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Indigneous scholars discuss art as a decolonization tool

Two PhD scholars, Zoe Todd (GRAD) and Celeste Pedri-Spade (GRAD), discussed their art in a virtual talk at the university, on Wednesday, March 16. This event—sponsored by the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WMGS)—focused on how the two “manifest and mobilize their obligations within spaces where colonial institutions still work tirelessly to dispossess and displace Indigenous people, their laws and their stories,” according to the event description.

Todd discussed how the “growing popularity” of Indigenous narratives, with support from white people, has “been incredible to track.” She mentioned that she noticed an uptick in these stories in recent years, especially around ecological and environmental issues. They fear, though, that this awareness has also led to some misconceptions. 

She worries that there are now “overly romanticized notions of the ‘ecological Indian’” by non-Indigenous people, she explained in the talk. According to her PowerPoint slides, this romanticization, “can make it harder to be openly anti-colonial, anti-racist [and] anti-imperalist in our research, advocacy [and] scholarship.” Todd also made note that anti-colonial work was “overtly political” and that trying to romanticize a body of people took away from the strength and seriousness of their message.

Todd takes action by incorporating art. She is part of Freshwater Fish Futures, a Canadian “collective of scientists, artists, writers, landscape architects, architects, environmentalists, journalists, and community leaders dedicated to honouring reciprocal responsibilities to freshwater fish in watersheds locally and globally.” They relate this back to her personal life, she said, by incorporating fish that their family worked with, or by depicting a fish that has been harmed by oil pollution. 

Pedri-Spade also uses art in her work, but she focuses on honoring the connection between humans and nature, she said. “I speak as a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter.” She explained that her work strives to honor six generations of family.

Some shared examples of her work were redoing photos that had been taken decades ago. One photo she showed Zoom participants was of a young girl, posing in the same spot her great-grandmother had taken a photo back in the early 1900s. 

“Reproducing photographs provides a space where we can express our freedoms … a space where we came together to reflect, to laugh, to be living,” she explained. “ [We’re] reconnecting and strengthening our present day relationships with one another, our ancestors and our land.”

 

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