Git Hoan – Coastal First Nations Dance Festival


Git Hoan is a dance group out of Washington State that consists of dancer from the Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit nations of Southeast Alaska. This group is lead by David Boxley who is a carver and culture bearer of the Tsimshian nation. The name Git Hoan means people of the Salmon.


The opening song consisted of dancers appearing from the back of the audience. These dancers made their way to the middle of the crowd within the performance space, dancing on the way. Here they formed a circle, dancing together off of the stage. After this initial song was over the dancers exited the stage and David Boxley entered to give the opening remarks. He acknowledged the territory the event was taking place on in both Sm’elgit and English. After this acknowledgement he went on to introduce the first piece that had already been performed and also talking about the second piece to be performed. The second piece also involved dancers forming circles, this time the dancers were both off and on the stage. Men and woman were playing drums and shakers on the stage as the dance took place.


The third piece was an honour song. The dance accompanying this song was done by 4 young men who represented 4 different clans. Three of the men were older while one young boy joined them on stage. The young boy kept up with the dance moves that were performed and synchronized by all four dancers. Occasionally the other dancers would smile down at the younger boy who wore a smile on his face throughout the performance. The facial expressions of the older men were serious for the most part. The dance was full of emotion, including passion, trust, and pride. I really enjoyed how they incorporated different ages into the performance of this piece. The importance of the dance was evident and the inclusion of the younger dancer showed the diversity of ages that hold the honour of different clans.


Although I have yet to experience different dance groups and diversity within the Indigenous dance community, I find aspects of these performances extremely unique and engaging. I have attended two Coastal First Nations Dance groups performances that were both spectacular in their own ways, and I am excited to witness more performances from a variety of areas. One aspect of Git Hoans performance that I found myself drawn to was the element of mystery they held in many of their pieces. The fourth piece they performed started with three dancers that were guided to the stage backwards. You couldn’t properly see their regalia or masks that they were wearing. After the guidance to the front of the stage they were covered with a blanket and turned around. This held the mystery and the anticipation of what was going to be revealed from under the blanket. Each blanket showed a picture of a different animal. As the music began, the dance started. People held the blankets in front of the dancers as they moved around the stage, not revealing the dancer behind the blanket yet. As the piece progressed, the blankets were finally removed from each of the three dancers. The animal represented on the blanket matched the mask that the dancer wore. At the end of the dance, the dancers stayed in their places and allowed fellow dance group members to guide them off the stage in a similar manner to the way they were guided onto the stage. The connection between the initial depiction on the blankets and the performers underneath was engaging. The mystery that was eventually revealed to show this connection was an aspect of the performance I truly enjoyed.

Another piece that displayed this level of mystery was the beaver song. This piece involved a huge centerpiece that was located in the middle of the stage. Dancers took the stage and danced around the centerpiece that consisted of a tapestry that looked like a beaver damn draped over a 4ft tall 3-walled box. The dancers danced around the beaver damn and as the piece progressed a giant beaver mask appeared from behind the ‘beaver damn’. This startled me, as the appearance of the beaver was paired with a sudden change in music. The music became loud and was intended to cause fear. The connection of fear with the appearance of the beaver never ceased throughout the performance. Different aspects of dance including motion, music and visual art can cause various emotions in the audience. Even though the space where the performance took place had a lot of people moving in and out between various pieces, each piece held the viewers full and undivided attention until the very end. I think this is why Indigenous dance doesn’t need to be performed in a formal setting, the informal settings hold viewers attention fully and completely.


The performance as a whole was beautiful. It contained a diverse age group of performers that engaged in many different dances as a whole. The regalia, masks and headpieces were absolutely breathtaking and helped the dancers to depict their story, message or meaning behind their dance to a greater extent.




Parts of this review show that the reviewer displayed clear knowledge of the dance group and also of first nations practices. I’m aware it is not first hand knowledge, but research was conducted in the area that depicts her interest in the area. An overall positive review, but some assumptions were made that should have been researched further. A higher knowledge on the subject from dance group members themselves should have been pursued before making statements such as “Such innovative masks indicate how cultural heritage of the Indigenous are not being merely passed on to younger generations, but how they are being actively transformed and integrated into their new perspectives their cultural traditions.” First hand knowledge should have been perused on the subject matter at hand.

No other reviews were found on this dance group at this festival; only various sites advertising the happening of the festival itself were present.


Some questions I had at the end of this performance were more reflective questions. What are aspects of Indigenous dance performance that you personally enjoy the most? If they vary between different types of dance, what is your favourite aspect of these various dances? When viewing performances what is the venue and environment that makes witnessing most enjoyable for you?

Presentation Slides:

Git Hayetsk and Git Hoan

Bihttoš: A Tale of Radical Decolonial Love

In late March, I attended the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, to watch a small selection of female-produced short films under the heading “Compelling Characters”. Within this selection, I saw Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ beautiful piece, Bihttoš. Worth noting, Tailfeathers was the only Indigenous filmmaker featured in this selection, and one of few performers/directors of colour.

