This past December I jumped on 3 airplanes over two days to get to Arica Chile to have discussions in Protocol development for a Creative Industries Indigenous Impacts presentation and to share my performance in shared histories, and engage discussion directly in communities in the Andes. My performance Illegal Let Us Cry: Testify is a collaboration between myself and Dr Greg Younging that outlines the history of the Canadian Indigenous Experience as experienced by The Dreamer, a Syilx Woman as she awakens to the oppression. Illegal Let Us Cry: Testify is a part of a greater Interdisciplinary artistic pop up exhibition.
“The Testify project creates opportunities for dialogue between artists and legal theorists about Indigenous laws and opportunities for their dynamic and live expression as part of Canadian society. Art and Law are areas that have tremendous impact and influence on our lives. Art is a force that has the ability to access the heart and soul in a visceral way. Indigenous Laws combine both: often the strongest and most enduring expression of Indigenous Laws is through art: dance, storytelling, sculpture, song, paintings.” (Testify Collective )
Because the original audio for the performance is in English, I had to engage a local actress Cecilia and sound engineer David in Arica to do the voice over with Rodrigo, the International Cultural Liaison to match the tone and intensity of Greg and I’s voice overs. I follow a particular protocol when I can, which engages local artists to share in the presentation of my work. I didn’t get paid much to do this and paid my own flight to Santiago which canceled that out, but felt it was an opportunity to learn more about the Indigenous Chilean experience and share this very important story to generate dialogue about our similar colonial experiences as Indigenous peoples.
You can read the full edited essay Dr. Younging constructed on the Testify Indigenous website located here Illegal Let Us Cry dialogue. I carried this performance with me from the Northern Pacific Plateau to the Southern Pacific Plateau to Ticnamar and Putre specifically. Show time in the high altitude (3500 m) town of Putre was twice the challenge as I had to catch my breath after eating lunch because I didn’t breathe deep enough between bites. It is an emotional show. I was only about 80 km from the Bolivian border where there is a salt lake that the flamingos migrate to. Flamingos were my favourite animal in high school. We were running a tight schedule but it was cool knowing the flamingos were just right there and not just a high school girls obsession. I had a meeting with the Regional council in Arica to speak to the protocols project Francisco and Rodrigo were managing. I presented a powerpoint introducing my purpose to engage with community respectfully to learn about the similarities in both our contemporary and traditional times for the purposes of developing multi stories.
Putre provided some very deep heart felt dialogue that resonated with everything the performance was about. We share histories divided by a colonial forked tongue. We discussed our role and responsibility on the land. We spoke specifically about Cultural genocide through Industry and appropriation as a very real threat to our UN designated Indigenous right to maintain our cultures as distinct and intact. One must tread lightly when engaging with the culture of another and it is the land and water that gives us capacity to retain the knowledge of how to create all the implements necessary to embody our cultures. It was my honour to learn their stories and share in the discussions in protocol and creative developments for media and other industries.
I gifted offerings as gratitude for the learning I gained and the sharing of our stories and truths. I personally sourced out these offerings from my community, including C. Alexis mini pine needle necklaces strung by my mom and daughter, drum to the young carnival group Fanatics of December 8 for which I hope the troupe regalia designer Jenny maintains. I gave treasures from Les Louis featuring pictographs, self created artistry of the Interior Salishan people of the Northern Pacific Plateau region specifically Okanagan/ Syilx territory featuring Salish Art and Architecture,T Shirts from the Okanagan Nation Alliance and other Interior organizations representing artistic imagery of our return of the salmon ceremonies and resistance. I am Indigenous and accept the gifts other Indigenous people gift me and I will honour them when I wear their clothing and adornments. I feel when we are given the honour of wearing the regalia ( not costume) of a different culture we must be the utmost respectful and not take the spotlight from the Indigenous culture we are wearing. I was gifted both a shawl and a Bolivian Aymara woman’s hat. I will be careful with my words and my intentions to always be mindful they are not mine to own but are implements in our cross cultural story telling and visitor protocol. it is the practice of reciprocity, an honour system through gifting and receiving. They asked me to sing in my language.
Oh my, it made me cry but it felt so right, like I was meant to recover something there. Like maybe it is this life that has me retracing the foot steps of past lives. I will feel that power always. Singing, time traveling, recovering stories, recovering the threads of relationality through colonial lines.
Some of the most memorable experiences for me came directly from the timx – the land. I first saw Otter when I went to greet the Pacific Ocean, to greet the water as my elders Grouse Barnes and Richard Armstrong taught on a canoe journey I coordinated. Otter is the Animal People spoken about in the Earth Diver oral history, a story I retell in tattoo, hand poked into a cuff around my wrist. Way’ Otter, I know you. And so my story telling will reflect the ones who show themselves to me. Then when first entering the Andean mountains we visited significant cultural points of observation places when we stopped along the long desert drive to get acclimatized and check out the view. Zorro – red fox, was spotted almost instantly, carefully exiting away from a pile of discarded refuse. Reminders for the people that survival is for the fittest and anything is fair game when it comes to a meal in the desert. A strange circle of life.
I was excited none the less, to finally see a red Fox in person upside down on the other side of the earth. It was proof to me that our oral histories for sure carried into South America. I had read a story once that I will retell with my own interpretation that described Fox as being a messenger, a seeker of knowledge and so Fox left to collect all the knowledge she could. When Fox returned Coyote – Senklip demanded to know all the details to where Fox went. So Fox told him. “and when you get to this point you must keep following the land where you jump from rock to rock to get there.” Yeah yeah yeah Coyote thought. So anyway by the time Coyote got to the place Fox was talking about, Coyote thought I can see land across a great water. Coyote figured I could just jump over the water and be where Fox went. Coyote figured that but that wasn’t what Fox said. So needless to say Coyote tries jumping over the big water. Turns out Coyote was at the tip of what is now known as Baja California. Coyote falls in, dies and Fox revives Coyote like always. There aren’t any Coyote’s in South America, just red Fox, Otter, Rabbit, Turtle, Hawk, Snake and Puma. Same animals, same characteristics, could it be so difficult to think that we could have once interpreted stories the same and be able to tell them to each other pre contact? This place… I was so emotional. I heard a story about Red Fox being one who could travel between worlds with her song. I sang here – between worlds – traveling through time reaching people in different time zones… Fox, Hawk, Rabbit. They live and love in the most hospitable and inhospitable locations, connecting us from north to south
On our last day in the mountains, on our way back to Arica we stopped just outside Ticnamar, a very isolated village in the Atacama desert high in the Andean Plateau to do a quick photoshoot in my deer hide dress. They used to be hunters in these mountains, the women liked my dress for its softness. And though it was cold, had I had hide pants on I would have been toasty warm. I realized how possible survival would be in a hide dress and pants, even my wool sweater didn’t keep me as warm.
We had an opportunity to influence a nation state through protocol development with the Aymara people. They are just developing their socialist ideas in Creative Industries and lots of officials think Canada is a good model, I speak to the speed in which industry reduces our capacity to continue with our traditional activities like bark canoes and hide tanning. Trees no longer grow to canoe making size and important medicines are eradicated. People no longer have enough time to tan hides when hides are tanned and the deer are getting sick. They say the Spanish were bad but the English were worse, I believe them. I am honoured to have been there as an artist and as a Syilx Woman.
See some photos of the experience at http://www.remindersforthepeople.com