The Reach Canada150 Decolonization and Reconciliation Programs
Start date: 26 January, 2017
End date: 7 May, 2017
In the words of Justice Murray Sinclair: “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem, it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.” In 2017, The Reach is responding to Canada’s 150th year of confederation with exhibitions and programming addressing concepts of decolonization and reconciliation. Using The Reach’s identity as a Gallery Museum, the exhibitions combine artistic and historical content to address the legacy of colonialism in the Fraser Valley. Projects by both settler and Indigenous artists come together to consider the myths of civilization and progress that underpin Canadian identity, suggesting that the destructive impacts of our shared colonial heritage must be assessed through a closer examination of institutions and ideologies that inform our history.
In the 2017 Winter/Spring season, four significant exhibitions will consider the framing of colonial history, and address cultural continuity in Indigenous communities. These projects are rooted specifically in the Stó:lō territory now known as the Fraser Valley.
The exhibitions in the Winter/Spring Season integrate artistic content and historical research which situates them in the geographical context of Stó:lō territory. The Reach is honoured to host Sq’éwlets: A Stó:lo-Coast Salish Community in the Fraser River Valley, an exhibition that marks the launch of a Virtual Museum of Canada online experience. The online project is the culmination of a major interdisciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration. The project team writes: “Our project at Sq’e´wlets is the work of community leaders, anthropologists, historians, media specialists, and other content experts. It stems from a collaborative relationship formed 25 years ago between Chief Clarence Pennier of Sq’e´wlets, Archaeology Professor Michael Blake of UBC, and researchers at Sto´:lo Nation. A partnership was formed in 1992 to excavate, examine, understand, and protect the ancestral archaeological resources at one of the Sq’e´wlets community’s primary ancestral sites, Qithyil. Based on several decades of community-based archaeology, oral history, and ethnohistorical work, and the recent production of short video documentaries, the website … presents a long-term perspective of what it means to be a Sq’e´wlets person and community member today.” Featured elements will include a large-scale photographic installation, a documentary video screening space, and an installation featuring belongings from the ancestral site Qithyil. The exhibition highlights Sq’éwlets’ perspectives on self-representation and ownership of cultural heritage. The Halq’eméylem language will feature prominently. Visitors will understand that the Sq’éwlets community has played a central role in collaborative community-based archaeology in BC, and has translated this knowledge into an accessible exhibition and website that address many of the recommendations outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In Grand Theft Terra Firma, settler artists David Campion and Sandra Shields appropriate the visual language of digital gaming to reframe the colonial settlement of Canada as a complex heist masterminded by criminals in London and played out on the ground by a gang of racist thieves. Combining photography, installation, and performance, the work utilizes gaming and humor to tackle settler responsibility and contest the celebratory versions of colonial history. Large-scale photographic portraits of game characters—archetypes like The Royal Engineer, The Pioneer and The Whiskey Trader—subvert our understanding of their role in the conquest of new lands and point to the ubiquity of these archetypes in the narrative of Canadian history. A series of photographs mimicking “screen shots” represent decisive game play moments for the characters, which are also key moments in local history. Achieved in collaboration with members of Stó:lō Nation, these photos portray the perpetrators in period costume while Indigenous people wear contemporary clothes, emphasizing the impact of past events on present-day communities. Installation elements, like a reproduction of the backdrop used by an early Fraser Valley photographer that appears in the game character portraits, connect the photographic works to the gallery. Blending fictional characters with elements drawn from historical record, the artists create an ambiguous space where audiences are asked to consider their own relationship to colonial practices.
Emerging Coast Salish artist Carrielynn Victor presents Poison, Pattern, Paradigm. The artist has created this new body of work utilizing traditional formal elements from Stó:lō culture—the crescent, the trigon, and the chevron— in a series of vibrant paintings that recount aspects of Stó:lō stories and worldview, while simultaneously drawing from her lived experience and our collective immersion in popular culture. Victor is an artist, fisher, plant harvester and medicines practitioner whose work fuses ancestral knowledge and a deep connection to her culture with contemporary techniques and styles. Her practice considers gender and sexuality, community, interconnectedness, land, and sustainability. Victor has been active as an artist for over a decade, and this exhibition will be the first solo presentation of her work.
Lyndl Hall’s Stretchers, Headers & Footnotes examines the role of the red brick building in colonial expansion. Hall’s research is based on two case studies: the Clayburn/Kilgard brickworks of the Fraser Valley, and the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, the largest red brick building in the southern hemisphere. These disparate sites mirror the establishment of British rule through industry, bureaucracy, and architecture. Brick is both a literal and figurative building block for an empire fashioned out of the clay of foreign lands. The exhibition consists of a series of drawings, installation elements and book works that consider the materials that document and stand for the processes of colonization. Like Grand Theft Terra Firma, historical documents are the groundwork for artistic expression and underscore The Reach’s function as both an art gallery and museum. Hall’s works draw heavily on the Archives of the Reach Gallery Museum as well as the Pietermaritzburg Archives.
A series of public programs to coincide with this season of exhibitions. The Reach has hired an Indigenous Curatorial Intern, with Young Canada Works Building Careers in Heritage funding. Andrea Smith is Stó:lō from the Skowkale First Nation and a recent UFV graduate. She provides assistance in further development and delivery of our 2017 Winter/Spring public programs:
Thursday, January 26 (7:00-9:00pm): Opening Reception & Launch of Sq’éwlets website (Free Event)
This reception marks the launch of the ambitious, collaborative VMC project in conjunction with the celebration of the opening of the Winter/Spring exhibitions. Planned in partnership with Sq’éwlets community, Elders will open the event, and artists and community partners will introduce their projects. The event will include a performance by the Semoya Dancers (a Stó:lō dance and drumming group).
