Community Gathering Notes
Date: Monday, August 16, 2021.
Gathering Start: 10:50 AM.
Gathering End: 3:30 PM.
In the Circle: 18 in the room, two on Zoom. 20 total, including Gathering hosts, Co-Conveners, and ArtsBuild Ontario (ABO).
Clanmother Jan Hill offered an opening for the gathering, welcoming everyone into the Gathering Circle and lifting up the gathering as ceremony. JP Longboat offered a smudge to everyone following Jan’s words. Gathering co-host Terri-Lynn Brennan laid out COVID-19 protocols for the space, and the discussion began with an introduction from everyone in the space, noting how they’re work and practice relates to the arts.
Highlights from introductions
Artists present in the room were of many diverse communities, including Ojibwe, Cree, Stó:lō, Métis, Mohawk, and more. Survivors of the 60’s scoop and residential schools were present in the Circle.
Creative practices of folks in the Circle included basket making, beading, painting, quillwork, knowledge of medicines, leatherwork, cooking, sewing, singing, dancing, acting/performance, utilitarian tool making, and working within community in different capacities.
Working with natural materials has so much meaning. There was an acknowledgment of the time and energy needed for art-making (eg. what it takes to do a basket, the effort in discovering and doing the process, but also the result, is so crucial). Creative practices and art are part of all things in life: cooking, for instance, is much more than what dish is prepared. It is about coming together in circle as ceremony, being with the land and its resources, etc. Art is in the natural world: it is creation, and it brings happiness.
Spiritual direction and guidance towards art in the every day, and its connection to culture, is extremely important. There is also a need to address language learning through the arts on many different levels.
The Gathering Circle understood the care that is needed for ancestors in the museum collections such as within the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (pieces of the past are a connection to the ancestors).
Visioning the space
Kingston does not have an Indigenous sovereign space: the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and Isabel Bader Theatre offer “safer spaces” because of the work by Dylan Robinson and others who have worked with him at the Agnes and the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, but the Gathering Circle understood that a conversation is needed to vision and build Indigenous sovereign art space here in Kingston. General questions asked of the Circle included:
How will the community build spaces together?
What would an Indigenous creative space look like?
What is essential to the space, and what needs to be involved?
What values should it uphold?
What is missing?
Highlights from discussion
Access is key. The space must be welcome and open to all, as if each nation is weaving their string into the next, in the form of beaded earrings. Community members should access the space via personal vehicles and/or public transit systems. An idea was offered to arrange for community buses to be brought to the space as a form of transport.
If an Indigenous space is within the grounds/governance of an academic institution (as is the case with the Agnes and Isabel), it can be a heavy barrier due to the inflicted trauma of residential schools for example.
The structure must also be large enough to accommodate different kinds of arts and creative activity, such as a kitchen and kitchen table for cooking and meal-sharing, along with quiet rooms for people to release any potentially harmful energy that has been brought to the space, or find a place of solitude/safety if that is also something needed.
The space must be accommodating to different artistic disciplines. The space must be supportive of artists, offering a smudge and providing space for ceremony. Different spaces are being used for artistic production, ranging from in the homes of the artists, to rented space such as the Agnes.
The space must emphasize that the art is the every day, and cultural programming is essential. There are inter-generational aspects of sharing knowledge, and cultural aspects through sharing stories that come with the arts.
When thinking of how Kingston’s creative space could look, the Gathering Circle noted cultural spaces such as the Akwesasne Cultural Centre in New York that do cultural workshops/classes. Many people need a space to re-connect and learn about their cultural roots and family, reminiscent of the moments listening to one’s grandmother at a kitchen table. It must be a space to learn to weave or to carve, where people can leave their work and extra tools for example for others to use, which would encourage learning and sharing.
It must be a space where resources can be accessed. Indigenous arts and art-making offer many teachings for the people. All teachings from all nations, or nations with the largest population in the area, should be pursued (eg. the centrality and importance of accessing fire in a space).
It should be an opportunity to share art as exhibitions in the space (eg. drum making in the space, and sharing the result of this creative work).
Connection between the land in the design of the space is important. Large windows to nature would open the space more. The Gathering Circle noted cultural camps on reserve, where everyone would gather in a tipi and creatively make art together through storytelling, tanning, crafting, dancing and more: emphasizing the connection to the land in these cultural camps. There is also a disconnect from the land. Access to land must be a large part of this space (eg. the ability to harvest resources to make clay in the space).
Design-wise, the gathering offered the importance of having different sections of the space aligned with the Four Directions, and specifically centralizing the idea of the ‘circle’
A feeling of the space reaching out to them must be present. Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre may offer an inspiring framework to follow. The hospital includes an Elder’s space with a kitchen to make medicines, a separate kitchen to cook food, and the floor in the space can be removed from the centre where a fire can be built. The Gathering Circle noted having a teaching lodge outside of the main lodge where visitors can access a central fire. There should naturally be more than one space in this centre.
Institutional buildings, by design, are all square. With a square frame, square objects must fill the space. In doing so, Indigenous artists conform to this shaping in their artistic practice, which is a problem that must be addressed. Many feel that they will not enter an institutional place. Longhouses are rectangular however they are oriented in the centre as a circle. This idea of a circle should be pursued in the design process as a form of Indigenizing spaces from an architectural perspective. Honoring the land, the Elements, and the Four Directions in the design of the space is a sustainable building practice.
Participants in the Circle identified specifically that the colonial mindset is a major barrier to develop Indigenous creative spaces and creative space projects.
The naming of the space is crucial. Indigenous peoples have been given many names by government: Indian (status and non-status), Aboriginal, Native etc.: Defining the word to reflect an “All Nations House” is crucial.
The space should also support the economic development of Indigenous artists.
Following the first session, the Gathering Circle took a 45-minute lunch break.
Values of the space: a creative activity
The second portion of the day featured an artistic activity where Gathering Co-Hosts Terri-Lynn Brennan and Sebastian De Line asked everyone in Gathering Circle to write down words of the values that this envisioned space should uphold. The Circle was divided into groups of three to compare words and write down which ones were commonly agreed upon. The Circle was then divided into two groups of six to further narrow down common words, and two representatives from each group transferred the words to a large piece of paper in the centre of the room in the form of a word cloud. This in turn would contribute to the framework of what is most important to the space.
Words included: Celebration, Joy, Medicine/Healing, Good-Minded (Bimaadziwin), Inclusive, 7 Grandfather Teachings, Accessible, Land-Based, Harmony, Safe, Warm, Unity, Mentoring, Natural Law, Grounding, Laughter, Love, Agency, Culture / Cultural Activities (Teaching, Doing, Showing, Sharing), Storytelling, Elders, Spiritual Ancestors, Spacious, Inspiring, Love, and more.
As the activity went on, the room was filled with warm energy through laughter, singing, and storytelling. The Gathering Circle agreed that the gift of creating together with this inviting atmosphere is exactly what is needed in an Indigenous creative space in Kingston.
An image of the beautiful words shared in the evening activity.
After returning from the activity, Elder Deb St. Amant offered a closing for the day, thanking the Creator, the Grandfathers, and the Spirits of the Elements and the Four Directions.