Category Archives: Dylan Robinson

Indigenous Acts: Art & Public Space Workshop

Indigenous Acts was a workshop organized by Stó:lō scholar Dylan Robinson and Candice Hopkins, curator, writer and member of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. This gathering took place August 4 – 8, 2014 at the Sty-Wet-Tan Longhouse at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. The workshop provided space and time for artists, scholars and curators to think and create together. Each morning participants gathered to discuss questions, followed by site visits across Musquesm, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories now known as Vancouver to consider the ways in which Indigenous histories and current practices inform and shape the urban landscape. Guiding the gathering was an engagement with David Garneau’s concept of “Irreconcilable Spaces of Aboriginality”, collective consideration of how Indigeneity is represented in public space, and working towards a more perceptive understanding of Indigenous public art and performance actions in public spaces.

Areas of Discussion:

The Politics and Histories of Naming and Re-Naming

In the Americas, the landscape is known by many names reflecting different moments in history and worldview. Rather than commemorating individuals, Indigenous place names often reflect specific knowledge systems, understandings of the land and its use. Vancouver is home to several public artworks that reflect the linguistic diversity of First Peoples in the Pacific Northwest. The extends to other public markers including the Cultural Journey project, the much-publicized Olympic re-naming of Squamish place names along the Sea-to-Sky highway. While few who travel along the highway can read the Squamish words, for Chief Ian Campbell the presence of Squamish language in public space re-asserts a visual sovereignty. “For far too long we have been invisible in our own lands,” notes Campbell, while Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob has asserted that the increased public presence of Squamish language “puts the nation’s mark back on [our] lands”. (The Chief, July 2, 2010).

This session will thus question the degree to which placing Indigenous language in public space asserts sovereignty at these sites. What are the limitations of this strategy; what is the potential? Does the public claim these works as another marker of “multicultural diversity”, or the “flavor of the street”, despite the artist’s intentions to intervene in other ways? Do such inclusions risk becoming a kind of linguistic ornamentation for the neoliberal politics of multiculturalism?

1 Examples include Henry Tsang’s Chinook-inspired “Welcome to the Land of the Light”; the inclusion of three dialects for hayčxʷə (thank you) in Halq’emeylem and Hun’qumi’num in “Systems of Sustenance” by Collective Echoes (beside Science World); Edgar Heap of Birds’ Native Hosts series on the UBC campus, Christos Dikeakos’ naming of False Creek as Skwachays, and Sheila Hall’s prominent use of the Halq’emeylem word lheqto:lestexw, in her work “To Connect”.

Given the importance of naming within Indigenous ceremonies as a way to honor individual and community achievements, and affirm our histories, what does it mean when Indigenous names are co-opted by the military and consumer culture? For example, weapons are commonly named after US tribes (the operation to capture and kill Bin Laden was infamously called “Geronimo”), and are used to market other objects of consumer culture. What are the deeper impulses at play within these gestures?

Invited presenters included:

Raymond Boisjoly

Marianne Nicolson

Lorna Brown

Public Action, Public Ceremony

During 2012-2013, significant forms of physical and artistic occupation occurred across Canada and the United States in mall atriums, rail-lines and bridge border crossings as part of the Idle No More movement. Taking the form of Round dances, Slahal and bone games, and copper-breaking ceremonies, these actions extend our traditions into prominent public spaces, spaces that are not necessarily “authorized” for use for nation-state celebrations.

Idle No More is part of a long history of public gatherings, ceremony and Indigenous resistance movements. This session will look to both the historical and contemporary examples of public actions and ceremony from treaty days and civic parades, to the use of performance art as a way to generate awareness about Indigenous histories and injustices.

Invited presenters included:

Peter Morin

Mique’l Dangeli

Karyn Recollet

Leah Decter

Creating Indigenous Spaces, Reclaiming Territories

When considering Indigenous public art and actions, it is important to also reflect on where this art and actions are taking place. This session will ask how public art can generate knowledge and cross-cultural understanding about a place and how these places can in turn become sites of cultural affirmation.

Key to this session is the question of how we define Indigenous space. Is Indigenous space physical, imagined, and/or delineated by customary law and traditional use? How are Indigenous spaces being reclaimed now? What is the potential of public art and actions to educate and engage Canadians about Indigenous histories and the social and political concerns of Indigenous communities today?

Invited presenters included:

Raven Chacon

Joar Nango

Mimi Gellman

Public Art in/with/for Indigenous Communities

Public art and social practice within Indigenous communities remains an underexplored area within the broader genre of contemporary art, yet forms of public art and public acts—storytelling, ceremony, song, and visual art—have played a central role in our communities since time immemorial. With this continuum in mind, what are possible definitions and methodologies of Indigenous social practice? Are there different conditions and considerations for public art within Indigenous communities? Does art play a role in creating communities (temporary or otherwise)?

Invited presnters included:

Cheryl L’Hirondelle

Dylan Miner

Tania Willard

Gabrielle Hill

All Our [Public] Relations

This session, Public Relations or PR for short, considers the public face of Indigeneity. What are existing spaces of negotiation between Settler publics and Indigenous peoples? How might we negotiate what David Garneau has identified as “irreconcilable spaces of Aboriginality?” in public space? Can public art practices create a platform for Settler publics to claim “intergenerational responsibility” towards historical injustices? What are examples of public art works, performances, and interventions that have shifted understandings of the land, human / non-human relations, the subject / object divide?

Invited presenters included:

Duane Linklater

David Garneau

Michelle Raheja

Indigenous Acts workshop presenter Mique’l Dangeli speaks with workshop participants

Indigenous Acts workshop presenter Mique’l Dangeli speaks with workshop participants


Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC

Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC


Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC

Projection on Burrard Street Bridge, at Senakw, Vancouver, BC. Photo courtesy of Cheryl L’Hirondelle.