Art, Law, and Community: Truth and Reconciliation through Art

By: Julie Tucker & Gemma Smyth

28. We call upon law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.[1]

83. We call upon the Canada Council for the Arts to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.[2]

Photo credit Nadja Pelkey

How can community collaboration address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action? How can we more meaningfully embody and integrate the 94 Calls to Action in a teaching/learning practice for art and law students alike? How can community be meaningfully incorporated through an embodied, community-engaged practice?

Through a partnership between the School of Creative Arts (SoCA), the Faculty of Law and the Arts Council Windsor Region (ACWR), artist/maker Barry Ace (Anishinaabe [Odawa])[3] was invited to participate in the inaugural Art + Law Residency. Ace developed an original work entitled, “As Long as the Sun Shines, The Grass Grows and the River Flows” that incorporated multidisciplinary understandings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. The Residency and exhibition commenced during the World Indigenous Law Conference at the University of Windsor. Organized by Professor Beverly Jacobs, the conference was a collaboration between settlers and Indigenous artists and lawyers, as well as university and community-based organizations.

Photo credit Gemma Smyth

Over the course of two weeks, Ace worked with dozens of participants to create a 54-panel work that allowed participants to write, “bead,” and thus take artistic responsibility for one of the TRC Calls to Action. Ace likened his work to a “contemporary wampum”, with each participant actively engaging in self-examination, discussion, and artistic practice around individual Calls to Action. Each small group session comprised a group of between 5 and 20 students, lawyers, community members and artists.

Picture3
Photo credit Nadja Pelkey

Ace contextualized the project by first orienting participants to his selected works touching on aspects of residential schools.

“Debwewin” (Anishnaabemowen for “truth telling”) includes tiny shoes woven and enmeshed in rope symbolizing lost Indigenous children and culture.

“Memory Landscape” evokes images of Ace’s adopted brother, and a photo montage maps the geography of a residential school attended by his great aunt.

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Photo credit Czarina Mendoza

Ace’s storytelling connects the painful memories of his family members to his art, revisiting photos and geographies that embody the residential school experience. There are inherent risks in undertaking a project that can trigger trauma in both the audience and maker. It was a significant risk in this particular project because of the small group work, discussion, and emotional engagement required. Ace explicitly addressed this risk with participants. His experience working in the community, his thoughtful and meticulous making, and his careful, individualized engagement with each participant navigated potential harm while leaving space for lingering, difficult questions.

Before beginning their work together, participants were required to relinquish their rights to the piece for $1.00 (a “loonie”) by signing a contract.

Excerpts of the contract read, “In consideration of the sum of One Dollar (1.00) and other good and valuable consideration the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, I, _________, whose address is ______ release and discharge Barry Ace, his or her executors, administrators, successors and assigns from all actions, suits, debts… in respect of my participation in the creation of a work of art entitled ‘As Long as the Sun Shines, The Grass Grows and the River Flows’…”

The act of giving up one’s rights recalled the way contract law is used in modern and historical contexts to deprive people of their rights – often without knowing exactly what they are giving up. In this case, participants were required to sign this contract without fully knowing its outcome. In receiving a shiny new dollar, the exchange is reminiscent of the nominal amount of money that is issued on Treaty Days across Canada.

Because this exchange was a condition of participating in the project, it was particularly poignant for students required to be at the session as part of their class assignment. This work therefore referenced the complex relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples which permitted a narrow range of options – acquiescence, assimilation or death.

Photo credit Gemma Smyth

After this exchange, participants then chose a Call to Action and wrote it in HB pencil on vellum paper. Vellum is translucent and allowed each participant’s unique handwriting to appear, even as it was rolled up and tied. Using the materials that Ace often favours, the participants then mixed floral and geometric beadwork with electronic pieces including capacitors and resistors, to bead floral designs onto 56 velvet surfaces. Ace describes his choice of materials as referencing the “cultural continuity, bridging the past with the present and the future, and as a demonstrable act of nationhood, resistance and modernity.”[4] Ace had pre-prepared the surfaces with the general pattern he wanted and affixed tobacco ties above the floral pattern.

