TSF Industry Series: Van Art Gallery & Protocols

The Talking Stick Festival Industry Series:
Case Study: Vancouver Art Gallery and Protocols


In this discussion, 4 panel members discuss the issues and protocols that arise when (re)creating “Indigenous” performance art. The discussion arose from the Vancouver Art Gallery’s November 2015 Fuse event, Transform, where the art gallery space was to be “transformed” through live performance and interactions. In this event, one performance had demonstrated “bad medicine” – lack of adherence to protocols, misrepresentation and (in my opinion) borderline racist content. However, the panel stated that the focus is not on the negative but how we can learn from these experiences to better represent Indigenous art and cultures.

The panel members consisted of Open Space’s Aboriginal Curator-in-Residence France Trépanier; Grunt Gallery’s Program director Glenn Alteen; Vancouver Art Gallery’s Chief Curator and Associate Director Daina Augaitis; and Scotia Bank Dance Centre Artist-in-Residence and UBC Art History professor Dr. Miquel Dangeli. The talk was witnessed by Haida Heritage Centre’s curator Nika Collison.

Protocol and Performance art

In the discussion, the participants revisited their understanding of the performance piece, and defined their roles in the performance, if any. Some panel members had a hand in implementing the performance, with roles as Fuse organizer and Art Gallery curator. This brings me to protocols – while there are no set rules that all First Nations/ Metis/Inuit peoples can use to guide their performance work, there are Indigenous concepts that can help one to meet protocol.

The Four Rs: Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility. The 4 Rs are often used to conceptualize Indigenous pedagogy for Western educational systems. When looking at the Angela Brown performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery, one can easily check protocols by using the 4 Rs: does it respect Haida dance/culture/art? What is it’s relevance to the Haida culture/Indigenous culture/dance? Is this a one-sided relationship or is anything reciprocated? And is this performance being responsible for its use of Indigenous/non-Indigenous actors/performers? These questions are meant to shed light on the power inequalities that can create imbalanced and damaging relationships. Francis Trépanier asked that we use a 5th R: Reverence – that is, the meditative and spiritual feeling of awe.

Another concept explored was “re-enactment” in performance. The performance was cited by the choreographer Angela Brown as being a “re-enactment” of a 1970s performance on Haida Gwaii by performer Evelyn Roth and artist Robert Davidson. Artist Robert Davidson was present at the discussion, and stated that he had never given permission nor did he know about this “re-enactment” performance. The concept of a “re-enactment” was questioned, as the original performance did not resemble the Fuse performance.

Protocol in the Art Gallery

The bigger issue that emerged from the discussion was the importance of having Indigenous perspectives in Institutional spaces that represent Indigenous peoples and cultures. The issue of responsibility means that institutions such as art galleries, museums and schools need to address the underrepresentation of Indigenous people, particularly in higher levels of planning and curating. The Vancouver Art Gallery is planning the construction of a new gallery space, with a dedicated space to Northwest Coast First Nations Art, so there is huge potential for collaboration and community-building. The underrepresentation of Indigenous perspectives needs to start with community – we need to look at the “art community” as it exists and find ways to include diversity. The location of the Vancouver Art Gallery on Coast Salish land – Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations – gives many opportunities to “reconcile”, collaborate and educate.


To conclude the discussion, Haida Heritage Centre Curator Nika Collison shared her notes from what she witnessed. Nika noted all the problems that arose from the discussion : misrepresentation, re-enactment, permission, underrepresentation. After which, she notes all of the positive concepts: the 5 Rs; collaboration, future goals, creating new communities. This discussion reveals the ways in which we can learn from mistakes and look forward to creating a positive and more inclusive future.

Witnessing this discussion reminded me of my own responsibilities as an Indigenous artist. When I create an artwork, I am representing not only myself but also my family, clan, community, ancestors and Nation. It would be nice to hear from the choreographer to see what her side of the story is, or to allow her the room to acknowledge her actions.

