What is AbTeC Island?

She:kon! We’ve had some beautiful and warm days here in Montreal as summer comes closer.

Skawennati and her team have been hard at work preparing AbTeC Island for the next machinima project. AbTeC Island is the space in Second Life that we use to create sets and characters for machinima projects. AbTeC Island is an Aboriginally-determined cyber-space, made by and for Indigenous people. The word “machinima” is the combination of “machine” and “cinema”. Skawennati defines it as “making movies in a virtual environment”.

Machinimas are made in a similar way to how a film movie would be made. A script is written, storyboards are drawn, sketches and plans are brainstormed. For each project we have an asset list and it’s very important. As the story and an idea of how it will be filmed are decided upon, the asset list is filled carefully. What sets are needed? What is in those sets? How many characters are there and what clothing and props do they need? All of this information is contained in that one list. By using a game like Second Life a lot of real world restrictions are lifted. We can buy, build –or use a combination of both– to recreate places like Alcatraz or create an imagined place like a glowing city in the sky.

AbTeC Island visiting hours will still take place every Friday from 12:00 PM until 2:00 PM EDT while work on the new machinima project moves forward. There is only so much space that we can fill with objects and the more complicated the object the more space it takes so we have to be attentive. All of the sets are built with care and look great so it’s sad to have to pack them away, however we must if we want space for new ones. To help deal with this problem, we now have an area of the island that is designated for visitors. In it you will find: a set from She Falls For Ages, which we call “The Residence”; the dream apartment from TimeTraveller™ and the childhood home from She Falls For Ages. There is also the future Musée des Beaux-Arts and the TimeTraveller™ Boutique. All of these places are now high up in the sky away from where we are filming. There aren’t any teleportation stations set up yet, so for now a friendly Abbi avatar will help you fly to the space to explore.

Not only are buildings and people built but the land itself can be transformed. We are able to change how the land, sky and water look to various degrees. For example, the current project requires an Iroquois village. Skawennati envisioned a river next to the village, following what history suggests. Through terraforming, we are able to change and shape the ground with tools in Second Life to create the river and mountains. These tools can be tricky to use but a skilled hand can create some great things! Sadly, you will not be able to visit this part of the island until we’ve finished filming our current machinima.

We hope you enjoyed this little peek behind the curtain and that we’ll see you at AbTeC Island soon! You can join us every Friday between 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM EDT (9:00 AM to 11:00 AM PST).

“On Time Travel” Workshop hosted by the Shattered Moon Alliance

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time?

That’s a rhetorical question. Of course you have, it’s a given. Perhaps you’ve even googled it, and come across the wikiHow page. Disappointed by the fact that travelling at the speed of light or getting ahold of a wormhole seem just out of reach, maybe you’ve settled for, say, watching a movie about time travel, or reading a book… Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve checked out a blog post like this one, which discusses a workshop aptly titled “On Time Travel” that took place in Toronto this past weekend.

The workshop material was projected onto the wall in the YYZ Artists’ Outlet

Let this post take you back to two weeks ago, when Skawennati was invited to speak at a participatory workshop as part of “A New Hope” project by the Shattered Moon Alliance. To the dismay of all involved, she was already scheduled to go to Vancouver that weekend for another talk (to everyone’s further dismay, she also contracted laryngitis and wasn’t able to speak for a month!). When Skawennati asked (well, typed out) if I wanted to go present on behalf of her and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF), I could not say yes fast enough.

*Cue wheezing, whirring TARDIS time travel sound effect*

The morning of Saturday, May 27th, I woke up at 6:00 AM to jet off to Toronto from Montreal. I landed safely, got on the subway, and promptly got off the subway when it shut down two stops later (thanks, TTC). I eventually made it to the YYZ Artists’ Outlet, and formally met Christina Battle and Serena Lee, the creators of the Shattered Moon Alliance and “A New Hope” project, a series of workshops born from the impetus of wanting to explore science fiction worldbuilding as women of colour.

