Art as Intervention in a Time of Reconciliation [by Tasha Henry]

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[Ed. note]  The following post is a report by educator Tasha Henry, discussing a recent partnership between the Art Gallery of Victoria, and students in three schools.   The work here, which was done with Grade 3 and 4 students, is a very interesting model of the kind of work one might consider when thinking about Art as intervention in the TRC Calls to Action (and indeed, art as intervention within a law school context).   We thought folks would find it thought-provoking (and a bit inspiring!) Here, then, is  the post by Tasha [and she has permission from the students and families to use the photos appearing in this post]

 

Taking a place at the table:

Art as Intervention in a Time of Reconciliation

By Tasha Henry

In collaboration with several artists of a recent exhibit at the Greater Victoria Art Gallery, entitled “It’s in the Making”, Selkirk Montessori students, were initiated into the world of art installation with contemporary artists who challenge the notion of art as product. The students met with Nicholas Galanin, Tlingit/Aleut artist and Cedric, Nate and Jim Bomford while they constructed their installations in the gallery. The grade 3-4 students interviewed the artists with questions such as:

  • “Why is art installation important?
  • When do you know when your art is finished?
  • How is art an intervention?”

The students then attempted their own installation work in the gallery mansion as a response to their ongoing work with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “Calls to Action”.

IMG_5782Art installation as social intervention felt like the appropriate vehicle to explore the children’s emerging awareness and questions around the devastating history of Residential Schooling in Canada. As teachers, we are in the unique position to respond to the TRC’s Calls to Action in ways that model sensitive and historically respectful approaches to Canada’s shameful investment in Residential Schooling. Rather than approach this work as a prescriptive curriculum, we approached the concept of reconciliation as a process of responding to the ongoing impacts of colonialism on Indigenous communities. It was important to us that the children’s work around redress be responsive, multi-voiced and open ended.

To prepare for the day of the installation, for months, the children studied and learned from the Lkwungen First Peoples’ history and the traditional territories on which our school stands, known today as the Esquimalt and Songees Nations. The children were honoured to receive teachings by such highly esteemed and beloved artists and elders such as Richard Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw), Butch Dick (Songhees), Monique Gray Smith (Lakota/Cree), and Ron George, Heredity Chief Tsaskiy (Wet’suwet’en).

They studied the cultural traditions of the Coast Salish First Peoples by attempting artistic forms such as beading, sewing button “blankets” on felt, and by constructing their own cardboard “cedar bentwood boxes”. They expanded their learning to conceptual art by analyzing the work of two contemporary Tlingit artists, Nicholas Galanin and Blake Lepine. The students were also introduced to the history of Residential Schooling through Nicola Campbell and Kim La Fave’s acclaimed children’s books, Shi-Shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe.

IMG_5635 2The students were then given a white ceramic plate (bought from The Salvation Army) where they created their own free hand drawings using only red and black Sharpie markers. On the day of the installation, the students brought their ceramic white plates with their drawings carefully illustrated through a mix of personal designs and traditionally influenced images.

IMG_5636With the guidance of elder and artist, Butch Dick, the children were taught the importance of ceremony and the symbolism of laying a table in the Songhees tradition. They were asked to place their plates in the dining room area in a spot that meant something to them in relation to their understanding of the history of Residential Schooling in Canada.

With reverent gestures and words, the students spoke to their installation choices. They had been particularly struck by the descriptions of malnourishment from the testimonies of Residential School Survivors. Many of the children hid their plates under the large oak table, or under the chairs to represent the starvation of Indigenous children while at school. As the installation took its living form, the children chose to turn the chairs on their side, and to cluster their plates in the corners of the room to represent the upheaval of home and culture due to mandated schooling for Indigenous children.

IMG_5678Shion: “We put our plate above the fireplace so that people could remember the children that didn’t get to have these plates in Residential School. The fireplace is a symbol of First Nations hope”

James: “I put my plate away from everyone else’s because people were trying to destroy their culture and keep it away from them. Our plate represents the culture that was taken away from the kids.”

Maciah: “We put our plate on a shelf on a smaller table because maybe not all kids got to sit at the table and maybe had to sit on the floor. It was meaningful because we are bringing back the memory of First Nations kids who were forced to go to Residential Schools.”

IMG_5749 2By inserting their voices through the act of installation the students experienced a powerful social intervention. They were called to speak to their intentions to disturb the establishment of the Greater Victoria Art Gallery, on their own terms, in their own words. As Layla, a grade 3 student said, “When I made the drawing I felt I was learning about the culture and also doing something kind for the children by drawing their designs”. The children realized quickly that their art work was not for them; it was not a product to take home or display on the wall. As Adison said, “I like that some people learned that not everything is for yourself you have to make things for others, as well and learn about other cultures”.

In the collective experience of installing their art work as a social intervention, witnessed by their teachers and Butch Dick, who himself is a Survivor of Residential Schooling, the children experienced the importance of standing up for those who have been silenced. Jamie, a new student from Japan, reflected on the experience with poignant simplicity, “the kids couldn’t see their parents for a long time. So, we honour them.”.

