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6th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts
Survivance: More than Mere Survival
Carleton University, March 3, 2007

 
P r e s e n t a t i o n s
 

Ernest Webb

            James Bay Cree broadcaster, television/film producer, and president of Rezolution Pictures International Ernest Webb has devoted his career to inserting an Indigenous perspective into Canada’s broadcasting landscape. Born in Moose Factory, Ontario, Webb was raised in Chisasibi in Northern Quebec. When communications media was first brought into his community in the 1970s, it was exclusively non-Indigenous programming, but with the introduction of community radio, people were able to hear their own language and culture reflected back. Seeing media’s potential, Webb began his career as an editor and producer for the Cree Radio Network and then moved into broadcasting. He founded Beesum Communications, which published the award-winning news and cultural magazine The Nation for the James Bay Cree community. Rezolution Pictures International creates programming focused on preserving traditional language and culture, as well as award-winning documentary films on issues such as the environmental and cultural impacts of damming and polluting waterways and Indigenous gangs in Winnipeg. Webb presents a few clips from Rezolution Pictures International programs, beginning with Dab Iyiyuu / Absolutely Cree, which combines traditional hunting skills with legends, while leaving some elements of the process out to motivate individuals to pursue knowledge from members of their communities. Rez Rides is an Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network program focused on two automobile restoration shops in Akwesasne and Kahnawake, featuring Mohawk guitarist Corey Diabo of the Canadian rock group Jonas, who formerly worked in the Kahnawake garage. The comedy Moose TV, now airing on Showcase, has the characters of Adam Beach and Nathaniel Arcand beginning their own television program in a remote Northern Quebec community. Despite dramatic changes to the culture and lifestyle of the James Bay Cree, Webb affirms that Indigenous people have always maintained their humour. Webb has invited aspiring Indigenous filmmakers in to shadow the director of Moose TV, hoping to inspire youth to build on the foundation of Indigenous programming that he has contributed to throughout his career.

 

Annie Pootoogook

            Inuit graphic artist Annie Pootoogook documents the joys and hardships of contemporary life in the north. Unable to attend the conference due to ill health, Annie is represented by the 2006 eponymous documentary film focused on her work and life, followed by a presentation by Marie Routledge, the Associate Curator of Inuit Art at the National Gallery of Canada. Annie has received national and international acclaim for her work, receiving the Sobey Art Award in Canada, with invitations to participate in the prestigious Glenfiddich Artist-in-Residence (AiR) program in Scotland and Documenta in Germany. Raised in Kinngait, Nunavut, Annie is a third generation artist in a line of innovative graphic artists including her mother, Napatchie Pootoogook, and grandmother, Pitseolak Ashoona. Like them, Annie reflects her contemporary everyday reality, presenting life in transition in the settled community of Kinngait. Inspired by her mother’s  desire to chronicle important community events, myths, and legends before she passed away, Annie began to draw in 1997. About her artistic practice, Annie says: “I’m very happy that I can put down on paper what I’m feeling inside or what I have in my head. I cannot draw anything that I myself did not experience.” Annie’s work frequently depicts the interior landscape: Talking on the Phone is a portrait of her contemporary home life, while Man on the Radio depicts childhood memories in her pre-fabricated house. She also explores relationships, family, and community life, which often include the television set. Her work also depicts social issues in the north: in Memories of My Life: Breaking of Bottles, sheaddresses alcoholism, while Man Abusing His Partner shows her own experience of domestic violence. Likened to ‘still life’ drawings, Annie focuses on the minutiae of daily life, and her playful sense of humour comes through in the depiction of such unconventional subjects as men and women’s undergarments. Annie’s art dealer Patricia Feheley emphasizes that her work has brought a new dialogue and audience into Inuit art, and her freedom to be different is inspiring other graphic artists in the north.

 

