As I have been given authorization and consent to share this artwork, I would like to share an art therapy project that was led from July 13th to the 20th 2018. During this time, I spent 6 days at a medium security prison leading an art therapy week with 26 male indigenous inmates.
Initially, the project was intended to be a mural painted by myself for the inmates to enjoy but with organizational support, it was allowed to transform into something powerful. From the start, my intention was to support the men themselves to create a mural by indigenous men for indigenous men with input throughout the entire process. We explored the impact of multigenerational trauma, the ways we may have learned to survive, resiliency building and creating a community within the penitentiary.
Together, from prepping the mural concept, to holding space for personal narratives and to completing this final 18 by 10 foot wall, we were able to integrate ceremony and traditional medicine with the exploration of identity and healing from the perspectives of different nations. They shared stories of residential school, the impact of colonization and their experiences in restoring culture for themselves and found within them the strength to try a piece of the painting process and grow from it. Many shared the experience of relaxation, meditation and being present within the project, emphasizing that making art helped them to release and let go of built up emotions and discover themselves in ways they never thought they could.
Playing a dual role of artist and art therapist was challenging, but I facilitated the project so that all the men had either verbal or written input for the design and the creative process as well as support to go through the art-making and narratives that emerged. I may, at the end of the day, have given the wall the “touche magique” and a safe space for the men to explore themselves, but the men gave each other many teachings as well. From mastering the ‘franglais’ language to having the courage to be vulnerable and uncover hope, self and indigenaiety.
Painting opened a window for these men and I am honored to have been a part of the experience.
On May 5th 2018, I presented my art therapy research alongside a panel of creative arts therapist to promote overall wellness. My arts-based heuristic inquiry adopted an Indigenous research paradigm to explore acculturation, identity and art material interaction through the use of Mohawk First media, western art materials and the Expressive Therapies Continuum Assessment (Hinz, 2009). Through Moustakas’ six-step inquiry (1990), Hervey’s three stages of arts-based research (2000) and Wilson’s concept of land as measurement (2008), I examined my own material interaction with both western media and culturally specified Mohawk First Nation’s media as a First Nations person over a 28-day lunar cycle, noting emotional, cognitive and other stimulated areas of functioning during the process (Kapitan, 2010). The images were examined using the ETC Use and Therapist Self-Rating Scale (Hinz, Riccardi Gotshall, & Nan, 2017) as well as image reflection through Witness Writings (Allen, 1995).
The purpose of the research was to explore how material interaction could form an assessment process of acculturative identity for First Nations populations. The findings of this research indicated that access to both Western and First Nations media within an art therapy setting can help to foster a bicultural identity status, which has been linked to wellness for Indigenous populations (Kvernmo & Heyedahl, 2002; Watson, 2009).
To read my research, please click on the following link: https://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/983681/
Indigenous Feminisms & Womanism: A Conversation with Lorena Cabnal & Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte
Hall Building 760 Concordia University
Thurs. Mar. 9 @ 11:30am
Join us for a chat with Lorena Cabnal and Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte where we’ll hear about their work for gender justice in different communities and contexts. Both are connecting the land and body through issues such as reproductive justice and challenging violence against women, as well as extractivism. They’ll talk to us about two alternatives to mainstream feminism that arise in their work: communal feminism (feminismo comunitario) and Indigenous womanism.
– Speaker Biographies –
Lorena Cabnal is Maya-Qeqchi Xinca and a communal feminist, as well as a healer. She is from the Network of Ancestral Healers of the Commununal Feminism of Iximulew-Guatemala, a member of the Alliance Against the Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala. Lorena co-founded the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán (AMISMAXAJ), working towards the revitalization of the Xinka ethnic identity and the recovery of their ancestral lands. She has also been active in leading the struggle against Canadian mining in her community despite suffering threats and persecution because of her work. She has taken part in the creation of a approach to healing which connects communal feminism and Mayan cosmovision for the spiritual and emotional recuperation of Indigenous women in communities facing multiple forms of violence, both within their communities and in defense of territory.
Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte is a young mother, artist, art educator, and art therapist candidate from the Kahnawake Mohawk First Nation community. She is currently completing a MFA at Concordia University in Art Therapy, with focus on addressing multigenerational trauma and attachment through visual media. Outside of her schooling, Megan is actively involved with the Kahnawake Youth Forum, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and the Indigenous Young Women’s National Advisory Board providing an arts-based approach to social change. Her main project, Skatne Ionkwatehiahrontie, is a youth program that aims to foster relationships to the land, explore sexual health and connect youth to cultural networks. Megan’s social work in these spaces also inspire her artistic development, having her art pieces reflect concepts of healthy relationships, indigenous ‘womanism’, as well as environmental, reproductive, and social justice.
In partnership with Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG)and their speaking tour, which is focused on denouncing the criminalization of human rights defenders. More information here:http://www.paqg.org/node/481
On September 28th 2016, I participated on a panel discussion surrounding the “Girl Positive” book launch. The book, compiled and edited by Tatiana Fraser and Caia Hagel, features stories of girls across Canada regarding themes of empowerment, community mobilization and challenging heteropatriarchal dialogues within society.
I was included in this book for my community work regarding creating safe spaces for young Indigenous mothers to explore identity, cultural tools and empowerment as women. During the panel discussion, I explored the impact of colonization on female Indigenous identity and the ways in which cultural restoration impacts personal growth.
On September 21st 2016, I was commissioned by CBC radio to create a live painting for their Turtle Island Reads. Turtle Island Reads is an Indigenous initiative that celebrates First Nations, Metis and Inuit literature that have had a significant impact on educators, youth and professionals in the community.
Painting at the start of the live event
Final product after an hour of live creation
The live event consisted of a panel of community members discussing the role of Indigenous literature in the context of decolonization, socio-political movements and identity development.
My role was to capture the theme of the hour-long event within the hour provided. I chose to paint the creation story as a segue into exploring how narratives shape our lives as Indigenous people.
Last week, I was invited to sit on a panel to support an Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls alongside Dr. Dawn Lavell Harvard, (President, Native Women’s Association of Canada), Delilah Saunders (sister of Loretta Saunders), Gladys Radek (aunt of Tamara Lynn Chipman and founder of Tears4Justice) and Matt Smiley (director of the film, Highway of Tears).
After viewing Smiley’s film, we discussed the implications of an Inquiry, underlying factors as well as the reflection of the actions in Val D’or Quebec. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/val-dor-police-aboriginal-women-march-1.3287744).
While other panelists spoke of personal experience as well as legislative action, I brought a youth and grassroots activist perspective. I talked about how stereotypes and the reinforcement of them contribute to systemic violence; I provided ways in which everyone can contribute when legislative means are not accessible, including art submissions, letter writing to Halloween stores and learning history from the people.
We acknowledge that our women are girls are not born at risk, they are put at risk by a system (government, foster care, education) that continues to run along the assimilation stream. While it is true that residential schools have closed and women no longer lose their status by leaving the community, other methods have developed from environmental violence, lack of nation-to-nation discussion, poor education and inadequate funding.
Today I will be speaking on a panel about resisting gendered violence and indigenous sovereignty as part of McGill’s Indigenous Awareness Week, alongside some amazing women and speakers.