Tailfeathers is Sami (on her father’s side) from Norway, and Blackfoot (on her mother’s side) from the Kainai/Blood Nation in Alberta. She attended VFS for acting and later UBC to pursue a dual degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and First Nations Studies. She uses her films as a form of activism to shed light on topics such as land abuse (in Bloodland), violence against Indigenous women (in Red Girl’s Reasoning) and here, in Bihttoš as a means of addressing intergenerational trauma left behind by residential schools (and their equivalents) and the resiliency/survival of Indigenous peoples

Tailfeathers embarked on this film as a result of her involvement in the Embargo project which challenged her to write a story about her family. Bihttoš is the result of a years’ worth of conscious effort, and a lifetime of lived experience and growth.

Bihttoš, which examined in particular, Tailfeathers’ relationship with her troubled and formidable father Bjarne Store-Jakobsen, was divided visually and narratively into thirds.

The first, appearing in animation and narrated by a young Elle-Máijá, depicted her parents’ fairytale-esque love story. They met in a bar in Australia, both attending an Indigenous Rights conference as Sami and Blackfoot activists. Her father fell in love with her mother, Esther Tailfeathers, at first sight, and would travel across an ocean to profess his love for her.

The second, appearing in archival photographs and dramatic reenactments detailed Elle-Máijá and her family’s move from Sapmi when she was 5, to North Dakota to support her mother in pursuing her MD. This segment also detailed Tailfeathers’ and her brother’s means of adapting and struggling with the shift in their lives and in their parents, notably in her father, who fell into a deep depression and began to abuse alcohol. Tailfeathers noted that she often felt obliged to support her father as his confidante and felt the need to keep her family together.

This was unsuccessful, and following her mother’s decision to leave her father, Store-Jakobsen attempted suicide. Tailfeathers at this time was 16. Following this, Tailfeathers and her father went without contact for 9 years.

After this period, they reconnected via an 8000 km cross country road trip. This final third of the movie is comprised of Elle-Máijá’s own personal footage of the trip. A few years after this reconnection, Store-Jakobsen opened up to Elle-Máijá about his experience at Sami boarding school; until this point he had been unable to confess his experiences to anyone, and had coped by fighting valiantly for Sami rights.

In response to this admission, Tailfeathers found relief from much of the emotional struggle she had been both consciously aware of and things she hadn’t realized were weighing on her until that moment. She was able to find incredible compassion for both of her parents’ experiences, and chose to forgive them for not being able to love one another, and for not being the shining, perfect gods that we all tend to imagine our parents as being.

I would like to tie into this film Karyn Recollet’s notion of radical decolonial love; which encompasses all types of love romantic and otherwise between all peoples. Tailfeathers’ parents demonstrate tremendous RDL; her mother became an MD to finish the work of her older brother who had died not long before, in the midst of pursuing his own MD, her father fought for and secured government recognition of the Sami as Indigenous peoples in Sweden and Norway, Elle-Máijá herself creates films out of love for her own people, the land she belongs to, and Indigenous women across Turtle Island, she was able to find forgiveness (a deeply difficult and powerful act of love) for her father and understand her parents as imperfect people and not just as her caregivers.

I would also like to mention Ric Knowles’ concept of remembering as a tool for healing along with Recollet’s notion of colonial weight, as connected to intergenerational trauma incurred from the residential school system and its genocidal equivalents. Store-Jakobsen’s act of remembering his painful, and traumatic experience to Elle-Máijá lifted a portion of the colonial weight from his body that he had been carrying since he was a child. By virtue of her connection to him, and the traumas she herself carries in her body as a result of his experiences, Store-Jaksobsen’s remembering also lifted this colonial weight from Tailfeathers.

This concept blurs nicely into Monique Mojica’s concept of mining the body for organic texts as well. Elle-Máijá’s acts of remembering, delving deeply into her childhood memories and also the experiences of her parents, and examining the physical and emotional sensations that arose of these processes resulted not only in the beautiful story she has shared, but also in the furthering of her own healing process.

More widely, her opening this vulnerability to a broader audience allows for others in similar positions to examine their own connections to land, family, and themselves, perhaps catalyzing the healing processes of many more people to come.

I would like to leave you all with the following:

A link to the first portion of the film:

A brief and problematic review of Bihttoš by Addison Wylie, a non-Indigenous professional film critic trained in television broadcasting and film production:

(Wylie seems to completely miss the point of the film, focusing mostly on aesthetic choices that Wylie feels were “risky” or amateurish)

Another brief but significantly kinder review by Joy Fisher a Victoria based playwright:

(Fisher acknowledges the traumatic results of government sanctioned modes of ethnic cleansing and lauds Tailfeathers for her skilled storytelling. I wonder if Fisher is able to empathize with/better understand the story because of her position as a woman and the female tendency to emotionally caretake)

A brief note, it was quite difficult to find even a handful of reviews for this film although it was released in 2014. Those that I could find were quite brief, and often provided in a batch with brief reviews of other related films.

Question: How can we explore the notion of blood memory and organic texts as a means of furthering our own scholarship as Native and non-Native students and as a means of fostering collective healing and growth?

*by this I mean, engaging in connection to both the land we occupy and ourselves, mining our physical sensations and experiences and emotions that are called up as we mine these experiences.

