On Arts, Business and Reconciliation

I have been thinking a lot about reconciliation; about decolonization, about life in KKKanada I guess in general. The Indigenous Arts community has seen more people outed for being “pretendians” in recent months and many have written articles on it, have had their opinions…..

A lot has happened even within these first few weeks of the new year in the Arts community. Many people are hurting, seeking answers, trying to find truth. But what is the truth? Who’s to say one’s experience over another’s is anymore right?

I hear people talk about the imposter syndrome that can come with being a First Nation’s individual living in today’s world, especially when living successfully. I guess I grapple with it sometimes myself – especially being an Indigenous person living in a territory that is not my own. Imposter syndrome is “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.”; but why do we often carry this burden as Indigenous Peoples?

Learning to live an authentic life as a First Nations individual is wrought with contradiction sometimes; we are told to learn our culture, but sometimes our culture is kept from us. It is sometimes taken away completely from us. Sometimes we run away for our own Sanity or well-being.

We are told to live traditionally, while being expected to also live in a modern world with modern expectations. Oftentimes we find ourselves in spaces where we are not really wanted, but we are tokenized and told our voice is important, while all the while we are often the last to speak or spoken over in spaces that are supposed to be “safe”. And what the hell is a “safe space” anyways for an Indigenous person?  That’s something I am still trying to figure out for myself. I do not think there can really be one in this colonial state.

I have been reminded deeply of the Calls to Action as of late – there continues to be so much work left to be done, and sometimes I don’t even know where to start. I think a lot of people in the Arts community are feeling this way, ESPECIALLY right now with COVID making it even harder on us to do the work we want to do. But that’s ok; it’s ok to not know where to start. It’s ok to have these contradictions in our life – what is not ok is how these contradictions are often used against us or used at our expense.

We talk so openly about inter-generational trauma and genocide, but sometimes we forget to discuss lateral violence and toxicity within our own communities. We often forget to discuss greed, ego, and the impacts they can have on our communities at each level, including business, government and at an individual level. Indigenous Art is a big business – we know this given the amount of knock-offs and inauthentic art that is reproduced by companies just trying to jump on what’s trendy, what will sell. Grant money does flow for projects that have big impact within our communities but oftentimes – it’s who you know in this business that actually dictates how well you’ll do. And that’s just facts.

This blog started out as a way to highlight Indigenous business in the West, but what I came to find is that so many small business owners start off as Artists. When I was going through university, it was the time of Idle No More, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a lot of truths came to light – truths I always knew from my childhood. I was doing a lot of work in the Corporate world and saw gaps, gaps that were eventually confirmed through the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action. However, even within the Commission Calls to Action – business and reconciliation almost seemed like an after thought. But isn’t business essential to economy, which is essential to government, and a country in general?

The call reads as follows:

“92. We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.
  • Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.
  • Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.”

Technically UNDRIP has only been adopted by one government – the BC government. They have gone the farthest through passing Bill 41 in November 2019. “This legislation used ambiguous language, saying on the one hand that the government must take all necessary steps “to ensure the laws of British Columbia are consistent with the Declaration,” and on the other hand that “nothing in this Act is to be construed as delaying the application of the Declaration to the laws of British Columbia.”

Many Indigenous advocates interpreted Bill 41 as having adopted UNDRIP and FPIC and having made the latter the law in British Columbia.” (Source: Fraser University). But has it really changed anything?

The decisions makers of grant programs, of media direction, of the narrative across Canada, well they are still often playing Big Brother – telling us how our stories should be told, when they should be told, and who they should be told by. Many artists and creatives are picked over because they don’t fit the good docket of what a “good Indian” is or their pre-conceived Eligibility requirements. And frankly, that’s just bullshit.

We artists are often sensitive, just trying to figure out life, trying to create for the pure joy of creating. But then you add modern expectations and today’s culture of busy-ness, of ego……and so many of us get left behind. We start isolating, we turn in. But I think that is one of the worst things that you can do as an individual, and especially as an artist.

Learning to see your peers as support vs competition comes with age but it’s important. Yes, there is only so much grant money out there, and yes, we all have to make a living…..but we can also support each other. We can reach out to each other, ask for help. Learn from each other. Since being more ingrained in the Arts community lately through my day job, I am learning that support for Artists is one of the greatest things in the world and can have lasting impacts that stretch from cultural impacts to narrative changing discussions that are important for the future direction of Canadian culture.

More candid discussions of inter-generational trauma, imposter syndrome, lateral violence and what supports are out there should always be at the forefronts in our Indigenous communities. Living authentically as an Indigenous person shouldn’t come with imposter syndrome – if anything the ones who are using our histories and stories against us or for their own gain are the real imposters. You, Indigenous Artist, whether established, whether just starting out, well you matter. Your experience matters. Your STORY matters – please continue to share it with the world.

All of this other stuff does not matter in the big scheme of things – just keep doing you and forget the world from time to time. We need your experience and your experience matters just as much as the next person’s.

We are here to support you, just ask. Just reach out.

Much Love to the Arts Community across Canada,