(The title of my exhibition, The Grass Is Still Green, is an affirmation of part of the definition of time in treaty-making including the Two Row Wampum – as long as the grass is still green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.)
During lunch on Planting Day for the Two Row garden part of my exhibition, The Grass Is Still Green, I shared a joke with another artist that if we were academics, we’d call the meal social practice. Her response was that it could also be called, “being a decent human being.” The joke was shared over “Indian” Tacos and strawberry juice prepared by Gail Stup and her son Joe Stup in the kitchen of the Niagara Regional Native Centre. We ate on a picnic table beside Gail and Joe’s set-up, close to the huge red door of Rodman Hall Art Centre, the former mansion of William Hamilton and Mary Merritt. Although it was only May 28, it was a blistering hot day of 32º.
Under a grove of trees beyond the parking lot, four girls ate together. Two of them were the daughters of indigenous consultant, Kelly Fran Davis, who during the morning had given us a teaching on the Two Row Wampum. The other two girls were residents of the Western Hill neighbourhood that borders Rodman Hall. During the morning’s introductions, I explained my intent as the artist to bring together youth from First Nations, settlers whose families had come to Canada long ago and recently settled youth. The Western Hill girls identified as Canadian and had no knowledge of their ancestry. At the top of the slope towards St. Paul Crescent, two boys ate together. One of them had arrived from Jordan five years ago with his family. I could not make out the country of origin of the other but it Is one of the many states in the Middle East with the suffix –stan. I learned recently that –stan is Persian and Urdu for “place” or “where one stands”.
I am working with the Two Row because this place is where I stand.
Rodman Hall Art Centre curator, Marcie Bronson, offered me the opportunity to create work for their project space in tandem with the touring exhibition, Reading the Talk. That exhibition is a group show of Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabeq artists responding to the 1700 treaty between their nations, The Dish With One Spoon. I was familiar with this treaty because in the past few years it has been much referenced in indigenous and environmental circles. It speaks eloquently of sharing and co-existence (one spoon) and keeping the dish (the Earth) clean.
Upon the curator’s invitation it was immediately evident to me that I would work with the Two Row Wampum because this 1613 treaty is between the Haundenosaunee and the early European settlers (Dutch). I needed dense, low-growing purple and white plant material and decided on alyssum (after abandoning my original inclination to choose a plant native to our area, none being suitable). I wanted to grow the plants myself and sought the assistance of Niagara Nurseries, where I have worked for many years during the spring season. With their support of greenhouse space, I sowed 8,000 seeds starting early April and cared for them until Planting Day. (It ended up that we needed many more plants!) My meeting with Marilyn Alexander and John Alexander in March to plan the garden proved to be the last time I would sit down with Marilyn, who died in May.
In February 2013, I was part of the Two Row March through downtown St. Catharines. We carried a huge purple and white striped banner through the falling snow through the streets to Montebello Park, planned home of William Hamilton Merritt’s brother. It was the February following the heady days of Idle No More, and many of us were still high on the memory of our New Year’s walk over the Peace Bridge at Fort Erie. I am part of this treaty as a settler, as are all of us here who are not indigenous. We are all Treaty People.
photos in this post by Marcie Bronson and Elizabeth Chitty