Skins Workshop Series Retrospective

She:kon! With a new Skins workshop just around the corner it seemed like the perfect time to take a look back on the history of the workshop.

The Skins workshops bring Indigenous storytelling to experimental digital media. During the course, a group is taught skills such as game design, art direction, 3D modeling and animation, sound, and computer programming. In a deeper sense, students learn about the relationship between their contemporary culture, media and cultural productions, and technology. The students then work together to make a video game. The goal is to empower our youth to be producers of digital media, not just consumers.

Skins 1.0 started all the way back in 2008! It’s almost the ten year anniversary of the Skins workshops. The first one took place at Kahnawake Survival School, the high school on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, from September 2008 to June 2009. Owisokon Lahache is an artist, teacher and a source of cultural knowledge that greatly benefits the Skins Workshops as she helps to guide participants. Her art class created Otsì:! Rise of the Kanien’kehá:ka Legends over the school year. The game is based around local stories that the students knew and wanted to work with.

The path from brainstorming to a game starts with sharing stories. Participants also discuss what could be transformed into a fun game and what some realistic expectations are. Once a story is chosen the planning for the game begins! Making a paper prototype helps to visualize the setting and layout of the game. What do we need? Who will work on what? All the answers to those questions are found in something called an asset list. Through the process participants work with a team that helps them learn how to create what they have hiding in their heads. A lot of planning, learning and hard work get poured into each game.

Otsì:! is a mod (modification, for you non-gamers) on the Unreal first-person-shooter engine. The game starts with the player as a warrior in the woods. A narrator tells the story of a village that divided into two and the monstrous Flying Head that came from this event and terrorizes the people. The Skins 1.0 team envisioned multiple levels where you would face various creatures from our legends, like the Hoof Lady, and the Monkey Dog. In the end, they created what is known in the game industry as a “vertical slice” –basically a taste test of the game. In one level, we fight the zombie-like tree people. Very creepy! In another, we confront the terrifying Flying Head with the knowledge given to us through the narrator. It was a great start for Skins as Otsi:! won the Best New Media Award at the 2010 imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival.

Skins 2.0 brought the students and the workshop to Concordia University, allowing the students to get a feel for the university environment. This workshop took place over 14 days in July 2011 and brought together game-industry professionals, Indigenous artists and mentors, and a team of Concordia Computation Arts undergrads.

In this game, the player controls an Iroquois youth named Skahion:hati who is a bit of a braggart. When the legendary Stone Giant threatens his home, his elders call his bluff and send Skahion:hati to face him. The player begins by longhouses and a river; if you don’t feel sure about where to go follow the flow and take a leap of faith. Gifted with resistance to falling, Skahion:hati can make great leaps in his fight –however beware water as he isn’t much of a swimmer! Navigate the battlefield to scoop up the Stone Giant’s spit to use against him and keep your village safe.

Skins 3.0 responded to the desire of participants from Skins 1.0 and 2.0 to complete their games. Every two weeks from March until July participants met at Concordia University to work on combining their games to make one finished product. There were also two full-day intensives held. The result of all this hard work was Skahiòn:hati: Rise of the Kanien’keha:ka Legends which won the Best New Media Award at the 2013 imagineNATIVE Festival.

The game opens with a cut-scene that explains the dire situation the village is in. A man and his brother have seen a Stone Giant! The brother died so that this man could warn the village to flee but the elder is determined that they need to take a stand. The player controls Skahiòn:hati as a youth, who is given the mission of fighting the Stone Giant after boldly declaring the he is ready. There are pieces of history and info bits woven through the longhouse that the player can read as they prepare for their fight. A short journey requires keen hearing and bravery to find the Stone Giant. Once it is defeated the game jumps forward and Skahiòn:hati is a seasoned hunter who has been working to fight strange and terrifying creatures to protect his village. There is a fire in the distance and zombie-like tree people stand in the way. At the village, history is shared on the fate of this village and Skahiòn:hati’s and he receives a warning. Skahiòn:hati will need to use fire to defeat the Flying Head but flaming arrows are not enough! It’s up to the player to return to his village and defeat the monster once and for all.

