Canada 150 has come and gone…Canada 15, 000 lives on.
Having covered a range of Canada 150 celebration events, I decided to create my own project, the recording of a historic image of a First Nations woman at the Chaudière Falls.
The creation is only part of the story…
First, a little history. The Chaudière Falls upriver of the Parliament buildings holds a special place in my imagination. My forefathers portaged these falls as coureur de bois circa 1700. Subsequent generations of family were loggers and eventually carpenters in the factories at Lebreton flats.
First Nations history reveals this as a place of ceremony with archaeological evidence of FN settlements in this region for over 5000 years. We know for certain that burial and ceremonial sites dot the region on both sides of the Ottawa River. Many tribes lay claim to this land and this river, with the strongest claims held by the Algonquin, but it should be noted that Mohawk and Iroquois among others visited and lived alongside the Ottawa.
Ottawa much like many metropolitan cities in Canada claims to be diversely multicultural. One thing Ottawa has in common with other major cities is an extreme lack of recognition of it’s First Nations people. The city of Ottawa is long overdue in paying homage and recognition to its Algonquin peoples who are the stewards of this land.
The vision for these images was to make an important statement of reclamation and a reminder of the strong presence Algonquin people are making on their territory.
The Ottawa Riverkeeper is one my company`s favorite causes and the Riverkeeper`s efforts are a key part of bringing public and political awareness to a natural resource that has been a dumping ground of human progress for 150 years.
I wanted to create an image of the first Algonquin performing a tobacco ceremony and dancing in these falls in literally hundreds of years. It just so happens that I have made friends with an Algonquin Woman from Pikwakanagan, Josee Bourgeois, in early 2015. Josee Bourgeois is a prime example of this positive direction of existence, for she is an Algonquin life- giving woman who is a part of a very important generation dedicated to the preservation and sustainability of her people. She is a Fancy Shawl dancer and a Jingle Dress dancer, who is very passionate about representing her people and her culture. It was the perfect match to work together and bring this story to life.With a great degree of planning and persuasion I brought the project to fruition.
It was then…that the plan went off the tracks.
I had thought that waiting out the spring floods, working with the safety measures and coordinating the diverting of the Ottawa were challenging enough. Compared to those obstacles, lighting a dancer 100 yards away in a dangerous construction site surrounded by water was childsplay.
All those challenges paled in comparison to finding a showcase for the images. Having had thousands of images published and over 500 magazine covers I expected this to be an easy task.
My vision was simply a pure statement celebrating 2017 rising awareness of First Nation issues and reconciliation. My notion was to show the rising power of First Nations not as a counterpoint to Canada 150 but as a statement of a growing strength of a people who once were banned from ceremonies and dancing and shut out of this sacred place.
Local news media seemed baffled by the project as it did not fit the tidy boxes in which they view the world….
First Nations media wanted to make the images solely about protest…
Art publications found them too political….
In the end, I was happy to find Muskrat…a First Nations Art publication which will publish the work shortly.
My faith in modern media has now taken another step back. So much of our “news” is information that is fed in bites that work to incite base emotions and reinforce bias with very little room for the positive side of life.
So little of current media deal in fairness or even inspires basic intelligent thought. We see far too many stories of failure of Reconciliation and far too few of First Nation success. Media on all sides of these thorny issues seem to delight in outrage but are short on highlighting inspiration. The politics of division is not just seen in our political systems, but in the media as well as it grasps for readership.
Ottawa, like much of Canada is now embroiled in debate over ownership of the land surrounding the falls. The images, of course are neutral on that topic.
Frankly…I for one would have liked the Chaudière Falls to be free of all man made projects, but having studied the concepts I came to agree they were the best destiny of the area at this time in history. The toxic cleanup of the land had not been attempted for decades and my belief is that this site would have been toxic for many more decades. We are decades away from the many financial settlements First Nations may win and even then, a dozen tribes will most likely battle one another over the disposition of those funds. To my mind, a far more progressive outcome for this area is the building of William Commanda`s dream of a National Aboriginal Centre on Victoria Island.
The Ottawa Hydro project is a source of clean energy that has also incorporated views of the falls not seen for 150 years. This type of solution aligns with our environmental concerns and are in my mind is the right choice for today.
Though my ancestry has indigenous roots and my hobbies are genealogy and the study of the city my family helped settle in 1843, I am not a Historian, a Lawyer or a card carrying First Nations. The issues of these lands are complex. In many ways the claims are more than likely not about ownership or even land, but more about honoring First Nations and attempting to right the wrongs inflicted by our colonizing of Canada. Money alone will never achieve that aim.
It seems to me that in the end, life has a funny way of working out. Thanks to social media these images are now being spread far and wide and not confined to the pages of a print magazine and the story Josee and I told will be part of something much greater.
Miigwetch…please help us share this story.