E.4 ROUNDTABLE In Relation: Conversations on Indigenous Performance Art

Fri Oct 22 / 9:00 – 10:30 PDT
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chairs /

  • Erin Sutherland, University of Calgary
  • Carla Taunton, NSCAD University
  • Adrian Stimson, Independent Artist

This roundtable explores Indigenous performance art and its longstanding role in asserting Indigenous sovereignties, embodying epistemologies, and activating methodologies. Centralizing Indigenous ways of knowing and being, here, performance is considered in relation to land, languages, and materialities as well as to human and non-human kinships and treaty-based relationships. Currently, resurgences of Indigenous cultural knowledges are affirming further connections between performance and making, materialities and storytelling, embodied practice and mapping, for instance. The curation of Indigenous performance art highlights its role to histories of resistance, institutional critique, and collaboration while also providing opportunities for curators to work independently outside of institutions in public spaces. Grounded in practices of visiting, this roundtable welcomes and encourages a range of approaches and methods to sharing knowledges, including critical engagements and responses in the form of short papers and performances to performative actions and poetic/sound gestures.

Dr. Erin Sutherland (she/her) is an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Calgary in Mokhinistis (Calgary, Alberta), Treaty 7. She also works as an independent curator and is a core member of Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective (Edmonton, Alberta, Treaty 6). Her work focuses on performance art in Canada, specifically Indigenous performance art, as well as curatorial practice. Dr. Sutherland is of settler and Métis descent and is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta.

Dr. Carla Taunton, a white-settler scholar, is an Associate Professor in the Division of Art History and Contemporary Culture at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (NSCAD) in Mi'kma'ki and is the Special Advisor to the VP Academic and Research, Social Justice and Decolonization. She works as an independent curator and is a founding member of the GLAM Collective. Her research contributes to arts-based critiques of settler colonialism and engages with theories of decolonization and settler responsibility.

Adrian Stimson is a member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta, Canada. Adrian has a BFA with distinction from the Alberta College of Art and Design and an MFA from the University of Saskatchewan. He considers himself as an interdisciplinary artist and exhibits nationally and internationally. His performance art looks at identity construction, specifically the hybridization of the Indian, the cowboy, the shaman, and Two Spirit being.

E.4.1 Go-won-go Mohawk: Queering the Wild West

Michelle McGeough, Concordia University

Go-won-go Mohawk was, by all accounts, a larger-than-life persona(s) who seemed to defy labels of any kind. Her "troubling gender" performances were, for the most part, confined to the vaudeville stages of North America and Europe. As the first Native American playwright, Go-won-go's life and the retailing of it is an example of what Scott Lyons refers to as "rhetorical sovereignty," the inherent right and ability of peoples to determine their own communicative needs and desires in this pursuit, to decide for themselves the goals, modes, styles, and languages of public discourse" (241). In plying her craft, Go-won-go Mohawk brought into the realm of public discourse a construction of Native American masculinity that differed from popular stereotypes. In her stage performances as the Native American male protagonist in the plays Wep-Ton-No Mah, The Indian Mail Carrier, and The Flaming Arrow, she did not portray Native Americans as victims but as the heroes. While Go-won-go deflected the politics of recognition for her own ends, she also engaged in the ongoing struggle for recognition and justice by Native Americans at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Michelle McGeough (Métis/Cree) completed her PhD in Indigenous Art History at the University of New Mexico. Prior to returning to school for her advanced degree, she taught Museum Studies at the Institute of American Indian Art and was the Assistant curator at the Wheelwright Museum of the Native American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Dr. McGeough has a Master's degree from Carleton University as well as a BFA from Emily Carr and an undergraduate degree from the Institute of American Indian Art. She also has a BEd degree from the University of Alberta. Dr. McGeough teaches Indigenous art histories in Concordia University's Art History department. She is also an independent curator and has curated exhibitions for the IDEA at Colorado College, Indigenous Art Center in Ottawa, and the Museum of Contemporary Native American Art in Santa Fe New, Mexico.

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Tanya Lukin Linklater, Queen's University

Tanya Lukin Linklater's performance will work through orality and embodiment — investigating histories of Indigenous peoples' lives, lands, and structures of sustenance. She proposes to investigate insistence in both concept and application. This performative work draws from her production of performances with dancers, composers, musicians and poets, in relation to the architecture of museums, objects in exhibition, scores, and cultural belongings.

