A Reflection – He huahua te kai? E, he wai te kai.

Tia Reihana (Ngati Hine) is a dancer, choreographer, scholar and educator. She is currently lecturing at the University of Auckland in dance education and history, as she undertakes her doctoral dissertation exploring relationships between kinaesthetic and indigenous ways of knowing in mainstream dance education settings.

Presented at the In The Balance: Indigeneity, Performance, Globalisation conference, Tia’s performance lecture He huahua te kai? E, he wai te kai. (Are Preserved Birds the Best Food? Ah No! Water Is.) is ‘in response to practice-led research that emphasizes the importance of awareness and the bearing of relationships to water within an urban environment’.

Here, Tia has contributed a reflection on her performance lecture…

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Nga mihi nui kia koutou

Ko Ruapekapeka tōku maunga

Ko Waiomio tōku awa

Ko Ngāti Hine tōku hapu

Ko Miria tōku marae

Ko Hineamaru tōku tupuna

Ko Te Piha Reihana tōku papa rāua ko Beverly Stephenson tōku mama

Ko Tia Reihana-Morunga tōku ingoa

Tena koutou katoa

 

We, her, me, us are gathered here… Emerging from song to find a placement as woman, performer, choreographer, mother and ngati Hine…

My river is the swirling waters of Waiomio… you will find this special place on the north island of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Waiomio is where my bones are from….. Waiomio is where my bones will return.

As an indigenous wahine… as Māori… there is a cultural consciousness that fosters a relationship with the natural world. Within this way of knowing, seeing and doing I am able to find a sense of belonging within a natural order, a whakapapa or genealogy.

I am inspired to explore movement within my indigeneity that extends beyond location and socio cultural contexts sometimes characterised by terminology such as colonised, colonisation and  post-colonial … to instead encompass a way of ‘being in the world’… a way that acknowledges kinaesthetic consciousness and the human body’s relationship to landscape and environment.

Perhaps indigeneity is offered as a transformative possibility of how we move through future.

As Māori I am always encouraged in conversations of ways in which a Māori world view can inform our relationship with self and environment.

This conversation… this… “human experience” is never exclusive. It crosses borders, fences, rivers, mountains, oceans and countries. It is however shaped by indigeneity, indigenous knowledge… indigenous ways of knowing and doing.  

Within my location as indigenous woman, tangata whenua, Māori, Ngāti Hine… Explorations in research emerge as the landscape projected on landscape connecting papatuanuku (earth mother), whenua (land), wairua (spirit), wahine (woman) .. . An embodied act of documentation, a version of a thinking body where the dancer perceives the possibilities of her environment

All within the swirling waters of my “indigeneity” I submerge and surface… submerge and surface…

I am inspired to think and experience indigeneity as more than a geographical placement that define affinities and allegiances, considered, as dominant ingredients of our identity.

I am inspired to foster indigeneity as means to embody and develop better relationships with environment…

Tihei mauri ora!

Tia Reihana  (Ngāti Hine)

Please respect Tia’s copyright and don’t copy these words or images without her express consent. Peace.

Dylan Robinson – embracing resentment and reconciliation

Dylan Robinson is a Stö:lō scholar and artist based in the First Nations studies program at the University of British Columbia, on unceded Coast Salish territories. His research focuses on Indigenous public arts and performance interventions in Canada, the US, and Australia. 

Witnessing Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Attending Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Indian Residential Schools over the past three years there have been many times I have felt moved by the strength and resilience of residential school survivors, experienced a heightened sense of community, and felt empathy for survivors and their families. As a Stó:lõ person, I have often witnessed testimony and listened to the “contributions” by government and church officials presented at the TRC events with the sedimented weight of knowing intergenerational loss. Because of this, I have sometimes witnessed, and listened, with resentment. I have experienced resentment at hearing such remarkably consistent experiences of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. I have resented the TRC forum itself, where survivors are expected to limit their comments to a contained aspect of colonialism: residential school history. I have resented the “contributions” where institutional officials from the Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Catholic Church have abdicated their responsibility. I have resented offers of Settler-ally friendship, that we are all “part of the same great embrace,” and that Canada would be a better place if every Settler had “a First Nations friend.” (Victoria TRC event, “It Matters to Me” session). As Dene scholar Glen Coulthard notes “…resentment is often cast as the inability to come to grips with history. Resentment indicates an inability to let go….” And yet, “Embracing one’s resentment,” as Coulthard contests,

…is not only an entirely defendable position, but actually a sign of our critical consciousness, of our sense of justice and injustice, and of our awareness of, and unwillingness to reconcile ourselves with the structural and symbolic violence that is still very much a part of our lives. Of course we should resent colonialism, as well as those people and institutions who are willfully complicit in its ongoing reproduction.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk5XNjI2Yao, 33:45)

As part of the TRC proceedings, there is a program of artistic presentations by local performers and musicians, both Aboriginal and Settler Canadian. While the majority of artistic and musical contributions taking place at the TRC have not induced such resentment in me as an audience member, one in particular seared me with its offer of friendship and reconciliation.