Skins 4.0 was a three-week intensive workshop that took place from May until June 2013 at Concordia University. Participants from Kahnawake and Akwesasne came with varying levels of knowledge that benefited the game-industry roles they took on. (For you game nerds: this time we used Construct 2 rather than Unreal). I’m biased as a Skins 4.0 participant but I think this is the best game so far 😉

Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum featured a female lead and a story inspired by Indiana Jones. Ienién:te returns home to her reserve from university to find that someone has stolen a sacred artifact to use for evil. It’s up to the player to find her tools, sneak, solve puzzles and fight the final boss –a strange old man that turns out to be (SPOILER ALERT!) her archaeology professor!

My experience with Skins was fantastic! I was able to practice new skills and ones that I’m proud of and see what I’m capable of under a tight schedule. I worked on cut-scenes, poster art, character design, modeling and animation. The main story point I wanted to push was having a female lead and the team was more than happy with the idea. I was able to test my social awkwardness and explore Concordia University where I now study. The main thing that I took away from the experience was the knowledge that creating something that has an infusion of my culture doesn’t mean it has to be boring, obvious or preachy as I believed. It can be just as natural, fun and focused as any other culture I had experienced in games and art before. I just had to open my eyes to that first.

We are excited to bring the video game workshop to an Indigenous community far away  and to see what our new friends in Skins 5.0 will create!

 

Tehatikonhsatatie : For the Faces That Are Yet to Come

I recently attended Tehatikonhsatatie : For the Faces That Are Yet to Come, at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac in Montreal, Quebec. The Kahnawá:ke-based artists, Carla and Babe Hemlock, have exhibited extensively in the United States, notably at the Santa Fe Indian Market and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian as part of Native Fashion Now, organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. The show also features two collaborations with their son, Raohserahawi Hemlock, a filmmaker.

Hannah Claus, the exhibition’s curator, gave a guided tour in the presence of the two artists. Claus is a multidisciplinary artist and member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. The exhibition features numerous diverse works, demonstrating the artists’ interdisciplinary and collaborative practice. Upon entering, I saw the gallery text was written in French, English, and Kanien’ké:ha (Mohawk). This was the first time I had seen the language written in a public space in Montreal (then again, I’ve only been here 9 months…) though it nonetheless set the tone for the evening.

Claus introduced the show by way of discussing Carla Hemlock’s textile works. We started with Skywoman’s Descent (2009), whose centre is a turtle with a multi-coloured, spiral shell. Claus shared the story of Skywoman, who fell from Sky World through a hole made from roots that had fallen away from the ground as she gathered plants. A passing flock of geese broke her fall and she eventually landed on the back of a large turtle. She was given some dirt by a muskrat or otter (a point debated at the show), which she then placed under her feet and danced on the turtle’s back, spreading out the earth and thus forming Turtle Island. Looking closer at the quilts, one can see that Hemlock’s beadwork is impeccable; many quilts feature perfectly executed ropework, a technique of Iroquois beadwork that creates long spirals of beadwork.

The turtle motif returns throughout the show, in other quilts, paintings, and a digital video-montage by Raohserahawi Hemlock, in collaboration with Babe Hemlock. The piece features multiple video loops of humans, animals, and the environment shaped so as to resemble a turtle’s shell; the abundance of visual material is meant to reference the many forms of life from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) creation story. Raohserahawi Hemlock’s collaborative piece with Carla Hemlock sits on the opposite side of the room. A large tableau stands in front of a projected video. There is a female mannequin wearing a long jacket handmade by Hemlock as well as a old-fashioned hat. Hemlock created these garments to reference Cornelius Krieghoff paintings of women from Kahnawake at the turn of the last century as a way to witness the resilience of the women of her community. Flowing from the bottom of the jacket is a holographic material, referencing water, that trickles into a bed of roses. At the feet of the figure lies a gas mask. Projected behind the tableau is video of footage from the Rise With Standing Rock Native Nations March in Washington, D.C. this past March. This footage blends with video of children from the Kahnawake kindergarten doing the Stomp Dance.