Both Ace’s artwork and the residency respond to Call 83 and 28. Ace’s contemporary wampum belt engages traditional cultural beading practices but also modern electronic components, reflective of the materials of present day communication – the small bits, bytes and wires that make our devices work. Wampum is legal document beyond words and time. It is meant to last and to be remembered. Because of Ace’s understanding of material culture and experience working in community, he was able to teach and to share through his own process of making. Through his teaching and practice, participants were able to embody the Calls as artistic expression, personal commitment and lived experiences. “As Long as the Sun Shines, The Grass Grows and the River Flows” will be exhibited at galleries in Canada. Posted next to the work are the names of the participants, which for many was a meaningful, public connection and acknowledgment of their participation. Ace’s experience directed the collaboration successfully and his input will shape how the project moves forward.

In the following reflections, two of the organisers of this project – an Indigenous artist/ cultural worker and settler lawyer/professor – reflect on the partnership and its potential for future collaborations between lawyers and artists to bring deep interpretative, embodied and enacted meanings to the Calls to Action.

 Julie

My heritage is both settler and Lunaapeewi from the Munsee-Delaware First Nation. I am both an artist and cultural worker. Currently, I am the Director of the Arts Council Windsor and Region and a founding member of the Munsee-Delaware History and Language group, developing its first project through the recently defunded Indigenous Culture Fund courtesy of the Ford Government. This year is marked by the UN as the Year of Indigenous Languages.[5] Language embodies the culture, law and ways of being. This and other acts by both the Federal and Provincial governments are clear departures from the work of reconciliation. The CBC’s website “Beyond 94” tracks the progress of the 94 calls to action: 10 are completed, with 19 in progress, 33 proposed and 33 not started[6]. I have come to learn that we all hold the responsibility to ensure this work continues. In 2016, I was in attendance of a Night for Chanie on the 50th anniversary of his death, which honoured Chanie Wenjack and all former students of residential schools, organized by imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival. Significantly, Senator Murray Sinclair spoke during the event and issued a directive to the whole audience to answer one of the Calls to Action by whatever means available to them. I felt and continue to feel a deep responsibility to develop relevant and meaningful programming to all people from across Turtle Island who call this region home. My interests are in projects that are collaborative, interdisciplinary and opportunities for artists to be engaged in meaningful work.

The responsibility I feel is bred from the colonial structures of which I have learned, worked and have benefited from. David Garneau states:

The government apology and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are important, but the deeper work of conciliation will be among individuals who re-cognize themselves as also other than agents of the State. Settlers visiting these permanent sites of conciliation do so as individuals who are conscious that their institutions perpetrated systematic abuses designed to assimilate or destroy Aboriginal people so they could take their land[7].

Gemma asked me, “What is the significance of collaborating with the Law School and its faculty?” There are many things I would like to say here, but I think this collaboration is just one of many ways to tell the important stories that need to be told along with a way to support that telling. I don’t think institutions like universities are always aware how artists need to be supported in their work. As a cultural worker my role is to advocate for opportunities that benefit artists. I hope to offer an experience that is valuable to their practice.

Lastly, when I experienced Barry’s work, it allowed me to reflect on my Grandmother’s stories of Mount Elgin Residential school. I think there are many stories that need to be heard. And I know that one day you will know them because an Anishanaabe/Haudenosaunee /Lunaapeewi artist will have the opportunity and the means to tell you in the right way.

