Posts tagged ‘First Nation’

April 6, 2014

Art is not just in us, it is us

An excellent quote from Sarain Stump, a Shoshone-Cree poet and artist from Wyoming, later co-ordinator of the Indian art program at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College:

Art is us, with our frustrations and hopes, with all of our good and bad feelings. Through art, we can make ourselves clearly understood beyond the barriers of time and space . . . beyond the inhibitions of language. Our art is us as Indian people and its rebirth will be one of the major forces for our people’s rebirth.

Whether we are of First Nations decent or otherwise, our art is our own unique form of expression. It gives us strength and confidence in who we are. It enables us to explore the roots of our being, our culture, our history, and to share those discoveries with the world. And it provides us with a safe outlet for expressing and releasing long-held emotions and experiences, and therefore serves an important healing function.

For these reasons and more, art deserves a place in our lives.

Your art is an essential part of who you are. Please let it shine.

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January 6, 2014

If time is a circle, can you live on the edge?

We may not realize it, but the concept of linear time is very much a construct of Western civilization. The idea that a person can physically exist in only one temporal dimension — the present moment — without the ability to move between the past and the future worlds, does not hold sway in many other cultures, where time moves at a different pace or even on a different continuum.

Take, for example, the Haida First Nation living in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), a remote archipelago off the northwest coast of British Columbia. For the Haida, writes author John Vaillant in his 2005 book The Golden Spruce, “time operates more like a spiral, or like the rings of a tree.” Vaillant continues:

There is a saying among the peoples of the Northwest Coast: “The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife,” and Robertson Davidson, [a well-known Haida artist and carver], imagines this edge as a circle. “If you live on the edge of the circle,” he explained in a documentary film, “that is the present moment. What’s inside is knowledge, experience: the past. What’s outside has yet to be experienced. The knife’s edge is so fine that you can live either in the past or in the future. The real trick,” he says, “is to live on the edge.”

It’s an intriguing concept, this idea of time growing outwards like a tree. In this case, time is circular, but the plane is horizontal, not vertical, and the direction of movement is outwards in radial lines from the centre, not in loops around the circumference. Here, the countless “rings” of past life and experience accumulate in the centre of the circle, pushing the present — and the future — ever outwards, but remaining close at hand, consolidated and strong, in case of need. This circle, it seems, would collapse without the foundation of the past to keep it strong; yet the circle would also cease to expand and grow if not for the present moment always moving towards (and into) the future.

As novel as this concept may appear to a linear mind, the Haida perspective does share one thing in common with its Western counterpart — and that is the difficulty of staying in the present moment. The present moment is a knife-edge, says Robertson Davidson; it is easy for a person to slip off that edge into either the past or the future. Whether you slip off that edge in a physical sense or a mental one doesn’t really matter, I’d argue. In the end, the trick is the same:  to live on the edge — not in the sense of embracing risk or pushing boundaries, but in the sense of existing in that hair’s-width space of the present moment.

November 23, 2013

It’s the storms that make us stronger

I just finished reading Katherine Palmer Gordon’s new book We are Born with the Songs Inside Us, a collection of stories profiling 16 successful and inspiring First Nations people living in British Columbia. One of the persons featured, First Nations educator Anne Tenning from the Chemainus First Nation, now a resident of Penticton, shares my exact perspective on the cyclical nature of life and the benefits of surmounting hardship. Says Anne:

Yes, life has highs and lows. But sometimes the most valuable teachings come from the lows. You just have to hang on, hunker down and ride out the storm. No matter how tumultuous it may be, the storm inevitably passes and the sun comes out again, and you will be left stronger and wiser for that storm you just weathered.

My opinion — and my experience — exactly.

It can definitely be hard to recognize the potential for sun when you’re stuck in the middle of a long, dark night. But nothing lasts forever, not even the worst storm imaginable. Relief — and light — will come again, and you will be so much stronger for it.