Daniel David Moses

            Delaware poet and playwright Daniel David Moses has received numerous honours for his books, essays, and plays. He is the co-editor of the landmark book An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, which is entering its third edition. Growing up on the Six Nations reserve, Moses was inspired by his grandmother’s beadwork and rug-hooking. As a young man, Moses immersed himself in writing and literature, completing an Honours BA at York University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia for which he produced a collection of poems and six one-act plays. After completing his studies, he began writing a “totally different kind of poetry” that is collected in the book Delicate Bodies, which is part lyrical poetry and part “exercise in observing the passing of each month.” From that collection,  “Late Song” interconnects nature and romantic love, and his poem focused on the month of March uses vivid imagery to allude to the coming of spring. One poem from his Sixteen Jesuses collection humorously parodies the chain letter, which Moses calls “a curse in printed form.” His first play, Coyote City, is inspired by a Nez Perce story about love so powerful that it can bring a person back from the dead. The play begins with the protagonist, Johnny, in the land of the dead, having been killed in a knife fight. After unsuccessfully attempting to get a drink from a bartender, he telephones Lena, reminiscing on their moments of passion together and expressing his love for her. Despite a last minute change in cast, Coyote Citywas successfully shown at Native Earth Performing Arts and received favourable reviews, and shortly thereafter, it was published and nominated for a Governor General’s Award. Moses has three other plays including characters from Coyote City. He also wrote the play The Indian Medicine Shows, which explores the role of ‘Indians’ in the colonial imagination, from the perspective of a White family living on the frontier. Moses is currently working as Playwright in Residence at the National Arts Centre, adapting a play from the repertoire entitled The Fair Maid of the West, which he intends to work into his Coyote series.

 

Barry Ace and Ryan Rice

            Visual artists and curators Barry Ace and Ryan Rice are the cofounders of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (ACC), which is a networking system for Indigenous curators, writers, and cultural workers. Working together at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, they recognized the necessity of heightening the profile of Indigenous art. Upon attending a Canada Council for the Arts conference, however, they realized that Indigenous curators themselves needed to heighten their own profiles, for they were not only disproportionately unemployed, they were also being passed over for high-end publications. This realization prompted Ace and Rice to bring together members from the Indigenous curatorial and artistic community for a conference in Ottawa, from which the ACC was born. Today, the ACC has become a national non-profit organization with eighty members across the globe, including Aborigines from Australia. Their website offers: an online forum where members can share their research, a bibliography of publications on Indigenous art, and profiles of Indigenous artists and curators. The ACC will be collaborating with BlackFlash Magazine for their upcoming issue, with Rice as guest editor and six Indigenous curators contributing articles for the issue on photo-based art. Also, Ottawa’s Gallery 101 will be offering their space for the month of October to the ACC, who will be presenting a proposal for an exhibition. The ACC will also be developing a journal of aboriginal curatorial studies, forming thematic caucuses on different issues to contribute an Indigenous perspective to the discourse on contemporary Indigenous art. They will be using their resources to sponsor the Canadian Museum Association’s Visual Arts Summit, and they hope to have a permanent location for the ACC in the future. Rice will also be curating an exhibition for the Carleton University Art Gallery on notions of nationality and nationhood from a Mohawk perspective.

 

Elisapie Isaac

            Inuit singer, songwriter, journalist, and filmmaker Elisapie Isaac explores the facets of contemporary Indigenous identity. Upon leaving her home community of Salluit for Montreal, Isaac was forced to negotiate her own sense of identity as she was confronted with difference, including the distinction between herself and her ancestors. To explore these questions, she directed the 2003 Sila piqujipat (If the Weather Permits), an autobiographical film in which she interacts with her deceased grandfather, a symbol of strength for her. Having been named after her grandfather’s wife, Isaac shares a special bond with her grandfather, as kinship ties are maintained through naming in traditional Inuit culture. Isaac was intimidated by having to  approach an elder for the film, but she recognized that elders are much more open than she had previously thought. In her narration of the film, she points to the gap between elders and youth within communities. Reflecting on the stories of the elders, Isaac suggests that while life was difficult before modern amenities, Inuit people still had their autonomy. Isaac negotiates her own identity as a contemporary Inuk by finding strength in her culture; she hopes that the youth can use their elders as guides and feel proud of being Inuit people. To express a sense of strength and solidarity, Isaac closes the film with the words “may we always stand firm.” In her role as a singer and songwriter, Isaac sees music as a place of transformation as well as comfort. Isaac grew up singing hymns in church, emphasizing the dearth of role models until Susan Aglukark arrived on the stage (Isaac has, in turn, become a role model herself). Isaac formed the musical duo Taima with Alain Auger in 2000, performing nationally and internationally. While recognizing that some traditions will inevitably be lost in the city, Isaac maintains that Salluit will always be a home for her, and she will strive to pass on her language and culture to her own children.

 

Synopses by Anna Eyler

 
Please note: All presentations have been archived on DVD and can be borrowed individually from the Carleton University MacOdrum Library.  
 
 
A presentation of the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture
with the support of the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and the New Sun Fund
administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa .