#Resistance150: An Interview with Tia Cavanagh

I wrote this piece in partnership with the Feminist Art Conference (FAC). It was originally posted on the FAC blog here

This year marks the Canadian government’s celebration of “Canada 150,” and all over the country people will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of confederation that birthed this nation-state.

Meanwhile, many Indigenous people across this land have been organizing responses to these celebrations. One of the names this resistance has been given is #Resistance150, which was coined by Michif artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist Tanya Kappo, Métis elder Maria Campbell and Anishinaabe traditional teacher Isaac Murdoch (you can read more about them here).

 #Resistance150 was born out of a frustration that the Canadian government has, once again, pushed aside the true history of Canada. To learn more about #Resistance150, I spoke with Tia Cavanagh, an Anishinaabe artist making work inspired by this movement.

Tia Cavanagh is an artist from the Sagamok Nation and mixed European background. She identifies as Anishinaabe, which means First People in Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language). Cavanagh completed her undergrad at OCAD University in Drawing and Painting, and will be starting her Masters Degree at Trent University in Canadian and Indigenous Studies this fall. She is an inspiring artist and a strong advocate for the Indigenous community, so it is no surprise that she is using her art to engage with #Resistance150.

One of Cavanagh's recent works, an oil painting titled “Oh Canada” (below), was featured in OCAD's Annual Graduate Exhibition. The piece features the Canadian flag with John A. Macdonald’s face as the maple leaf, and imagery of a residential school in the background. It calls attention to Canada’s true history and forces the viewer to reflect on Canada’s conflicting identity. As a figure still largely celebrated within the Canadian nation-state, the painting connects Macdonald's policieswhich orchestrated the Indian Actto their true legacy, in regards to Indigenous communities' generational experiences of the residential school system.

When speaking with Cavanagh about her work, she mentioned the importance of using art to connect with and mobilize communities. She elaborated, saying: “I feel community-engaged art can build connectivity, understanding, mobilization and above all, pathways to self-determination.” 

When we specifically discussed Canada 150, she spoke to her disappointment that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was not being used as a guiding force in the celebrations. After all the contributions First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples made to the TRC, she had hoped to see the TRC being enacted during the Canada 150 events.

However, Tia's work is not just about Canada 150 it also portrays the ongoing resistance that is urgently needed in Canada. She shared her future plans for art projects inspired by resistance. “I'm currently taking part in an Ontario Arts Council grant with other artists. The team of artists have created artistic workshops, some centered around Anishinaabe teachings, geared towards Indigenous survivors of violence. We will be doing these workshops over two years in our surrounding communities. My workshop is titled "Beading with Texture: Our Stories," whereby swatches of fabric of varied textures will speak towards an experience, a feeling and will be quilted together with various stories.”

Below is another piece by Cavanagh, titled “Cross Lake Residential School.” This work depicts imagery of a classroom from a residential school, and does not shy away from highlighting the religious influence in these horrible government-funded institutions. 

Cavanagh's critical and unsettling work powerfully contributes to the ongoing discussions not only around #Resistance150, but to the continued resistance against colonization and the erasure of Canada’s Indigenous history.

A special thank you to Tia Cavanagh for sharing her work, and taking the time to speak with FAC. You can find her online at: https://tiacavanagh.com/, and on instagram at: @tiabobia33.

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Celebrating Indigenous Two-Spirit Leaders

As June comes to an end I wanted to take some time to celebrate June being both Pride Month and National Aboriginal History Month in Canada. To do this I am sharing 3 inspiring Indigenous two-spirit leaders doing amazing things in their communities.

Albert McLeod

Albert McLeod is of First Nations ancestry from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the Metis community of Norway House in northern Manitoba. McLeod has worked for over 30 years educating others about Indigenous culture, and two-spirit people. McLeod also runs workshops teaching others about Indigenous textile art. 
As a Co-Director of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, McLeod has had a huge impact on the LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit community. Albert has also worked with and for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, along with a number of other influential and impactful organizations in the Winnipeg area. McLeod continues to be a leader in the Two-Spirit community, mentoring youth, and educating a wide variety of audiences.
Learn more about Albert McLeod and his work here:

Kiley May

Kiley May is a Hotinonshón:ni Mohawk and Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory (aka “the rez”) who is currently settled in the gathering place called Tkaronto or “Toronto”. May is a two spirit individual who also identifies as trans, queer and genderqueer. Their pronouns are she/her and they/their/them, as she sees her gender as something that is fluid.
May is an actor, model, photographer, educator, writer, and leader in the Two-Spirit community. She is also the creator of Homo Noeticus, a film made in 2012 with support from the Queer Video Mentorship Project. She performed in The Hours That Remain by Keith Barker, at The Box Studio in Toronto, and has worked with The Centre for Indigenous Theatre. As May continues to work as both an actor and model, she is providing much needed visibility to the young Two-Spirit community. They are an incredibly creative person, and I can’t wait to see what they do next!
May is also being honoured this year as the 2017 Youth Ambassador for Pride Toronto. 

Learn more about Kiley May and their work here:

Ma-Nee Chacaby

Ma-Nee Chacaby is an Ojibwa-Cree Elder who was raised in a remote Ojibwa community near Lake Nipigon, Ontario. She is lesbian and Two-Spirit woman, who has bravely chosen to tell her life story in her book: A Two-Spirit Journey - The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder. 
She was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Awards, in the Trans and Gender-Variant Literature section in 2016, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, in the Lesbian Memoir/Biography section in 2016, and in 2017, she was a nominee for the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, at the Manitoba Book Awards. 
Chacaby uses her storytelling as a way to uplift the Two-Spirit community, and gives a face to this often neglected identity. Notably, in 2013, Chacaby led Thunder Bay’s first gay pride parade. Chacaby continues to be a leader in the Two-Spirit community, and encourages other Two-Spirit people to write down and share their stories.
Learn more about Ma-Nee and her work here:

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