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,







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.

Virtual Paint-By-Numbers

AbTeC/Obx Labs is the proud owner of an HTC VIVE Virtual Reality system! We are currently diving in and researching what type of original environments can be created and experienced within this innovative, new technology. AbTeC co-director Jason Edward Lewis, whose practice incorporates poetry and writing, has put together a small research group of six undergraduate students to imagine text in an immersive environment and produce a few experimental prototypes. Lab Coordinator Lianne Maritzer has been working closely with our lead programmer Julian Glass-Pilon to implement her conceptual ideas for texts in virtual reality and test the VIVE’s limits. Lianne’s piece will be an immersive experience in a world constructed by a poem.

When players enter the game, they are standing in an all black room. The only items visible are the two VIVE controllers which are each holding a white paintball. Players can throw these paintballs to illuminate the world by holding the trigger, moving their arm in a throwing motion, and releasing the trigger to release the paintball. When the paintball hits an object or text, it splatters and the splatter reveals the object’s colour.  For example, if the paint splatters on a tree trunk, the player now see brown; if it splatters on the leaves, she sees green. If it hits multiple objects, each object touching the splatter will illuminate. If it hits text, the words start to become revealed. As players walk through the environment, short segments of the poem appear, which not only combine to make up a full poem but describe the changing environment around them.

At the moment, the game is just a prototype. There are only two segments of the poem (highlighted below) included and the game is static, meaning that the player cannot move beyond the box space. When the players throw the paintball, it colors the entire object rather than a paint splatter. This was the simplest way to get the player to understand what they are doing right away and how the paintballs work.

Poem: Walk through the Forest

by JupiterGodess

Green moss

Green light

Green grass

A bird’s flight

Shadows lurking

The air so fresh and sweet

Tree after tree you’re passing

Stones crunch beneath your feet

Bushes wherever you go

Above you the leaves rustle sublime

Your gaze is jumping to and fro

Longing to see ev’rything at the same time

In the trees the bird’s song sounds

What a melody so nice!

The lynx stalks its prey in silence

The shy deer is watching you

Squirrels chatter, jumping around

on paths impossible to get through

in the trees, not on the ground

Needles cover the forest’s floor

Out oft he green maze with its magic smell

step back through the door

to where the humans dwell

This piece was inspired by coloring books and digital paint-by-numbers sets as well as the famous Tilt Brush VR game by Google and the video game The Unfinished Swan.

AbTeC is excited to continue this line of text-based, VR research and exploring new dimensions of artistic possibility.

Jolene Rickard | The Photograph as Resurgence

On February 10th, 2017, Jolene Rickard, P.h.D. came to Concordia University to speak as part of the Future Imaginary Lectures

Jolene is a visual historian, artist and curator interested in the issues of Indigeneity within a global context. She is from the Tuscarora Nation (Haudenosaunee), is the director of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program and Associate Professor in the History of Art and Art Departments at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. She and Skawennati have known each other since 1999, when Jolene contributed an essay for CyberPowWow 2

The evening started off with warm welcomes from Skawennati, Martha Langford representing the Speaking of Photography series, Heather Igloliorte and an introduction from Jason Edward Lewis who agreed with Jolene’s self-identification as someone who is “always looking for the window left unlatched.”

The lecture touched on various connected topics, such as the relationship between memory and photography, beadwork, cosmology, the concepts of resurgence and sovereignty and the creation story.

Photographs can share information and keep history. The importance of beadwork and its economic, political and cultural significance to the Haudenosaunee people could be seen in the images Jolene showed. The photo of Seneca woman Caroline Parker in her intricately beaded outfit and Jolene’s own works in exhibitions like Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois Life were excellent examples. Photographs are also important because communities can collect them if they cannot get access to the physical items they represent.

Jolene noted that she is very interested in when specific articles appear in Indigenous expression. Why do certain artists focus on certain objects and topics at certain times? For example she spoke about the need to create work about the recovery peace after a violent period in time. She considered the concept of resurgence emerging in Indigenous intellectual landscape as a strategy for empowerment and action. The desire to represent ceremony in space and in a future context was also explored.

