Chapter 5: Anishinaabe artistic methodologies: Exploring the development and facilitation of the Indigenous Youth Residency Program
Christie-Peters, Quill. (2017). Anishinaabe art-making as falling in love: Reflections on artistic programming for urban Indigenous youth. (MA Thesis), University of Victoria.
This section will explore an Anishinaabe methodology for working with Indigenous youth through artistic programming. In particular, I provide a methodological framework for Indigenous arts-based education and provide a detailed outline of the curriculum that was used for the Indigenous Youth Residency program that was implemented within the Art Gallery of Ontario. The Indigenous Youth Residency was an 8-week program that hired 6 urban Indigenous youth between the ages of 12-24. Participants met every Tuesday and Thursday evening for two hour sessions at the Art Gallery of Ontario and at SKETCH studio spaces. Each participant was paid $15.00/hour for a total honorarium of $480.00. The first five weeks of the program followed a relational curriculum that is explained in this section while the last 3 weeks of the program were set aside for studio time to complete a youth-directed, collaborative final project that was exhibited in the Community Gallery of the AGO.
Anishinaabe Artistic Methodologies
The following presents a list of guiding methodological principles that were utilized during the Indigenous Youth Residency program that could be applied to other arts-based programming for Indigenous youth.
1. The practice of ongoing self-location:
The practice of self-location is glaringly absent from arts-based education within institutional spaces where knowledge is instead truncated and distanced from the facilitator(s) such that what they provide is only related to the specific activity of skill- based art-making. In contrast, Anishinaabe artistic methodologies demand a deeper and continual process of self-location that honours the complexities and relationalities inherent to our knowledges. As a facilitator, I like to embody an Anishinaabe protocol of introduction as the starting point for any project. However, I am also selective about what I choose to share during a first introduction because I am cognizant of the ways in which introductions laden with cultural markers can be intimidating and disempowering for youth. This is why ongoing self-location is so important for it cultivates trust-building and becomes a continuous process that serves as the guiding methodological framework.
This practice of ongoing self-location as a guiding methodological framework is empowering for all involved. It encourages reflection while taking the onus off of participants to contribute their own personal histories. Simultaneously, speaking from the heart and from one’s personal experiences places value in every individual’s experiences and ensures knowledge transfer is non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian. Together, we come to recognize that many sources of knowledge are valid and we start to recognize the self, Elder, family and land as teacher (Chartrand, 2012, p.153). In this sense, an Anishinaabe methodology is attentive to different sources of knowledge and may incorporate elders, knowledge keepers and land-based pedagogies formally into the project. A practice of radical self-location generates a safe environment for reciprocal learning, utilizes a diversity of sources of knowledge and dismantles the compartmentalizing logic of colonialism that truncates our interconnected experiences.
2. Place-centered methodologies
Engaging a place-centered methodology in arts education starts with acknowledging your relationship to the territory. We must take seriously our obligations, as proponents of decolonization, to center the repatriation of Indigenous land or risk the metaphorization of our projects (Tuck and Yang, 2012, p.3). Quite simply, if we are not attentive to place then we are complicit in the erasures that facilitate ongoing colonial dispossession that are particularly rampant in institutional spaces. This process starts with a territory acknowledgement and if possible, prioritizing the participation and/or facilitation by elders, knowledge keepers and community members from the host nation(s). Most importantly, a place-centered methodology approaches art-making as an enactment of accountability that ensures the artistic practice honours our obligations and responsibilities as potential visitors to the territory.
Centering place within our methodologies is Indigenous protocol. This centering does not mean appropriating the host nation(s)’ teachings, but rather entails creating space for community participation and for dialogues on accountability to territory while honouring self-specific and nation-specific knowledge. This deep understanding of place, which includes an awareness of where you come from and where you operate from, is central to our knowledge systems and resists multiple forms of colonial erasure (Blight, 2015). This place-conscious methodology also maintains the integrity of our nation-specific knowledges (Chartrand, 2012, p.154). Place-centered methodologies may also entail physically engaging with the land itself. In Anishinaabe pedagogy, the land is both context and process, and knowledge flows through the diverse web of relationships we have (Simpson, 2014, p.7). Engaging with the land in both rural and urban contexts grounds our knowledge within our interconnected web of creation and speaks to a non- compartmentalized conception of art-making. Engaging with the land in urban contexts allows us to reclaim the city as a site for radical relationship building within our diverse urban communities (Recollet, 2016 p.100).
