, as explained eloquently by Cree scholar Willie Ermine: ‘Mamatowisowin defines the methodology used in a quest for vision, where the seeker / artist begins to explore his / her own existence subjectively. By placing ones self into a direct stream of consciousness, the seeker / the knower / the artist will begin to unfold a greater, inherent understanding of self, by utilizing the methodologies of Mamatowisowin.’ (Ermine 1995).

As I have explored the potential of my own creative healing and decolonisation techniques to address the associated questions brought up, I have made an effort to involve and encourage others. So, as a seeker, I can try to understand the story of others, because I know and further understand my own story. My direct ancestral line has had to deal with oppression for most levels of survival, including the impact of massacres, the fear of child removal, living under the act and the permit system, stolen wages, broken families and the culture war. The shared understanding of what has happened to us and our old people during the processes of colonisation in places like Australia and Canada allows us to engage in advanced levels of conversation and creative dialogue. There is no need for us to continuously start at the beginning of the conversation, like there is for some outsiders, and there is a strength, empathy and comradeship gained in the similarity of experience. Native Canadians are our Art Family, and sometimes this means that we take the good with the bad. When someone over there has ripped me off, another cousin will take up the slack to try to make it right. Just like here in Oz.

Ahzhekewada (Let us look back) Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Conference in Toronto, Canada 2011

What are your views on the appointment of a Native Canadian Director of the Biennale of Sydney in 2012?

It’s a problem when the white gatekeepers of culture, being in the majority, make the decisions by and for themselves. I am disappointed, but not surprised that there has not been an Aboriginal curator chosen for the role of Sydney Biennale Director. I expect more from places like Sydney (as opposed to the backwards norm in Queensland), as Sydney is an arts capital, with some progressive Aboriginal initiatives. But, cultural apartheid is rife, as is the low tactical strategy of engaging outsiders from other cultural backgrounds in order to divert issues of ownership and inclusion of First Peoples here.

When there was a public questioning of the Queensland Art Gallerys’ selection of a Maori artist for their first international public artwork commission (before there was an Aboriginal commission), a younger Maori Curator commented on social media that it was too big an opportunity and too much money, to turn down ...

Given these kind of ethically dubious situations that we can sometimes find ourselves in, I think it might help if we were to ask ourselves questions, such as: If we were offered opportunities in other states, territories or countries, would we take it? Whose position would I be taking? At what cost? Why would they have chosen me, as opposed to others? Do I enjoy being the only one? Will the outcome be about the curator as hero?

Do I believe the hype about myself? What does Indigenous inclusion look like, and how is it different from the mainstream? How can we all move forward together, shoulder to shoulder with our cousins? 
Native All Stars TShirt project exhibited as part of the cyberTribe exhibition Nii'ksokowa : my Blood Relative.  The Other Gallery. Banff, Alberta, Canada 2003

this is the unedited version of an article originally published by artlink magazine in June 2015