Babe Hemlock’s interest in human intervention and manipulation of the environment is present throughout his works. The subject matter progresses from earlier paintings in the 1990s depicting Mohawk ironworkers, or Skywalkers, to recent works that engage in – might I be so bold as to say – Indigenous futurist environmental commentary. Images of gas masks, ruined and industrial landscapes, children holding their elders’ hands are present throughout the paintings. The exhibition presents four cradleboards for consideration as well. Traditionally, various Indigenous peoples used cradleboards as a way to carry children while ensuring their safety, comfort, and connection to a community. Animals like turtles and bears are present on the cradleboards as well; two of the cradleboards were produced in a traditional style and the other two in a contemporary mode. By using his paintings at different places in the exhibition, the curator creates a physical metaphor that illuminates connections between environmental health, the health of the environment, children as a reality and trope, and the future.

The show continues further on into explicitly political territory. For example, one piece features a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) passport, a document that is not recognized by Canada. Another piece brings the viewer into an interaction with the Treaty of Canandaigua, signed November 11, 1794, allowing for the continuation of early-colonial American expansion. The piece memorializes the histories held in common by the community. Second, it highlights the political nature of being Indigenous. One could read into the exhibition a call to action, the presentation of current material conditions and histories.

One Dish, One Spoon features a beaded vase resting on a large, wooden spoon. According to Skawennati, beaded vases like this one were once commonly produced in Kahnawake for sale to tourists. What she noted with the Hemlocks’ piece, however, was the formal experimentation in the work. From one angle, the piece resembled a vase; from another, it resembled the female form; and from again another angle, it took on abstract qualities. The piece is wonderfully strange in the context of its history and stood out for this reason.

Tehatokonhsatatie: For the Faces That Are Yet to Come documents underscores humanity’s basis in environment. This was the artists’ first show in Montreal, which brings to view changes around Indigenous art and artists in the Montreal art scene and the larger issue of Montreal’s neo-colonial, liberal cosmopolitanism. The exhibition’s title comes from one of the quilts. In the work, multiple waveforms emanate from its centre. Interspersed in the waves are embroidered faces, representing future generations. Starting as small pearls and gradually growing, the faces move outwards in the wave structure. Surrounding this element are six birds, representing humanity. The viewer is reminded of their responsibility to contribute to an ethical, healthy world, in that the reverberations of one’s actions go far beyond oneself. In this way, Tehatokonhsatatie… brings forward larger discussions around environmentalism, sovereignty and stewardship, futurity, and the possibilities manifest in future generations.

Tehatokonhsatatie: For the Faces That Are Yet to Come, by Carla and Babe Hemlock, with Raohserahawi Hemlock, is currently showing at the Maison de la Culture Frontenac in Montreal (Studio 1, 2550 Ontario Street, Montreal). The nearest metro station is Frontenac. The show goes until June 16, 2017.

Initiative for Indigenous Futures partners with Hawaii’s Kanaeokana Network for Skins 5.0

Skins 5.0Montreal, Quebec – The Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) and Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) have partnered with Hawaii’s Kanaeokana Network to produce the fifth iteration of our acclaimed Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design  [Source]. Skins 5.0 will be delivered as a free, three-week workshop for native Hawaiian participants held in Honolulu from July 17, 2017 until August 4, 2017.

IIF is a partnership of universities and community organizations dedicated to developing multiple visions of Indigenous peoples tomorrow by enabling artists, academics, youth and elders to imagine how we and our communities will look in the future. IIF was co-founded by AbTeC, a network of academics, artists, and technologists who create Aboriginally-determined territories within the webpages, online games, and virtual environments known as cyberspace. Both organizations are based at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

Skins is a digital media workshop for Indigenous youth offered by IIF. Participants learn different ways of using digital media and create things such as machinima – computer-generated films – and also video games.

Skins is uniquely positioned to provide a culturally relevant, technology-based experience to Indigenous youth,” notes Jason Edward Lewis, Director of IIF and? co-director of AbTeC. “Students are guided to hold, adapt, and engage with their cultural knowledges as both recipients and creators. Our goal with the Skins workshops is to empower Indigenous youth both as individuals navigating a technology-saturated world and as members of contemporary Indigenous nations and societies.”

Skins’ curriculum first asks students to reflect on their relationship with traditional storytelling. With this knowledge, students can then imagine new ways to tell these stories, such as virtual environments and video games. Moving forward, the workshop focuses on skills that are necessary for videogame and virtual environment creation, such as game design, art direction, 3D modeling and animation, sound, and computer programming.