Tanya Lukin Linklater studied at the University of Alberta (MEd) and Stanford University (AB Honours). In 2018 Tanya was chosen as the inaugural recipient of the Wanda Koop Research Fund administered by Canadian Art. In 2019 she received the Art Writing Award from the Ontario Association of Art Galleries. In 2021 Tanya received the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for Visual Art and was long-listed for the Sobey Art Award. She is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen's University with supervision by Dylan Robinson. Her Alutiiq homelands are in southwestern Alaska, where much of her family continues to live. She is a member of the Native Villages of Afognak and Port Lions in the Kodiak archipelago.

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Peter Morin, Tahltan Nation/OCAD University

This is a gesturing through a force of silences. The performance artist as a maker, along with their future descendants, stand in defiance of how difficult political histories are performed within anthropological texts examining Indigenous knowledge, institutional structures and how those structures attempt to undermine cultural strategies for remembering. In 1903 anthropologist James Teit made several trips to Tahltan Territory, specifically to gather/document/capture Tahltan knowledge and material culture as his career builder. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tahltan performance artist and scholar Peter Morin revisited these Teit produced texts via Facebook Live. Over a series of 7 hours, Morin re-voiced these older Tahltan stories and offered connection to the breath of the original storytellers. For this performance offering, Morin moves further in by designing gestures to critically interrogate the use of the English language throughout the Teit version of Tahltan stories and his attempt to wipe away Tahltan expressions. Morin is looking to develop a Tahltan gestural language in order to honour the original knowledges that live underneath and in the spaces between Teit's English words.

Peter Morin is a grandson of Tahltan ancestor artists. He has now lived away from his home territory for most of his life, but like his ancestors who have walked on the land, he carries Tahltan knowledge, ideas and history with him wherever he is. Every step along the way, Tahltan knowledge has guided his researching, dreaming, learning, making of the past twenty years of artistic and curatorial practice. Morin began art school in 1997, completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver in 2001 and his Master's in Fine Arts in 2010 at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan. Initially trained in lithography, Morin's artistic practice moves from printmaking to poetry to drum-making to button blanket making to installation to beadwork to performance art.

E.4.4 Dancing Sovereignty

Mique'l Dangeli, Git Hayetsk Dancers/'Na Aksa Gyila̱k'yoo School/University of Northern British Columbia

The fundamental connection between protocol and First Nations dance practiced on the Northwest Coast is that protocol governs both the right to perform songs and dances and how performances occur. These rights, which are primarily hereditary, are expressed through oratory in terms of ownership and permission at the time of the performance. Rights to songs, dances, masks, headdresses, robes, and other ceremonial privileges, are vehemently guarded as they are not only integral to individual and collective identity, but they also define ownership of territories. As such, the ways in which Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists assert, negotiate, and enact protocol governing rights to songs and dances during performances is entrenched in local politics — family, clan, community, and Nation. All of which inform how their work engages with provincial, national, and international politics. In my presentation, I examine the role that protocol plays in the work of Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists and argue that it is foundational to our creative process. Protocol is often deemed as inflexibility of Northwest Coast First Nation dance practices. However, drawn from my embodied research as a life-long dancer as well as a teacher of Tsimshian First Nation dance, and a leader of the Git Hayetsk, I argue that dance artists and their dance groups deploy protocol in strategic and dynamic ways that are responsive to diverse performative, social, and political demands. The central argument of this presentation and my larger body of research is that protocol constitutes much more than the boundaries of their artistic practice. It is the creative lens through which First Nations dance artists, and their dance groups, enact dancing sovereignty. Dancing sovereignty is the theoretical framework I created to critically engage with the ways in which sovereignty is embodied in Northwest Coast First Nations dance practices through complex negotiations and responsive assertions of the protocol. I define dancing sovereignty as self-determination carried out through the creation of performances that adhere to and expand upon protocol in ways that affirms hereditary privileges and territorial rights among diverse audiences and collaborators. These assertions of sovereignty are not moored to Western legal definitions; rather, they are articulated through Indigenous nationhood and the protocol and epistemologies thereof.

Dr. Mique'l Dangeli (Tsimshian) is a dancer, choreographer, curator, and Adjunct Professor of First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia. Dangeli also works as a Sm'algya̱x language teacher, a Ts'msyen Culture Coordinator at the 'Na Aksa Gyila̱k'yoo School, and co-leader of the Git Hayetsk Dancers. She served her Tsimshian Nation of Metlakatla Indian Community for eight years as their Museum Director. Dangeli has choreographed a large body of dances for newly composed songs among her nation as well as created new dances for ancient songs whose dance has been lost during their cultural oppression.