rolling hills of prairie grasses as exquisite as rainforest - (Published: Fall 2018)

EXHIBITION TEXT: Current Terrain curated by Ociciwan and presented in partnership with imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival
SUMMER, 2019 


A fiery hue settles in as a sooty sun sets, creating a light similar to that of a sodium vapour street lamp. The apocalyptic light bathes everyone in a flattering glow while a basic question is proposed to a group of peers: “is fire bad?” The binary presumed in this positioning seems abruptly inadequate. I refrain from answering but think to myself “for whom is fire bad?” For humans the billowing smoke, poor air quality, and loss of property results in a palpable concern for a future smothered by smolder. Yet these burns are necessary for the shedding of canopies and create a potential for new growth and robust biodiversity in the wooded areas of the subarctic and boreal forests native to Alberta. The lodgepole pine requires combustion in order for their overly durable cones to burst open and expel seeds. After the flames are extinct these budding coniferous trees share space with berry shrubs, willows, grasses, mycelia and leafy deciduous trees to naturally alter the context of the forest.

We too should look to the potentialities within the naturally occurring cleanse of the forest floor as a metaphor for rejuvenation that makes space for a more delicate presence rather than certain permanence. To reject colonial dispositions of conquering and to listen to the histories surrounding us. To find new feminized voices that are both humble and confident in order to reclaim our positionings in this place. This is not to disavow the challenges within the chaos of fire but for us to reposition ourselves so that we may hear the needs of our land and slow the pace of our reactions in order to analyze our emotionally derived responses in the face of what we claim as disaster.

We need to listen to the land in order to destabilize our paternalized positionings. In the ways we have removed our responsibilities and disconnected from our understandings of the cyclical changes unique to this land. A pristine example of this lies in the prestige of the national park for which we must idly obey the imposed rules which frame us as spectators. Banff National Park was established two decades prior to Alberta’s entrance into Confederation and holds the prominence of being Canada's first national park. With the privilege of being the first comes the expectation of setting precedent, and through the guise of the rulings designated upon this place humans are no longer incorporated as carers, cultivators or harvesters. In the legislation upheld by the park authority there exists an erasure of Indigenous epistemologies that hold particular intimacies to the specifics of place. Through the segregation of park boundaries we have, innocently or not, cordoned off a section of land to designate as a sanctuary. But can there be solace on the Crown Land leased to industry for extraction or in the commodification of our watersheds or in the desecration of our natural prairie grasses?

I am unsettled by the finite boundaries we have claimed to protect. Again an oversimplification exists in the binary division of land we deem sacred and the land we deem ripe for sacrifice. In the space between the marsh and the tailings pond is there a knowledge that we cannot access because the ego induced by the anthropocene has equipped us with enough academically derived promises of progress to relieve our guilty burden. There is an insufficiency in the designation of these taxonomies, in the water we protect and the fresh water we blast into the earth to frack. Are we listening to the land’s trembling response as she quivers with instability in the face of our greed induced exploitations? How do we adapt to a stance of reciprocity so that we can hold care for the knowledge embedded in the geological history of oil? If capitalism were not seduced by oil would the tar sands have been considered a site of ancestral knowledge of such significance that they too could be tended for by the policies of governing bodies? Can we be so bold as to question our aesthetic bias when designating sites of significance?

And so I ask you to slow your pace and confront your bias and, as a political action, to refuse positionalities of blame. To consider the care put forth by these artists to defend the places they claim as home. To recognize the emotional and invisible labours of Indigenous bodies to protect the places that government has not. To claim your own responsibilities and refrain from the ease of pointing fingers with accusations of blame. In this time when Indigenous voices are uprising to fight for a decolonized future how do we all recognize the actions of our discourse and symbiotically support each other to find potential ways to secure less destructive futures? Can we trigger our minds to reconsider rolling hills of prairie grasses as exquisite as rainforests rather than barren plots? Can we consider the courage of the buffalo as it finds its footing in a place that is both foreign and familiar while it gently reclaims an area to which its histories are abundant? With the complications imposed by these questions we must look forward to an unclear path of missteps and fumbles as we collate collective voices to move forward with both an expectation for timely unity and confrontation. We dedicated too much time between oscillating perspectives of vilifying and victimizing this land but now is the time for us to refrain from asserting our assumptions and listen to the land so that we may in turn look to her anew.