Talking Stick Festival – Git Hayetsk Witnessing


On February 24th, I attended the Talking Stick Festival at the Roundhouse community centre. This festival brings in many different Indigenous artists to perform, speak and display their beautiful work. I was lucky enough to have the change to attend a performance at this festival, the Git Hayetsk Coastal First Nations Dance group. Sm’algyax is spoken by the Nisga’a, Tsimshian and Gitxsan Nations. The words Git Hayetsk mean the people of the copper shield in Sm’algyax. The copper shield is symbolic of ceremonial wealth in the Northern and Northwest coast nations. The group uses traditional and hand made regalia, masks, and drums for their performances. The songs and dances performed are a mix of contemporary and ancient. The dance group has performed at many different locations and events in the past. Most recent events include Hobiyee, SFU: Indigenous City Gathering, and the Discover Dance! Series.




When you walked into the performance floor it was constructed in a circular formation. White wooden temporary walls formed the circle where the stage, tables and chairs as well as a dance floor were located. On the walls hung regalia, tapestries, rugs, drums and carvings. When I arrived, a dozen people were walking around to view all the beautiful works of art. Nine round tables with candles distributed were present in half of the circular area. These tables had 5 chairs surrounding them. I sat at a table that was unoccupied and soon after had 4 strangers at the table with me. The tables allowed for easy discussion about different pieces with a variety of people. Sitting at a table in the space made it feel comfortable and informal. The way the tables were distributed with space in-between them made it easy for dancers to interact with the audience during certain pieces.


The acknowledgement of the land was made by Mike Dangeli before the performance began. Before each piece was performed it was introduced and background information was given. I was sitting with someone who had walked into the Roundhouse community centre to ask for directions and ended up staying for the entirety of the performance and she loved the introductions because it allowed her to visualize and make connections to the introduction throughout the performance.


The second piece was made for the raising of Mike Dangeli’s first totem pole. This song comprised three singers on stage with two of them drumming and one with a shaker. Six dancers came to the stage all in masks that represented birds. The faces couldn’t be seen except for one dancer who was a younger boy around the age of 7. The diversity in age of the dance group made the group seem more like a family. There were children and older adults present, and the way the whole group interacted made it obvious that everyone was welcome and treated as more than just a dance group member.


The third piece was a photography piece. Professor Dangeli introduced this piece. It was written and composed to represent the topic of her Masters thesis, Benjamin Alfred Haldane. She addressed the fact that bridging the traditional and contemporary indigenous artistry is important in this day and age. After this introduction, four people went on stage. Each person gathered around one big drum and started singing while drumming. Three dancers took the dance floor each holding a canvas. The canvases were covered in black cloth and the dancers moved around the stage holding them. A fourth dancer came out with a camera and pretended to take pictures of the audience and the dancers. Halfway through the piece the cloth covering the canvases was removed. This removal followed the action of the fourth dancer taking pictures of the covered canvases. The removal of the cloth revealed a beautiful picture taken by Benjamin. The level of mystery and the connection made between the artistry of photography and dance in this piece was new and exciting. It left me wanting to see more. It wasn’t like any other performance I had witnessed.


The fourth piece was about a trickster. Different nations see this figure in different forms. The form shown by this performance was a raven. The dancer performing this piece came onto the stage wearing a Raven headpiece that allowed the beak to open and close. This figure then went into the audience and stole patrons hats, bags, and scarves. Eight other dancers joined this figure, some wearing big masks, others wearing smaller headpieces. They all joined in the stealing of items from the audience. At the end of the piece the items were returned and patrons thanked for being good sports throughout the performance. I personally loved the interactive aspect of the piece. It fully engaged the audience and had everyone laughing nervously as their belongings were taken from them.


This was my first introduction to Indigenous dance. Without having background knowledge on what to expect, other than the research I did on the dance group prior to my arrival, it was an incredible experience. The diversity of pieces this dance group performed gave me an encompassing view of the different pieces that are performed by dance groups. I am very happy I was able to attend Git Hayetsk at the talking stick festival prior to my attendance at the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival. Going into the festival with a slight idea of what I was about to witness allowed me to explore what I was seeing to a deeper extent rather than strictly being in awe of the beautiful performance in front of me that accompanied my witnessing at Git Hayetsk.


The question I had at the end of my experience was ‘How is stereotyping addressed with respect to traditional and contemporary dance and how can we better recognize and acknowledge contemporary composers for their work?’

Lalakenis All Directions Feast

On the 15th of January I had the honour of attending the Lalakenis All Directions Feast, hosted by Beau Dick at the AMS Nest. In addition to my involvement as a witness, I had been asked to involve myself as an organizer, participated in the Pipe Ceremony, and last minute danced a mask (Bakwus).

Beau Dick or Walas Gway’um is a hereditary chief, artist, carver, and teacher of the Kwakwaka’wakw people specifically from Alert Bay. Beau hosted this feast to serve many purposes; as a call to action to all peoples of North, Central, and South America to acknowledge violence perpetrated by the government to Indigenous peoples (and to begin to undo the hurts caused by this violence), as a means of sharing spiritual and physical wealth, to honour and open the way for the Lalakenis All Directions exhibition that was to open the next day at the Belkin Art Gallery, and to provide a spotlight for those in the community doing art and engaging in activism to share with us all.

Because the event lasted an entire day, it would be an absurd undertaking for me to try to describe it all here. The particular events that I will elaborate on in brief here are the sharing of a smallpox song by Lorne, Jeneen Frei-Njootli’s performance piece, and the Pipe Ceremony.