After the children installed their work and spoke to their choices, we circled the installation and read this quote out loud:

IMG_5780 2“We are thankful for these and all the good things of life. We recognize that they are part of our common heritage and come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over. What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. To this end, may we take our place in the world’s work and the world’s struggle.” (J.S. Woodsworth)

When teaching a response to the Calls to Action, we can only hope that we are able to model what social justice learning looks like within the various institutions that frame social thought. This is not work that can rely on detached lessons within the confines of a classroom. The work of reconciliation must be work with the First Peoples of the land from which we learn, through meaningful, conscious and open ended forms that refrain from a settler agenda, or desired outcome. By precisely not desiring an outcome or a finished product, the children’s temporary installation became a visual testament to the missing and unaccounted for children due to Residential Schooling. On that day, it wasn’t our words that filled the space, it was the sound of children moving with intention, fuelled by a quiet collective heat burning within each of them, to seek retribution for children they had never met. Their innate desire for reparation permeated the space, and moved them to set a place at the table for the Indigenous children who were not permitted their rightful place in Canadian society.

Photo credits:  Tasha Henry

[Ed. Note:] A truncated version of this discussion can be found on the Victoria Art Gallery’s website (http://emagazine.aggv.ca/partner-school-inquiry/)

 

 

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The Wunusweh Lecture in Aboriginal Law

 (Image: Brea Lowenberger @BreaLowenberger)

This year the annual Wunusweh Lecture in Aboriginal Law at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law was focused on the questions posed by the TRC to the Legal Academy.  The presenters were Aimée Craft (Assistant Professor of Law University of Manitoba, and Director of Research, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation), Karen Drake (Assistant Professor of Law, Bora Laskin Law School, Lakehead University) and Gillian Calder (Associate Professor of Law, University of Victoria).

A link to the presentation can be found here.

 

 

Teaching the 94 Calls to Action in the Classroom

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Elder Butch Dick, offering words of welcome (photo credit: Carol Liao)

 

This year, as part of the Legal Process course at UVic, we took two days in January, (cancelled all other first year law classes) and brought the students back into their Legal Process groups to spend some concentrated time on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s “94 Calls to Action.”

What follows is first a description of what we did over the two days, and then some comments on how these materials could be adapted for use more generally.

THE TWO DAY PROGRAM – DESCRIBED

  • On the first morning (a 3 hour block), we had a panel of 6 speakers. The goal was, in an embodied way, to introduce our students to the history and context for the establishment of the TRC, including the history and legacy of Residential Schools.  Here is the agenda for the day Agenda for Jan 20 – Day 1 panel  (sorry…it will come up on its side, so you may have to rotate it to read it).  In brief, we had:
    • a Welcome to the territories by Songhees Elder Butch Dick, Artist and Educator
    • Tla-o-qui-aht Elder Barney Williams Jr, member of the TRC Indian Residential School Survivor Committee
    • Karla Point, Hesquiaht First Nation and UVic Cultural Support Coordinator
    • UVic (law) Prof Rebecca Johnson, giving an overview of the legal history leading to the TRC and the 94 Calls to Action [See below for more on this]
    • Ry Moran, Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
    • Aimee Craft, Director of Research, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
    • UVic (visual anthropology) Prof Andrea Walsh, speaking about the process of repatriating children’s art from a provincial residential school
    • UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers, Honorary Witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • On the second morning (another 3 hour block), following a short debrief of the day before, the students worked in small groups on a set of exercises aimed at introducing them working collaboratively and individually with the 94 Calls, with the goal being, in part, developing fluency with the content (that is, just knowing what is IN the document).  Here is a copy of the exercise handout.TRC 2016 assignment handout.  Here is a copy of the instructor notes that were distributed to the teachers facilitating the small group work.  Instructor notes for TRC session-jan19

COMMENTS ON SETTING UP A MANDATORY TWO DAY PROGRAM:

Because these two days were part of a mandatory course, attendance was expected for the two days (for students who were unable to make one session or there other, there was an alternative exercise).  While this was mandatory, we did not want to create more work for either faculty or students:  we wanted a space to do some work, but not in a way that would be overwhelming.  Indeed, the focus was in large measure not on the entire history of residential schools, but on the 94 Calls to Action.

