#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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