She mentioned that at one point she was discouraged from going back and forth between making, critiquing, writing, thinking and doing but now more people understand that “we’re idea makers and we find the best way to locate the idea.” Originally, knowledge and stories were shared orally until new tools were discovered. Over time, various alternative forms of expression have been used; such as, carving, beadwork, photography and more.  

This transformation continues happening as projects like Skawennati’s machinimas showcase stories in a form that could not have been imagined generations ago. Jolene spoke about Skawennati’s new machinima She Falls for Ages, saying that it generates a new way to understand the Haudenosaunee creation story in current times. In her opinion, it also celebrates women’s bodies and claims the arrival of Indigenous people to Turtle Island as an act of empowerment.

The Q&A session after her lecture brought up some interesting discussion. She clarified that she isn’t suggesting that the present be ignored, but wondered instead how much information can be shared and how the creative process can help to open new possibilities.

There was a lot of great imagery and topics explored in-depth during this talk. Jolene is a charismatic speaker and best explains her work and the pieces she has chosen to present.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to hear about all our upcoming Future Imaginary Lectures.

Tomorrow People by Skawennati

Kwe kwe sewakwekon!

On Saturday, February 6th, I was thrilled to open a solo exhibition of my recent work, called Tomorrow People. After about a year of research and production, it was wonderful to see all the pieces installed in one of the most beloved artist-run centres in Montreal, Galerie OBORO. It was also very fun to get all dolled up for the vernissage, which was very well attended. There was even a reporter from APTN who followed me around with his camera half the evening! I felt like a star.

The evening was special also because it launched one year of all-Indigenous programming at OBORO. The decision to do this was the gallery’s response to the celebrations of 375 years of Montreal and 150 of Canada. It is a gesture of peace, recognizing that these numbers also represent colonization, something not so celebration-worthy for Indigenous people.

Esteemed activist and artist, Ellen Gabriel, graciously agreed to say a few words about the history of Indigenous-colonist relationships in Montreal, or Tiohtiake, as it is known in Kanienke’ha, the Mohawk language. She is a born orator and an indefatigable fighter. I am proud to call her my friend and colleague.

The exhibition was generously sponsored by the society for the celebrations of the 375th anniversary of Montreal, and its General Manager, Alain Gignac also said a few words. We shared a really nice moment during the evening when he described to me how he saw the work; he really got it!

The exhibition includes a brand new machimima, entitled She Falls For Ages, a sci-fi retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story. 20 minutes long, it is playing on a loop in the video viewing room entered through a black curtain.

A set of production stills, taken while we rehearsed or filmed the machinima, accompany the movie. I call them “machinimagraphs”; this is a new word I believe I made up to describe a picture taken in a virtual environment. They’re different from screen shots because they are taken by an in-world camera that offers a very high resolution.

Also in the exhibition are several works featuring my Second Life avatar, xox. She Is Dancing With Herself and Dancing With Myself were made in 2015. These two works led me to create Generations of Play, a triptych that features a photograph of a corn husk doll, a photograph of a Barbie doll, and a machinimagraph of my avatar, all wearing my avatar’s costume. Birth of An Avatar (Homage to Mariko Mori) also features xox, in a pose and environment similar to Mariko Mori’s awesome image, Birth of a Star.

Finally, I have to give a shout out to the AbTeC team. Many thanks to Nancy Elizabeth Townsend, our multi-talented Associate Producer, for her wonderful dedication, amazing efficiency, and brilliant insights; and none of it would be possible without the good mind of Jason Edward Lewis. Nia:wen!

Indigenous Comic Con 2016


Hello everyone! I’m back from Indigenous Comic Con 2016 and ready to share my little adventure.

The weekend is prime convention time as kids are out of school and many adults have had the chance to clear their schedule. ICC was no exception as the halls filled with excited “Indiginerds”. ICC took place at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico and welcomed around 1,000 people over the 3 days it ran.