By Nicole Kelly Westman | Translated into Plains Cree by Dorothy Thunder

ehiskotewi-itasinâsot pîsim kâpahkisimok, wâsenâkwan tâpiskôc pimohceskanâs kâwâsaskotenikan. pikwâwiyahk kihkâyâsiwak ekakwecimihcik peyakwaya ayisiniyiwak: “iskotew cî mâyâtan?” kahisinîswasteki namoya tâp’ we kwayask. namwâc ninaskomon mâka omisinititeyihten “awîna ohci iskotew emâyâtahk?”

ayisiyiniwak wâneyihtamihikowak kâmisikaskâptâtehk, namoya kakîmiyoyehetotamihk iyikohk ekaskâpâtehk. mâka keyâpic nitaweyicikâtew ohci wanaskwatanaskwa kamiyo-ohpikiki ekwa kamaskawâskosicik ita kâhohpikicik kâsakâwaskâhk kîwetinohk ekwa mistikwâskweyâhk Alberta. oskâhcakowak piko kasaskahohcik waskwetoya katawipayicik ekwa kamanipayicik kistikâcikanak. kâkîsisaskitepayik ôki sâkipakâwimîtosak ohpikiwak ita kâhohpikiki mînis nîpisewahtikosa, nîpisiya, maskosiya, ita ewasaskwetiwahk ekwa kânîpîwicik mîtosak pîtos isinâkwan kâsakâhk.

kîstanaw piko kakiskisimitotamahk kesimeskoci-ohpikik kâsakâhk ispî kâmiyohohpikiki iyikohk wiya tepiyâ kakiscâyâhk. ekâ pikwîsi kesipanâcihtâhk kapimitisahamahk kayâs kâkîpehispayik ita kâhayâyahk. kamamisihtotâcik iskwewak kapîkiskwestamâkoyahkik tân’si ôma kiyânaw kesisohkikâpawiyahk. namoya kapîweyihtamahk kâhâyimahk kâmisikwâkotehk mâka kanâkateyihtamahk kitaskînaw ekâ pikwîsi kesihcikeyahk namoya semâk kapimakocineyahk ispî kâhiteyihtamahk kâmayipayik.

piko kwayask kanâkateyihtamahk askiy namoya tâpiskôc kayâs kâkîhisipimpayihcikehk. namoya kwayask kinâkatohkâtenaw ekwa namoya kitâhkameyihtenaw kahisinisitohtamahk kesimeskwacipayik ôma askiy. mâmemôc tâpiskôc ôma kâhispihteyihtahkwak ewako ôma paskohkopâw ayâwin piko katipitôtamak wiyasiwewinisa kâpaminikoyahk kiyânaw okanawâpahkewak. Banff National Park ekîhosihcikâtehk nîso mitinawa pâmayes Alberta kapihtokwahiht mâmawinitowinihk ekwa ekospî mistahi kîhispihteyihtâkwan ekweyâc kâhayâmakahk ôta kânatahk nistam ita pisiskiw kanaweyicikewin. ekosi osâm ewako mâmawacinistam ehayâmakahk ekosi kapimitisahikâtew, kâhitasteki ôhi wiyasiwewinisa kapimitisahamihk namoya ayiwâk ayisiyiniwak katipeyihtamwak, kasikwahcahikecik ahpô kakistikâtahkik. wiyasiwewinihk kâpimitisahahkik kâpaminahkihk pisiskiw kanaweyicikewin namoya pimitisahamwak iyiniw kiskeyihtamowina ôta ohci ayâwin. tânisi ehisitipahaskahtamihk. kesitipahaskatamihk kâkanaweyicikâteki pisiskiw kanaweyicikewin, kweyask ahpô ekâya, kipayikâtewa ita ekâ awiyak takîpihtokwet. ekosi cî kinaheyihtenaw ispî kihci-okimânahk kâhawihiwecik askiy kôtinamihk ekota ohci pimiy ahpô kâmeskotôniket kinipîminaw ahpô ispî kâpiscipotât iyinto paskwâwaskosiya?

