Peerings & Hearings

Occasional Musings on Arts & Community in the City of Glass

Spirits Of The Realms (details), 2017; muralists: Haisla Collins, Jerry Whitehead, Sharifah Marsden, Mehren Razmpoosh, Richard Shorty, Vanessa Walterson

Welcome & Acknowledgment

Happy December! Welcome to our conversation about arts and community in Vancouver. This post marks the twelfth installment — to read the eleven previous posts, go to: https://medium.com/@herkind — and with it, there’s the feeling of building something — a container, like an egg carton in which twelve possibilities are alive and ready to hatch into conversation. Part of that conversation is about reconciliation.

In the spirit of Reconciliation…

The land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (TsleilWaututh) Nations. I acknowledge the founding peoples to recognize past injustices and to work on rebuilding relationships — three acts of reconciliation.

To honour all the First Peoples of Canada, their cultures, stories, and understandings.

It was “in the spirit of Reconciliation,” that Vancouver Park Board commissioned Spirits of The Realms (details from mural above), located at the 600 block of Beatty Street, west side, from Dunsmuir Street to Georgia Street, “to increase Indigenous visibility on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations now known as Vancouver.”

The Artist Statement: “This mural is about Indigenous cultures and stories of First Peoples across Canada. The background colours of black, white, yellow and red represent the four directions of the medicine wheel and the three realms (earth, sky and sea) of the peoples who live along the Northwest Coast. The mural is meant to honour all the First Peoples of Canada, their cultures, stories, and understandings.”


Post #12 — Introduction

#PIDGINMURAL by Ilya Viryachev meant to symbolize the history of Vancouver, concentrating primarily on 1855–1955

As a follower of this every-other-month series, you may have wondered what happened to April’s, June’s, August’s, and October’s posts. Here’s the short of it: Sarah Clark, my editor at Anomaly asked me to move the post schedule a month (to May); then, while we were in the process of bringing the post to publication, they fell into radio silence. Now seven months later, I feel I have done diligence to bring us to conversation and, more importantly, that the featured artists have waited long enough. I do not want these special people to be collateral damage of broken communication between Anomaly and me, so I’ve decided to stop waiting and forge ahead.

To offer a bit about the origins of this particular post: Sarah Clark invited me to participate in Anomaly’s “impromptu Native/ First Nations/ Indigenous Month in May” via the Peerings & Hearings blog series. “The general idea,” Sarah wrote, “is that it’s demoralizing to see Natives get celebrated in November — on the heels of Columbus Day/ [Canadian Thanksgiving], and yoked to both [American] Thanksgiving and Black Friday which happens to fall on the US’s Native Heritage Day.”

What follow are the results from my invitation to give space to writers/artists from the concentric circles of my community; here, they can speak for themselves without analysis or interpretation about what they make.


Tiny Interview Project (TIP) #3

“Dedicated to all those who find strength within their struggle” by Mauro Carrera and sponsored by Downtown Eastside Center for the Arts (DECA)

In this post, as in the June 2017 and December 2017 posts, I share with you two responses to my Tiny Interview Project (TIP). Tiny because the interview consists of but two questions:

1. What’s your artistic medium/form of expression?
2. How do you define community?

With these questions, as with each gesture I extend in this series, I intend to have conversation and manifest community. A conversation has two sides — a speaker and a listener. The TIP privileges listening; you, dear reader, and I, listen as artists speak for themselves, describing their work and their sense of community.

Previous TIP participants were spontaneously invited when I bumped into them at readings, openings, bookshops, and cafes. The participants of this TIP are two Indigenous artists intentionally invited. The directions for how to participate remain the same:

Thanks for agreeing to the Tiny Interview Project. I’m going to give you the two questions. The idea is that immediately after you read them, you respond to them off the top of your head. Set aside pondering. Be straight and in the moment. Shrug off pressure to be definitive. Answer for today. Then, without editing or futzing, send your answers, still glistening with freshness, right back to me.

Now, context provided, I gratefully share the TIP participant responses with you — to inspire thought and conversation about what arts community is — and to celebrate Indigenous arts and artists in Vancouver.


Indigenous Artists — Joanne Arnott & Jessica Johns

Joanne Arnott (credit: Nadya Kwandibens, Redworks Photography) & Jessica Johns (credit: Curtis Leblanc)

This third installment of the Tiny Interview Project (TIP) offers you: Joanne Arnott, who describes herself as “Metis/mixed blood writer, sometime activist, mother” and Jessica Johns, who is a nehiyaw writer, aunty, and member of Sucker Creek First Nation.

