Community Gathering Notes
Date: Saturday, September 25, 2021.
Gathering Start: 12:00 PM.
Gathering End: 3:00 PM.
In the Circle: 20 in the room total, including Gathering hosts, Co-Conveners, and ArtsBuild Ontario (ABO).
The day began with everyone in the Gathering Circle enjoying a meal together, followed by Gathering co-host Shelby Gagnon offering a smudge to each person. Elder Gerry Martin gave an opening to the Gathering Circle, inviting good energies into the space and thanking everyone for attending. Following this, each person had an opportunity to introduce themselves, their artistic practices, and the spaces that they activate creatively.
Highlights from introductions
The majority of folks in the room identified as Anishinaabe and Ojibwe, and communities represented in the room included Pic River First Nation, Rocky Bay First Nation, Couchiching First Nation, and more. The room included practicing artists, makers, and creative workers representing different disciplines, including visual art, arts consulting, music etc.
There was a warm understanding of differences and similarities among Nations in the room who were granted gifts and skills that contribute to purpose. A majority spoke on their working with the land in their arts and healing practices, creating their self-identity through environmental art.
A suggestion was made to add a land-based centre or camps for artistic practices in Thunder Bay.
Some spoke of arts spaces they are opening soon, and organizations that utilize artistic practice to support their work. A variety of spaces are being used for artistic production, from working directly in homes to establishing a creative space to host art collectives, for example.
Co-Convener Terri-Lynn Brennan offered a deer hide as a gift to the Gathering Circle, reflecting on its journey from one end of the Great Lakes on Wolfe Island to the mouth in Thunder Bay.
With each introduction, everyone was very grateful for the opportunity to network and connect as many didn’t know each other in the room.
What is needed for sovereign space in Thunder Bay?
Discussion around what is needed for Indigenous sovereign spaces soon followed within the Gathering Circle.
Highlights from discussion
Thunder Bay is a cultural hub. The group felt that it is a good place for Anishinaabe peoples to gather and be together. There is a need to connect in circle with Indigenous artists and creatives in Thunder Bay. In connecting, members of the group learned about everyone’s practices and spaces. Indigenous artists can develop their own capacities and relationships. A resource list of Indigenous spaces would support this connecting of spaces.
There was a question of how Indigenous creatives and makers keep their spaces, or start their own sovereign spaces. There are many settler spaces in Thunder Bay, and settler spaces taking over is a challenge. There is a need for Indigenous sovereign space, where space is owned and not just occupied. Sovereign spaces that do not serve a capitalist agenda, or serve less of this agenda, is a part of this dreaming.
Some have experienced resistance from Indigenous locals in Thunder Bay: a question of how can perspectives be changed was brought up. Acts of reclamation of space must be done through public action and expression, as there is disconnect from culture.
A sovereign creative space must be safe, and this space should evoke a sense of comfort.
At present, many of these safe spaces are held in the backyards of artists to ensure this safe feeling. A place to cook, to grow food, to make art, and to work together in is key to build and maintain space inclusivity.
Many in Thunder Bay continue to deal with the effects of residential schools and intergenerational trauma, and there is a need for community to come together in a safe space.
Language must be a key piece of Indigenous sovereign spaces, and the work in the space must be land-based.
There is an understanding that Indigenous peoples have been disconnected from the land too long, and there is a need to bring the land into urban settings more.
Developing a network and supporting Indigenous infrastructure does not solely mean that one Indigenous sovereign creative space would be the goal. There could be several Indigenous sovereign creative spaces in Thunder Bay connected in relationship as a network.
Looking to the nomadic way that ancestors lived can be a learning experience for the present. Neechee Studio is one such Indigenous creative space that continues to thrive after five years in Thunder Bay.
There is a need for space to nurture young artistic talent. Youth need space to go to. Youth generations are not being serviced (eg. Sturgeon clan, where there are some youth initiatives going on that could use support).