AbTeC has facilitated four other Skins workshops, beginning in September 2008. An interdisciplinary team including game-industry professionals, artists, support staff and Aboriginal mentors guide students through the intensive curriculum. The result of everyone’s hard work is a playable videogame, representing knowledge transmission, translation, and immersion.

Skawennati, artist and co-director of AbTeC, further notes, “we want youth to come away from this experience with a deepened understanding of themselves as co-creators of their shared identity and culture. Another aim of Skins is teaching skills such as game design and programming, which are in turn used as ways to Indigenize media that are relevant to youth. In this way, our youth are well positioned to direct their futures.”

IIF and AbTeC personnel will work with members of the Kanaeokana Network to deliver the workshop. Students will draw on a shared mo’olelo, or story, that they have chosen together. The partners intend to “facilitate workshops and similar projects in the future, with the goal of creating generational abundance,” writes Kanaeokana co-founder Kamehameha Schools [Source]. This intention will ensure that Skins 5.0 cultivates intergenerational, intracultural exchange. IIF and AbTeC are thrilled by our current collaboration and look forward to spending time with the participating youth.

For more information on Skins 5.0, visit the workshop’s blog at http://skins.abtec.org/skins5.0/. The team will be providing updates on the workshop’s progress,  course materials, and reflections on the experience.

For more information about the Initiative for Indigenous Futures and Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, visit http://abtec.org/iif/ and http://abtec.org/.

Concordia Film Festival: Getting there: parity & diversity in the film industry

As part of my work I was able to attend a panel discussion at the Concordia Film Festival called “Getting there: parity & diversity in the film industry.” The event featured four panelists, Henri Pardo, actor and creator of Black Wealth Matters; Li Li, actress and council member of Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA); Karina Aktouf, actress with 15 years experience in the field; and Tracey Deer, writer, director and creator of the series Mohawk Girls.

The four panelists touched on myriad topics that affected them. All stressed that there are multiple conversations taking place in front of and behind the camera; Deer discussed the importance of producers, who often gate keep the path to shows being made. Many current gatekeepers operate along a different set of values than many young, racialized creators, in that they value content that does not challenge the viewer or expose them to authentically sovereign self-expression, instead upholding a number of expectations (misogyny, racism, colonialism) that in turn create caricatures of real people. Underlying this point is the responsiveness of studios to financial considerations and further to this, a reason why diversity is at times seen as a threat to profit, even though, as Li Li noted, franchises like Fast and the Furious prove otherwise.

All of the panelists spoke to the weight of limited representation, and ways in which the systems that enable the production of film, television, and related media limit representational diversity in their design. Aktouf discussed her rising demand in front of the camera due to the changing political climate of Quebec; though this is exciting in terms of growing representation and deeper dialogue, she also discussed her experience of having been asked to play characters of different communities. Specifically, Aktouf referenced her lived experience as a woman with a specific and personal context and history, which informs the language she speaks, her accent, her body language; in this way, she discussed the political implications of lived experience, performance, and performativity while playing characters and people whose context is different from one’s own. Furthermore, Aktouf has found that, though there are more parts for her over the past few years, many of these parts have little or no dialogue, leaving her silent, silenced, or muted.

There is a parallel relationship to Li Li’s discussion of accent neutralization in acting and the double-bind that allophone, racialized actors are placed in, whereby there is a requirement to speak English/French without an accent and also the requirement whereby actors must be able to emulate other people’s’ accents. She identified this as a tool through which racial exclusion occurs. Similarly, Li notes that in her experience, racialized actors often play roles that, though said to be representative of their own community, are in reality the fantasies of a show maker. This process through which actors are made to play out the projections of others reveals the power that media productions have to affect the way people are viewed by others and even by themselves. More deeply, it represents a dynamic of control insofar as behaviour and reality of others are altered to match the projections of those who create representations.

