The 83rd Call to Action

Indigenous/settler art collaborations explored
By David Garneau
Complementary Methodologies acrylic on panel 50.5 x 40.5 cm 2020_
Complementary Methodologies. Acrylic on panel 50.5 x 40.5 cm 2020. Artist: David Garneau.

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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.
[TRC Call to Action #83]

For several decades, art funders have encouraged Indigenous/settler collaborations. Fringe became frenzy following the release of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report (2015). The Canada Council for the Arts (CCA), for example, boosted Indigenous funding from 6.3 million dollars (2015-16) to 18.9 million dollars (2020-21)1https://canadacouncil.ca/commitments/indigenous. This, and their robust commitment to equity (2017)2file:///C:/Users/garneaud/AppData/Local/Temp/CCAEquityPolicy.pdf, is engineering a shift in institutional engagement with Indigenous and other minoritized cultural workers and audiences. Indigenous/settler collaboration has become an industry. How do Indigenous folks collaborate with allies to create non-colonial futures while avoiding becoming cogs in the machinery of late colonialism?

Early encounters with mainstream academic and art worlds were frustrating. First Nations, Inuit and Métis folks often felt exploited, used as conduits to resources, engaged as hired help rather than as collaborators. Their work was showcased rather than their whole being and communities engaged. Many felt pressed into ways of knowing and doing that did not quite fit or improve their lives. Some insist that the best path forward is sovereign and separatist practices and spaces. But even here, we inevitably rub up against each other and rules of engagement are required. We need to treaty.

we inevitably rub up against each other and rules of engagement are required. We need to treaty.

The few references to the arts in TRC’s Final Report and its Calls for Action (2015), favour the monumental and the therapeutic—the big, public, and settled or small, private and fluid. There are Calls for the construction of national and regional memorials to the children who suffered, and those who died, in Indian Residential Schools (#81 and #82). And, while chapter five, volume six3"Public Memory: Dialogue, the Arts, and Commemoration," The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal/Kingston, 157-192, 2015. also centers commemoration, it acknowledges the healing power of making and experiencing art4"Chapter Five. Public memory: Dialogue, the arts, and commemoration: The arts: Practising resistance, healing, and reconciliation" The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume 6. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, 2015.. This slender section abruptly ends with Call #83 and a blank space. Its radical possibilities go unexplored. Unlike the Final Report’s binary, conservative and instrumental conception of art, the 83rd Call is open, visionary, and challenging: “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.”5https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf

Organizations such as Indigenous Watchdog, citing the CCA’s tripling of Indigenous funding, consider Call #83 “complete.”6https://www.indigenouswatchdog.org/cta/call-to-action-83/ They miss the point. Progress toward non-colonial futures cannot be determined using colonial-capitalist measures alone. More money to have Indigenous folks do the same thing, only larger, more visibly, and more often, might be a form of reparation, or employment, but is not necessarily (re)conciliation. While welcome, the cash infusion does not rise to the letter and spirit of the Call. Although Indigenous/settler collaborations are increasingly supported, the CCA has yet to establish a stand-alone collaboration fund.

Progress toward non-colonial futures cannot be determined using colonial-capitalist measures alone.

Significantly, Call #83 does not ask to increase resources for First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists. It is not about improving Indigenous support, representation and inclusion. #83 calls for the creation of sites of social transformation for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The proposed new funding category does not define these artists as individual expressive agents, or as conduits of their traditional cultures. It invites intercultural teams to forge new relations, identities and art works to meet a pressing social need. Call #83 asks the CCA not simply to fund Indigenous and settler artists as they are but as they will be, together.7Since the TRC’s Final Report, the Canada Council for the Arts has more than tripled it funding of Indigenous Arts. However, the majority of these projects, and similar ones supported by universities and other institutions, wonderful projects though they are, do not live up to the vision expressed by the 83rd call. They are Indigenous projects. https://canadacouncil.ca/initiatives/reconciliation
Examples that do rise to the occasion include recent collaborations by Adrian Stimpson and AA Bronson, https://hirshhorn.si.edu/explore/at-home-on-art-and-healing-artist-talk-with-aa-bronson-and-adrian-stimson/; and pre-TRC Final Report collaborations by Jaimie Isaac and Leah Decter, https://leahdecter.com/official-denial-trade-value-in-progress; and Sandra Semchuk and James Nicholas, https://themedicineproject.com/sandra-semchuk-james-nicholas.html.