Joanne Arnott

Wiles of Girlhood, Press Gang Publishers, 1991 & My Grass Cradle, Press Gang Publishers, 1992 by Joanne Arnott

1. What’s your artistic medium/form of expression?

My main artistic mediums & forms of expression are words — poetry, short nonfiction, and on from there.

A substantial part of my creative energy also goes into relationships,

primarily my six young people and outward from there, through varieties of friendships.

Ma MacDonald (Women’s Press, 1993), Arnott family hands, & Breasting the Waves: On Writing & Healing, (Press Gang Publishers, 1995)

In the recent past, most of my workaday attentions have gone into editing and teaching, which are for me

a dovetailing of the two main channels of expression (word art & human relations).

I’ve interviewed many people in the past year, as well, and plan to interview many more.

My interests as a poet have been almost journalistic, initially in recording and achieving a sense of embodiment that I lost or mislaid in the first two decades of life. As time went on, I continued to apply that interest

in both intimate and political realms, weaving disparate influences and observations into a sense of wholeness.
Steepy Mountain love poetry (Kegedonce Press, 2004), Mother Time: Poems New & Selected (Ronsdale Press, 2007) & Rice Paper Magazine, 17.3/17.4, Fall/Winter 2012 written or edited by Joanne Arnott

My early books grapple with identity and abuse, then the challenges of becoming the mother and doing that reasonably competently, then love poetry — I have published two books of love poetry, beyond the love expressed in the book of mothering. Each of the love poetry books were dedicated to a man with whom in the end I did not stay.

But that interest in love poetry as a form has brought me into contact with poets around the world, in Iran, UK, Uganda, Nigeria, and more —

love is like the moon, always shifting, rhythmic, usually visible but sometimes occluded. Through love people access divinity, as well as the more mundane versions of our human aspirations.

My prose self has been for the most part called forth to explain my poetic self — essays and talks that expand upon, clarify, the poetic work.

At a certain point I noted how little attention is paid to indigenous writers, in the mainstream,

and so I began to focus a portion of my attention and writings on the generation of “secondary literature,” e.g. journalistic or responsive writings in relation to other writers.

Salish Seas: an anthology of text + image (Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast, 2011), A Night for the Lady (Ronsdale Press, 2013) & Halfling Spring: an internet romance (Kegedonce Press, 2013) by Joanne Arnott

2. How do you define community?

As a mixed-blood person, growing up on the peripheries of a number of Anglo-dominant communities,

this has been a question every bit as pungent as “who are you?”

Questions of identity and questions of community have taken up a great deal of my time, over the years.

As a young writer I had the opportunity to study with Beth Brant, a Bay of Quinte Mohawk writer who created a space for herself in both US & Canadian literatures. Although I was primarily a poet, she was the teacher I needed, and so I drew together enough writing to suggest a fiction author, and find a place in her class. My main question for her was,

can I as a brown settler speak about myself as a mixed-blood or indigenous person, without having the paper documentation to affirm who I thought I was.

Before I had the opportunity to ask her that question, issues arose at the gathering, and she designated me as a person to co-facilitate an Unlearning Racism workshop, despite my never having done such a thing before. Anyone who has heard the voice of an Elder directing you to take up a task that you have no experience in will know exactly how this was for me.

I went on to co-facilitate or facilitate Unlearning Racism workshops for more than a decade, and to incorporate the basic structures of this work (peer counselling, theory, memory work) into my teaching strategies.

At a certain point, I realized that facilitating anti-racism workshops would teach me a lot about

the dysfunction of our worlds, the pain of it, without filling out my understanding of Metis and Indigenous histories, societies, normalities.

Consequently, since 2000, I have focussed on arts activism, facilitating workshops that affirm participants’ voices, participating in online and irl gatherings of indigenous writers, and to a lesser extent mainstream Canadian and global writers.

My main community today is the indigenous literature diaspora, other writers, also scholars and friends.

Jessica Johns

Jessica Johns’ How Not to Spill, (Rahila’s Ghost Press, 2018); JJ beaming (credit: Curtis LeBlanc); a chapbook poem (illustration credit: Madeson Singh).

1. What’s your artistic medium/form of expression?

I write, mostly,

though I’m not tied to any particular genre.

I’m not tied particularly to the idea of genre.

I’m attached more to story,

rather than the form it takes. Sometimes that’s poetry, sometimes that prose, sometimes it’s a hybrid, depending on the content and the story I’m trying to tell.

Jessica Johns, “Good Bones,” a story featured in Cosmonauts Avenue, and SAD magazine in which “Perfect Partner,” her nonfiction appeared
I also cross-stitch, knit, and macrame.

