Negotiating personal histories and community arts.
It has been one week to the day that I came aboard Train of Thought what a rich journey so far! Our rail journey has had many stops and starts over the central prairies and into the Canadian Shield specifically (for my part) we have traveled from Winnipeg, Treaty 1 Territory, through to Sioux Lookout, White River, Thunder Bay, Nipissing First Nation and North Bay and we are currently on Manitoulin Island in Wikwemikong.
I came aboard expecting to learn more about indigenous histories and traditions in addition to collecting memories from the people and land to create an alternate archive about the effect of the railway on Canadian national memory/ identity. This project has been quite successful, and over the last week, issues surrounding my personal family histories have come up and forced me to ask more questions. Each place that we have stopped has had great impact on me, one of them being in Thunder Bay during a story-led tea ceremony with Eleanor Albanese. Here I told a story of my last train journey across Canada in 2009 where I met my Grandfather for the first and (now only time) in my life. I felt really great sharing this experience as my Grandfather has recently passed. What I took away from this event was the importance of keeping family connections especially if that means crossing the country, and also how story telling can be a healing process through grief and loss.
Other subjects that have come up in discussions along the journey include the grey area between practicing as community artist and/vs. having a socially engaged art practice. This is a place that I find myself often and it has been truly inspiring to hear thoughts from my fellow travelers and different communities we have visited.
Another topic that seems to come up in all sorts of different ways include navigating the waters between settler and indigenous histories and traditions. Traveling on a counter–colonial route across Canada has enabled our Train of Thought company to experience indigenous traditions, ceremonies and prayers first hand as they are practiced today. I am very appreciative and grateful of this part of the journey as it has filled in many gaps in my knowledge. It has been a very welcomed experience and as a result more questions come to my mind about assimilation and colonization when one lives in a homeland without historic traditions or values. I am a fourth generation Canadian and my ancestors settled in Canada from Scotland, Germany and England. I have been separated from much of my ancestral family traditions because I have had little to no contact with my Grandparents (elders). I can say that my focus for this trip has, in part, shifted tracks from story collecting to unraveling and my own family histories and creating new traditions in light of the learned indigenous traditions. How that will impact my art practice has yet to be seen, but I think it will be for the better.
Thank you to The Inspirit Foundation, Jumblies Theatre, and ACI Manitoba