Perspectives on O k’inadas // complicated reconciliations: an artist residency by Aaron Franks

I was looking for clues.

Words

The website url for the 2016 Intensive is rmooc.ca. A “MOOC” is a ‘massive open online course.’ Writing this, I keep circling back to my expectations last summer, to the anticipation I felt all those months ago, and I keep being drawn to the way texts and forms and voices were stitched together.

My first reference points for the Intensive were in these web words:

{Re}conciliation – the Canada Council funding program that in part funds the Intensive. Curly brackets place us in the world of poetry and music notation, and tell us the “re-” in reconciliation is conditional, questionable…

Creative Conciliations – the title of this blog. The “re-“ is rubbed away, the matter is made plural, multiple. We are encouraged to improvise too, to build novel things.

complicated reconciliations – the residency’s English subtitle. No caps, but the “re-“ {re}appears, and hints ‘let’s use the mandated discourse but again, make it multiple’. There will be twists, there will be tension.

So I am excited—the Intensive is a journey, expect the unexpected, relish complexity, etc., etc.

I feel unease too. Detached from the experience of gathering in the Okanagan, the words feel anxiously postmodern. A sense that there is some strain here to both engage with, and uncouple from, the discourse of reconciliation. This shouldn’t be news to anyone in the eclectic Indigenous arts and research communities, but that tension is on such prominent display in a project as large as the Intensive. Words = “unnecessary stains on the silence”, yes, maybe, but silences kill too, silences can erase as well as protect. I wonder what the Intensive will be like; I have never been to anything like it before.

I look for anchors in Indigenous rather than European epistemologies. I am very drawn to the word O K’inadas, the title of the Intensive and a Tahltan word ‘that refers to a person who is “walking across the land.” I hope that learning about this word O k’inadas will centre my expectations for the residency in my mind (I am a guest, a researcher) and relieve my pomo Beckett-ian spins.

But that is elusive too. I am lucky enough to interview O K’inadas collective members Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin[i] after I arrive, and my hunger slips out…

Aaron: I would love to know more about the Tahltan term O K’inadas. When I read about it on the website I love that it says, “this term refers to a person walking on the land.” The specificity implied in that phrase is interesting to me…can you just talk about that phrase if that’s okay?

Peter: That writing that you’re reading, Ayumi and I wrote together as part of our collaborative process, we’re moving these things back and forth right?

The phrase “O k’inadas”… uh, it means nothing. Yeah, that ’O’ in front of it, it means absolutely nothing.

“K’inadas” means ‘it is the move’ – that refers to ‘the walking on the land.’ Anyways, so I came up with the phrase “O k’inadas” to say that I’m actually ‘walking around on Canada’ – O Canada, right? O Canada, O k’inadas. So I invented a phrase. However, Ayumi and I are doing this work together and we’re inventing new pathways. You have to take these things and extract them and move them forward.

We then talk about this extraction as violence, a violence that in this instance is a necessary but risky disruption. So, when I stretch this thought out, what I hoped would be a grounding Indigenous epistemology is an extractive disruption.

Practice

“These artists will be developing new work addressing issues related to the ongoing complex responses to reconciliation, and art-making practices as a radical methodology for decolonization and Indigenizing contemporary theoretical discourse and art praxis.”

–      2016 Summer Indigenous Intensive

I encourage you to read the blog at rmooc.ca. I encourage you to follow the writings and events of the 2017 Intensive. I was only able to stay for a week and the range of practice I experienced was impossible to distill into a one descriptive moment. Perhaps it was coincidence (small ‘sample size’, only one sixth of the Intensive); maybe a subliminal seed planted in my mind through the O K’inadas phrase that evokes travelling on surfaces. But I learned something about depth, dirt and impressions both indelible and ephemeral: three snippets about digging in and making holes in the flat plane of reconciliation.

Holes and digging. immersion. actual burrowing.

1) The School of the Badger – a performance by Rebecca Belmore, Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson “on Friday, August 5, 2016 – 49° 56’ 14” N 119° 23’ 56” W – 450m Elevation”

“Badger sees all the roots of Mother Earth’s healing herbs hanging in its burrow home. These roots are a key to aggressive healing. Roots can ground negative energy into the Earth by allowing illness to pass through a body into the ground as neutral energy.” (from A statement on The School of Badger – On Indigenizing the Institution)

The intervention was in a small sand and gravel pit on a campus hillside. The location they provide is very specific but also very abstracted, very ‘geo’. Topographical God’s Eye trick? Stripping of names?

2) Jackson 2Bears. At an informal morning meeting he describes his dawn walks with his hand drum, digging shallow holes to sound his drum in, his tympanic earth response to birdsong in the dry forest above campus. An experiment he shrugs at later with a laugh, that was “probably bullshit”.

3) And a paraphrase of an informal conversation, a colleague relaying something they’d learned of Sylix pedagogies while visiting the Okanagan region for the Intensive:

At a certain point in a young man’s life he goes out on to the land with an Elder. A hole is dug deep enough for him to stand in with his head just sticking up above the surface, enough for him to see around him at the level of the ground.

He stays there for some time and in this time he learns about the land where he lives, at this ground–eye level.

[ii]

When we hear this in 2017, what do we imagine is going on in his head? For myself, who was not raised in any Indigenous cultural community at all, never mind Sylix, what do I project of myself into what little I now know of this process? What would I learn? What would I want to learn?

The experiences I had and witnessed at the 2016 Intensive have greatly informed my work at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. There, I am a Visiting Fellow helping to push the boundaries of the institutional conversation as SSHRC takes up TRC Call to Action 65. This calls on SSHRC to work collaboratively with Indigenous communities and institutions to develop an ongoing research program to “advance understanding of reconciliation.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to Intensive director Ashok Mathur, Steven Loft of the Canada Council, research assistants Tomas Jonsson and Karolina Bialkowska, and O K’inadas collective members Ayumi Goto, Peter Morin and Stephen Foster. Many of the things we discussed involved opening and maintaining transformative spaces within institutions – in universities, funding bodies, and government agencies. I am grateful to the artists and thinkers I encountered at O K’inadas who have enriched my understanding of transformative space greatly. In the three blog posts that follow, please read what my interview guests had to say about the challenges and possibilities.

 


[i] See Goto, A., Morin, P., and A. Franks. (2017). “O K’inādās—Where Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin Do Not Talk about Reconciliation”. alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage 13(3)

 

[ii] I have not heard this from any other source, including Sylix, so I am not sharing this in any way as a Sylix teaching.  However, it is one of the many small moments (real and discursive) of exploring immersion that I experienced.