Colonial Resistance & Indigenous Presence at Flotilla
Flotilla took place in the “birthplace of confederation” in the fall of 2017, and the half billion dollar birthday hangover of Canada 150 loomed large over the gathering. The heated colonial environment brought forward long overdue conversations regarding Canada’s colonial history. One of Flotilla’s main venues and partners, the Confederation Centre of the Arts, was gifted to Charlottetown from the crown in 1964 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Confederation. The monumental spectacle of colonialism infiltrates Charlottetown’s built environment in nearly every corner of downtown--from street names, to benches, to bronze statues.
It was vital that Flotilla’s programming created space for criticism around this subject during this time (and always). Our curatorial committee focused on supporting Indigenous-led conversations that overcome the narrative of erasure that Canada 150 celebrations generated.
Opening the entire Flotilla weekend began with a blessing by Mi’kmaw Elder Deana Beaton and drumming by the Heartbeat of Epekwitk drummers. AKA artist run centre from Saskatoon hosted the first ever collaboration between Jordan Bennett and Lori Blondeau. Invited by AKA Director Tarin Dehod, this performance, titled Samqwan/Nipiy, the Mi’kmaw and Cree words for “water”, was inspired by their cultural and geographic relationships with land and water. On the docks at Confederation Landing Park, this again was a reminder of the cross-sections between artist and public, delegates and passer-by’s, public and private, and most of all, togetherness through feasting.
“Neighbourliness, hospitality; these are qualities that Atlantic provinces rely on. So it makes sense that Flotilla would experiment with the form of a convening, bringing a national gathering into unconventional spaces and onto the city streets.”
— Tarin Dehod, Flotilla: Art work and art “work”, Flotilla, 2019.
Raven Davis was one of Flotilla’s core curators, and they led two discussions bookending the Flotilla weekend. The first, “Supporting and Working with Indigenous Artists and Curators” was co facilitated with Allan Sallis and featured a performance by Theresa Marshall. The event was open to the public and consisted of an open conversation on power within art spaces, inclusion of Indigenous people in galleries, institutions and within artist run centres. During Theresa Marshall’s performance, participants were invited to interact with a figure that she brought that represented Halifax’s controversial Edward Cornwallis statue that at this time, was standing in downtown Halifax after decades of requests from the Mi’kmaw community to take it down. Davis subverted the classical panel discussion by arranging chairs in a circle and determining their own program structure. Davis’ second event, titled “Building, Dreaming, Connecting and Navigating White Spaces and Including Non-Indigenous participation in Indigenous Futures” was a closed space for Indigenous participants only in an effort to encourage indigenous voices to envision what an Indigenous Artist-Run Centre could look like in Mi’kma’ki.
In an effort to continue these conversations that began at Flotilla, we convened another closed group of Indigenous artists and creators in February 2019 to discuss the question “What could an Indigenous-led artist-run centre look like in the Atlantic?” Over the course of two days, through casual and organized discussions, and participants from the four provinces mapped the current landscape of Indigenous artist-run organizing in the Atlantic. This gathering activated the spirit of Flotilla, to envision, imagine, and mobilize Indigenous futures.
A performance series led by the Indigenous Peoples Art Collective (IPAC) intentionally brought their work outside of contemporary art circles. IPAC’s project, coordinated by Michel Boutin, included workshops and performances by Indigenous artists in schools, public stages, and local pubs and all-ages venues. IPAC intended on working specifically with youth in the region during their visit to Charlottetown. Tristen Durocher (a young Métis fiddler), and Modeste McKenzie (Métis jigger and cultural interpreter) visited Colonel Gray High School’s music class to run a storytelling, music and dancing workshop. IPAC intentionally activated such connections through their programming ahead of time, making valuable long-term contributions to the Charlottetown community through integrating participants from outside of the conference setting. IPAC’s visit to CGHS gave students a rare opportunity to learn from these talented young artists, and to directly learn from IPAC artists about Métis culture.
Lindsay Dobbin’s place-responsive art practice is an embodied practice of deep listening. The Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk)/Acadian/Irish artist used a hydrophone aboard the Floating Warren to invite visitors to listen to the water. This simple gesture created moments of meaningful exchange and quiet reflection. Given that many artistic projects acted as vessels or venues for other artistic projects, artists like Dobbin were able to present multiple times in different artist-run pop-ups. Dobbin presented in SHED Talks, The Foreshore, and the Floating Warren, showcasing different subtle themes in their practice, and encouraged cross-pollination of ideas in exchange with other artists.
Flotilla created gathering spaces and open platforms for Indigenous curators and collaborators to make connections, and experiment with new programs. Flotilla encouraged self-determination from a programming perspective: rather than hiring Indigenous artists to fill an existing program, Flotilla invited Indigenous collectives and curators to create their own programs.