The structure of “On Time Travel” was part presentation, part discussion, and part workshop. We were joined by about ten other participants. The group began the day by conceptualizing time travel within popular culture, ranging from Back to the Future, Star Trek: TNG, Doctor Who and Groundhog Day to Arrival and Rick and Morty. We immediately started to identify some of the pervasive patterns underlying these stories. We noted in particular how time travel was almost always modelled as a physical experience facilitated by technology and mechanical engineering, and how it was often supported by a “frontier” logic of access to unexplored places and a linear understanding of time that tended to dichotomize the past and the future in a way that suggests a linear progression of modernity. The tone of this introduction was clear: we were there to dig deeper into these tropes, and to shed light on more nuanced and marginalized perspectives in order to think beyond these constructions.

Some of the questions that we pondered to get the discussion started

I was joined by Rayna Slobodian from York University for the presentation segment. She has been published for her research on the ethics of space colonization, specifically on Mars, as well as her ethnographic work on “star parties” and gatherings of amateur astronomers. Her presentation helped us unpack the loaded discourse embedded in the legacy of the Space Race, and recognize exactly whose values and desires are determining these visions of future space travel.

Rayna’s presentation was a tough act to follow, but showcasing Skawennati’s machinimas contributed significantly to the discussion by grounding the theoretical questions that had been brought up. I presented clips from Words Before All Else Part 1, which features Skawennati’s avatar, xox, reciting the first verse of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address; TimeTraveller™, the nine episode journey of Hunter, a Mohawk man from the 22nd century who engages in different points of Indigenous resistance using special virtual reality glasses; and She Falls for Ages, which revisits the Haudenosaunee creation story and re-imagines Sky World.

Skawennati’s engaging storytelling became a catalyst for discussions about the lack of representation when it comes to Indigenous worldviews about time, space, and worldbuilding, driving home the importance of facilitating platforms for Indigenous peoples to respond to the perpetuation of colonial and assimilatory ideals within popular sci-fi. We started by unpacking linear assumptions about time by drawing from Loretta Todd’s citation of Leroy Little Bear, who offers an image of time as a river that does not flow, but one in which we can travel freely up and downstream. We also thought about why the Western worldview of time is so linear when the clocks that are predominately used are round… Even digital clocks represent a relatively cyclical pattern of time, as they run through the same numbers each day.

About to start my presentation! A shout out to the participants who posed *very* candidly when they realized they were in the shot

We then discussed literature like Jason Lewis’ “Terra Nullius, Terra Incognito” to think about the proposal of indiscriminate access to cyberspace, and touched on Gerald Vizenor’s ideas about Indigenous survivance, or “thrivance” as Skawennati had suggested, as pathways to recognizing Indigenous resilience. We acknowledged the irony in the fact that Settlers would have never survived in the first place – would never have had a future – without Indigenous knowledge. With everything that has happened since, there was a collective agreement in the group that there needs to be more support for work like that coming out of IIF and AbTeC, work that makes space for Indigenous “wants” instead of solely focusing on “needs” when it comes to ideals for the future. It is safe to say that Skawennati, IIF and AbTeC amassed a roomful of new fans that day.

In the workshop portion of the event, the group continued into a deeper “model making” discussion about time travel as informed by the presentations. The conversation, as you can imagine, ranged from the practical to the speculative, with participants bringing in anecdotes and plenty of other obscure references to various fandoms. We talked at length about understanding time travel beyond simple physical displacement, and into mental, and even spiritual forms of travel. We talked about the ability of one’s senses to allow us to travel back in time, through distinct sights, smells, sounds, tastes, or touches. We discussed sleep as time travel, music as time travel, and time travel in the form of any tool we use to escape “reality,” including emerging virtual reality technology. We talked about memory and time travel, both at an individual level, and at the collective level through things like intergenerational storytelling or institutions like religion. We talked, too, about what our attempts to separate religion and science mean when so many of the dominant depictions of time travel draw from or are influenced by classic religious themes and assumptions about time and space. We talked about anti-aging creams and immortality, and the possibility of uploading our consciousness into computers. We talked about how there can still be so much disconnection in an increasingly technologically connected world, and what it means for us to envision the future and the logistics of time travel as so technologically charged when the majority of the human population consumes technology instead of understanding and creating it. We considered what this means for access, equity, and justice for different subsets of our society.