3. Let’s focus on relationships: A decolonizing relational artistic praxis
Decolonization must seek to strengthen, reclaim and restore the relationships that settler colonialism has sought to destroy. As Indigenous people, we have always honoured our relationships that extend not only to our communities but outwards to our non-human and spirit-based kin. From my Anishinaabekwe understanding, we are a relational people. Anishinaabe knowledge is inherently relational. Anishinaabe artistic practice is relational. Anishinaabe pedagogy is processed-based and subjective (Chartrand, 2012, p.154). When we make art we engage our whole bodies and nourish our relationships to the self, each other, to the medium we are using, to our ancestors and our homelands (Pedri-Spade, 2014, p.88). Relationships are the key to decolonization, both in returning to ourselves and in restoring the relationships that have been specifically targeted by settler colonialism. A radically relational praxis demands that we shape our artistic methodologies to strengthen all our relations.
This relational approach to art-making applies to both process and product. Our methodologies should prioritize the strengthening of relationships during art-making. These relationships are expansive and overflow the boundaries of what art is typically thought to be. We can practice accountability to our ancestors and our homelands through a relational artistic practice. We can strengthen relationships within our working groups while also exploring the intimate relationships we have to the inner self. Some specific methodologies that embody this relational approach include using the talking circle, using collaborative artistic projects that require negotiation and making room for discussions to explore how we relate to various components of creation. These methodologies are relational and thus center on process rather than product, which can be useful for youth or participants who are intimidated when there is pressure to make an aesthetically pleasing final product (Flicker et al., 2014, p.28).
4. Art education within the art institution
Institutional settings are complicated spaces for Indigenous peoples to exist within.
Museums and galleries are often pillars of capitalism and colonialism, actively perpetuating nationalist narratives and colonial myths. Even radical approaches to museum pedagogies seem to fall short for the Indigenous visitor because the museum’s foundation in capitalism and loyalty to colonial narratives will never be compromised. Often, this results in the museum being a hostile and unsafe space for Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous youth. The hostility of the art institution is not just in the perpetuation of colonial narratives, the erasure of peoples altogether, the commodification of Indigenous pain and suffering, or the exclusion of Indigenous peoples from programming, but also within the ways Indigenous bodies are policed and put under rigorous surveillance in art institutions. For many, the museum remains unsafe.
For all of these reasons, I suggest an autonomous space model for working within institutions. This means that rather than attempting to weave Indigenous art methodologies into a pre-existing institutional framework for programming, we demand an autonomous space for our work to exist within. In simpler terms, it means... give us the space you owe us from profiting off of stolen lands and genocide and leave us alone. This will entail rejecting the labour of translation that will likely be burdened on the Indigenous person in the institution, instead advocating for the institution to relinquish its desire to control, understand and validate Indigenous arts education. An additional consideration for the Indigenous individual working within cultural institutions is to build practices of self-care into your conception of your role and responsibility within the institution. Just as the museum can be an unsafe space for the Indigenous individual, it can be very unsafe for the Indigenous employee seeking to embody a practice that cuts at the very foundation of the institution.
Curriculum Outline of the Indigenous Youth Residency Program
Week 1: Orientation and Introduction to Territory Accountability
This week was to orient youth to the program with the first session largely functioning as an ice-breaker session. Besides going over house-keeping details, these sessions were used to set the tone of the program as a professional artist residency, as a unique experience that participants should take full advantage of by coming prepared, which in turn made participants feel special and excited. Importantly, I used these introductory sessions to cover basic cultural protocols so that no youth felt as if they were culturally inept. I explained my teachings around smudging, prepared the youth with teachings around Elder protocols and Elder Pauline Shirt shared her teachings around water and around the role of the youth.
This week was used to explore the most intimate relationship we have, the relationship we have to the self. We started our discussion with an overview of settler colonialism, brainstorming what colonialism means to us and understanding colonialism as a force intent on removing Indigenous bodies from Indigenous homelands. We discussed colonialism as a project of genocide. We then situated ourselves within the context of settler colonialism acknowledging how hard it can be to trace one’s own history of dispossession, as settler colonialism seeks to keep the knowledge of how we are dispossessed hidden. Rather than require the youth to share their own histories, I shared certain aspects of how colonialism has affected my life and we talked broadly about shame as something that is operationalized by colonial objectives.