Gemma

As a second- and fourth-generation settler of German and Irish ancestry living on Anishnaabe territory, this collaboration brought renewed meaning and urgency to the Calls to Action, and clarified anew the complicated complicity of the law, legal education and myself in ongoing colonialism. By profession, I am an academic, lawyer and mediator. I am fortunate to learn from colleagues whose academic and lived experience challenge me to remain alert and conscious about the ongoing impacts of colonialism and my complicity in its ongoing metamorphosis. This project was inspired by the work of my colleague Professor Jeff Hewitt, whose academic work challenges lawyers to reconceive of art as law. I found this collaboration incredibly impactful and would encourage other law schools to reach out to their communities and art schools.[8]

For lawyers, intellectualization of pain is our stock-in-trade. This perhaps is the danger of simply reading the TRC Calls to Action without embodying or enacting them, or without engaging with the affective elements of cultural genocide. Ace’s work accessed these pedagogies. He personalized the TRC through his own stories; he crafted installations and images that made pain real in way that the common law avoids. Yet understanding this pain is key to effective legal representation. The participants engaged with one another in a collaborative, community-based learning environment which allowed for interdisciplinary discussions and uniquely co-created meanings.[9] In the session I participated in, for example, art students, practicing artists and an Indigenous community member created a mini-conversation group. Our discussion became intimate quickly as we discussed the TRC and our own experiences with Ace’s work. The beading practice allowed a shared experience of making/ creating. My own inefficiency and inelegance with beading was in sharp contrast with practicing artists whose beautiful beading was a healthy dose of professional humility. As we discussed the role of law and lawyers in the residential school settlement, we quickly came to the limits of law to address pain. For me, the practice de-emphasized over-intellectualization and encouraged embodied presence. During the final show launching Ace’s work, participants felt deeply invested in the work and had formed relationships both with one another and with the artist. Our fingerprints were literally imprinted onto the velvet and our handwriting was visible through the vellum. For me, Ace created community-through-truth-telling – offering painful imagery and narrative without emptiness, offering tangible connections between the past and present.

Acknowledgement

This project was possible because of the work (paid and unpaid) of a large group of people. Students in the School of Creative Arts (SoCA) were guardians and hosts in the gallery space. Rod Strickland and Lucy Howe were experts in organizing the project, supporting the creation and hanging of the work, hosting the Artist and solving the inevitable challenges that come with making. Vincent Georgie and Chris Waters were strong institutional supporters and embodied fruitful interdisciplinary co-existence. Jeffery Hewitt was the creative brain behind this initial idea, with co-generative effort with Julie and Gemma. SoCA technicians Nadja Pelkey, who took photos and prepared the space and Victor Romano who runs the SoCA Gallery, while Czarina Mendoza lent her photography skills to the project. Michelle Nahdee and Beverly Jacobs supported the project alongside the World Indigenous Law Conference. The work took place on the land of the Three Fires Confederacy, Anishinaabe territory.

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Winnipeg: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation) at 28.

[2] Ibid at 83.

[3] Barry Ace, Barry Ace (website), online: <http://www.barryacearts.com/current-exhibitions/&gt;.

[4] Barry Ace, “Artist Statement”, Barry Ace (website), online: <http://www.barryacearts.com/artist-statement/&gt;.

[5] 2019 Indigenous Year of Indigenous Languages (website), online: <https://en.iyil2019.org/&gt;.

[6] “Beyond 94: Truth and Reconciliation in Canada”, (19 March 2018), CBC News, online: <https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform-single/beyond-94?&cta=1&gt;.

[7] David Garneau, “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation” (2012) 46:2 West Coast Line 74 28 at 38.

[8] Indeed, at least one other law school has done meaningful work in this area. See Ruth Buchanan & Jeffery Hewitt, “Treaty Canoe”, (2019), Osgoode Digital Commons: Articles & Book Chapters, online: <https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3610&context=scholarly_works>; Ruth Buchanan & Jeffery Hewitt, “Encountering Settler Colonialism Through Legal Objects: A Painted Drum And Handwritten Treaty From Manitoulin Island”, (2017), Osgoode Digital Commons: Articles & Book Chapters, online:  <https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.ca/&httpsredir=1&article=3668&context=scholarly_works>.

[9] See Sarah Buhler, Priscilla Settee & Nancy Van Styvendale, “’We Went In as Strangers, and Left as Friends’: Building Community in the Wahkohtowin Classroom” (2015) 1:2 Engaged Scholar J 96; Sarah Buhler, Priscilla Settee & Nancy Van Styvendale, “Teaching and Learning About Justice Through Wahkohtowin” (2014) 4 Annual Rev Interdisciplinary Justice & Research 182.

