lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

Related to Graciously Pleased

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2017 at 8:09 pm

The following is copy published on the Facebook page of the Short Hills Reconciliation Activities, followed by unfinished notes. It is published here as background on my audio work, Graciously Pleased.

Reflection on Week One
November 21, 2016

At a recent event sharing Haudenosaunee perspectives, a man expressed concern about the word “reconciliation” because to Canadians it means, Get over it. I know that’s true for many. But for many other Canadians, reconciliation means – Oh Canada did that, I didn’t know. That’s not right, what can I do? Reconciliation is not an easy process and involves work on a personal as well as social and political level. Most of us settlers don’t know the history of genocidal policy because it wasn’t taught to us. It’s painful.

There is a significant opportunity in Niagara for settlers to engage in reconciliation and it is the annual Haundenosaunee hunt at Short Hills Provincial Park. The Nanfan Treaty of 1701 between the Haundenosaunee and the British Crown provides hunting rights in a vast area including where we live. These rights were included in the Canadian Constitution. A partnership between the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Haunenosaunee Wildlife and Habitat Authority resulted in an official hunt starting 2013. (This followed an earlier challenge by an individual claiming his right.)

For hundreds of years, our governments have broken many treaty agreements, and changed their intents. Observing treaties is a fundamental basis of the Nation-to-Nation relationship so recently affirmed by the Canadian government. Here in Niagara, we have an opportunity to break the cycle of broken promises by affirming the Haundenosaunee right to hunt. Reconciliation doesn’t happen when you pick and choose the parts that you like, that fit with your preconceived notions. We begin our reconciliation process by looking at our preconceived notions.

Another fundamental concept in the early treaties is sharing, a concept much more aligned to indigenous worldviews than that of the colonizers. Can we not share the park for 6 days a year with a people for whom the land represents so much more than a recreational sanctuary – for whom the deer are the lead animal providing food, clothing, musical instruments and ceremonial regalia for spiritual practice?

Supporters of the Haundenosaunee Right to Hunt have organized a series of family-friendly activities aimed at education and inclusion of community members for whom joining those at the barricade is not an option. The first activity was an opening on the day before the hunt started – Inviting peace and understanding: traditional opening and welcome to recognize the land and help us come together in a good way, led by Karl Dockstader, Oneida of the Thames Bear Clan. The Two Row Wampum beading workshop scheduled for the first day of the hunt was rained out. A powerful activity called The Blanket Exercise was held on the second day. This is a teaching tool developed by KAIROS to raise awareness and understanding of the Nation-to-Nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. It was facilitated by Donna Bomberry, Turtle Clan, Cayuga Nation, member of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and Henriette Thompson, settler-ally, past KAIROS board member.

Historical facts from hundreds of years of genocidal policy against indigenous people here in Canada are read and symbolically enacted, using blankets spread on the ground to represent land. A group of about 24 indigenous and settler people did this together on Sunday, including a man who lived down the road. Niagara Regional Police permission had been obtained to carry out this exercise in front of the barricade but the Ministry staff on shift refused to allow it, citing “safety”. So we moved to a grassy area that is part of vinyard private property. The anti-hunt protestors called in complaints. We were not removed and completed the exercise but it was very powerful to experience these attempts to limit our use of these tiny parcels of land while carrying out the Blanket Exercise.

In addition to attending these afternoon events, I have also been at the barricades for the hunter morning entry and late afternoon exit where they face many anti-hunt protestors. While I stood there on occasion in 2013 and 2015, I have stepped up my involvement this year. I am committed to peacework. I believe the phrase, you must be the change you want to see. I believe that hate begets hate. It’s taken me a long time to have stability of calm mind in the face of hatred and even now I recognize I can still be thrown off centre easily, so I follow the strategy of mostly non-engagement with the anti-hunt protestors. I am working towards greater dialogue.

Many years ago I was part of a women’s drum circle, Winds of Change, and we experienced controversy because some of us were non-native. I am an artist, and in a performance called Song For A Blue Moon performed in 2004, a section was about a fishing rights conflict in New Brunswick and I sang, Singing the songs is my promise. That promise was to use the privilege of singing the songs for political change. It is my great joy to sing the songs I learned in a healing circle so long ago at these barricades, to experience the incredible strength of singing and drumming beside the anti-hunt people engaged in hatred, racism and confrontation.


There is a vocal anti-hunt group with the money to purchase full-page newspaper ads and some of them live in the wealthy homes bordering the park. Amongst them are animal rights activists who oppose eating animals (although one of them wears a Canada Goose jacket), and others just disagree with anyone hunting in the park. Deep racism manifested in disregard for treaty rights and cultural practice lies within them. Likely many of them have no awareness of the racist implications of their actions. Likely many of these people know nothing of Canada’s history of genocidal policy against First Nations and some of them don’t want to know because they prefer their hatred. (I believe this is one of the qualities of white supremacists.)

