Keep It in the Ground!

Ona­man Col­lec­tive is at the fore­front of pipe­line re­sis­tance, pro­vid­ing images to wa­ter pro­tec­tors across Tur­tle Is­land

Canadian Art - - Contents - By Sâk­i­hi­towin Awâ­sis

Ona­man Col­lec­tive pro­vides move­ment-build­ing images to wa­ter pro­tec­tors across Tur­tle Is­land by Sâk­i­hi­towin Awâ­sis

We know where we come from: the waters of our mother. The sa­cred life­giv­ing force rum­bles along river rocks, laps at the shores of the Great Lakes and an­nounces the birth of our future an­ces­tors. It is no co­in­ci­dence that women are cen­tral to the grow­ing In­dige­nous-led anti-pipe­line move­ments emerg­ing across Tur­tle Is­land (North Amer­ica). We are car­ried in wa­ter for nine moons be­fore en­ter­ing this world. In Anishi­naabek so­ci­ety, it is women’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to take care of the wa­ter. What may be more sur­pris­ing is that it is artists that are lead­ing the move­ment to pro­tect the sa­cred and re­store re­la­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The future of hu­man­ity de­pends on the health of the wa­ter, and the health of the wa­ter de­pends on the great awak­en­ing that is un­der­way. In our hearts and lodges, at feasts, block­ades and round dances in the streets, the anti-pipe­line move­ment is em­bed­ded in rich kin­ship ties to all our re­la­tions. We have treaties with all of cre­ation. Hon­our­ing these sa­cred agree­ments with plant, an­i­mal and wa­ter na­tions is essen­tial to the restora­tion of In­dige­nous self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Colo­nial Aboriginal rights dis­course can­not be ex­pected to en­com­pass col­lec­tive and highly con­tex­tu­al­ized In­dige­nous ex­pe­ri­ences that con­nect us to our liv­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the land and waters. Draw­ing on the gen­er­a­tions of In­dige­nous artists that have come be­fore her, Michif artist Christi Bel­court ex­plores sym­bol­ism in na­ture through metaphors for In­dige­nous rights, en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and spir­i­tu­al­ity. The in­trin­sic con­nec­tion that In­dige­nous peo­ples have to the sen­tience and ge­neal­ogy of land­scapes is in­spir­ited in Bel­court’s work and em­bod­ied in the beads, hide, clay, cop­per, birch bark and plant fi­bres that de­fine her prac­tice. This deep sense of re­la­tional com­mu­nity and ma­te­rial form ex­tends from the waters and thun­der­birds to our grand­moth­ers, aun­ties and sis­ters who have car­ried cop­per pails around the Great Lakes and along count­less rivers, pray­ing for the wa­ter and future gen­er­a­tions. “The waters are viewed as the life blood of Mother Earth, so highly re­garded that cer­tain lakes were con­sid­ered off-lim­its ex­cept only to grand­moth­ers, who would go har­vest medicines there,” Bel­court told the crowd in her key­note ad­dress “The Rev­o­lu­tion Has Be­gun” at the Maamwiz­ing Con­fer­ence in Sud­bury in Novem­ber 2016. “Our re­la­tion­ships to the spir­its are ones that are marked by ex­treme grat­i­tude, hum­ble­ness and re­spect.”

I first met Bel­court in July 2016 at a wa­ter gath­er­ing in Kete­gaun­see­bee. With of­fer­ing in hand, I fum­bled to ask if I could tat­too a Wood­land flo­ral de­sign she cre­ated on my shoul­der. (She en­thu­si­as­ti­cally agreed.) The gath­er­ing was or­ga­nized by the Ona­man Col­lec­tive, a grass­roots

There is a re­sound­ing call across Tur­tle Is­land: Waniska! Wake up! In­dige­nous re­sis­tance to pipe­lines is rooted in the an­swer­ing resur­gence of our lan­guages, ways of liv­ing and di­verse kin­ship re­la­tions.

arts ini­tia­tive formed in 2014 by Bel­court, Michif artist Erin Marie Kon­smo and Anishi­naabe artist Isaac Mur­doch. Ona­man is the name of the red ochre paint used by Anishi­naabek, Ne­hiyawak and Michif peo­ples. It is also used as a clot­ting agent for wounds in tra­di­tional medicine—a telling metaphor for the in­ter­gen­er­a­tional heal­ing as­so­ci­ated with the land-based knowl­edge and lan­guage re­vi­tal­iza­tion cul­ti­vated by the col­lec­tive’s widerang­ing cre­ative projects and com­mu­nity col­lab­o­ra­tions. Their work en­cir­cled us at the wa­ter gath­er­ing, from the de­signs on the T-shirts of wa­ter pro­tec­tors rais­ing funds for lan­guage camps to the lodges that were built by hand to gather and hold cer­e­mony in.