What happens behind the camera affects the material that it produces and with these realities in mind, Pardo, Li and Deer all note the importance of owning the content and means of production. Bodies like the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) were identified as ideal models, as they require Indigenous participation in all aspects of production and subject matter and thus ensure diversity in production and representation. Through this process, these organizations contribute to another important factor identified by the panelists, the need to create a new generation of show makers whose education and motivations are humanitarian and open to questions of sovereignty in self-representation. The panel identified the need for diverse writers as well, which would, in general, add to the authenticity and three-dimensionality of scripts.

Discussing his series, Black Wealth Matters, Pardo brought up the possibility of self-publishing, using platforms such as YouTube, as an option for moving forward and working around the structural inequalities present in mainstream media. Obviously, this point parallels the work of AbTeC in many ways. Similar to Pardo, who seeks to create dialogue between creators, facilitators, and consumers, AbTeC works to empower Indigenous peoples on online platforms and create Indigenously-determined online Indigenous spaces. Though the comparison may seem cumbersome given the differences in media and interaction with technology, I feel it’s important to consider if only to demonstrate the ways in which different people from diverse communities can resist power inequities together, which, in the end, represents co-implicated communities. Pardo reminded actors and showmakers of their responsibility to care for and cultivate their audience. In this way, actors and creators have a responsibility to empower their audiences through the creation of media that works against dehumanizing projections and caricaturization.

In closing, there was much material for consideration at the panel. The four panelists brought a surfeit of experience and analysis to a network of topics having to do with media, structural oppression, representation, and sovereignty.

Introducing our social media coordinator, Dion Smith-Dokkie

Hello everyone! My name is Dion Smith-Dokkie and I recently joined Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) as a research assistant and social media coordinator. Over the next few months I’ll be introducing the members AbTeC and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF) to you, learning about Indigeneity online and in virtual reality, and bringing you news about our work here!

I’m a member of West Moberly First Nations, a Treaty 8 nation located in northeastern British Columbia. My mother is Dane-zaa, Cree, Saulteaux, English, Scottish and Irish; my father is a white settler whose ancestors come from the British Isles. I’ve worked for various organizations as a researcher, administrator, and intern and I hold a degree in Women’s Studies from the University of Victoria. I’m currently pursuing a BFA in Studio Arts (soon to be Painting and Drawing) at Concordia University in Montreal!

I had heard of IIF and AbTeC a few years ago when I was doing some skimming on Indigenous Futurisms. My own research has focused on the creative productions of Indigenous women and 2-Spirits, using things like Indigenous literary studies and poetry, cyborg theory, and queer theory to attempt to give context to the social, political, and artistic milieux of these artists and their work.

My interests in terms of the work of IIF and AbTeC range from Indigenous presence online and in virtual platforms, gender, race and self-representation through avatars and other media, using technology to alter or extend embodiment and perception, and the material conditions of Indigenous peoples that have contributed to the development of things like the Internet, social media, and smartphones.

I’m excited to see how my time at AbTeC informs my presently new artistic practice! I am interested in exploring portraiture and embodiment, cyborg theory and Indigeneity, the relationship between the land and virtual reality, affect, cartography, love and sexuality.

Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance and the Art of Interrupting Narratives at Never Apart

Centre Never Apart’s Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance and the Art of Interrupting Narratives, features work by Kent Monkman, Dayna Danger, Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, Preston Buffalo, and Fallon Simard curated by Jeffrey McNeil Seymour and Michael Venus. The show’s title, Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance references Gerald Vizenor’s survivance. Of survivance, Vizenor writes

Native survivance is an active sense of presence over absence, deracination, and oblivion; survivance is the continuance of stories, not a mere reaction, however pertinent. Survivance is greater than the right of a survivable name. Survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, detractions, obstructions, the unbearable sentiments of tragedy, and the legacy of victimry. Survivance is the heritable right of succession or reversion of an estate and, in the course of international declarations of human rights, is a narrative estate of native survivance. (Vizenor, 1)

From the outset, then, Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance positions the works shown as continuations of Indigenous ways of knowing the world (epistemologies). The works and their creators are supported by their communities, cultures, and lands and given context by them. What interests me in this point is the interplay between hegemonic LGBTA+/QT2 (see 1) (sub)culture and culturally-embedded understandings of gender, sex and sexuality, specifically the navigations between two worlds.

