#TAG – Art for reconciliation and resistance at Six Nations and Brantford

(This article is from the WLUFA Advocate October 2016 5.1.)

Vanessa Oliver
Youth & Children’s Studies

Indigenous and Non-Indigenous youth are taking part this September and October in cultural healing and arts workshops to learn about Haudenosaunee culture and to create their own community murals. This is the first public initiative of the #TAG project, a partnered exchange between Six Nations and the Mapuche peoples of Chile.

The murals—one on the Market Square Mall in Brantford and one on the Six Nations Youth and Elders Centre in Ohsweken—will explore the interwoven themes of identity, healing, friendship, reconciliation, education and cultural pride. The mural makings contribute to a wider engagement of Indigenous artists and activists in contemporary artistic practice as a means of education, resistance, reclamation and healing—all of which are key factors in decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty.

The foundations for the #TAG project were laid in 2012 when the Alapinta, a Chilean graffiti muralist collective, began consulting with Six Nations in the creation of an Indigenous mural at the Kultrun Indigenous and World Music Festival in Kitchener.

Working with Bonnie Whitlow, Aboriginal Student Support Coordinator at Laurier’s Brantford campus, the artists learned many of the stories and traditions of the Haudenosaunee people.  This initial exchange produced two key outcomes: a mural in Kitchener that represented the Haudenosaunee people and their cultural iconography and a partnership formed around supporting global Indigenous sovereignty movements.

The art project is also a research project. Both nations recognized the utility of research that would study and provide an evidence base for their hypothesis that this type of international collaboration would support decolonization efforts and lead to better, self-determined health and social outcomes in both communities.

In 2013, Bonnie Whitlow approached me about applying for research funding to support an initiative involving youth in artistic practice. The goal, however, was also to begin to heal the relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people in Brantford and Six Nations. In 2014, we, along with co-applicants Kim Anderson, Rodrigo Ardiles and Kari Brozowski, applied for a CIHR grant to fund the health aspects of the project and a SSHRC grant to fund the Indigenous education aspects.

By 2015, the #TAG project had received $175,000 in external grants and support from UNESCO, which began the long process of developing a working partnership with the team in Chile, planning the workshop content, hiring a Youth Advisory Council and recruiting youth from the local area. Under the leadership of Stephanie Tschirhart, an Oji-Cree student in her fourth year of Criminology and Indigenous Studies at WLU, the Youth Advisory Council has worked tirelessly with youth at summer events, such as pow wows and music festivals, to bring attention to the importance of participation in the #TAG project.

In addition to painting the murals, the #TAG team will be collecting research data to determine what participants have learned from the process, and will assess how the workshops and murals have impacted factors such as breaking stereotypes, creating leadership opportunities and instilling cultural pride. The mural painting process was open to the public, and all were welcome (students, staff, faculty and community members) to paint with the muralists from September 19 to September 25 in Six Nations, and from September 26 to October 5 in Brantford.

Whatever else we learn from the project, there can be no doubt that the cultural exchange between the Mapuche and the Haudenosaunee people solidifies the relationships between two sovereign nations resisting colonial occupation and showing solidarity in global Indigenous movements.

For more information visit the #TAG Facebook page: www.facebook.com/tagsix6, or the project website at www.tagsix.net.

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