Works Cited

Vancouver Art Gallery FUSE: Transform

Reel Reservations: Number 14 and Dancing the Space In Between

ermen’s notes for FNIS 401M presentation:

Reel Reservations Films Shown: Number 14, Dancing the Space In Between

Synopsis: This ‘docu-drama’ is about a 17 year old Gitxsan and Coast Salish hockey player named Jordan Wilson. Jordan is a kind and charismatic young man who loves his family, is involved with his community and is a naturally talented fisher. We spend the first half of the movie following Sasha Perry, the actor playing Jordan, through what seems like a normal day. He wakes up, plays video games, checks his facebook page and gets ready for his hockey game later that day. During the game, we are provided facebook updates from his family and learn of his altruism when he passes the winning shot to a teammate who hasn’t scored a goal all season. Jordan plans to stay home the evening after the game, but he receives what seem like endless texts asking where he is, when will he get there, do you know whose here?? Jordan ends up going to the party, though his parents think he has stayed home. At the party, he drinks beyond his capacity and gets highly intoxicated. On his walk home, he gets into a car that we have previously learned is his dream car and it has the keys in it. While he is sitting in the driver’s seat he gets a text from his sister saying that his friend Mike, who he had been looking for earlier, had crashed his bicycle on the way home and was at the hospital. Some of Jordan’s family members believe that he was trying to make sure his friend was ok when he started the car and began driving toward the vicinity of the hospital. He gets into a fatal car crash to the devastation of his family, community and team.

Maintenance of protocol: Before the screenings began, the MC of the event began by making a land acknowledgement and thanking the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh people for the continued use of their lands. This acknowledgement was noticeably different, for me, than at many of the other events I have attended – the difference was that there was no round of applause after the speaker was finished. I don’t know which factors may contribute to these differences in reception and reaction of a land acknowledgement.

Protocol was also maintained throughout the talkback which occurred after the show. Everyone who decided to ask a question of or give a comment to Jordan’s mother first thanked her for sharing her story and for allowing them to be a part of the message that Jordan had for the world, and she would return the thanks. During the talkback, there was also a lot of discussion on the grassroots nature of this film and the support and strength of the Gitxsan community and family network. Marie Clements is dedicated to Jordan’s story and his family, community included. Some of the talkback discussion was about how Jordan’s story pushes against stereotypes for Native Youth and shows the strong and rippling impact that the youth have on a family, a community, a Nation. All of this reminded me of Nolan’s discussions of ceremony throughout that titular chapter of Medicine Shows. The ceremony discussed by Nolan in the context of performance and performance based media involves the processes of speaking, singing, and dancing people, places and times into existence. Jordan’s mom shared with the audience how she ended up working with Marie because she felt that Jordan had a message to share and more work to do for people left behind. This film will hopefully be shown in highschools are to hockey teams in order to help teach youth the importance of relying on your loved ones and also the importance of making sure you are actively teaching the children around you how to stay safe. The short piece played after Number 14 was called Dancing the Space In Between and was a comment on the time and space between life and death and the ceremony song and dance that occupy that space. It is very complementary and grounding after the very emotional showing of Number 14.


Discussion Question: – What are some of the other ways we have witnessed / heard about performances and performance based media that function acts of healing and teaching for audiences and communities?



Choreographic ‘Re-membering’: Dancing “In Motion” at the TSF


Seeing the two dance works The NDN Way and Greed featured at the Talking Stick Festival’s In Motion definitely stirred up the inner dancer in me. Taking place on February 26, 2016 at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, I became really immersed in making interpretations on how the choreography was speaking to the dancers’ actions and apparent narratives on Indigeneity taking place.

The NDN Way was a duet choreographed by Brian Solomon and performed with Marianna Medellin-Minke. Brian, of Anishnaabe and Irish descent born in a remote Northern Ontario village (Shebanoning/Killarney), is also a Visual Artist and Actor who trained in classical and contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre with an MA in Performance from the Laban Centre in London, UK. He is very interested in engaging with unusual spaces in communities, and is passionate about helping people relearn about their ‘forgotten bodies’ and finding ways of “taking back the space those bodies occupy”. Marianna, born in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico Mariana Gamar del Carmen, began with studying classical ballet before furthering her studies also at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She seeks to create works that are social commentaries which continually deviate within a negative and positive perspective. The NDN Way featured the voiceover of Brian reciting spiritual teachings from Cindy Bisaillon’s 1974 interview with Ron Evans, known as a Métis storyteller who grew up living in the traditional ways in one of the last nomadic Métis communities, along with a mash-up of music from all styles, and seemed to combine moments of playfulness, struggle, and ceremony.

