F.4 Fast Ponies and War Bonnets: Indigenous Ledger Drawings

Fri Oct 22 / 11:30 – 13:00 PDT
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  • Dana Claxton, University of British Columbia

There is something about the line. The artist's line, and in the case of ledger drawings, the indigenous artist line and the lines on the ledger paper itself. These cool renderings of the indigenous self, culture, life and warfare seem to exist between art, documentation, cultural aesthetics and storytelling. The panel will discuss drawing, first nations art, war art and cultural histories in reference to these 19th-century drawings.

Dana Claxton is a critically acclaimed artist working in film, video, photography, video installation, performance art, and curation. Her practice investigates the body, the socio-political, and the spiritual. Her work has been shown and collected internationally. Awards include the Scotia Bank Award for Photography, Governor General's Award, VIVA Award, and the Eiteljorg Fellowship. Claxton has peer-reviewed books and articles, edited a peer-reviewed book, and she is widely published. She has presented talks at the Getty Institute (LA), Art College Association (USA), and the Opening Week Forum of the Biennale of Sydney. She held the Ruth Wynn Woodward Research Chair in the Women's Studies Department at SFU and the Global Television Chair in the School of Journalism at the University of Regina. Professor and Head of the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia, she is a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nations.

F.4.1 Kúpi — They Are Coming Back Here: Centring Lakota Place, History, and Perspective in Ledger Art

Claire Thomson, University of Alberta

Two unique examples of Lakota ledger art have long been overlooked for their cultural and historical importance, and their specific connections to experiences and places important to Lakota people ignored. This presentation will examine and contextualize the Goodwyn Ledger Art and a "pictographic drawing" attributed to Chief Sitting Bull, as well as examine the history of Lakota art/artifact collecting that has resulted in the separation of the Lakota community, place, and perspective from them. These pieces are important and unique examples in that they come from a place and historical context that no other Lakota drawings or textual art from the 1870s and 1880s have yet been placed within: Čháŋȟe, Wood Mountain (in present-day southern Saskatchewan, Canada), where Lakota people sought safety after the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The phenomena of collecting Lakota ledger art (and other material culture) for its aesthetic and "Indian" qualities have more often than not removed these pieces physically and culturally from their community and history. This has often meant that the cultural and historical connections were over time forgotten and displaced — a parallel to the larger settler-colonial agenda of Lakota displacement and dispossession occurring simultaneously. Rekindling these connections can be done, though the longer that these historical documents and art/artifacts are separated from community and context, the more difficult this process can be. The process of starting to make these connections, as well as the barriers to this work, will be explained with the Goodwyn Ledger Art and the Sitting Bull "pictographic drawing." This can be a possible framework for how we think about other Indigenous art/artifact pieces more generally that have also had their Indigenous perspectives and connections overlooked because they have been removed for generations from the communities and places that created and gave meaning to them.

Claire Thomson is a PhD candidate in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, working with Dr. Sarah Carter. She completed her SSHRC funded MA at the University of Saskatchewan and is currently employed as a historian with Parks Canada. Her dissertation examines Lakota connections to kin and land within Lakȟóta Tȟamákȟočhe (Lakota Country) and across the international border from 1881 to 1930. Claire is from the Wood Mountain Uplands in present-day southern Saskatchewan, where she currently resides and ranches with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys riding, sewing, Lakota language learning, and volunteering as the secretary for the Wood Mountain Historical Society.

F.4.2 Tâpasinahikana: Tellers of Truth

Gerald McMaster, OCAD University

I grew up in a Plains Cree (nêhiyawak) family that spoke nêhiyawêwin, and I have always understood the word tâpasinahikê to mean "to draw." As a child surrounded by farm animals to draw and by comic books that provided artistic inspiration, drawing was a natural thing to do. In preparing for this text, in which I place ledger drawing into a larger context of drawing in general, I felt I didn't need yet another Western definition. Perhaps if I sought out an Indigenous perspective, it might give me entry into new visual knowledge. After consulting a Plains Cree speaker about the etymology of tâpasinahikê, I checked English dictionaries to see if I could find a definition of "draw" or "drawing" — whether verb or noun — that could compare to tâpasinahikê's "to do something in a truthful way." I could not. This paper will examine the idea of "truthfulness" in drawing and the code by which warrior-artists of the Plains lived and drew.

Gerald McMaster — curator, artist, author, and professor — is Tier 1 Canada Research of Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice and director of the Wapatah: Centre for Indigenous Visual Knowledge at OCAD University. Dr. McMaster has 40 years of international work and expertise in contemporary art, critical theory, museology, and indigenous aesthetics, working at such institutions as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Chosen as Canadian curator to the 1995 Venice Biennale and 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale; Canadian Commissioner to 2010 Biennale of Sydney; and Artistic Director to the 18th Biennale of Sydney in 2012. His most recent book is entitled Iljuwas Bill Reid: Life & Work for Art Canada Institute (2020). McMaster is a nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) and a citizen of the Siksika Nation.

F.4.3 Not Where You'd Expect: Ledger Art and Pictographs on Paper

Sherry Farrell Racette, University of Regina

The typical art historical narrative of Ledger Art emphasizes Lakota, Cheyenne and Kiowa artists who were transported to Fort Marion, Florida, as prisoners of war. However, pictographs on paper can be found in unexpected places and formats. The 1835–36 pictographic accounts of Minnesota fur trader Louis Provencalle, a book of ledger drawings created by Hongeeyesa, a Saskatchewan Nakota artist, and the pictographic document of Treaty 4 negotiations created by Chief Pasqua are unexpected works that disrupt our understanding of the scope and purpose of pictographic practices.

Sherry Farrell Racette (Metis/Algonquin/Irish) is an interdisciplinary scholar with an active arts and curatorial practice. She was born in Manitoba and is a member of Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec (unceded Algonquin territory). Her principal areas of interest are Metis history and visual culture, Indigenous photography, traditional media in contemporary Indigenous art, and visual storytelling through curation. She has done extensive work in archives and museum collections with an emphasis on retrieving women's voices and recovering aesthetic knowledge. Farrell Racette was the inaugural Ann Ray Fellow at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, NM in 2009–10, and the 2016–17 Distinguished Visiting Indigenous Faculty Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute and Visiting Resident Scholar at Massey College. She is currently teaching in the Department of Visual Arts, Faculty of Media, Art and Performance at the University of Regina.