REVIEW • MEDIA ARTS
by David Forsee
Rachelle Dickenson, Curatorial Assistant in the Indigenous Art Department at the National Gallery of Canada and Carla Taunton, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Division of Art History and Critical Studies, NSCAD University, writing about Indigenous Youth Screen and Digital Media, quote Candice Hopkins from her essay, Making Things Our Own. The Indigenous Aesthetic in Digital Storytelling:
“Story tellers are continually embracing new materials and technologies such as video and digital media—materials that ensure that these practices maintain their relevance. I would suggest that move does not threaten storytelling tradition, but is merely a continuation of what Aboriginal people have been doing from time immemorial: making things our own.”1
Making things our own. The phrase reminded me of an experience I had 40 years ago working as a consultant for Wa Wa Ta Native Communications Society on a satellite project conducted by the Society and the Federal Government’s Department of Communications (DOC). I, a white settler with experience as a CBC radio journalist, was hired to advise the Wa Wa Ta Native Communications Society on how to program a news radio show that would run 2 hours a day 3 days a week throughout the summer of 1976, broadcasting to 3 remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.
The communities were linked by satellite; our broadcast centre was on the 2nd floor back porch of an old hotel in downtown Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Wa Wa Ta’s Ojibway broadcaster, Garnet Angeconeb was the host, my job was to be in the background teaching Garnet how to make a strong current affairs news show, a task that I vigorously undertook, confident that I had all the experience necessary to produce a scintillating hard-hitting newscast. And I did—for 2 days.
At the end of the 2nd day, Garnet said to me, “It’s okay, but we don’t confront people like you’re saying we should. It’s not how the people handle problems in their communities.”
“But this is how it’s done. We’ve got to get the news out, hard and fast. That’s what journalism is meant to do,” I said.
Garnet looked at me kindly and smiled. For the rest of the summer, Garnet shaped the programming of the radio broadcasts and the communities responded. Garnet told the listeners how they could see the satellite at night, and pretty soon it had a name—Iron Star in the Sky. As for me, I shut up and listened. In the end, the satellite project was a success heralding the Internet that we take for granted today. But most important, Garnet showed me how people take new technologies and make them their own, that they have to, there is no other way. So who learned that summer? We all did. Garnet went on to graduate from the University of Western Ontario with a diploma in journalism. He then returned to Sioux Lookout and with the guidance of community members and elders he developed the Wa Wa Ta radio network with coverage to the Nishnawbi-Aski communities in Northern Ontario. He was also a survivor of Canada’s residential school system.
I mention this because history has now revealed the next chapter in this long, sordid tale. Over the past 5 years, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by the Federal Government at the request of the Indigenous people of Canada has made public the most tragic injustice ever inflicted on the Indigenous population. The hearings are now completed and the Commission under the direction of Justice Murray Sinclair is preparing its final report. Justice Sinclair, Canada’s first Indigenous judge, is an Ojibway/Cree descendent of family who were directly affected by the Residential School system. Here is what he had to say about the system in a speech he gave at one of the hearings in Halifax:
“The legacy of those schools is very much alive. It lives on in their children who do not know their languages and their cultures, and who may never have learned to parent properly because they were denied the chance to observe and receive positive parenting from their own parents. It lives on in the children of those children”2
The past is not through with us. Which is why the 4 filmmakers represented here along with their contemporaries have such an important part to play. Cheyenne Scott’s Spot the NDN affirms the place of young Indigenous filmmakers as reclaiming the voice that has been denied to them throughout history. Ippiksaut Friesen shows us how to “see” Indigenous stories within the context of the Indian Residential School system; while Eve-Lauryn LaFountain asks over a dark, mysterious dream-like backdrop, “What are the little, small actions we can take to reclaim our identity in all this mess? Finally, Tehoniehtathe Delisle, lead designer of Ot:si! 1.0 uses video games as a vehicle to rupture the stereotypes of indigenous people as they have appeared in film and other media that has been created by non-native artists. “Who knows more about native people,” he asks, “than…you know…native people?” Delisle was part of the Skins Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Workshop sponsored by Concordia University in Montreal. Six participants from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory near Montreal, Quebec, spent fourteen days in July of 2012 learning the basics of video game design and production while telling stories from their community.
The film excerpts you will see here are a beginning. But they are tantalizing because in them, and through the voices of their youthful filmmakers, it becomes evident that indigenous artists are, in the words of Mohawk curator, Steven Loft “…assert[ing] control over their own lives and culture, politically, socially and artistically.” “Thus,” Loft says, “control of our image becomes not only an act of subversion, but of resistance, and ultimately, liberation.”3
Excerpts from four Short Films • indigiTALKS Next Generation Screen Media: Eve-Lauryn LaFountain, Ippiksaut Friesen, Cheyenne Scott, Tehoniehtáthe Delise >>>
David Forsee’s work history includes everything from working in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Northern Service, running his own log hauling business in Northwestern Ontario, to living in a Yoga Ashram in B.C. He now works for the Hamilton Public Library.