Reflections on the Anishinabe Law Camp (Bkejwanong Territory)

image1_05By: Valarie Waboose and Gemma Smyth

We write from the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor, located on unceded Anishinabe Territory, the territory of the Three Fires Confederacy, Windsor, Ontario. We write, here, about experiences we had in organising and delivering an Anishinabe Law Camp for the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor, on Bkejwanong Territory (Walpole Island First Nation) with Professor John Borrows (UVic), Professor Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark (UVic) and Hannah Askew (West Coast Environmental Law). The camp was held over a four day period between April 14 – 17, 2016. We have divided this blog into two voices: one from Professor Valarie Waboose and the other from Professor Gemma Smyth. We hope these two contrasting voices will shed light not only on our experiences in the Camp, but also on the roles and experiences of Anishinabe and settler peoples engaging in reconciliation-related teaching and learning experiences.

First, reflections from Professor Valarie Waboose.

I am an Anishinabe-Kwe from Walpole Island First Nation, the second oldest child of two residential school survivors, a mother of two, grandmother of 7 and great-grandmother of 1. I am a 1st degree member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge. My life and worldview centres around the Anishinabe teachings of the Midewiwin Lodge. I have resided on Walpole Island First Nation most of my life and have worked within this community for at least 20 years. During my lifetime I have completed a bachelor’s degree, a law degree, masters of law degree and a Ph. D. From 1996 – 2002 I worked as In-house Counsel to the Walpole Island First Nation and served for two terms on Walpole Island Council. My familiarity with the community was key to organising the Camp and ensuring it proceeded in a good way.

I offered to host an Anishinabe Law Camp in the spirit of reconciliation and a movement towards understanding and sharing an Anishinabe way of life. Windsor Law faculty and staff, as well as Elder and residential school survivor Susie Jones had been working together over 2015-2016 on a Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee. This Camp was key as a first step in introducing faculty members more deeply to Anishinabe law and legal traditions.

Bkejwanong Territory (Walpole Island First Nation) is located in a secluded area adjacent to waterways leading to Lake St. Clair and surrounded by miles of untouched marshlands and natural habitat. The land was an important teacher throughout our time together.

The agenda for the camp was developed using a template by Professor John Borrows of University of Victoria and included stories, songs and circle discussion. Approximately 10 faculty members and their families attended to learn about Anishinabe epistemology from a number of invited guest speakers, each knowledgeable in a different area of Anishinabe life. The agenda included as many aspects of Anishinabe life as possible including history of Walpole Island First Nation, the legacy of residential schools on Walpole Island, a medicine walk, cultural teachings, storytelling and ceremony, circle sharing, boat tours, songs and dance.

In our reflections on the camp, it was clear that it was well received by all in attendance. The personal transformations in each participant was profound. An important aspect of the camp was the spirituality present during this four-day event. Within Anishinabe lifeways, spirituality is a major component of every aspect of personal and community life; as such, this aspect was important to understand the teachings shared during this event. Having members of the Midewiwin Society present and sharing their Indigenous knowledge during the camp enriched the participants’ understanding and incorporation of Anishinabe spirituality.

In my view, the spiritual realm within the four quadrants of the medicine wheel is one quadrant that is rarely touched within the practice of law. For some, entering this space may feel frightening but for others can be insight into their ways of being and understanding Indigenous law. As an Anishinabe Kwe teaching in a colonial institution I feel that young and aspiring lawyers need to learn how to get in touch with all quadrants of the self as reflected within the medicine wheel: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Taking this step and learning about oneself and how self fits into the natural order of the universe is a very humbling experience and can make a difference in their future practice of law.