Saturday March 25 (10:30am-12:00pm): Brunch with the Artists (Ticketed Event)
This event replaces the traditional artist talk or panel discussion in an attempt to decolonize the gallery by encouraging group conversation over a meal. Pre-registered guests will be have the opportunity to enjoy brunch with the artists (at least one artist per round table of 6-8) in the gallery space to be followed by a tour of the exhibitions. When the gallery opens to the public at noon, all visitors will be invited to join the artists and other guests for coffee or tea and further conversation.
April 6 - April 9: UFV Theatre Performances; 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2:00 pm Sunday Matinee (Ticketed Event)
UFV faculty Raina Von Waldenburg (specialty in devised theatre) and 4th year Metis student Phay Gagnon (research interest in decolonization and performance) are developing a series of theatre sketches in response to Grand Theft Terra Firma. The performances will provide audiences with the opportunity to consider the consequences of the colonization of Stó:lō land and to explore how we reconcile after such a grave injustice. The performance will be written and co-directed by Von Waldenburg and Gagnon with Heather Davis-Fisch (Theatre Head, UFV) as dramaturg.
April 28 (Educators) & 29 (Public): Reconciliation Workshops with IndigenEYEZ (Free Event)
A day-long workshop facilitated by IndigenEYEZ will focus on reconciliation and social change through individual action. Exhibitions presented in this season could provoke strong emotions for visitors to the gallery. This workshop is an opportunity for members of the public to work through these emotions in a facilitated environment. IndigenEYEZ provides a safe container for participant dialogue, and allows a processing of feelings that can lead to a deeper understanding of the challenging topics involved in reconciliation. Additionally, The Reach is collaborating with Perry Smith, Director of Instruction (Curriculum Development) in the Abbotsford School District and former District Principal of the Aboriginal Education Department to make a workshop available to educators as part of a Professional Development Day (April 28). The workshop for educators will provide tools to foster cross-cultural safety with all students, develop a deeper understanding of the needs of students with First Nations ancestry, and create awareness of how to promote cultural appreciation while avoiding appropriation when teaching about Indigenous people in Canada.
May 6: (Closing Event) Next Steps: Talking Circle (Free Event)
What do these exhibitions add up to when considered collectively? Do they offer us a new perspective on the history of the Fraser Valley? What are the opportunities and limitations of exhibitions in shaping our understanding of history? What can we do, as individuals and communities, to work toward reconciliation? These questions will frame the discussion in this closing event which brings together the artists, cultural leaders, and scholars involved in the season of exhibitions to discuss responses to the exhibitions, imagine possible futures for settler/Indigenous relationships in the valley, and consider practical and applied next steps for reconciliation. Participants will be: David Campion and Sandra Shields, Carrie Lynn Victor, Grand Chief Clarence Pennier, David Schaepe and Kate Hennesey.
Additional educational programming will be made available to school groups through a generous sponsorship from TD Canada Trust (confirmed). These facilitated tours will use material developed in partnership with IndigenEYEZ to provide students with the opportunity to work through the ideas presented in the exhibitions in a way that promotes cross-cultural safety and understanding, builds confidence, and is grade-level and curriculum appropriate.
The exhibitions are complemented by a Reading Room in the gallery atrium. A comfortable seating area encourages visitors to engage with numerous publications related to reconciliation (for example, the numerous publications by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation for Strategies available for no cost). A take-away bibliography includes publication details and useful URLs for further study. In addition, a Response Area encourages visitors to share written responses publicly or discretely. These responses will inform the discussion at the closing Talking Circle.
Nature of the Project Reach
The project reach, particularly the exhibitions with public programming on-site is local to regional. However, the Sq’éwlets: A Stó:lō Coast Salish Community in The Fraser Valley exhibition also launched the Sq’éwlets Virtual Museum of Canada online experience. This experience is accessible to people from across Canada and beyond.
The development of the Winter/Spring 2017 season of exhibitions and programming has brought together settler and Indigenous artists and communities in a rigorous consideration of our shared history and collective future. Beyond the artists taking part, the project partners are: IndigenEYEZ, School District #34, SFU School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Stó:lō Nation, Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, Stó:lō Tribal Council, UFV Theatre Department. This ambitious, collaborative undertaking will result in an exciting and challenging series of exhibitions, talks, performances and workshops. The primary goal of these offerings is public engagement. Specific to this goal are the following desired outcomes:
• To provide audiences with increased knowledge of Canadian history and greater understanding of the historical context of Indigenous-Settler relations
• To introduce audiences to the rich history of the Sq’éwlets community and generate interest in the online resource Sq’éwlets: A Stó:lo-Coast Salish Community in the Fraser River Valley
• To generate productive discussion amongst audiences and the artists directly
• To incorporate multiple artistic disciplines in the presentation of thematic content
• To provide audiences with access to further resources and the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas
This season demonstrates the efforts being made by The Reach to incorporate and interpret the Calls to Action put forth in the Truth and Reconciliation Report in concrete and constructive ways. These include: addressing the role that museums and art galleries have had in engendering colonial attitudes and directly challenging “concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius,” supporting the training and mentorship of Indigenous graduates, and “building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect” by providing facilitated school tours and collaborating with educators at the curriculum and professional development levels. Specific to this goal are the following desired outcomes:
• To take steps toward decolonizing practices at The Reach
• To encourage intercultural, multiple ways of knowing in the Gallery Museum
• To support educators and the School Board by providing professional development on the topic of reconciliation
• To support students by deepening understanding of Indigenous-Settler relationships
• To support workshop attendees with tools for reconciliation and engender a sense of empowerment and critical hope