The first day of the TRC Victoria regional event in April 2012 concluded with a series of performances reflecting diverse cultural traditions of First Nations across Vancouver Island. A local Victoria choir consisting of Settler Canadian singers also performed – the Gettin’ Higher Choir. They concluded their portion of the evening with a performance of Inuit singer Susan Aglukark’s O Siem, the chorus of which is familiar to many Canadians from its regular presence on easy listening stations across Canada since it rose to #1 in the Canadian adult contemporary charts in 1995:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zZHlA4hPGQ

The lyrics of the chorus, just in case you did not catch them are:

“O Siem, we are all family

O Siem, we’re all the same”

After eight hours of listening to testimony from survivors and intergenerational survivors, I listened to the Gettin’ Higher Choir’s contribution toward reconciliation. The concert was intended to lift peoples’ spirits after hours of intense testimony from residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors, and it may have done so for some. Yet to sing this song after a full day of telling and witnessing residential schools’ overwhelming history of inhumanity felt more than inappropriate. The irony in the choir’s offering, sung with the best of intentions is that the history of abuse and cultural oppression in residential schools was anything but “the same” history as that of Settler Canadians. Canadians were not taken from their parents and beaten when they spoke English, were not forced to do manual labor in order to keep their schools running, were not called “dirty Canadian.” Nor is the present reality of Aboriginal communities – the lack of adequate housing, clean drinking water, and educational opportunities – “the same” as for Settler Canadians based in rural, urban areas elsewhere in Canada. Canadians, for the most part, do not feel shame at being Canadian, or learn to hide their cultural history from their children.

One might argue that hearing the choir’s expression of these lyrics as anything other than an expression of our common humanity is to elide their best intentions. But to look at the faces of the Gettin’ Higher Choir, moreover, was also to see belief in their message. A belief in reconciliation’s friendship, in reconciliation’s great embrace. The choir’s performance, both in message and in its non-representational atmosphere of warmth and enthusiasm, demonstrated a belief that to sing such a message was perhaps enough to make it better, a belief as performance studies scholar Jill Dolan puts it “…that beyond this ‘now’ of material oppression and unequal power relations lives a future that might be different, one whose potential we can feel as we’re seared by the promise of a present that gestures toward a better later.” (Dolan, 7) But best intentions are nowhere near enough. What is needed from Settler Canadians now is dialogue, commitment to future actions, or just simply showing up at TRC gatherings to learn about their country’s less than glorious history and role in cultural genocide – to “kill the Indian in the child.”

Speaking to this lack of public engagement during a TRC community hearing in Nova Scotia, Miqmac survivor Isabelle Knockwood has noted the inequity of what is asked of from survivors and what has been asked of from the non-Aboriginal public. As Knockwood sees it, although those who give expressions of reconciliation often offer apology for their institutions’ roles in the residential schools, such statements do not necessarily evidence the complex emotions of the past in a similar way to those survivors re-telling their experiences. Importantly, in her community hearing testimony Knockwood confronted the difference in emotional labour of witnesses and survivors:

 

 “The church members haven’t told us about their experiences. The pedophiles, the clergy of pedophiles haven’t told us their experiences. The abusers, the ones that punished us so severely, they didn’t tell us how they feel when they were punishing us. The government is not telling us how they felt when they put us on Indian reservations and how happy they were to build Indian residential schools in order to kill the Indian in the child. When are they going to tell us how that felt like?”

(http://www.livestream.com/trc_cvr/video?clipId=pla_eadc323b-6d17-4086-8b20-633cd72f8bb0 , Thu Oct 27 2011 10:03:47 AM, 30:01 – 31:15)

Years after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology to residential school survivors, a significant proportion of the non-Native Canadian public remains ignorant that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is ongoing and is meant to include them as witnesses. Through such ignorance Settler Canadians continue to abrogate their responsibility to understand this history as their own. After all, as the fallacious argument would have it, since non-Aboriginal Canadians aren’t themselves the perpetrators of past injustices of the state, why should they make any effort to engage in learning about this history, or to support social change in communities affected by intergenerational trauma. Many of Canada’s non-Native Settler public, like those named by Isabelle Knockwood, remain indifferent toward acknowledging the history of colonization upon which their contemporary privilege rests.