What further interests me are the worlds created by the artworks. The work of the artists becomes personal cartography on embodiment and ethno-cultural belonging and negotiation; the show explicitly makes space for Two-Spirit artists to assert and narrate their existence. The space itself becomes a place of community-development or perhaps community envisioning, allowing viewers to weave threads between artists who produce work in diverse forms, who issue from different contexts and thus hold different ways of being Two-Spirited. Taken together, this dialogue provides outsiders with a space for education and gratitude; for insiders, a place to be reflected, witnessed.

Dayna Danger, a queer, Metis/Ojibwe/Polish artist, provided three pieces for the exhibition. A dual/split-screen video shows two people from the waist down, wearing antlers in harnesses around their hips, locking horns so as to emulate a caribou or deer. The second screen shows two people locked in an embrace, one holding the other. There are three beaded, wrestling masks made from black leather and beads. Danger works with land-based imagery as well as the visual language of BDSM; the intimate, tender, and tough aspects of her work ground the show wonderfully.

Kent Monkman’s work features prominently, including prints and preparatory sketches for various paintings – including The Impending Storm, located at the Montreal Musee des Beaux-Arts – the recently minted Team Miss Chief patch, and notably, Miss Chief’s Praying Hands, clasping, red silicone hands in the form of a daunting buttplug, all of which continue with the artist’s penetrating, devil-may-care exploration of Indigeneity, sexuality, camp and narrative.

Fallon Simard includes two videos made from analog photographs, Mercury Poisoning and TerraNullius5000, both which discuss human capacities to relate to the land and the effect of human intervention and relating on the land. The digital interventions in the photograph developed an intense metaphor for human mediation in nature.

Preston Buffalo’s prints offer colourful reflections on the show’s themes. For example, in Pink Blue we see two half-bodies covered in digitally manipulated faces, with tendrils reaching from each one to the other. The surplus of identity in conjunction with the cleft halves of a body creates an interesting commentary on belonging and embodied archives.

Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour’s Unsettling combines a red dress, which has become a symbol of justice for Indigenous women who have experienced violence and, at present, of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, with a fabric map of the Indigenous nations of Turtle Island. The combination of political impetus, cartography and decoloniality, and fibre practices results in a haunting work.

The current shows are up until June 16, 2017. Centre Never Apart is located at 7049 Rue St-Urbain, Montreal and is open to the public from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM Saturdays.

  1. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Ally or Asexual + (indicates there are more/infinite ways of identifying) / Queer, Trans, 2-Spirit

Sources

Vizenor, Gerald Robert. Survivance: narratives of Native presence. Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska Press, 2009. Print.

An Open Letter to Michèle Audette, Commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Nia:wen to AbTeC for allowing me to post here. It was a bit too long for a FaceBook post.

A couple of months ago, I was invited by Ondinnok to do a curtain raiser. In theatre, that’s a short performance before the main show. Catherine Joncas, director of Montreal’s first Indigenous theatre company, said she wanted to respond to Montreal’s 375th celebrations with some reminders that Indigenous presence in this place dates much longer than that. She organized an entire series called “5 minutes pour que je te dise” or, in English, “5 minutes so I can tell you”

As soon as I had heard that Michele Audette would be a Commissioner, I wanted to write her a letter.  I took this opportunity to do so. I simply stood in front of the audience, gave a brief introduction, and read it (slightly shortened, as I went way over 5 minutes!) in French. Merci to Karina Chagnon for her careful translation.

Michèle Audette, left, and Skawennati with the megaphone at the Native Friendship Centre’s march. Montreal (near de Maisonneuve and St-Urbain), c.1997.

Skennen sewakwekon, Skawennati iontiats.

Bonsoir tout le monde, my name is Skawennati. I am a Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) of Kahnawake and am of the turtle clan. My mother is Brenda Dearhouse and my father is Luigi Fragnito. I wish to share with you a letter I have written to Michèle Audette, commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Dear Michèle,

How are you? It has been many moons since we last spoke. I have seen in the news that you have been active, as usual! I was thrilled to learn that you would be one of the commissioners for the inquiry on the missing and murdered Indigenous women.