Lorne (from Montana, I do not know his full name or nation), early in the event shared a smallpox song and detailed how it came to him. He described a time in his tribe’s history when smallpox was ravaging the community. He said that one family afflicted with the disease cloistered themselves away in a cave to prevent the smallpox from spreading to others. He said that their voices found him, passed along the song, and asked that he not forget about them.

Tearfully, he shared the song with us. I think it’s safe to say that no one in the room was left with dry eyes. I could help but link this performance to Yvette Nolan’s notions of survivance and remembrance. Lorne strongly acknowledged his love, connection, and gratitude to his ancestors, and in that moment we were all able to share in that gratitude and connection. The tremendous love between they and him filled the room and asserted the intentionality and radical decolonial love underlining Indigenous survival and thriving.

The Pipe Ceremony, which happened earlier in the event, was hosted by Gyaauustees, the pipe keeper and carver, to provide the opportunity for Beau’s grandson, Gavin, to receive a pipe. The ceremony was also an opportunity for many of us who had been through trauma or who had lost loved ones recently to receive support and healing.

I myself had lost my grandmother a few weeks prior to the event and entered into the ceremony with a heavy heart. It was transformative, and deeply moving to have been able to be a part of Gavin’s entrance into his community as a man, in a sense, imbued with new spiritual purpose and responsibility, bestowed upon him by his elder’s deep love for him.

Finally, Jeneen Frei-Njootli performed a unique piece by playing a caribou antler manipulated with her hands and breath, and played percussively. The sounds the antler produced were reminiscent of the landscape that raised her- the Canadian north, traditional territory of her Gwi’chin people. I couldn’t help but think of the significance of the use of the caribou, an animal strongly connected to Gwi’chin spirituality, cultural expression, and material survival, and how perfectly it recreated the experience of its and her homeland.

I feel as though each of these acts was an act of love, forgiveness, an underscoring of Indigenous presence and thriving, and of course, acts of ceremony. Additionally, in Lorne’s song and in the Pipe Ceremony in a more private sense, there were elements of “poison exposed” referring to the release and exposure of negative or traumatic incidents for the purpose of lifted the weight of colonial trauma. This exposed poison was then soothed by the day’s ceremonies and the sharing of openness and love.


I would like to leave you all with the following question regarding this notion of poison exposed: Is there sense in exposing poison simply for the outcome of personal release, or must this exposure be paired with ceremony or structure in order to leave the individual exposing this poison in a better state than they began in?

Songs sung by Jack Charles

hi everyone!

i just thought i’d post a video of my favorite recording i’ve found of Jack Charles singing Son of Mine (the song i brought up in class a while back) which he performs in Jack Charles v The Crown.

i’m also going to provide the link to buy the cd with the music from the play. just in case any of you, like me, really loved the music and want to be able to listen all the time!

the poem for the song Son of Mine (below) is transcribed under the video. the poet who wrote the words Jack is singing is called Oodgeroo Noonuccal and she is also Aboriginal Australian. enjoy!


My son, your troubled eyes search mine                                               Puzzled and hurt by colour line.                                                                 Your black skin soft as velvet shine;                                                         What will I tell you, son of mine?

Well, I could tell you of heartache, hatred blind,                                              I could tell you of crimes that shame mankind,                                            Of brutal wrongs and deeds malign,                                                              Of rape and murder, son of mine.

But I’ll tell instead of brave and fine,                                                      When lives of black and white entwine,                                                        And men in brotherhood combine,                                                              This will I tell you, son of mine.

In Motion

I attended In-Motion in late February at the Roundhouse Performing Arts Centre. The event, part of the Talking Stick Festival, involved two separate contemporary dance pieces in sequence, followed by a Q&A panel with all of the performers.

The first piece, NDN Way was performed by Anishnaabe/Metis/Irish dancer and visual artist, Brian Solomon and Mestiza dancer/choreographer Mariana Medellin-Meinke. The piece was fairly abstract and set to a recording of Cindy Bisaillon’s 1974 interview with Cree-Metis elder and knowledge keeper Ron Evans.

I have a fairly limited background with formal dance both as a performer and a viewer, and I entered the event fairly nervous about the difficulty I would have in interpreting a plot line from Solomon’s choreographic choices. To me, it seemed to be largely an examination of the stages of life and development humans go through, linked intimately to the idea of the Sweat and the emotional/spiritual/physiological challenges endured by Sweat participants.

I also saw themes of Native erasure, resilience, freedom, struggle, and release illustrated by the ways that Solomon and Medellin-Meinke interacted with each other, and the ways their individual physical and facial expressions morphed from the beginning of the performance to the end.

In the Q & A Panel following the performance, Solomon explained some of the inspiration for the piece. Part of it, he said, came from seeing young people full of potential struggling very publicly with drug dependence on the outskirts of his neighbourhood. He also described personal struggles with health and the tragic loss of some of those close to him. I imagine the performance, which appeared at times to be very physically challenging, was a tremendous outlet for both he and Medellin-Meinke to find emotional, physical, and spiritual release from these sadnesses and struggles. As well, the recreation in a sense, of the Sweat ceremony lift that weight from the performers and the audiences alike.

