of the Grand River
Community Gathering Notes
Date: Wednesday, January 19, 2022.
Gathering Start: 1:00 PM.
Gathering End: 4:00 PM.
In the Circle: 12 people in the Zoom room total, including Gathering host, Co-Conveners, and ArtsBuild Ontario (ABO).
The gathering was opened with a beautiful recording of a Thanksgiving Address by Kanyen'kehà:ka language speaker Frank Miller, grounding the conversation for the day. Gathering host Janis Monture welcomed everyone and gave space for people in the Gathering Circle to introduce themselves, where they are based, and to speak to their work.
Highlights from introductions
Every person in the Gathering Circle offered a unique perspective on creative spaces at Six Nations as dancers/choreographers, fashion designers, organizational leaders, and cultural workers.
Members of the Gathering Circle spoke fondly of their memories with Woodland Cultural Centre (WCC).
Visioning for Woodland Cultural Centre
It was exciting for this gathering to happen at the start of 2022, being the year that WCC celebrates its 50th anniversary. Janis framed this discussion around creative spaces at Six Nations by presenting the idea that WCC’s next project would be to completely renew and/or relocate the main building, which houses their museum, orientation room, and several offices, to better serve the community. To preserve and promote Indigenous culture, history, language, and art, the original purpose of the building that WCC is in was to house collections and artifacts to develop the museum and library, as well as host arts-based programming for the community. Janis framed the conversation by illustrating that WCC is experiencing a new chapter in their history, posing the idea of a new home for WCC to the group. Janis Monture asked the Gathering Circle what they thought of this idea, and how they would envision the new WCC to look.
Highlights from discussion
Questions were raised around whether WCC should remain onsite with the former Mohawk Institute, or move to a different place. The Gathering Circle understood the value and need for having a central hub space for WCC, and there were initial concerns about it being removed from the site of the former Mohawk Institute. However, accessibility of the space was of greater concern to the group as, currently, there is no available transit system in place in Six Nations or Brantford to reach WCC or the former Mohawk Institute. This affects community access.
The Gathering Circle agreed that WCC should remain in the community, and the concept of satellite locations of WCC sparked interest in the Gathering Circle. If a new space is sought within Six Nations of the Grand River, it could boost the economy and jobs within the community. There is also the possibility of setting up satellite locations in other communities such as Tyendinaga and Wah:ta.
In considering a new location for WCC, the Gathering Circle agreed that the new space should include:
Collection storage space to meet the needs of repatriation.
The opportunity to host programming across the community, while also having a central hub space. WCC should explore the question of who they are responsible to in the community, and who they are programming for.
The Gathering Circle spoke extensively to the role of WCC as a community-driven organization, and how its programming could be structured in a new space. Ideas included:
Programming onsite or near the former Mohawk Institute could be geared around the storytelling and history of residential schools.
Programming must be developed around how land needs to be activated, and how to work in ways that are land-based.
Programming should continue to reflect the mandate of WCC, supporting the museum, the arts, and the cultural centre, supporting language and culture at the core of their work. The vision of WCC is that every Hodinohsho:ni person will know their language and culture, dance their dances, and sing their songs.
In spreading programming across satellite locations, the intent of this work should be to bring everything to, and directly engage with, community.
The Gathering Circle explored ideas for new locations for WCC to consider moving to, such as Chiefswood National Historic Site of Canada (which is a Pauline Johnson house).
The Gathering Circle spoke briefly about the funding of a new space, noting positively that councils and funding bodies have made strides to value cultural knowledge in recent years. 10 years ago, this would not have been the case.
Discussion shifted to speak to the plan to develop the former residential school into an Interpretive Centre. Visually, the former Mohawk Institute would be interpreted in a way to transform spaces into what they would have originally looked like during the time the residential school operated. Guided tours of the former Mohawk Institute will also be offered. The intention of the work is for visitors to think on the question of, ‘what does reconciliation mean to you’ once they leave the space. The entirety of the former Mohawk Institute will not be interpreted: rather, the design of the space will include spaces such as a creative community space on the third floor. WCC’s language department and library will remain in the space, as it does today.
Landscape for Indigenous art-making spaces
Discussion reflected on the landscape of art-making spaces in the community: what physical spaces existed in the past, and what spaces exist today?
Highlights from discussion
Currently, WCC is working with leaders at Tyendinaga and Wah:ta to support language and culture in all the work they do. However, support and access to arts and culture are especially needed with more doing work in this area. There is a rich history of arts practice in the community.
The Gathering Circle reflected on the welcoming and engaging atmosphere of spaces that once existed in the community, such as the Red Barn space and the Pageant Grounds. Community-run performance and exhibit spaces such as The Red Barn and the Pageant Grounds were founded by Residential School Survivors. These were thriving spaces for performances in the community. The Gathering Circle reflected fondly on their family members who activated the space through performance in the past.
Presently, there is no arts centre space in the community and there is a need for a multidisciplinary arts space to serve Six Nations artists. Many musicians and visual artists, for example, are forced to do their artistic practice within their homes as a result. The only central arts space at present on reserve is WCC. While WCC offers wonderful gallery space for artists, they are met with limitations sometimes such as very low ceilings and narrow doors. The space is not designed for their current needs.
Actualizing the vision
Discussing the vision of a multi-arts space, as well as satellite spaces in the community, the Gathering Circle explored different factors to consider when building the space.
Highlights from discussion
Westernized designs and Indigenous ways of designing space spurred great discussion from the Gathering Circle.
A greater vision for the WCC museum is to have more artifacts available for visitors to touch and interact with, and only some artifacts which require glass casing be on display. Tactile knowledge is an important part of WCC’s museum experience, and this is a difficult area to speak to with funders and large museum organizations who are entrenched in
Westernized views of how museums should be designed.
The design of the performing arts space should be directed by the artists who activate it.
With the understanding that a multi-arts space is needed in the community, the Gathering Circle noted several examples of Indigenous art-making spaces that could be good models to follow if such a space was created. These included:
The design of the space could also be reminiscent of a longhouse.
Sustainability of the space was a concern amongst the group.
In maintaining an arts space, there is always a need for more staff in art-making spaces, and staff members often wear a multitude of different hats. This is an issue that must be addressed.
The space must accommodate the land-based needs in WCC’s programming in a sustainable way. The space may not necessarily need tall walls, but there should be an open space intimately connected to the space. The Gathering Circle brought up the idea of micro-exhibits to create outdoor gallery/museum space for artists to exhibit their work for example, as a more sustainable and land-based alternative to a brick and mortar space. It would be worthwhile to explore the idea of container homes for artifacts (where possible) and artwork. These opportunities could be bundles brought to community.
Speaking to sustainability and Indigenous design, the Gathering Circle spoke excitedly to the idea of building structures from clay, using the example of Adobe clay stoves which are being used in the present day. Organic materials should be a part of the design of the space.
The Gathering Circle also spoke to the ownership of a multi-arts space. Janis felt that WCC would oversee and nurture the space, working with partners from an organizational perspective.
An image of various styles of clothing, such as a jingle dress, displayed on mannequins in the Woodland Cultural Centre museum.
The Gathering Circle was closed with the recording of Frank Miller’s Thanksgiving Address. Members of the Gathering Circle left feeling reinvigorated to continue the conversation and explore ideas of how WCC could be a cultural and arts hub within community.