I have this great photograph of the two of us. It was taken in 1997, I think. We already had known each other for a couple of years. While working the Centre d’Amitie Autochtone, I had organized a march for the Journée National d’Action. I believe you were the president of Quebec Native Women at the time, and I asked you to be one of the speakers. Though I don’t remember what you said that day, I remember that you addressed the crowd in French, and I translated your words into English. I did not notice another friend, Jamie Riddell, taking pictures, but several weeks later, he gave me this photo. In it we are standing side by side, a team surrounded by our community. I hold a megaphone to my mouth, making sure your words reach the whole crowd.

I am writing today with my thoughts about why Indigenous women are disappearing.

Like me, you are the daughter of an Indigenous mother and a non-Native father. Like me, you understand how the Canadian government, through its legal system, has been complicit in the deaths of Indigenous women. Even us.

As you know, it was the Indian Act, enacted in 1876, that stripped Indian women of their status if they married non-Native men. The children of these marriages, likewise, did not have Indian status. (Of course, you also know that the converse was not true: Indian men who married non-Native women did not lose their status; Not only that, their wives gained status, and so did their children.)

Today we know that this law was meant to disrupt the matrilineal system, and, by extension, Native societies.

In effect, this law legally killed Native women, and their children. It sent a strong message across the land that Indigenous women needed to be eliminated in order for Canada to survive.

In 1985 Bill C-31 reinstated those women like our mothers, and their children. Finally, Michel, you and I were Indian in the eyes of the Federal government.

However, that amendment to the Indian Act was unable to change the original message: that Native women have no value, and should disappear.

In Kahnawake, where I was born, the Band Council refused to put my mother, myself and my siblings, on their membership list, stating that the Mohawk tradition is “Marry Out, Get Out.” But Mohawks, like the other five nations of the Iroquois confederacy, are supposedly a matrilineal society. Traditionally, when an Iroquois man and woman married, the husband would go and live in the wife’s longhouse, with her mother and sisters. Still today, clans are passed on through the mother. That tradition of “Marry Out, Get Out” started with the Indian Act.

In 48+ years since her wedding, my mother has witnessed families turning their backs on their daughters, sisters and aunties. She, and women like her, were told by their community that they were no longer wanted nor welcome in the community they had belonged to since birth. One band councilor even had the nerve to say to her group that if they wanted their status back, they should kill their husbands! Words and actions like these, have communicated to my mother, and me, that we were expendable, disposable, worthless.

Michèle, there is no doubt in my mind that this behaviour is connected to the crisis of the missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country. It is a direct legacy of Canada’s deliberate attempts to target Indigenous women in their goal of “killing the Indian”.

My old friend, fellow warrior, now you have the megaphone. And I am still right beside you, as I was 20 years ago. Nia:wen. Thank you for taking up this fight. I know you will make sure my words are heard.

With love and respect,
Skawennati

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Spring Lab Update

She:kon! The weather is starting to even out here in Montreal. With the start of a new season it feels like a good time to give a look into what’s been happening in the lab and a peek at what’s being planned.

The 2167 VR Projects that IIF produced were delivered on time to TIFF thanks to the hard work of the artists and our team. Look forward to seeing Scott Benesiinaabandan’s Blueberry Pie Under The Martian Sky and Postcommodity’s Each Branch Determined in the summer. Keep an eye on this space as well as our social media, where we will announce the details about the exhibition.

There are going to be some new faces around the lab. This spring, AbTeC will host Hannah Claus,artist and friend, for a short artist residency. Michelle Brown, PhD student at U Hawaii in Indigenous Politics and Future Studies, will have a residency for several weeks early this summer. Michelle will be in the studio to learn the ins and outs of what AbTeC does as she is covering our projects for her dissertation.

Jasmin Winter is an MA student from the University of Winnipeg who will be joining us from April into June. She won the best paper award from the International Conference on Sustainable Development 2016. In additions to coordinating IIF’s Symposium of the Future Imaginary, Jasmin will be taking over the social media coordinator responsibilities while we continue to look for someone to take the job on more permanently.

A warm welcome to all!

Skawennati has a team together and is beginning pre-production on a new machinima project exploring another significant Iroquois story. New tools and methods are being considered, so it’s an exciting time.