Watching Skawennati’s machinima, “Words Before All Else Part 1”

As you can see, the workshop truly succeeded in gathering a group of predominantly non-male, non-white sci-fi enthusiasts who were eager to discuss the philosophical underpinnings of time travel. The workshop was a mental workout, but an exercise with very real ethical and political significance. It is vitally important to diversify the perspectives and encourage interdisciplinary approaches when it comes to time travel. Science-fiction, while technically stories that we tell about our future, also discloses a lot about our past and present. Recognizing the interconnectedness of time – and challenging its linear conceptualizations – will be key to creating a future that draws from the wisdom of the past in order to create adaptive cycles instead of the repetition of mistakes. Skawennati’s work, and the work of IIF and AbTeC, was incredibly relevant and important for “On Time Travel,” and I am so honoured to have been given the opportunity to ensure that they were heard.

Skawennati : Machinimagraphique!

Currently showing at Ellephant is Skawennati’s show, Machinimagraphique!, as part of Montreal’s Printemps numérique. Printemps numérique brings together creators of digital and new media work in order to foster this community within Montreal.

Skawennati poses with “Birth of an Avatar: Homage to Mariko Mori”.

The show features fourteen machinimagraphs, one big piece that is in conversation with the work of Mariko Mori and a real-life re-creation of a prop seen in She Falls For Ages. Using Second Life, an online, virtual reality, Skawennati creates different characters, scenes, events and worlds, which then become the stage for her machinimagraphs and machinima. “Machinima” is a portmanteau of the words “machine” and cinema,” and refers to a movie made in a virtual environment. It is logical, therefore, to call a still image taken there a “machinimagraph”. Many of the machinimagraphs come from three of Skawennati’s machinimas.

TimeTraveller™, Skawennati’s first machinima, was produced between 2008 and 2013. The nine-episode series centres on Hunter, a young Mohawk man living in the 23rd century. Hunter has TimeTraveller™ glasses, which allow him to revisit and participate in scenes from history, such as the Oka Crisis of the 1990s, the passing of Kateri Tekakwitha, and the Manito Ahbee Powwow 2112. At the forefront is the theme of time. Technologically-enhanced sight awakens the main characters to their multiple, reticulate embodiments; these (blood) memories, inheritances, and belongings coalesce into a manifesto. The glasses bring into view the link between Indigenous survival and thrivance, love, and technology. Through them, we glimpse a territory that is an extension of our world while also a world that creates itself. Seen through the lens of Indigenous ways of knowing, the glasses, as a metaphor, promise radical new manifestations of Indigenous humanity.

She Falls For Ages re/presents the story of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) creation story. In it, Sky Woman jumps from Sky World through a hole created by uprooting the Celestial Tree. She jumps so that she can both save her unborn child  and be “the seed of a new world.” A flock of geese catch her after she fell for what seemed like an eternity and set her on the back of a turtle. An otter brings her a handful of dirt, which she places under her feet. She then dances on the turtle’s back, spreading out the earth and forming Turtle Island.

“Celestial Tree”. Machinimagraph by Skawennati. 2017.

In her childhood, both Sky Woman and her brother are known to have gifts – telepathy and telekinesis, respectively. Sky Woman sees her future in her partner’s clairvoyant dream. Being gifted, she must take on the responsibility of saving Sky World and makes the choice to sacrifice herself so that others can be safe. The message I took from She Falls For Ages was this, that we must use our gifts to sustain and create our community and world. Thinking of this in terms of how time is used in the piece, it is clear that Indigenous worlds have a place in both the past and the future.

In Words Before All Else Part 1, Skawennati’s own avatar, xox, recites the first verse of the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen – the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address – in Kanien’kéha, English, and French. The piece creates a narrative about Indigenous virtuosity and decolonial, reconciliatory digital spaces.

Skawennati recently exhibited She Falls for Ages and Words Before All Else Part 1 at OBORO in Montreal, and also the Vancouver Indigenous Media Arts Festival.  TimeTraveller™ is currently being exhibited a part of LaboNT2’s contribution to the Venice Biennale’s HyperPavillion. The Ellephant show acts as a reflection on her work over the past decade, while placing her current projects into context both aesthetically and processually.

Attendees watch the display.

In addition to the printed, framed machinimagraphs, the show includes a monitor with the range of Skawennati’s  machinimagraphs flickering across the screen. The monitor reintroduces an element of Skawennati’s creative process–the computer and its screen–into the show. Many visitors at the vernissage spent time sitting in front of it, illuminating the appropriateness of this reference.

Skawennati : Machinimagraphique! is on at Ellephant (1201 Rue Saint-Dominique) until June 24, 2017.


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


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,