Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why the Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am

The Art Gallery of Algoma and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre are pleased to present Cheryl L'Hirondelle's exhibition Why the Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am. The exhibition opening is Thursday February 27, 2014 at the Art Gallery of Algoma and artist Cheryl L'Hirondelle will be in attendance.  The exhibition will run until mid-April in the educational gallery of the AGA.

Why the Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am is a multi-video piece which incorporates video and audio of incarcerated Cree women from Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge a correctional facility in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. More information on Cheryl's interdisciplinary work can be seen on her website.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Decolonial Public History and Shared Authority

The winter issue of The Public Historian  contained an article by Katrine Barber titled "Shared Authority in the Context of Tribal Sovereignty: Building Capacity for Partnerships with Indigenous Nations."  Barber's article addresses the challenges of Indigenous and non-Indigenous public history projects, historical colonial practices, and the idea of shared authority and decolonial public history practices.

Decolonial spaces have been written about and practiced in a number of different fields (namely art, sociology, and oral history) but this was the first time I've seen a decolonial practice merged with public history instruction and practice.  Barber describes decolonial public history as a a methodology that "abandons faith in the superiority of the dominant culture, acknowledges Indigenous communities and their histories, engages Indigenous experts identified by their communities, respects tribal protocol and governance, and develops narratives that debunk and oppose those that naturalize the colonial past."

Using this definition of decolonial public history as a starting point Barber goes on to discuss the challenges of redeveloping historical narratives, the need to acknowledge the current atmosphere of colonialism, and hurdles in developing Indigenous/non-Indigenous partnerships.

The examples employed by Barber in her discussion of historical contact narratives and the shifting of perspectives in these narratives is particularly telling.  She compares the standard entry for the Lewis and Clark expedition -- "Lewis and Clark arrive in Chinook terrritory on the north side of the Columbia." with a revised text that shifts the narrative perspective.  The revised text moves readers away from the typical exploration narrative and focuses on the experience of those people already living in the area: "Four Chinook Indians paddled a canoe filled with wapato root to meet the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who had entered Chinook territory on the north side of the Columbia River for the first time.  Expedition leader William Clark alerted the men that they did not have anything with which they could trade at that time."

This example brought home the potential impact of shared authority on historical writing and the benefits of approaching public history from a decolonial perspective.  The article left me examining my own public history practice, particularly given the work I do with Residential School Survivors and reconciliation.  What preconceived notions and practices am I bringing with me when I approach a community project? And how can public historians generally learn more about fostering decolonial spaces. Barber's work is well worth a read for those interested in Indigenous history, community collaboration, and decolonial spaces.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

City of Greater Sudbury Archives

This morning CBC radio's Morning North featured a segment on a recent donation to the Sudbury Archives.  Hearing about community archival donations on local media is a rare occurrence so it was nice to see community interest in the Sudbury Archives. Details on the recent donation can be seen here.

The Sudbury Archives was established relatively recently.  In 2008 the city hired a professional archivist and the City of Greater Sudbury Archives opened to the public in May 2012.  The Archives houses municipal government records as well as private organizational, business, and personal papers. Personally, I was surprised by the relative newness of this community and municipal archive.  Naively I assumed that Sudbury would have long ago established an archives to preserve it's documentary heritage -- even if that archive was simply part of a local museum.

The Sudbury District Archives Interest Group was instrumental in partnering with the City of Greater Sudbury to establish the Sudbury Archives.  The Interest Group became concerned about the destruction of Sudbury land records and played a key role in advocating for a community archives. 

The portion of the holdings of the City of Sudbury Archives are available online via Archeion.  The items that are available online are well described and include ample contextual information.  Some of the online records also include images.  A list of the microfilm available for reference in the reading room is also available online.

One of the interesting (albeit a tad cheesy) parts of the Sudbury Archives website is a game called Grandma's Attic which is designed to teach students about the difference between archives, libraries, and museums.  The game is simple by design but is a great example of an interactive way to teach people about archives. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Commemorative Art: Walking With Our Sisters

Yesterday artist and author Christi Belcourt, hosted by Shingwauk Kinomage Gaimig, gave a talk at Algoma University. Her talk focused on her art practice, traditional art, and the Walking With Our Sisters project. 

Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women  in Canada and the United States. The work is a floor installation make up of beaded moccasin vamps arranged in a pathway on red fabric.  Each pair of vamps represents one missing or murdered Indigenous woman.  Vamps were chosen as the focal point of this project as they are part of an unfinished pair of moccasins and represent the unfinished lives of women.

One of the most inspiring parts of Walking With Our Sisters is the community involvement and support.  The project has been entirely crowd-sourced.  In June 2012 a call was put out via social media asking people to create moccasin tops for the exhibit.  By June 2013 over 1600 vamps had been received.  Vamps were donated from people across Canada and the United States and from as far away as Scotland.  A map of participants can be seen here. Photographs and descriptions of some of the donated vamps can be seen here.

The collective and is deeply rooted in community and volunteerism, with the organization of the touring being done by a collective. Christi Belcourt described Walking With Our Sisters as a memorial and rooted in ceremony.  Her description of the far reaching impacts of the project and the community support was moving and inspirational.  Walking With Our Sisters is scheduled to visit over 30 communities in the next five years. The full tour schedule can be seen here