  • We did NOT ask them to read anything in advance, nor did we give them any additional readings about the TRC or its history. We presume that there will be much to do on this front over the course of the students’ education.  At THIS point, we wanted to work exclusively with the 12 page document that is the TRC Calls to Action.
  • To set the context, there was some coordination with first year profs early in the year/term, so that all the students had already had a few lectures relating to issues emerging in the TRC Calls to Action [including a lecture in Criminal law on the Kikkik case, and Inuit relocations; a lecture in Constitutional law on the history of Govt/Indigenous relations leading up to the establishment of residential schools]
  • The first day panel was an intense experience, in a good way.  We had struggled in advance over the question of whether or not to ask someone to come speak with us about their residential school experience. On the one hand was the worry that Indigenous folks are all too often asked to share in contexts that are very exacting (that is, I was not wanting to do more damage).  On the other hand, people pointed out the real importance of having space made for those voices, and of letting others make the decisions.  Certainly, Barney and Karla’s participation was a crucial part of the experience.  As many students noted afterwards, it is one thing to have read about things.  It is a very different experience to be physically present with someone who speaks to their experience.  This was a super helpful piece of situating WHY the TRC Calls to Action matter so profoundly.
  • Part of the goal for the second day small group work was to enable them to meet up again with the groups with whom they had spent the first two weeks of law school.  It was also designed to be more practical and hands on — to look concretely at the text of the 94 calls, and to have a chance to work with them collaboratively with others.
  • In addition to ‘attendance’/participation in the group work, the “assignment” was two small pieces of reflective (non-graded) writing:  at the end of each of the two days, students were to submit a post to a blog (set up so that no one but the teacher would see their comments).  They could put down anything they wanted in terms of responses/comments/thoughts/questions.  The piece would show up as complete/incomplete based on simply the submission of text, and there were no marks for brilliance, nor content. The point was to create a space for reflective thinking, focus on the process of thinking, not on the substance of the thought.

COMMENTS ON ADAPTING THE EXERCISES TO A SMALLER CLASS CONTEXT

These materials were later adapted for use in the context of an upper year Criminal Law seminar course, using two class sessions.

  1. The first class session was in the nature of a lecture/powerpoint, setting up the legal context that resulted in the TRC Calls to Action.  Attached is the powerpoint, which people should feel free to use/modify/adapt, etc. [TRC powerpoint-for sharing]  I have a longer draft narrative text which walks a person through the powerpoint.  I also have an audio file from the talk for Legal Process.  If you want a copy of either, email me at rjohnson@uvic.ca.  I am happy to pass them along.  The point is to introduce students to the largest class-action in Canadian history (the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement – IRSSA), and to have them see the structure of the settlement agreement.  This helps to make visible who is and who is not covered by the IRSSA.
  2. For ‘homework’ after the first session, hand out copies of the TRC 94 Calls to Action (the document is only 12 pages long), and ask them to read it through, and highlight “The federal government” every time they see it mentioned.  While the feds are not the only actors, they ARE a party to the Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).  Thus, the highlighting helps to make visible the sections that speak to their particular obligations.  Highlighting the document also helps the students see more clearly how many other parties are present in the document.  The other reason to have them highlight is to help with the reading (having a task helps ground the reading, so that eyes don’t just slide over the text and out of focus).
  3. The second class session involves working with the same assignment we used for Legal Process.  Here it is. TRC 2016 assignment handout.  And here are the instructor notes  Instructor notes for TRC session-jan19.  But, in brief:
    • The first exercise focuses on Recommendations 1-42.  The goal in each case is not to have students ‘debate’ the recommendations, or consider IF they should be adopted (that would be OK too, but would be a different exercise than the one we used here), but is rather to spend the time trying to ask [in a very descriptive way] what a working group might do, if they were working for a government who was committed to acting on the Calls to Action.  The goal is to imagine a space that is actively affirmative and committed to reconciliation.
    • It  helps to divide students into 5 different groups (Justice, Education, Health, Language and Culture, Child Welfare), so each group is only focusing on a handful of recommendations.  It also helps for them to have flip chart paper to work on [part of the goal is to also provide a chance for collaborative work and discussion], with plenty of coloured pens.  Remind them as they map out strategies to also be including the section numbers.  The goal is less for them to SOLVE problems, than to be able to describe the sections, and identify the kinds of verbs and parties involved.  For the exercise, we asked them to imagine themselves as the federal government.  But many recommendations are aimed at other parties, or are collaborative.  So the goal was also for them to think about the mechanisms they would need to put in place to build relations with the other parties they are to be collaborating with.  It was helpful (when touching base with the groups as they work) to keep reminding them to think about questions like “division of powers”, and “cooperative federalism”, and also about resources OTHER than money.  If they work on flip charts, you can hang them up, so that they can move around to see what the other groups have come up with, which can help in identifying themes.
    • The second exercise (10 different possible questions to work on) was designed to focus on Recommendations 43-94.  These questions again presume people in the community, and don’t require the student to imagine themselves as a lawyer.  They can be providing information more generally based on their knowledge.  The goal is to help an interested person locate sections that may be of interest, and to think about creative solutions.  Here, try to focus them in on finding recommendations that might be drawn up even where they don’t require action (that is, consider that there are recommendations that might serve as inspiration for people wanting to take steps, rather than seeing them only as obligations to  be met or avoided).  This approach makes it easier for them to read the sections with a sense of who is invited in, and the kinds of actions of reconciliation that might be imagined.

The above was one way of introducing the 94 Calls to Action into an upper year crim law class.  Given the breadth of the calls, it is hopefully clear that one might just as easily do this in the context of many other law school classes.  Indeed, it is also possible to do this with high school or general community groups, adapting the materials both to the time available, and the particular interests of the group.