Christie-Peters, Quill. (2017). Anishinaabe art-making as falling in love: Reflections on artistic programming for urban Indigenous youth. (MA Thesis), University of Victoria.
“We burn our fires in the ashes
of the past, calling each moment
by a new name, never realizing the constants
which bind our memories belonged to the dead
before we ever spoke them.”
From Inheritance by Gwen Benaway (2013, p.75)
Throughout this section I include the beautiful words of Anishinaabe, Tsalagi and Métis poet Gwen Benaway from her collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead. Her words have so viscerally summoned the beautiful worlds of my ancestors into the present. As I try to communicate how Anishinaabe artistic practice allows us to access and communicate a diversity of knowledges to our broader communities and nations, I find myself drawn to explore these knowledges as Anishinaabe archives. By employing the word archive I am trying to convey a sort of ever-lasting reference point, an omnipresent knowledge base. I am aware of the connotations in relation to the colonial archives which have so violently erased, misrepresented and dispossessed Indigenous peoples. Anishinaabe archives speak back to these erasures and violences by presencing Anishinaabe knowledge as alive, embodied and in permanence. Anishinaabe archives exist in ferocity and omnipresence and have always challenged the physical colonial archive in its linearity and fragility. Anishinaabe archives live within our homelands and our bodies, interchangeably, simultaneously, incomprehensibly. Importantly, Anishinaabe archives and their attendant knowledges are accessed through active relationships that demand consent (Simpson, 2014, p.15) and as such, they are not readable through non-consensual consumption of our bodies.
To my mind, Anishinaabe archives entail two components. The first is memory and the second relates to the content of these memories. When I think about what Anishinaabe memory means to me, I find that the term memory has too many linear connotations. Anishinaabe memory is not just about remembering and looking to the past, it is simultaneously about being in the present and projecting to the future. Anishinaabe memory thus exists outside of the confines of linear time, existing in a sort of liminal place beyond the structures that comprise our reality. So what exists within this place beyond time? What fills up these memories? The answer, to me, is simple. It is here where our ancestors dance, revelling in their omnipresence, their immediacy and their absolute permanence. Beyond the façade of linear time our ancestors breathe and plan, laugh and cook, love and care for us. And so I come to understand Anishinaabe archives as the knowledge of our ancestors that is only accessed through our embodied and consensual relationships to them.
When I say ancestors I do not just mean those humans we have descended from, I also include clan relations, animal kin, spirit kin and place-based relations. When I say ancestors, I am invoking our expansive kinship networks and all of the relationships that have contributed to our existence in this moment. Further, when I say place-based relations I mean our homelands, both as an ancestral relationship and inclusive of all of the individual relationships that comprise this larger one. Importantly, when I say ancestors, I mean homelands too. It becomes hard to write about these things when the false separation of body/homeland/ancestors is so ingrained in our thinking but when I collapse these containerizations, I feel the warm embrace of my ancestors in my own body and I feel the lakes of my homelands softly rippling with a passing breeze. Anishinaabe archives are body and land. Our bodies are our homelands and we carry our homelands with us wherever we go. When we make art, we are summoning those relationships to the forefront and accessing these archives, we are beautifully remembering the tangibility of our ancestors and their immediacy, we laugh out loud at how close they are.
“If you want to know where to look
for them, hoping to catch them by surprise
as they boil river water for their morning tea,
lift one hand and trace the outline
of your spine.
follow the contours of hands and feet
as you step, memory by memory,
into the land of your body
where the dead lie waiting.”
From Land of the Dead, Gwen Benaway (2013, p.12)
Accessing Anishinaabe archives can be a painful process in the settler colonial context. Before colonial occupation perhaps we did not distance ourselves enough from our archives to ever have to consciously think about accessing them. Settler colonialism has wrought multiple forms of violence that target the relationships that comprise our beautiful Anishinaabe archives. I think of my proximity to state-sanctioned genocide through my father’s experience in residential school and my current enmeshment within the now more insidious forms of colonial violence that threaten my existence. They tried to exterminate us and when that didn’t work, they tried to starve, rape and beat our archives out of us. They didn’t realize that you can’t remove these relationships from our physicalities, that you cannot break the bond between homeland and body, body and ancestor, ancestors and homeland. They cannot fathom the relational nature of our knowledge. But the violence takes its toll on our bodies and homelands and for many of us, our archives are enveloped in shame and locked in the confines of trauma.
Coming to acknowledge, remember and strengthen these archives is a painful process because it is a process of falling in love. When we fall deeper in love with our ancestors, they tell us that we have to fall deeper in love with ourselves and with our own bodies that have been marked as disposable and unworthy. When we fall in love with our ancestors, they wrap us in self-love and self-worth and we weep at how we may not have felt these things before. But, the deeper we love the stronger we become. The deeper we love, the harder we rage against the violence inflicted upon us by the settler colonial state. When I create art, I am falling in love. Sometimes, I am joyous and I relish in the gratitude and meaning that comprises my life. Sometimes, this is the most painful process for as I grow closer to the loving embrace of my ancestors, I carry the trauma, the legacy of genocide, the legacy of violence closer to my bones in my body. But always, falling in love is worth it. We deserve the right to fall in love with our own bodies and to feel the love exuded to us from our ancestors and homelands. As Erica Violet Lee beautifully speaks, “Allowing love to flow beyond the edges of our skin (in the form of touch), our lips (in the form of language), and our eyes (in the form of tears) is necessary and radical in a world where we’re taught to believe those borders are impassable” (2016).