Greed, on the other hand, had a much more dreary and sombre atmosphere which felt more challenging for me to decipher the particular narrative going on, as it drew upon issues surrounding the stock market and the influences of corporate interests and capitalism on Indigenous peoples and cultural practices. Choreographed by Byron Chief-Moon, a member of the Kainai Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy in southern Alberta who is an actor, choreographer, dancer, and playwright who seeks to explore dance as a way to incorporate nuances of storytelling through his blood memory. Alongside Byron, three other dancers performed, including Jerry Longboat (Mohawk-Cayuga, Turtle clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River in Southern Ontario who is a visual artist, graphic designer, actor, storyteller, dancer, and choreographer whose performance work is rooted in his personal history and experience and embodies a vision of understanding and honouring the diversity of indigenous culture), Olivia Davies (an independent dance artist and choreographer who honours her mixed Welsh-Metis-Anishnawbe heritage in her contemporary Aboriginal dance-theatre practice through an investigation of the body’s dynamic ability to transmit narrative through exploring shared history, personal legacy, and blood memory), and Luglio Romero (a dancer who has a classical ballet background and has trained at Costa Rica’s Compania Nacional de Danza and SFU’s School of Contemporary Dance). Greed was initially created for the 10x10x10 Dance and Music event held at the Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver during October 2011, where composers were partnered up with choreographers to create a 10 minute dance piece that integrated the composers’ music. Byron Chief-Moon was partnered with composer Jeffrey Ryan, who focused on Ryan’s work Triple Witching, a music piece that refers to “times in the stock market when millions can be won or lost”. The original 10 minute piece served as a starting point that became this version we saw, in which Chief-Moon aspired to expand the choreographic language to interweave First Nation’s concepts of greed and imbalance, and as a way to “highlight Canada’s systematic disenfranchisement of First Peoples from the land and its resources”.

REVIEW HIGHLIGHTS (from past performances of Greed):

“The challenge for the choreographer comes with being confronted with something outside of their normal range of choices—and that should provoke completely new ideas. That’s proven true for local choreographer Byron Chief-Moon.”

-Janet Smith, Georgia Straight, Oct 2011

“Longboat’s interpretation explores greed and remorse among First Nations people, addressing the imbalance created by early contact with Europeans and the subsequent loss of lands and culture. His choreography is a blend of native and contemporary dance. While sincere in performance, the dance movement itself needs more definition.”

-Paula Citron, The Globe & Mail, June 2015


Throughout the whole performance, I was writing down notes about the kinds of movements and expressions taking place as I interpreted them, attempting to reflect on found meanings that may have been rising out of movements and choreography (as I am a dancer myself). After reflecting on these notes as a whole, I found that Ric Knowles’ discussion on rape and sexual violence on First Nations women in his article “The Heart of Its Women” can also be related to aspects of choreography and context found in these performances. Knowles introduces the idea of ‘re-membering’ as a way of working together “to resist the global scope of the colonial project… to serve as agents of anticolonial and anti-imperial resistance and healing” through embodiment (137). In relation, he brings awareness to the idea of individual and community ‘dismemberment’, which he describes as “agents of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide”, and states that it “can be healed only through an embodied cultural re-membering” (136-7). Since Solomon and Chief-Moon have also stated that their practices seek to explore cultural reconnection, I found particular aspects of their choreographies in which I feel Knowles’ notion of ‘re-membering’ through embodiment has come out.