Cli­mate change and tar sands pipe­lines pose di­rect threats to the resur­gence of In­dige­nous knowl­edge sys­tems and land-based gov­er­nance. From the Kala­ma­zoo River, Michi­gan, to the Peruvian Ama­zon, oil pipe­lines have led to dev­as­tat­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion that dis­pos­sesses In­dige­nous peo­ples from an­ces­tral lands and ways of liv­ing. Kon­smo’s work evokes a vis­ceral re­sponse to the ways in which ex­trac­tive in­dus­tries ex­ist as colo­nial vi­o­lence against the land and wa­ter, and against Na­tive bod­ies, spir­its, fam­i­lies and na­tions. Their self-por­traits in­voke a very per­sonal and in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence. In En­vi­ron­men­tal Vi­o­lence (2014), for ex­am­ple, a wrench be­ing held to their wrist si­mul­ta­ne­ously em­pha­sizes that the con­struc­tion of pipe­lines causes di­rect harm to In­dige­nous bod­ies, and how the phrase “throw a mon­key wrench in the works” is used to de­scribe sab­o­tage as a form of protest. In keep­ing with Ona­man’s fo­cus on open col­lab­o­ra­tion and em­pow­er­ment, Kon­smo’s use of sten­cils, spray paint, Sharpies, con­doms and text has lent it­self to street prac­tice and com­mu­nity own­er­ship. Their work brings aware­ness to sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health, fur­thers place-based strug­gles and com­ple­ments di­rect ac­tion through a con­nec­tion to cer­e­mony and com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ence.

Cer­e­mony is land-based and life-long heal­ing from cul­tural wounds in­flicted by 500 years of colo­nial­ism. Our lan­guages and ways of liv­ing never died—they have been sleep­ing. To­day we are look­ing to our an­ces­tors to help us find a good way for­ward. There is a re­sound­ing call across Tur­tle Is­land: Waniska! Wake up! In­dige­nous re­sis­tance to pipe­lines is rooted in the an­swer­ing resur­gence of our lan­guages, ways of liv­ing and di­verse kin­ship re­la­tions.

Mur­doch’s work ar­tic­u­lates these com­plex­i­ties of past, present and future through vi­sion­ary sto­ry­telling and pic­tog­ra­phy grounded in rich

oral tra­di­tions. On so­cial me­dia, his prac­tice is lever­aged with wit and provo­ca­tion to re­store clan gov­er­nance and abol­ish In­dian Act op­pres­sion. En­gag­ing tra­di­tional knowl­edge in con­tem­po­rary and of­ten un­con­ven­tional ways, he of­fers timely sto­ries of pow­er­ful spir­i­tual be­ings, such as Thun­der­bird Woman, that move peo­ple to ac­tion and en­cour­age re­la­tion­ship build­ing with waters all over the world.

From the front lines of Stand­ing Rock and the front lawn of the Supreme Court, to Ire­land and even Ja­pan, Thun­der­bird Woman is mak­ing an ap­pear­ance wher­ever there is re­sis­tance to the de­struc­tion of the waters. She speaks to the po­ten­tial of the cur­rent mo­ment, and the power of our spirit helpers. She tells us we are on the right path, pick­ing up the beau­ti­ful way of life our an­ces­tors have left us.

As we awaken to the re­al­i­ties of the cli­mate col­lapse, on­go­ing mass ex­tinc­tion and eco­log­i­cal disas­ter, it is of the ut­most im­por­tance that we find cre­ative ways to re-es­tab­lish re­la­tion­ships with the spirit of the land and waters. Art that is rooted in our col­lec­tive strug­gle not only em­bod­ies the spirit of place-spe­cific knowl­edge, cul­tural and kin­ship sys­tems, but also moves us to ac­tion. Pipe­line re­sis­tance is sus­tained by the bold voices of grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Ona­man Col­lec­tive. The col­lab­o­ra­tive ac­tivism of youth mu­ral–mak­ing, ca­noe build­ing, tra­di­tional food camps, birch-bark har­vest­ing, com­mu­nity art builds, screen­print­ing work­shops and protest-ban­ner tem­plates avail­able on­line give life to move­ments and to change. Anti-pipe­line art brings to­gether en­tire com­mu­ni­ties of of­ten-un­likely com­rades and res­onates across di­verse cul­tures. It is these very ways of know­ing and liv­ing that are hu­man­ity’s best—if not only— chance at pre­vent­ing the on­com­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis. As Bel­court ob­serves in “The Rev­o­lu­tion Has Be­gun,” “This is a new era of wa­ter. All around the world we are wit­ness­ing the rise of what is to be a wa­ter rev­o­lu­tion by the peo­ple—reg­u­lar peo­ple, who want noth­ing more than to have clean wa­ter for their chil­dren.” ■

ABOVE: Sâk­i­hi­towin Awâ­sis with protestors out­side the Supreme Court of Canada, demon­strat­ing against off­shore seis­mic tests near Clyde River, Nu­navut, and the En­bridge Line 9 pipe­line, Novem­ber 30,2016 PHOTO SOHA KNEEN

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE: Christi Bel­court Wa­ter Is Life 2016 Dig­i­tal im­age Di­men­sions vari­able COUR­TESY ONA­MAN COL­LEC­TIVE ABOVE, TOP: Sten­cil by Katie Rita used to protest charges against Stand­ing Rock demon­stra­tor Red Fawn Fal­lis, Novem­ber 2016 PHOTO SI­MON MOYA-SMITH

OP­PO­SITE: Ban­ners set up for a rally on High­way 17 near Es­panola, On­tario, against the En­bridge Line 5 pipe­line, Oc­to­ber 2016 COUR­TESY ONA­MAN COL­LEC­TIVE

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