Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Community Gathering Circle
On Saturday, September 25, 2021, individuals came together in the Goods & Co. Market building in downtown Thunder Bay, Ontario, to speak and learn from others around the topic of developing sovereign Indigenous creative spaces across Thunder Bay. Members of the Circle included Indigenous artists and business owners.
About the Goods and Co. Market building
The Goods & Co. market building is a multi-tenant space in the heart of downtown Thunder Bay. At the time of the Community Gathering, the space was under renovation to build market spaces for independent businesses in the arts, food service, and more. The Gathering was co-hosted by Shelby Gagnon, artist, and Lora Northway, Artistic Director of Co.Lab Gallery and Goods & Co. Market.
An image from the Thunder Bay Community Gathering, outside the Goods & Co. Market building.
Connecting with Indigenous artists in Thunder Bay
The conversation was framed around the question of what is needed for sovereign Indigenous creative spaces to be built in Thunder Bay. To answer this, the Circle explored different points of discussion, including networking with Indigenous artists, how an Indigenous creative space should be run, who it supports, and how it can be achieved.
Networking with the Circle
Indigenous artists in Thunder Bay expressed a need for local arts network to connect everyone’s artistic strengths, knowledge, skills, and experiences. To support peer-to-peer learning, resources could be developed by this network to fill knowledge gaps, including around resources for public funding support for Indigenous-led capital projects.
How an Indigenous creative space can be managed
An Indigenous creative space should be led and managed by Indigenous artists and community members. There are many settler spaces where Indigenous artists “occupy” space rather than “own” space in Thunder Bay, and there is a need for more Indigenous sovereign spaces for artists and organizations. Indigenous sovereignty within a space provides autonomy to those operating it. The Circle explored different governance and operational models, and the role this plays within a space. In the modern-day, spaces operate on a capitalistic model of purchasing and consuming goods and services: an Indigenous space in Thunder Bay could instead operate with a model of sharing and giving, where goods in the space can be traded.
How an Indigenous creative space can support community
The Gathering Circle acknowledged that members of the community should feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe when entering an Indigenous creative space. Many community members in Thunder Bay experience intergenerational trauma as an effect of residential schools, and there is a need for the community to come together in safe spaces. Having space and equipment for food preparation can support visitors in feeling safe and respected by enjoying meals together.
Community members in Thunder Bay also feel a disconnect from the land, being in an urbanized setting with a lack of green space: it is important to consider how artists can access natural resources for their own practice to emphasize the strong link between land and art.
The Gathering Circle highlighted that there are few opportunities for Indigenous youth to learn artistic practices and connect with their culture, as well as for the wider public to be taught this knowledge. Programming in an Indigenous creative space, rooted in traditional cultural values, can help to teach Indigenous youth as well as the wider community of Thunder Bay about Indigenous history, culture, and creative practices.