The NDN Way

example 1

The choreography started off slowly with both Brian and Marianna lying on the ground, curled up in a fetal position facing away from the audience. Marianna began by making subtle gestures, turning into slow pulses, and then eventually getting up onto her hands and knees, crawling in an animal position as the voiceover stated “animal brothers and sisters share life”. There were other moments throughout their performance when these animal-like movements would be made too, and I saw these motions in combination with having heard this line from the voiceover as a ‘re-membering’ of our connected relation with the animals, and as a way of showing how this connection is rooted in our bodies through mimicking their actions.

example 2

In another scene later on, the voiceover states “we see in the nature around us our inner reality”. In response to this, the dancers, who had been holding eye contact with each other while kneeling down at opposite ends of a long box for awhile, look away to stare directly at the audience, remaining this way as they began a synchronized movement of bringing the sides of their heads together, and then sliding downstage towards the audience with their arms reaching out to us. Soon after, this connection was broken as they separated and moved back upstage into the position they once were in. Through this literal attachment of their bodies and minds coming together, I saw this as a temporal moment of ‘re-membering’ how we all share the same nature together as a form of ‘anticolonial resistance’. With a kind of cycle occurring through their return and disconnection after, I thought this could have stood as an act of ‘dismemberment’, showing that cultural reconnection is not always easy to hold on to as an effect of the strong forces of Knowles’ term ‘ethnic cleansing’.

example 3

In a scene closer towards the end, Brian goes on a vision quest. Marianna transitions the set on stage, turning the boxes into angular directions that appeared to be models of buildings, while he enacts smoking a pipe with tobacco. The voiceover states “you’ll learn something about yourself” as he closes his eyes and sits on his knees. He starts doing this pulsing motion that resembles a kind of movement in contemporary dance of suspending oneself onto the bridge of their feet, where his lower thighs were lifted up as he balanced his whole body using the strength of his toes. This action was as if he was beginning to build up strength through his body through a ‘re-membering’ of his purpose as an individual through the vision quest. After this moment, he transitioned into a deep lounge position towards us, bringing his arms up and circling them at rapid speed around his body, which illuminated a kind of glowing light in interaction with the spotlight from above. To me, this signified a complete breakthrough of finding strength through a ‘re-membering’ of his own cultural self in relation to this ceremonial practice.


example 1

Compared to having voiceovers to help describe the visual enactments of the dancers, having no verbal words in Greed may speak to the silencing of Indigenous voices as a result of what Knowles’ discusses as the ‘colonial project’, as dancers appeared to be encapsulated in this corporate dreary world and are seeking ways to escape it through attempts of ‘re-membering’.

example 2

At the beginning, the tone of the dance was established as what one of my dance teachers has described as a ‘collective consciousness’, in which the group of dancers existed in the same time and space by being with each other, with the three men lifting up Olivia into the air as she reached her arms above into a ‘V-shape’ position. I thought that this demonstrated the community aspect Knowles brought up in relation to embodied cultural ‘re-membering’, immediately asserting that each of the dancers are in this journey of undertaking struggle together. Much of the choreography that followed featured much more violent imagery of suffering and pain, of which included slow, dragging, zombie-like steps and twisted and distorted ‘ronde-de-jambe’ ballet movements (circling of the legs with feet touching ground) by Olivia, sudden collapses onto the ground, intense trembling and shaking, sharp angular distortions of the arm hitting parts of the body, and a gesture of always covering one side of the face with their hands.

example 3

I found that the choreography in this performance combined more traditional movements of Indigenous dance forms with contemporary and classical dance styles compared to The NDN Way. In one scene, one of the male dancers started doing these motions that seemed to combine split jumps and deep lounges/knee bends (as in jazz dance) with hops and steps from traditional ways of moving in Indigenous cultures. This followed by stepping turns that slightly resembled turns in contemporary dance called ‘shinay’ turns, and also appeared to be acting as bird-like hops with the opening of his arms, which immediately connected me to an image of a thunderbird or eagle. In Knowles’ article, he included a quotation from Sandra Richards, in which she states that “cultural memories and traditions passed on in unspoken, embodied, and performative ways through everyday habit and ritual can work to resist attempted erasures” (143-4). I think that the performativity of these embodied actions of a fusion of traditional and contemporary dance forms and imagery can speak to this as a moment of ‘re-membering’.

ending thought

I feel that these dancers in both performances were able to embody a place of ‘re-membering’ they may not have otherwise been able to reach through other kind of ways (such as verbally). Through their activated bodies, they were able to drive an internal force that pushed them to engage in these moments of ‘re-membering’ in light of their shared experiences of pain and struggle, and were able to release that momentum for us as the audience to become embraced by.

See more! (presentation slides):