November 30, 2013

November 30, 2013

The first year of the hunt there was little support activity, but after hearing from some hunters from Six Nations about the abuse they were facing, on the last day, some indigenous and settler people lined Pelham Rd. with flags and cheers for the hunters as they exited the park. I was there. That was the year that I got to know Dylan Powell, because of my intense admiration that an animal rights’ activist would support the Haundenosaunee right to hunt. (I understand he paid for that.)

The second year I didn’t go. A few months later, the Brock University Indigenous Solidarity Committee organized a panel of speakers and I attended the packed room. Last year I made it to the barricades only once.

The anti-hunt group engages in tactics I consider wrong, such as lying, screaming abuse and obscenities in the face of a person speaking peacefully, making racist remarks (that are shocking to me only because of my own white privilege, my indigenous friends have heard it all before). When peacework attempts were made the first week, such as striking up conversations, they were usually met by refusal. I think these refusals are so firm because these people are afraid that they will feel wrong if they listen. No one wants to feel wrong.

Of course, these people consider me wrong, very wrong, such is the nature of conflict. Certainly the women I engaged with one day for whom any killing is wrong consider me a monster. It’s very likely that when the firekeeper smudges those engaged in direct conflict with the goal of cleansing negativity, they believe he is harassing them with smoke. They photograph licence plates and last year when I attended the barricade I felt a flash of fear about reprisals; that is the intent of course, to intimidate and make me stay away out of fear for my safety. This year, I have not felt that fear and I think it is because of the depth of my admiration for Celeste and Jodielynn, my happiness that they have provided the structure within which I can act, and my gratitude that my life took me on a direction leading to this.

The Grass Is Still Green, artist’s garden

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2016 at 11:02 am

June 7, 2016haudylsingers

(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.)

me-on-planting-dayDuring 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.

rwadjuliayanalUnder 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.

apr-4img_0543Upon 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.img_0548

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.img_1143

photos in this post by Marcie Bronson and Elizabeth Chitty

Making Lucius’ Garden 3 – Homage to Chris

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm
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A watering can in progress on Chris’ workbench.

This will be brief because I am procrastinating the completion of the Water Text for the Lucius’ Garden soundscape – but I’d like to pay homage to my collaboration with my old friend and lighting wizard, Chris Clifford. Chris has fabricated the lights for Lucius’ Garden, which go inside the watering cans carried by the four Gardener performers (Maja Bannerman, Alexander Franks, Angela Hines, and Elaina Jones).

Chris has worked on R. Murray Schafer’s outdoor epic operas (Princess of the Stars, 1997; The Enchanted Forest, 2005; The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix, 2006) so assured me he knew a thing or two about throwing lights in water.

I first met Chris probably in 1976 when Videocabaret presented the Patty Rehearst Story in the basement of the first A Space on St. Nicholas St. (Toronto). I believe that Chris was the first person ever to build a big pile of video monitors, which back in those days were large, chunky affairs, (although there is Ant Farm’s 1975 Media Burn to consider.) Circa 1982, we served together on the Board of Directors of Trinity Square Video, but it was not until 1990 that Chris worked as Lighting Designer with me. That was for my own epic, Lake. It was the second of two major interdisciplinary works, Moral/Passion and Lake, which consumed me during much of the 1980s. Inspired by Pina Bausch, I was seeking to combine the performance art base of my work with the expressivity of my performing arts roots. Lake was performed in the Bill Bolton Arena in Toronto and was the last work produced by my company, Cultural Desire Projects. It is still not digitized so I can’t show you any images.

Chris helped me with batteries and such things as building a battery-powered lightbox for Le Paysage et nos coeurs (1995), which was the second of the series of performance I made in the 1990s in which the audience walked though nature trails or parks. That work was part of an exchange between Chicoutimi and Grimsby Public Art Gallery. He lit Progress of the Body (1997), a performance in Trinity Bellwoods Park (Toronto) which was part of the first 7A*11d performance art festival.  I was working with what I called light projections, using theatrical gobos with images of the brain, heart and lungs laser-cut in them, and  used them in both installation and performance. You can see one in this installation shot of Nature of the Body, 1996, at Grimsby Public Art Gallery. For Progress of the Body, Chris used these gobos to throw large-scale light projections on the hillsides of the bowl of the park. I do remember we had a setback – my 10 year old daughter Nell and I were setting out bowls of water on the ground and the baseball diamond lights were our only source of lighting. During the second performance, they unexpectedly went out! (None of those works are yet digitized and up on my website.)

Chris Clifford, Falani Clifford-Thomas, Nell Chitty, Genna Clifford-Thomas. Lighting design meetings while camping at Rockpoint Provincial Park with our girls.

Chris Clifford, Falani Clifford-Thomas, Nell Chitty, Genna Clifford-Thomas. Lighting design meetings while camping at Rockpoint Provincial Park with our girls. (2004)

Chris lit Earth’s Flesh (2003) which was part of Shared Habitat Festival of Art and Science. He lit Song For A Blue Moon (2004), which was workshopped at Niagara Artists’ Centre and performed in Montreal at Tangente Danse Actuelle. That was our last time working together and it is wonderful to be doing so again!

These days, Chris is Technical Director at the School of English and Theatre Studies at University of Guelph. Lucky students!