As I watched the piece, I wished several times that I could pause and rewind moments so I could retrieve more meaning. I understood that there were many layers to the piece, and felt as though my lack of basic understanding of contemporary dance movement hindered my ability to delve through all of the intended projections of the choreography. In addition, there were several points where I felt the compulsive urge to move or dance along with the performers. I felt embarrassed about it until, during our presentation on the event, Vanessa mentioned a similar experience. After having had that confirmation, I decided that the urge to physically respond was more than likely the performance unlocking something within the both of us (and very likely others in attendance), although I’ve yet to give much thought to what that something is.

The second piece, Greed, was performed by Byron Chief-Moon (Blackfoot), Jerry Longboat (Mohawk-Cayuga), Olivia Davies (Welsh-Anishnaabe), and Luglio Romero (Costa Rican). The piece was introduced by the evening’s program as an examination of greed as told through the lens of a man struggling with the stock market. Chief-Moon has stated at various points that Greed was a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Blackfoot story of Bloodclot Boy (I will provide a link to this story at the end of my post) and the concept of triple witching (a time in the stock market where one can win or lose millions).

I found this piece much easier to interpret, I think, partially because I had heard earlier in the month from Chief-Moon himself a bit about the piece and its origins. As well, the information in the performance program provided a basic outline of the central theme, while the description of NDN Way felt more cryptic to me.

I saw plenty of Christian imagery throughout the piece; there was a point at which Chief-Moon’s head was pushed down repeatedly by the other performers that seemed reminiscent of a baptism into the religion of greed. Additionally, quite early in the performance, Davies was held aloft in a very Christ-like way. I thought it was an interesting and apt parallel to draw  between Christianity which has been responsible for the justification of much greed in the world (via the attempted takeover and annihilation of many Indigenous peoples around the world) and greed represented by the American stock market.

I feel as though both performances embody Yvette Nolan’s concept of survivance quite well; Solomon’s piece through the lens of Indigeneity surviving trauma with lightness and hope, and Chief-Moon’s piece via the struggle to maintain traditional knowledge despite Western society’s favouring of capitalism above all.

I also thought both Solomon and Chief-Moon’s very contemporary forms of storytelling were compelling, but would like to problematize the word “contemporary”. Obviously, any Indigenous performance occurring in the present is “contemporary”, but I think there is a prevalent Canadian conceptualization of Indigenous performance in particular as being wrapped up in tradition in a non-living/fluid sense of the word. These performances are different from many others I have witnessed in that they are told in very abstract ways, not ones that would necessarily be pereceived as “traditional” by outsiders/non- First Nations viewers.

Question: Byron-Chief Moon’s performing arts company COYOTEARTS, seeks to support contemporary retellings of traditional Indigenous stories. How might this effect Native and non-Native audiences differently? What are the pros and cons of opening these stories up for display in “acceptably” tradition and “non-traditional” ways? Are there better terms for traditional and contemporary that aren’t in competition?


See here for a (very problematic) review of Greed: (see here for reference to the Blackfoot Bloodclot Boy story)

*End note: it was difficult to find reviews for both Greed and NDN Way, although significantly harder for the latter. Both of these pieces have been performed several times over a period of at least a year, so I found this quite interesting. Worth noting is that Greed itself is an experimental piece, and as such it has fluctuated in performers and means of presentation in the years since it opened.

Two Ways of Seeing at One Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion for Dana Claxton’s exhibition Made to Be Ready  February 27, 2016 / SFU Audain Gallery

As part of the public programming for Dana Claxton’s exhibition Made to Be Ready, a panel discussion was held that featured three speakers in the location of the actual exhibition space. It was neat in this circumstance to be surrounded by Dana’s work while conversing about it. It was a full house with a mixed audience of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, curators, artists, MFA students, and local scholars in the Vancouver contemporary art scene.  I recognized a majority of people from my involvement in contemporary art, most of whom I haven’t previously seen at other Indigenous related events we’ve been going to as part of our course.

The speakers were:

Monika Kin Gagnon, a Professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University who “has published widely on cultural politics, the visual and media arts since the 1980s.”

Richard William Hill, a curator, critic and art historian and is a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Studies at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. “His research focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on historical and contemporary art created by Indigenous North American artists. As a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, he oversaw the museum’s first substantial effort to include Indigenous North American art and ideas in permanent collection galleries. His essays on art have appeared internationally in numerous books, exhibition catalogues and periodicals.”

Tania Willard, who is of Secwepemc Nation and is a curator who “works with the shifting ideas of contemporary and traditional as they relate to cultural arts and production, often working with bodies of knowledge and skills that are conceptually linked to her interest in intersections between Aboriginal and other cultures.” Her curatorial projects have included Beat Nation: Art Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture and BUSH gallery, a conceptual space for land based art and action led by Indigenous artists.

The Moderator:

Catherine Soussloff, a Professor of Art History at UBC, in which I had the pleasure of taking her course on Performance in Art History (Fall 2015). “She is known for her comparative and historical approaches to the central theoretical concerns of European and North American art and aesthetics, including photography and film, from the Renaissance to the present.”


Melanie O’Brian, the Director of the SFU Galleries, opened with an acknowledgement of the panel taking place on unceded Coast Salish territories. Amy Kazymerchyk, the curator, presented some of her questions and approaches she has been considering in her curatorial practice, one of them being: “How can contemporary art fit with Indigenous practices as acts of doing, becoming, and worldmaking that emphasizes the liveliness of presence?”