● Situating ourselves in the settler colonial context
● Self-care and self-love as radical resistance in the context of settler colonialism
● Exploring emotional responses to colonialism: anger, love, shame, fear, pride
● To provide the tools for youth to articulate and identify their experiences of colonialism
● To rid of colonial shame that may exist from gaps in certain knowledges
● To contextualize feelings of anger and shame, and to provide productive artistic
avenues to channel these emotions
● To make clear that the goal of colonialism is to remove Indigenous bodies and
minds from Indigenous homelands and that we should all celebrate our very
● What is your definition of colonialism? What about settler colonialism?
● Settler colonialism always centers on land, can we brainstorm ways in which
access to Indigenous land is accomplished in Canada? ex. resource extraction,
MMIWG2S, reserve system, residential schools, pass system, flooding, etc.
● Intersections of settler colonialism: racism, ableism, ageism, sexism,
heteropatriarchy, capitalism. How do each of these relate to the dispossession of
● Sharing some of my story: Tracing my genealogy, focusing on the complexity of
my identity as Anishinaabe with Scottish, English and Irish ancestors, focusing on how I ended up in Toronto through a sharing of my father’s experience in residential school, the flooding of our reserve, and how my mom and dad met at a rally for Oka, sharing feelings of cultural inadequacy or “in-between-ness” when growing up in the city.
● How do anger and love relate to one another? Can we start to think of self-love self-care as radical and political acts? Indigenous Youth Residency in workshop with Aura Last.
The workshop that accompanied our discussion on the relationship to self was a self-portrait workshop hosted by Monique Bedard aka Aura Last. Monique has a background in art therapy and focused her discussion on the importance of self-care as Indigenous peoples. This session involved a photo transfer onto wood panels and then painting those panels with acrylic paint.
Week 3: Relationships to Each Other
This week we explored the relationships we have to each other within our diverse and multifaceted communities across axes of difference. In particular, we looked at how colonialism is gendered and heteropatriarchal and we will discuss how these notions become internalized within our own communities. We will discuss how women, queer, two-spirited, trans and non-binary people have historically and contemporarily been targeted through colonialism as people of immense power and knowledge in our communities. We will discuss how colonialism operates through the logic of compartmentalization and how we can resist this compartmentalization through artistic practice.
● Understanding what internalized colonialism is and situating it in the framework of axes of oppression (racism, sexism, heteropatriarchy, etc.)
● Exploring and articulating gendered forms of colonialism
● Making the link between resource extraction and environmental violence and
gendered forms of colonialism.
● Thinking of art as an enactment of accountability to all our relations and as an act
of dreaming new realities that are inclusive and safe for all
● Understanding that it is traditional to interrogate tradition when it oppresses us
● To cultivate a respectful, safe and empowering setting for all participants
● To cultivate a ripple effect of respect for all our relations in our respective
communities and nations
● To empower youth to use art as a tool of resistance and resurgence to speak back
to injustices within the world and within their own communities
● To make clear the centrality of the empowerment of Indigenous women, queer
and 2-spirit people to projects of decolonization and resurgence
● Let’s go over the axes of oppression that make up colonialism again. How are these internalized within our communities?
● In particular, let’s focus on the axes of sexism and heteropatriarchy. Can we find a way to break down what heteropatriarchy means to us?
● Indigenous feminisms and Indigenous sovereignty are inherently linked and Indigenous feminisms seeks to provide safety, support and honoring of all members of our communities. ● Sharing histories of two spirit people from different communities. But also, we don’t need these histories to exist in order to demand accountability to all our relations in the present.
● Sharing some of my story: feeling like bodily sovereignty is a fleeting moment at times, feeling the fear of one of my relations going missing ,the fetishization of our bodies, but also sharing about some of my relationships with Indigenous women and how badass they are.
● Art-making is a way for us to enact accountability to all our relations, to demand that our communities be safe for all.
In order to pair this conversation on Indigenous feminisms and interrogating gendered and heteropatriarchal forms of colonialism, the corresponding workshop involved a traditional choker-making workshop. The idea here was to communicate with youth that interrogating traditions that oppress us is our greatest tradition! The workshop was hosted by mother daughter duo Chinimiwin and each youth got to make a personalized bone choker.
Week 4: Relationships to Homeland
This week was used to explore and articulate our relationships to homeland in the context of living in the urban centre of Toronto. We began with an exploration of a territory acknowledgment, going beyond a simple recitation towards a personalized interpretation of what it means to live in these territories governed by the One Dish One Spoon treaty. We also discussed our own relationships to our homelands in a safe environment through the discussion on the spatiality of colonialism to illuminate how displacement from one’s territory is a product of colonialism and shouldn’t be a source of shame. In making connections between urban Indigenous experiences and settler colonialism, we collectively dismantled the narratives of authenticity that create the binaries of on-reserve/off-reserve, city/ homeland and traditional/ assimilated.