Many First Nations participants who attend the TRC are from my own generation – a generation who did not themselves attend residential schools, but whose parents, grandparents, and great grandparents did. Many from this generation have adopted the term “intergenerational survivor” to acknowledge continuing abuse its impact within our families and communities, and as a way to describe the effects the schools had on the loss of cultural traditions and languages. Although I do not use this term for myself, I feel the intergenerational impacts of residential schools keenly. The time has come, however, to re-direct the term “intergenerational” toward Settler publics. There is a large degree to which Settler attendees at TRC events see their participation in the process as limited to a witnessing of survivors’ testimony alone, to making symbolic gestures, or to offering their friendship. Yet these first steps, however important they may be, limit the extent of Settler responsibility necessary in redress. Moreover, such contributions avoid the crucial step of claiming what I call Settler Canadians’ intergenerational responsibility to lend resources (both individual and institutional) to future change.

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Origins, a festival of First Nations. Artistic Director Michael Walling

Blog contributed by Michael Walling, Artistic Director Origins Festival of First Nations. London 2013

Ceremony – a heightening and ritualising of human interaction – is crucial to the way in which indigenous cultures conduct themselves and their relationships with others.   This means that for the Origins Festival, bringing indigenous artists to London for a process of exchange, sharing and (we hope) healing, ceremony has to be the starting point.  But it is also problematic.  In a culture that has lost, indeed betrayed, its relationship to land, and which has little sense of spiritual identity, there are no appropriate indigenous forms through which to welcome our guests. In this, as in so much, we have to learn from them.

 

In the first two Origins Festivals, London’s Maori community, Ngati Ranana, gave us the framework of the powhiri through which we could welcome our guests with the decorum and ceremony they expect and deserve.  In 2009, we were particularly lucky that the great actor Pete Postlethwaite, who had an interest in indigenous cultures, was able to take on the role of an Elder of our artistic community, and offer something akin to a Welcome to Country.  Uncle Pete sadly passed in early 2011, but his example has remained important to what we do in our opening ceremonies – using the framework of an indigenous protocol to facilitate speeches of welcome by the people of these islands to artists and other festival guests who have travelled from far away.

 

For this year’s festival, we worked with the GAFA Arts Collective – a London-based Samoan group that performed in Origins – to create an ava ceremony of welcome in the Bargehouse space.  But we also wanted to find a way of bringing our guests and our audience into the space itself.  I was delighted when Merindah Donnelly said that she, and the group of young indigenous Australian artists and producers joining her at the Festival, would be able to contribute a smoking ceremony to do this.

 

It’s no small matter to perform such a ceremony, and usually it is done by Elders.  No Elders were travelling to us from Australia, so Lorna Munro obtained special permission from the Elders of her people to perform the ritual, and likewise, Alison Murphy Oates had permission from her elders to sing the songs.  As the ceremony ended, they called forward the many indigenous people from around the world who were present to share in the smoke and purify the self ready for the cultural work ahead – and spontaneously a mystic spiral of Native Americans, Maya, Maori, Samoans, First Nations Canadians and many others formed around the shield.  It was an astonishing symbol of indigenous unity – of the movement that is growing across the planet towards mutual understanding, justice, and reconciliation.  It was, in the fullest sense, an Opening – for the Origins Festival, and so much more besides.

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Global Songlines

By Merindah Donnelly.

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48 minutes till London…

I slept pretty much the whole way, dreaming of mum and dad and the veggie garden back home. And because this trip is so epic, the loose plan of building up some reserve battery power by sleeping as much as possible seemed appealing. This last week leading up to departure has been a race against time.

Time. A concept that we’ve discussed reclaiming as part of our collective’s mandate.

Travelling reminds me of certain things I don’t always have time or space to think about. I have always wanted to understand the world from Indigenous perspectives, my ancestry traces back to Indigenous peoples globally.

I’m a fiercely proud Aboriginal woman from central and northwest NSW, my ancestors fought the colonisers.

I’m also ‘a wee Celtic lass’! My pa’s family is from Cromarty, in Scotland. His ancestor’s fought the British. My dad’s great great great grandfather was from Armagh, in Ireland, and his ancestors also fought the British.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, First Peoples purpose is always similar – protect the land, be one with the land and ensure the spirit of the land and our own spirit stays here for many generations to come.

Indigenous peoples all over the world have been oppressed and subjugated by dominant invasive cultures. As such, our version of history is not taught or as readily available, and certainly not apparent in everyday things we take for granted such as maps. There is nothing like travelling to bring these issues to light.

Gabi has just pointed out to me we are flying over the English Channel (which I’m totes gunna swim one day). Twenty minutes til we land. Lorna, Ali and Lou are all on British soil- so it’s just Gabi and me now.

Can’t wait to get off this plane, serz.

I’m on edge about travelling to London. I know I’ve probably got a preconceived notion of what that will be, but right now- the Brits are the living embodiment of colonisation. Their cultural arrogance that led to the dehumanization of my people is still affecting my family today.

I’m looking forward to travelling to Ireland and Scotland. I can’t wait to see what I dream about, and I can’t wait to take my shoes off and stick my feet in the earth- while I still can.