namoya ninaheyihten kesitipahaskâtamihk askiy ehitweyahk enâkateyihtamahk. kiwaninisitohtenaw tânima kehcinâ askiy ehispihteyihtakwahk ekwa ita emiywâsik ohci pakitinâsowin. tastawayik ita paskwaskekak ekwa sâkahikanis ita kâwepinamihk pimiy kîkway cî ekâ ekîhohcikiskeyihtamahk ayisiyiniw ehisihciket tâpiskôc enakacihtâyahk ekosi ekâ kapihkweyihtamîkoyahk. namoya kitepinisitohtenaw kehcinâ, nipiy kânâkateyihtamahk ekwa nipiy kâhâpacihtâyahk kâpasahcipayitâyahk askiy. kinâkateyihtenaw cî kikâwînaw askiy ispî kâpiscipohtâyahk ita ayisiyiniw esôniyahkâtahk? tân’si kesinaskomâyahk kesinâkateyihtamahk kiskeyihtamowin pehcinâway kâkîhastehk kanakacihtâhk pimiy. kîspin namoya kasôniyâhkâtamihk pimiy askîwipimiy cî kâhâpacihtâniwiw ohci aniskac wahkotowin kiskeyihtamowin ekwa mîna kakwekanaweyihtahkik kapimitisahahkik wiyasiwewinisa? kâkîhahkotonamonaw cî konta isi kesimayisihcikeyahk ita kahayâki ekotwa ihtwâwina ehispihteyihtâkwahki?

ekosi kiwihtamâtin wehtinâ kesihcikâtaman tan’si kâkakwehisihcikeyan, kânîkânapiyan wiyasiwewinihk, ekâya kîkway otâmeyihtamowin. tân’si ôki kehcinâ kâkakwenâkateyihtahkik ôhi ayâwina ita kâwîkicik. kanistawinaman tân’si ehitamahcihocik iyiniwak kâkakwenâkateyihtahkik ekâ kihci-okimânâhk ekosi kâhitôtahkik. kâwe kanâkateyihtaman ekâ awiyak kahatâmeyimat. ispî iyiniw epasikôt epîkiskwestamâsot kweyask kamînonamihk kâwe nîkânihk kasihtoskâtoyahk kesimiyopayik ôte ekâ kîkway kesiwanisîcikeyahk nîkânihk? kâwe cî ekosi kâkîhisimâmitoneyihtenaw paskwaw-askosiya kesimiywâsiki tâpiskôc sakâwa iyikohk wiya pakwataskamik? kâkîkihceyimânaw kesisohkeyimot paskwâwimostos kâwe kakîwetotahk ita kâkîwîkit pîtos ayâwin ita emihcetiki pehcinâway kâkîpehispahikocik? kâhisîhâyimahki ekosi ôhi kwehcîkemowina piko kamâmitoneyihtamihk ôte nîkânihk kwayask kakwemâmînonamahk kesimiyopayik miyowihcetowin ekwa mayiwihcetowin. osâm kihawema kipakitinenaw ekâ kwayask etâpeyihtamahk ekwâni ekwa ohcîcipayin ekâ ekosi kesîyinîyihkâtamahk ekwa kanâkateyihtamahk kikâwînaw askiy kâwe kesimiyokanawâpamâyahk.