I want to learn to bead. My kokum taught me to knit, and I think this form of creating has taught me a lot about expression, because it’s a lot like story.

It’s materials working together, intertwining, knotting to create this rich, complex, often imperfect and messy thing.
Jessica Johns’ The Rusty Toque Flash Fiction Contest Winner: “Rat Traps and Dreamcatchers” flanked by her kokum’s knitting bag

My aunty gifted me my kokum’s cross-stitch and knitting bag after she died. So both the physical materials I use, and the act of creating, ties me to her. I lost her when I was eighteen, so this kind of connection is really important to me.

Jessica Johns: Writing Across Genres panelist, PRISM international poetry editor (& editorial team), Indigence Brilliance Reading Series co-host
I also consider community work an artistic expression.

Often it’s working with people within a space and with various ideas in important and creative ways, and I think that’s an important medium for me.

2. How do you define community?

I define community through reciprocity, responsibility, and care.

Because I belong to many communities, some of which intersect and some of which do not, I am in varying stages of negotiation to each of them.

Reciprocity and care are not fixed or quantifiable, they are organic and often changing, and it’s important to me to be aware of that.

I belong to Sucker Creek First Nation in Treaty 8 territory in northern Alberta, but I grew up off-reserve in surrounding small towns, and then further away in various cities.

My community is my blood and chosen family.

But my responsibility as a nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) remains the same, and that is to be contributing more to the land and communities of both where I come from and where I currently reside.

I am currently finishing my degree in the University of British Columbia (UBC) MFA program, and I have the privilege of working for/with PRISM international and Room magazine.

What I strive to do with my various roles in these organizations is uplift, stand behind, and shine a light on Indigenous writers, artists, and thinkers, particularly Indigenous women, Two-Spirit, and queer folks.

This is what brought about the Indigenous Brilliance Reading Series, for example. This series is the collaborative work/effort/heart of so many people: the editors at Room magazine, Chelene Knight and Meghan Bell, Patricia Massy of Massy Books (an Indigenous owned and operated bookstore in Vancouver), poet and writer Jónína Kirton, and poet and writer jaye simpson.

Indigenous Brilliance Reading Series is a quarterly series, hosted by myself and jaye, which features Indigenous women, Two-Spirit, nonbinary, and queer artists.

It’s a way of connecting with communities here, it’s a way of making space for the brilliant voices that live and thrive here.

I am also part of the Indigenous Collective and the Indigenous Lit Reading Circle at UBC.

These communities do the same thing:

create space for Indigenous folks

in an institution that has tried (and still tries) to shut out of it.

I am very fortunate to be in the positions that I am, to be able to create/facilitate/be a part of these groups.

I am here because of so many privileges, and I have a responsibility to support and care for these communities to the best of my ability.

And this is two-fold. I get to be surrounded by wonderful, amazing folks who I learn from and with, and who support me right back.

That’s community to me.
Detail of mural by Mauro Carrera, sponsored by Downtown Eastside Center for the Arts (DECA)

Afterword

Given that I live and work on unceded territories of Coast Salish First Peoples, I see it as my responsibility to learn about Indigenous issues. One of the ways I do that is through the particular lens of art. I’m no authority on arts or Indigenous arts and struggles, but I feel compelled to make what gestures I can toward reconciliation.

Right now, as Canada, and especially British Columbia, is in the throes of figuring out how to co-own land and governance, there’s much at stake. I am sensitive to the ponderous legacies of colonialism and, more constructively, to ways my work and life may lessen these burdens. My interest in communicating deliberately and transparently brings me, to the question, however naïve: How do I support Native/ First Nations/ Indigenous peoples? Today’s answer involves the Tiny Interview Project.

Thank you!

Thank you Joanne Arnott and Jessica Johns for answering my call to participate in the Tiny Interview Project. Thank you Sarah Clark and Anomaly for making this space (from 2016–2018) for me and my ruminations on art and community; best wishes. Thank you John Welch for your expert guidance and consultation.


Thank you, dearest readers so very much for being here with me! I know reading’s an investment and your time is precious. So, your presence is an honor.

With this twelve post, I close a two-year project that started as a featured column for Anomaly. Look for a renovation of this Conversation Space in the coming months.

In the meantime, reach out, leave a comment. Tell me what you want more of and less of in this blog — and in your community — and what’s just right. It’s always good to know what’s just right.

You can also follow me @herkind to discover my other articles.

→ Clap one, two, three, or more below if you liked this story. It means a lot to me. Plus, it helps other people to discover it :)

Be Kind. Make Art. Foster Community.