● Articulating an empowering understanding of urban Indigenous identities
● Exploring accountability through mental, emotional, physical and spiritual realms, recognizing the ways in which we relate to place through immaterial ways and the
ways in which we can practice accountability to our homelands through artistic
● Seeing the city not as a land-less space but a space where we can practice our
relationship to the land.
● The empowerment of a diversity of urban Indigenous identities and ridding of toxic colonial identity politics
● Providing a pathway forward through accountable artistic practices that put us into conversation with our homelands, communities and ancestors no matter how far away we may be from them
● Cultivating a fluency in the ways in which colonialism operates spatially to remove Indigenous bodies from homelands, recognizing the reality of displacement and feeling good about agentive Indigenous mobilities
● Recap of previous weeks: Understanding the intent of settler colonialism as seeking to remove Indigenous bodies from Indigenous homelands. We are not shameful. We recognize that any gaps in knowledge or culture are a result of colonialism and that it is not our fault. We celebrate ourselves through self-love and self-care. We acknowledge settler colonialism as a genocidal project. We understand that we have the right to challenge any tradition that oppresses us. We understand that we practice accountability to all our relations through artistic practice.
● Whose territory are we on? Why is it important to acknowledge territory? Can we brainstorm a way to say a territory acknowledgement that resonates with us as a group? How about a territory acknowledgement through artistic practice?
● Are we guests? Are we uninvited? Are we trespassers? Are we illegal occupants? What do these mean to us?
● What does land mean to you? What does homeland mean to you?
● Let’s brainstorm the ways in which colonialism functions spatially. Ex. residential
schools, reserve system, Indian Act, etc.
● Sharing some of my story. How did I begin my relationship to my homeland? I
will share how my family and community has been displaced from our territory through the flooding of our reserve. I will also share the story of my naming ceremony, which I came to when I was 24 years old.
● What does being an urban Indigenous person mean to you? How can we speak to these experiences through our art?
This week’s workshop included a walking tour from the AGO to U of T to meet Karyn Recollet, who would then lead a discussion on urban Indigenous identities. In particular, on our walking tour we held an intention of noticing what was around us and thinking about the city as an Indigenous space. Karyn’s discussion centered on her own explorations of Toronto, in particular, how as a Cree woman, she relates and practices accountabilities to these territories.
Week 5: Relationships to Ancestors
This week we explored our diverse web of ancestors in the context of artistic practice. We asked ourselves, how do we connect with and relate to our ancestors? We made artistic representations of our family trees that allowed to reflect on our ancestors as well as to openly talk about any gaps in knowledge we have about our ancestors. Artistic representations also allow us to creatively- and not necessarily literally- represent our ancestors such that there is no pressure to actually name and talk about them. We emphasized that ancestral knowledge is housed within our bodies and that we carry our relationships to our ancestors and our homelands with us wherever we go. It should be noted that this was a relatively intuitive week and as such, we spent most of our time in circle and in the making of our family trees than we did in literal discussion. As such, there are no prompts for this week.
These weeks were dedicated to youth-directed art-making at the SKETCH artscape studios. The first few sessions were used to brainstorm possible themes, to make a timeline and to decide on supplies that were needed. During these sessions, we still always opened with a smudge and check-in circle. It should be noted that an extra 2-hour session and an extra 5-hour session were added since youth needed more time to finish the project. During these weeks, we also brainstormed ideas for the text panel that was installed beside the works and one youth took the initiative to write those ideas into the text panel.
Our Final Opening:
The final opening for the Indigenous Youth Residency was hosted in the Walker Court of the AGO, a particularly fancy space. Here, we set up their four canvases, had a stage with a podium and mic, seating in the front as well as tables in the back. We had a traditional feast with three sisters stew and elk stew. I worked very hard to make this evening a special one for all of the youth involved and wrote a speech that spoke about the program as well as specifically honouring each and every youth through some words for them. The youth also had a chance to speak and they each had prepared some comments on their artworks. Afterwards, we invited everyone to eat, cued the music and encouraged people to mingle. I think framing the celebration in this important and formal way allowed the youth to feel truly special, proud and celebrated.
Working on a final collaborative piece.
Chii miigwech Deshaun Whyte, Haley Horton, Christian Scriver, Mai-Lynn Wong- Pitawanakwat, Chasity Morrison and Aysia Grosbeck. You are my greatest teachers.
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