My overall experience of witnessing:

I felt like I went in to the panel with two ways of seeing, that is through the knowledge I have gained through my experiences of being in the contemporary art scene, and the knowledge I have gained from Dr. Dangeli and our class discussions. As a result, I was able to apply these two ways of thinking to realize that the discussion overall was both productive and lacking in the elaboration of certain points made.

Overall, I found that there were many contrasts between the panel discussion and the way we had approached discussing this exhibition in class. The panel focused more on the theoretical side of applying certain theories and notions to Dana’s work instead of also reflecting on how we may be personally witnessing Dana’s work through our own individual ways of responding in relation to the backgrounds we come from. The majority of the audience was reluctant on expressing the specific meanings and kinds of narratives occurring one may individually draw from the works. Instead, the panel centered around how Dana provides an alternate framework for challenging dominant ways of seeing in the space of a gallery and inverting narratives, which brought out many important points, but also felt lacking. I found that there was little commentary or elaboration on specific cultural belongings and their ceremonial and sacred relations (especially compared to our class discussion), and most of the time, the works were not addressed by their actual titles, and only through their mediums and physical locations. The speakers mostly addressed Uplifting in all of their presentations.

Key topics & terms addressed:

Monika’s Presentation: Monika talked about her personal experiences she has had with Dana in the 90s, a time when Dana began to strongly influence the starting up of creating space for Indigenous works and performances in Vancouver through the Pit Gallery.

Vocalization:  Where complex narrative structures in which multiple perspectives can arise as being unstable and unfixed. Monika stated that the narrative in Uplifting pulls us through to this direction, and that Dana brings a strong positionality that we’re not used to seeing dominantly, in which she uses vocalization as a strategy.

Richard’s Presentation: Richard spoke about associations of Claxton’s work as being inconclusive and indefinite.

Bodies of Matter: As in Uplifting, he stated that the body is both bound and spiritually transcended, oscillating between the two. He described the video as taking on a poetic expression of song and dance, moved by the pace of abstraction. With the video having a quick loop, he asked if the woman in it at the end has either transcended or fallen, has overcame struggle or not, stating that the way of tradition can be both a blessing and a burden.

Audience response: In response to this, an artist I recognized (who is based in Vancouver of Chinese origin), spoke up to say that there’s also many other layers in between the video to consider in relation to how it ends, in which she stated that the end is not affirmative and we should consider the in-between acts of what happens (this made me think of Recollet’s discussion on ‘in between’ spaces). This audience member also stated that she is not to speak to specific Indigenous content coming from her own background, so she does not go into further elaboration on what these in between spaces could mean to her, even though it was nice to hear her point out that there’s something more happening in the video than just whatever the ‘outcome’ of it might be.

Location of art & art made for location: Richard states that Dana plays with tensions of the gallery space, questioning what it can be and what it has been. He asserts that landscape is present in gallery’s space through the horizontal axis of film, which allows for it to be a space of speculation on a connection point that is between the earth and sky.

Tania’s presentation: Tania spoke about Uplifting in relation to Indigenous women and principles of living in beauty. She emphasized the insertion of Dana’s generosity in the exhibition space, which is filled with provocation and beauty. She has previously worked with Dana on curatorial projects before.

Intuitive navigation: Tania states that Dana helps us to arrive at an intuitive way of navigating relations between culture and institutions, but also denies us. As we consume her work, her work consumes us: it has obstacles that interrupts how we usually consume materials and beauty.

Internal ways of seeing: In reference to this, she also states that Dana makes us rely on internal ways of seeing through her cultural belongings, as they carry things that which we remember ourselves and our families in.

Space of slowness: Another point Tania makes is how Dana gives us gift of time, stating we’re gifted to be here and exist with its recorded performance for a period of time, to understand it as a ‘tool of way finding’. She discusses how Dana offers us spaces in-between that we start to fill ourselves with and read into these subtleties so that we can begin to see other paths and avenues that are filled with dignity and potential. But again, I found that these possibilities of ‘potential’ are not elaborated on in terms of how we can take action of our responsibilities as witnesses.

Side note: At this moment when talking about space of slowness and reflection, a little girl sitting in front of me who was playing a video game during the discussion looked up for the first time and took a moment to pause and watch the crawling woman in the video. It was a neat moment to see this happen at this time when we were all silent and really giving our attention to the struggling pain the woman was undergoing in the video.

Catherine’s discussion: Catherine began by introducing herself as an outsider (has been living for 6 years in Vancouver), and describes Dana, her colleague, as an art warrior for her people, being on the inside (of her Lakota culture) while operating on the outside (the art world). She states that Dana is made to be ready to teach meanings and ways of knowing the world from both sides.

Towards the end, she asked us how do we find the right kind of language to use that justifies this work? She stated that to her, the theoretical is the right kind of language for herself to use as an outsider.

Strategies of indirection: Catherine referenced Gerald Vizenor’s notion of ‘indirection’, of which she stated that Dana uses the gallery space indirectly by having an active presence asserted in it, but without having a live performance happening. The idea behind having this indirection is to mean that there is no direct way of knowing.


Reading Relation: Monique Mojica, “Verbing Art” (Me Artsy)

“Indigenous cultures recognize the need for performance and repetition.” (17)

In addition to Dana’s intentions to disrupt ways of seeing in the gallery space and inverting standard narratives, I feel that she is also reminding us or making aware, especially to an audience who who may be unfamiliar with, of how much performance and repetition has always been and still has a profound presence at the core of Indigenous cultural practices. I think this point Mojica makes could have contributed nicely in thinking about performance in the panel discussion.