I was most excited for the panels and talks that were scheduled. Sadly I can’t time travel or split into multiple people or else I would have gone to them all. Panels varied from actors talking about their experiences, to cosplay tips and tricks all the way to serious conversations on Indigenous representation in media and pop culture.

Guests I had the pleasure of hearing from included Suzan Harjo, Jonathan Joss, Jeffrey Veregge, Elizabeth LaPensée and Allen Turner to name a few. The panel and talks rooms were a little small as rooms could quickly fill for a popular panel like “Back to the (Indigenous) Future(isms)!”.

Artist Alley was split into two areas and featured the creations of Indigenous artists. An artist alley at a convention is generally where artists sell art, take commissions, and sell homemade products and other things at a smaller scale than a vendor booth would (like a bookstore or publisher for example). There were pieces supporting the Standing Rock and Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors, where the money made from selling them was being donated to their efforts.


The merchandise hall was a fair size with around 20 tables. Comics were on sale and featured stories with characters like Arigon Starr’s Super Indian Comics and more subdued stories like Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story written by David Alexander Robertson and illustrated by Scott Henderson. Issues, interests, history and stories were being sold to an audience thirsty for Native pop culture.

I was able to find the time to see a screening of the film Waabooz. Waabooz is the story of a young artist and his fear of dancing at the upcoming pow wow. His grandfather helps him find a way to handle his nerves and be brave. By the end of the film I was wiping away tears along with some other audience members who had connected with the story.

I saw a short snippet of Star Wars voiced over in Navajo and it was certainly a unique experience. There seemed to be a great love of Star Wars throughout the convention that showed in the merch, art and cosplay. The cosplay contest winners were Boba Fett and a stormtrooper with some Native flair in the art on their armor.

I left with some inspiration and extra motivation to get working on my own art and comic projects. I saw a lot and walked away with a backpack full of books but I still wish I could have seen and done more. The light at the end of the post-con blues is that there’s always Indigenous Comic Con 2017 to look forward to!







Indigenous Comic Con Day 1

Good evening! It’s pretty late here so I’m sure most people are asleep back in Montreal right now.

Today was my first day exploring the ‘first ever’ Indigenous Comic Con here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As is the case with most conventions the first day started fairly late at 4pm for regular ticket holders (3:30 for VIP). I wanted to laugh, out of fondness, when I showed up at 4 and a lot of the preparations were not complete. Typical that a convention like this would start on Indian time.

With a first year convention things are bound to be a bit bumpy. The wifi didn’t work, and so my tweets didn’t happen, until around an hour after the start. Many vendors and artists set up late or simply didn’t show. But with day 1 I can forgive these things.

My habit is to pace the artist alley and vendor halls on day 1 of any convention, to scope out the merch and start adding up how much I’ll have to spend. I wasn’t prepared for the feelings I would have scouring the tables of a convention where the sellers are all Indigenous. I had a smile on my face as I saw characters that looked like me and my family, stories I had heard from a friend and so on. I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing my own people represented in the culture I adore until I actually saw them in that space. It was very, very cool.

I lost my shyness fairly fast as I realized how friendly and relaxed everyone was. I had a fun conversation with an artist who lamented her flimsy sticker badge and shared her experience going to standing rock. Although it wasn’t a complete and polished con, the warm and inviting people made up for it.

With day 1 set up complete I’m looking forward to what busy Saturday has in store for me!


Introducing our Twitter and Periscope

She:kon! The days have been a bit gray here in Montreal the last few days.

We are happy to announce that we are entering the Twittersphere at last! If you’ve been waiting now’s your chance to follow us there. Short and sweet updates, reminders and content that we like will now be shared there, too.

With Twitter we also hope to bring alerts and notices of when we will be using Periscope. Periscope is a live video streaming app for iOS and Android. The goal is to stream events, like the upcoming lecture by Allen Turner from The Future Imaginary Series, to those in our audience that can’t be there in person. The streams can be watched live in real time, joined in late or viewed at a totally later date as the videos are saved.

The account is still fresh and we hope you will follow us as we venture into a new social space!