There is a question around how to strengthen Indigenous collectives and individuals in developing spaces. In Thunder Bay, it is common to partner with other organizations, often non-Indigenous, to ensure stability. Partnerships follow a very colonial system of forming contracts to ensure stability, so it is crucial to explore different relationships to form stability in new ways.
There is a need to fill a gap in knowledge around funding and capital for Indigenous creative spaces. Questions of where Indigenous folks access funding for projects to develop creative spaces was a focus. A network of Indigenous makers and creative spaces have the opportunity to get together and learn from one another’s skills to write grants and business plans so that Indigenous arts business models are reclaimed (eg. food sovereignty). The Gathering Circle identified an interest in starting a capital project, but lacked the knowledge of where to start. No other creative space capital project plans were identified. How to action these plans when individuals are running their own businesses and work came up.
It is difficult for communities to access resources. Networking must be done to understand what resources are at the disposal of Indigenous creatives. Larger Indigenous organizations could be contacted to support the work, but they must understand the power of the work that the arts, social justice, and food that community brings. The Indigenous artists and creatives are the change-makers.
There is an urgency to solidify the Gathering Circle and take action.
An image of the Goods & Co. Market building in Thunder Bay.
What would sovereign creative spaces look like?
After a short break, the group responded in a roundtable fashion around what sovereign Indigenous creative spaces would look like to support their artistic practices. With each answer given, Gathering co-host Lora Northway prepared foolscap paper and wrote down key words from everyone’s answers in marker.
Highlights from discussion
They must be spaces for learning. Artists should be encouraged and coached in their artistic practice, and protected in that way: they should be supported by a collective that would help young artists market themselves.
They must be spaces where visitors can research and learn more about culture and art; creating opportunities to educate the public about different art styles, mediums, and tastes. Spaces should focus on helping to connect folks to their culture. Art supplies should also be available to all to share in these spaces. Elders and Knowledge Keepers can transfer knowledge (eg. land-based teachings, teaching ceremony), building capacity as a community in these spaces.
They must be safe and welcoming spaces. They should support freedom of expression and emphasize joy, where visitors feel welcome and they are very aware and inclusive of barriers, such as addictions.
Spaces must be intergenerational, reciprocal, and open to possibilities in ceremony. Spaces should be respectful of gender identity, pronouns, and orientation. Spaces could also create a culture that teaches how everyone needs different safety and security (very individualized) and addresses cultural sensitivities in an understanding way.
Permissions would be removed for cultural activities (eg. to smudge or do ceremony) in these spaces. A creative space would be a second home where folks can be themselves: be Anishinaabe. Tokenism would be left behind in these spaces.
Spaces would include support for childcare, and acknowledge the land. There must be an understanding that the land came first, while man came after. The land is not owned. It provides for and supports spaces. Spaces should emphasize the interconnectedness of art and food. They would be spaces for future generations that would inherently include the land in some form: acknowledging the Sleeping Giant (rock formation), as well as the rivers and forests of Thunder Bay.
Sovereignty is key. They must be spaces where folks can dream, vision, and express themselves when creating. The sovereignty of the spaces must be determined and defined within the Gathering Circle.
A space could additionally be led through, and operate on, sharing and giving. An economy of sharing instead of a capitalist economy (eg. trade and barter systems) should be in place. Development of Indigenous governance and leadership must be a part of the space. Spaces would recognize that there are other more traditional forms of leadership.
Mentorships can be supported in these spaces.
Spaces would embrace traditional ways of conflict resolution. It would be a space to have genuine critiques from the Indigenous perspective as part of the creative process.
The spirits of the spaces must be cared for. There is an understanding of Indigenous artists as lodge keepers of creative spaces, and these values of caring for a space must be carried over.
Spaces should support what already exists, and how much human resources it takes to do all of this.
The day closed with a suggestion from Shelby to continue the conversation to share intentions, reflect on what was discussed, and think on how best to move forward. A suggestion of a workshop on how we take care of the spirit of the space was also brought up before warm goodbyes from each member of the Gathering Circle were offered. Everyone felt lifted up and excited to start the next chapter in this work of dreaming and making real more Indigenous creative spaces in Thunder Bay.