Mojica’s notion of ‘auto-biological’: the performances Mojica creates “lives organically in her body”, “as a continuum of embodied stories (from her immediate elder generations, her ancestors, and from ancestral land) is what “connects her to the temporal space of performance”, which then “evaporates, held in memory until it is repeated”. (17)

Without having the temporality of a live performance, I think that this idea of the ‘auto-biological’ can be lost a bit through the mediated representation of the woman’s movement in Uplifting, but the idea of repetition is emphasized to remind us of ancestral continuation. Perhaps one of the reasons that this discussion may have lacked consideration of a personal way of responding and internal witnessing of the exhibition is because it exists as a space of performativity without having the temporal experience of moving bodies performed live.

I thought this quote (below) from Mojica’s piece of writing is a nice way to end this post off with. I feel it reflects the other way of seeing I have come to experience through our Indigenous performance course that could help to bridge the discussions that took place in the panel and our thinking about how we each can relate to the living force in the exhibition space that Dana generously presents us with:

“Living as an artist has required me to be fearless in search of cultural recovery and to reclaim those missing pieces with fierceness in order to put unspoken language in my mouth and unpracticed rhythms in my feet, to literally put myself back together.” (16)


Thanks for reading on, see more on our presentation slides!


Dana Claxton: Made To Be Ready

On January 14th, 2016 I had the privilege of witnessing Dana Claxton’s Made To Be Ready Exhibit opened at SFU’s Audain Gallery. When going through this exhibit I tried to keep in mind what I had just read in the exhibition statement but also what Karyn Recollet discusses in her piece For Sisters regarding layering, and the ways Indigenous peoples and their art have been categorized in “overly simplistic ways.” For my reflection, I will be specifically speaking to the two pieces in Made to be Ready, called Cultural Belongings and Headdress.

As a beader myself, I always feel like I have an extra appreciation and understanding of the time and precision it takes to finish a piece. Often however, I feel like beadwork specifically is incredibly tokenized as simplistic Indigenous garb. Also, mainstream representations of Aboriginal fashion are often grotesque cultural appropriations that do little to represent any actual representations of Indigeneity and lack the recognition of these ‘inspired’ designs.

In Headdress, Claxton is able to move away from this cultural presumption and display beadwork as more than garb, in the form of a headdress. Typically when you see a headdress, one commonly imagines a full eagle feather warbonnet complete with, beaded bands and ribbon, and more often than not, placed on top of a male chief. I am not of Lakota decent and I cannot speak to protocol or teachings around the headdress but when I see this photo, I noticed that it’s quite feminine. Also again, I cannot speak to Lakota headdress teachings, but this headdress hangs in the face of the woman rather than down the back of her hair.

You also see the woman wearing the headdress in Claxtons relating piece, Cultural Belongings. One of the first things I thought about while looking at this piece was the juxtaposition between the contemporary aesthetics along with the representations of Indigenous culture and arts. My eye first drawn to the woman’s dress, her shoes, her buckskin shawl, and I wonder how long it took to make that hide, and where I can find a pair of shoes like that. The woman, mid-step, is lead or guided by a horse staff and following her, on the ends of her shawl are belongings and teachings she physically trailing behind her. Of these items I noticed the beaded barrets, purses, pouches, and what I think might be an arrow quiver. What I hadn’t noticed at first is there seems to be a separate piece of buckskin that show symbols of pictographs, representing a connection to ancestors that claimed space by painting stories, and events on rocks structures.

Immediate news coverage responded to this exhibit were positive in that many of the writers were using interviews with Claxton to promote a narrative that challenges dominate discourses that have sought to dehumanize Indigenous women.

Today Dana Claxton claims the spaces of these gallery walls by placing works of beautiful beading across that space that reclaim Indigenous expressions of past, present and future while centering the image of strong Indigenous women. She displays these items as pieces of identity rather than items created for the purpose of resale as commodities. She centers these pieces as everyday items of contemporary Indigeneity expression rather than relics of an Indigenous past.

Multiplicity “In Motion”

Prior to “In Motion”, our class attended the Talking Two Spirit Panel on Thursday, February 25th. One of the panel members, Byron Chief Moon, a dancer and choreographer for Greed, mentioned the new elements that are considered and involved in the process of creating contemporary Indigenous works. In particular, he mentioned how digital soundscapes, visuals, and lighting are in the conversation of developing a piece. As a practicing artist who works within the digital arts, I was particularly interested in witnessing “In Motion” of how elements like choreography, lighting and sound are fused together to depict a cohesive concept.

The Talking Stick Festival “In Motion” was made of two performances: The NDN Way and Greed. Upon entering the theatre, the first thing I observed was the Talking Stick propped on stage left with a light shining above. This reminded that tonight the stage was specifically for the performers allowing them to be uninterrupted time and space to share their stories. As an audience member, my role would be to carefully listen and engage to the ideas of the speaker.

The NDN Way

In The NDN Way, the lighting and soundscape throughout the performance illustrated the dancers, Brian Solomon and Mariana Medellin-Meinke, movement within time and the earth.