Some fun plans are in the works for a movie night. Research Assistant Roxanne Sirois suggested that we have an internal movie night to watch Indigenous films and other flicks that match up with AbTeC related themes like sci-fi. It will hopefully be a good opportunity to socialize and add to our knowledge base.

We’re saying goodbye to our social media coordinator Emilee Gilpin as she leaves for an internship in Vancouver. She did some great work taking care of our social media accounts and we wish her the best.

We’re gearing up for another productive summer and hope that you’ll keep an eye out for updates going forward!

Zoe Todd | Prairie Fish Futures

She:kon! Spring has arrived here in Montreal and is re-energizing everyone.

March 31st, 2017 was the final Future Imaginary Lecture PRAIRIE FISH FUTURES: Métis Legal Traditions and Refracting Extinction. Zoe Todd spoke vibrantly about fish, weaving stories and making connections to current issues with nature and politics.

The lecture opened with Skawennati welcoming Zoe to the territory and Jason introducing her. Zoe Todd is Métis from Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton) in the Treaty Six Area of Alberta, Canada. She writes about Indigeneity, art, architecture, decolonization and healing in urban contexts. She also studies human-animal relations, colonialism and environmental change in northern Canada.

She started with a “speculative fish-ction” story starring the Ness Namew, an energetic and driven character who carries stories and documents that support her global “anti-colonial journey.” Fish have been witness to all actions taken by humans and have their own ideas about human actions and politics. The story is delivered with enthusiasm and is a delight to listen to in full.

Along with this story Zoe has made illustrations of various fish including the Ness Namew that she showed her captive audience. The images were loose and fun and each fish had their name and a brief background to go with them.

She spoke about sturgeon and how they can live up to 150 years if they’re healthy and what that timeline could encompass. They are now nearly gone from the North Saskatchewan river where she grew up and many other fish are at risk in Alberta and across the globe. With the possible threat of a sixth mass extinction event, what can be learned from the fish that have survived numerous extinction events?

Much like the trunk of a tree can show how many years it lived, the ear bone of a fish can tell the story of that fish it came from. She suggested looking at sturgeon as temporal travelers and to think about the different ways that time can be measured that may not have been considered before.

She spoke about Blackfoot philosopher and scholar Leroy Little Bear and explained that he is a big influence in her work. She also took time to share a friend’s video of fish peacefully swimming below ice and told personal stories that made the audience laugh with her.

Zoe summed up her intentions wonderfully with this quote: “Mostly I want a world where we pay attention to one another and where we pay attention to the water and fish. Where we care for one another and where we disrupt the ways that we’ve normalized violence against lands and waters and humans and more-than-humans. […] The core of my message is that we need to care for one another and we need to care about the fish and we need to think about the way that they’ve inhabited the world because they know so much.”

It was a lively and thought provoking lecture and wrapped up the series nicely. Please take the time to watch the video to hear Zoe’s words in her own voice and to get more in depth with her presentation.

Arcade 11

AbTeC is part of the Milieux Institute here at Concordia University and one of the other clusters included is Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG). This year TAG held the 4th Arcade 11 event from March 8 to 10. A selection of video games were chosen and then displayed for the public to check out and try. This year the theme was about showing natural environment.

None of the games shown had guns or shooting and focused more on indie games with fun and experimental twists. The goal was to show the public a different side of games that they may not have encountered. The 8 games on display explored landscapes, relationships, teamwork and strange creatures.

Games like Overcooked and Break Up Squad had great party game vibes where groups could sit down and work together, or against each other.

One area of the arcade also presented the nature vibes in its decor. The game Firewatch was set up in free-roam mode and projected for people who could choose a seat around a faux campfire and carpet grass patch. A tent was a fun addition that was enjoyed by many as the gorgeous environment was explored.

Alea is a rhythm game where the goal is to get lost in the music while sticking to the beat. It was found underneath a large leaf and had a special plant-decorated controller to use. With all the flashy, fun game and plant life, players might be confused with fairies.

The setting meant students, employees and other people you might expect in a university stopped by the area while throngs of children also made appearances over the three-day period. Arcade 11 is open to anyone who loves games or is just feeling curious and this year was another success.

For more information on all of the games shown and for links to those games please stop by the official Arcade 11 page.