Another highlight of the camp was having John Borrows, Heidi Stark and Hannah Askew share methodologies of incorporating learning from the land into the classroom setting. Their use of song, Anishinabemowin (Ojibway language) and storytelling was an incredible experience even for me as an Anishinabe Kwe. The work that they are currently doing in relation to Indigenous Legal Traditions is cultivating a new path towards understanding and teaching law to future lawyers. Perhaps, this new path is so far removed from the current norm and many will not be comfortable using these new methodologies. However, if one wants to fully understand and appreciate Indigenous Legal Traditions the person must embark upon this transformative journey. Reading about Indigenous Legal Traditions is only part of the equation; to actually be in a natural setting, experiencing the spiritual aspects of Anishinabe lifeways and learning about Indigenous legal traditions from Indigenous teachers is central to a deeper understanding of Anishinabe Law.

Second, reflections from Professor Gemma Smyth.

I am a settler whose family originally landed in Treaty 6 territory having been “granted” land in Saskatchewan. I grew up in Anishinabe territory not far from Bkejwanong First Nation (Walpole Island). My late father taught high school at the town nearest Walpole Island and I attended high school with kids from Walpole Island. It is with a mixture of regret and excitement that I am only recently discovering more about the teachings, histories, and peoples of this incredible place. It has been an honour to work with Professor Waboose on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Steering Committee as well as the Anishinabe Law Camp. Before engaging with what I learned during the Camp, I must first confess to a deep degree of cultural incompetence, much of which I learned about through experience. My ignorance was treated with kindness and gentle correction, rather than rejection. I am indebted to all the teachers and community members for their patience in helping the camp go in a good way.

There is a significant volume of literature on transformative learning experiences and, writing as someone who has crafted them for students and in a professional context, this experience has given me a much deeper understanding of what “transformation” can really mean. The learning environment at the Camp unfolded in an entirely non-threatening, non-judgmental and emotionally open way such that even the most cognitive-focused among us were affected. For me, this emotional openness was key to unlocking my own colonial ways of feeling, thinking and acting. For example, we had a working agenda with times assigned for particular activities. However, the Camp proceeded as it felt right rather than by the prescribed agenda. If members of our group were struggling, everyone supported the experience of that member and adjusted as needed. Nothing was more important that the wellbeing of the people and the environment around us.

Most of us are familiar with the cognitive-behavioural-affective triangle of learning, and many of us have critiqued lack of attention to the affective in legal education. As Professor Waboose writes, above, the Camp challenged me to take seriously a fourth dimension – the spiritual. As someone who works primarily in clinical and experiential legal education and employs feminist pedagogies, the Camp taught me about how to better connect with students (and myself) through reflective space. Critical reflection, reflection-on- and in- action are commonplace concepts in feminist and clinical and experiential education. I often wonder, however, how deeply I allow myself and my students to engage as emotionally, and particularly spiritually, engaged people. The process of learning with and from community deeply challenged the individualistic, neoliberal tendencies in education that have sneakily entered my understanding of law and my work as a teacher and activist. The Camp reminded me of how uncomfortable Western educators are with engaging with whole person in the classroom. The Camp also helped to reconfirm the value of some of the teaching methodologies I use but worry are too “alternative” for students to take seriously.

There were also a number of activists in attendance (myself included). Because of the “white saviour” tendencies common to some activist communities, I had to deeply deconstruct my own instincts to jump into a problem without fully understanding it, and without honouring the community’s own ability to support themselves. As we were reminded, Indigenous communities need allies, not saviours. I am indebted to the community for teaching me how to be politically engaged in a more thoughtful way.

So where to go next? What began as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has refocused on the relationships we have with surrounding Indigenous communities, and also with our missions as educators, and with ourselves. I don’t want to be naïve about the challenges ahead. As one Elder rightly noted, colonizers have a deep history of learning in the moment and forgetting once back in their ‘natural habitat’. The tug between a more expansive and flexible vision and enactment of time, a more intimate connection to the visceral experiences of land and animals, the connectedness of all beings from the very young to the very old, is virtually absent from my work life. I would be disingenuous to pretend that this will immediately change, but I now find myself consciously working to challenge these ways-of-being.

In future, members of the Windsor Law faculty, staff and students hope to work with the community to expand this opportunity to staff and students. We also hope to maintain relationships built during the Camp and introduce more creative placements. It became clear through this Camp that relationships must guide our work.