The beginning the performance all lights in the room were off as one flashlight was lit. Solomon shined the light on Meinke’s body gently, as it captured and guided the viewer’s gaze. The light too danced in motion while tracing her figure producing a flowing motion and depicting the commencement of Meinke and Solomon’s journey returning back into the earth.

As for the soundscape, the tracks assembled replicated an individual channel surfing the radio. There was sound of static, an interview with Ron Evan and western songs. Occasionally, the two too would yell spontaneously. The combination of all of these sounds reflected some sort of struggle where the performers were trying to find their place within earth. In particular, the random static in between the interview and the songs reminded me of perhaps an Indigenous person’s conflict between their Indigenous culture and the Western culture that has been assimilated upon them.


Greed was performed by four dancers: Byron Chief-Moon, Jerry Longboat, Luglio S. Romero and Olivia C. Davies. The piece refers to the times in the stock market when millions are won or lost. The soundscape, visuals and choreography allude to these moments of struggle, tension, transformation, playfulness, and power all found within greed. The range of these elements amplifies the dark and gloomy ambiance of the performance.

In particular, there was one scene that exemplified the intensity through the use of harsh lighting. At one point of the performance, light from above shone directly onto Byron Chief Moon where the rest of the performers were circled around him. His wrists were attached together as if he had chained by manacles and he was struggling to stand up as he raised his hands into the light. The glaring light from above lit Byron Chief Moon forcefully as it brings attention to the restraint and constriction he is suffering from. Perhaps, insinuating that the light is a route to a different world there is a sense of struggle, force and power between Byron Chief Moon and another realm.

The lighting was not always shone from above as it spanned from being lit from the sides or the light source being diluted. The variety depended on the songs and different levels of personalities illustrated in the duration of the piece.

Like The NDN Way, Greed too was composed of multiple songs. The music ranged from opera, to electronic, rock, and classical. With the diversity in the music genres, there was also a breadth in personas showcased. It seemed as though each song represented a different persona of the performers. I was particularly interested in how each performer took on multiple roles on stage even when one was not the main focus. Collectivity was present from all of the dancers in each song. Because of the rotation and multiplicity of roles the performers took on, this aided the viewers to seek the greed spirit of all levels in personality.

Review on Solomon’s performance in Earth song

Article: “Earth Song pays tribute to the importance of connection”

 “Raven Spirit Dance Society shares contemporary dance from a distinctly Aboriginal worldview. She also talks about how the piece deeply speaks to the connections individuals have between the Earth, their identity and themselves.”

“Bodies carve through space while fluidly moving around the state”

-Ileanna Cheladyn (Vancity Buzz)

Discussion Question: Do you think contemporary performances draw the same interactivity from spectators as it does in traditional ceremonies, performances, and different art forms?


Negotiating Protocols Within vs without Indigenous Communities

The Lalakenis Feast, 15 January 2016

Before the Lalakenis Feast, I had heard some people refer to it as a potlatch. “Potlatch” is a chinook jargon word, which is used to describe a ceremony where gifts are given. Yet it means something very different depending on where you come from. A Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch follows a strict set of protocols. Every person who attends one must be aware of, and respect the protocol and usually the only people who may attend the potlatch are those who are invited, and most are from the Kwakwaka’wakw tribes. Songs and dances can only be sung and danced by the families who have the hereditary right to them, or whom have been granted permission to use them.

The Lalakenis Feast was not a potlatch and was never called one by the hosts. Yet, there were many elements of a potlatch in it. Initially I felt concern that some Kwakwaka’wakw protocols were being broken. For example, in Kwakwaka’wakw culture it is common for someone to pass on their Kwakwaka’wakw name to a baby, but this is done so with much deliberation and consideration, because the name that goes to that child is their responsibility. Yet at the feast many children were given names, without knowing the child. Another example is that on the tentative schedule that we were sent before the feast the “hamatsa dancers” were listed. This concerned me because the hamatsa ceremony happens during the Tseka ( or Cedarbark ceremony) part of the potlatch, this is considered a very spiritually charged part of the potlatch. This dance cannot be performed outside of the potlatch and should stay within the bighouse. However, the Hamatsa dancers were not part of the feast.

The event was in the AMS Student Nest not a bighouse. It was an open invitation event so many in attendance didn’t know Kwakwaka’wakw protocols. Moreover, Beau involved many other indigenous and non-indigenous ceremonies and presenters in the event. My initial concern about protocol is a result of growing up in a Kwakwaka’wakw community, and having these protocols instilled in me from a young age. Yet, when I moved passed my concern, I was very aware of the uplifting and healing nature of the event.

I moved to Vancouver from my small Kwakwaka’wakw community on northern Vancouver Island to study at UBC. In my two years here, It’s become apparent to me that there is a privileging of western knowledge over indigenous knowledge systems within the institution. Beau’s feast made space for our Kwakwaka’wakw knowledge systems as well as other indigenous ways of knowing. These ways of knowing value relationships, between each other and the natural world.

I think perhaps we need to consider that events that happen within our Indigenous communities for our communities specifically, will have a different set of protocols, or will negotiate protocols differently than an event that is for those from outside communities. So how do we negotiate this respectfully and without creating conflict?

For more information about the feast check out the presentation:

Lalakenis Group Presentation Slides

You can also read Eliana’s blog post on Beau Dick and the Lalakenis feast here:

Eliana’s Post