While physical outcomes are assumed (“projects” and “works”) the text emphasizes “strategy,” “undertake,” “produce,” “collaborative,” and “process;” words that envision (re)conciliation as more means than end. The 83rd Call implies that these artistic partnerships are a form of (re)conciliation in themselves. While the artists and art works are instrumentalized, in that they are tasked with satisfying a political goal (“contribute to the reconciliation process”), the aims and targets are so broad as to admit endless means and measures. If artists are drawn to partner because they are curious, committed to social justice, to learning, and to non-colonial creative action, they are already on the road to conciliation.

The next step is to come to terms, to create conciliatory protocols and methodologies to enable their novel projects and respect their specific locations. Such work is not about settlers supporting Indigenous artists. It is about settlers and First Peoples creating a third new thing that includes and exceeds them both. Call #83 invites Indigenous and settler artists to perform and reform (re)conciliation as a creative act.

Realizing the wisdom of the 83rd Call depends on the performance of its key term, collaboration. The word has a sinister definition: “traitorous cooperation with an enemy” (OED). Most Indigenous artists, curators and scholars have anxious relations with settler colonial institutions. Until very recently, engagement has meant accommodation, being given space (temporarily), being advisors, but rarely being invited to co-author foundational and lasting change to the means of (re)production.

More positively, collaboration means “working with someone to produce or create something” (OED). Collaboration is a union based on agreed upon terms and directed toward a shared goal beyond the relationship. Power is shared, rotating, or decentralized. When institutions invite Indigenous folks to partner according to terms they did not co-create, the relationship is not collaboration. It is employment. Equally, when an Indigenous artist designs a public art work, for example, that is then manufactured and installed by non-Indigenous workers, this too is not collaboration. It is employment. There is a boss and there are employees.

True collaboration begins with conciliation. Participants co-conceive the terms, protocols, goals, and meanings that shape the shared action before and while it occurs.8(For a thorough, practical, generous, and heartfelt account of this difficult work, please see Elwood Jimmy, Vanessa Andreotti, and Sharon Stein, Toward Braiding, Musagetes Foundation, Guelph, ON, 2019. Available for free download: https://musagetes.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2019/07/Braiding_ReaderWeb.pdf

Power is shared, rotating, or decentralized.
Call #83 proposes (re)conciliation as a transformative process for both parties. Call #83 does not resemble two-row wampum agreements where two nations share territory but remain separate. It proposes an artistic space rather than a political one; a what-if space of invention where artists are not condemned to reproduce their cultures but are momentarily freed to imagine positively intertwined futures.

References

  1. https://canadacouncil.ca/commitments/indigenous
  2. file:///C:/Users/garneaud/AppData/Local/Temp/CCAEquityPolicy.pdf
  3. "Public Memory: Dialogue, the Arts, and Commemoration," The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal/Kingston, 157-192, 2015.
  4. "Chapter Five. Public memory: Dialogue, the arts, and commemoration: The arts: Practising resistance, healing, and reconciliation" The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume 6. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, 2015.
  5. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf
  6. https://www.indigenouswatchdog.org/cta/call-to-action-83/
  7. Since the TRC’s Final Report, the Canada Council for the Arts has more than tripled it funding of Indigenous Arts. However, the majority of these projects, and similar ones supported by universities and other institutions, wonderful projects though they are, do not live up to the vision expressed by the 83rd call. They are Indigenous projects. https://canadacouncil.ca/initiatives/reconciliation Examples that do rise to the occasion include recent collaborations by Adrian Stimpson and AA Bronson, https://hirshhorn.si.edu/explore/at-home-on-art-and-healing-artist-talk-with-aa-bronson-and-adrian-stimson/; and pre-TRC Final Report collaborations by Jaimie Isaac and Leah Decter, https://leahdecter.com/official-denial-trade-value-in-progress; and Sandra Semchuk and James Nicholas, https://themedicineproject.com/sandra-semchuk-james-nicholas.html.
  8. (For a thorough, practical, generous, and heartfelt account of this difficult work, please see Elwood Jimmy, Vanessa Andreotti, and Sharon Stein, Toward Braiding, Musagetes Foundation, Guelph, ON, 2019. Available for free download: https://musagetes.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2019/07/Braiding_ReaderWeb.pdf
David Garneau
David Garneau (Métis) is a visual artist, curator, and critical arts writer interested in creative expressions of contemporary Indigenous identities and in varieties of conciliation, especially among Indigenous people, with recent guests to Turtle Island, and disabled folks. He is a Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Regina.
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