Saturday, August 6, 2016

MID SUMMER'S Art Festival is Inside a Fort, Inside the Fort

As I sit in the beer gardens, listening to Brian Bagget, my cousin, on the Chapman Stick, I am happy in the sunshine. The music is sweet. The shade is welcome.

He plays a song, "That Was Then, This is Now" and I wonder if I am over-thinking, over-analyzing the over-whelming whiteness of the Mid Summer's Art Festival. I see lovely people who could be my aunts and cousins, all settler descendants, sharing their creativity on this perfect Saskatchewan day.

I live in the beautiful Qu'Appelle Valley, just above Mission Lake, just outside the Saskatchewan town of Fort Qu'Appelle.

The Mid Summer's Art Festival's symbol is a sunflower. It is a day to celebrate the arts, but because it is in the Fort, I am thinking about Forts.

The Mid Summer's Art Festival venue is a newly constructed Fort inside the Fort of Fort Qu'Appelle. Now, this touristy Fort is not the original Fort. In fact, I've heard that there were never walls of wood or stone surrounding this community, but that the name of Fort Qu'Appelle was given because there was a Hudson's Bay outpost here. I am just beginning to learn this history, slowly. But this new Fort was built for occasions such as this. Two years ago, we rented the Fort for our 25th anniversary.

I never had given the concept of Forts much thought until reading Dwayne Donald's article, "Forts, Curriculum, and Indigenous Mêtissage: Imagining Decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian Relations in Educational Contexts".

I live outside of the Fort, but I do teach inside the Fort.

Donald says the following:

"The fort, as a colonial artifact, represents a particular four-cornered version of imperial geography that has been transplanted on lands perceived as empty and unused. If we consider the curricular and pedagogical consequences of adhering to the myth that forts facilitated the civilization of the land and brought civilization to the Indians, we can see that the histories and experiences of Aboriginal peoples are necessarily positioned as outside the concern of Canadians (Donald, 2009). This reductive Canadian national narrative weighs heavily on the consciousness of Aboriginal peoples and Canadians, and continues to influence the ways in which we speak to each other about history, identity, citizenship and the future (Francis, 1997; Saul, 2008)." page 3.

Kind of a buzz-kill, hey? I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry.

Donald continues, "I argue that the historical prominence of the fort, and the colonial frontier logics that it teaches, traces a social and spatial geography that perpetuates the belief that Aboriginal peoples and Canadians inhabit separate realities." page 4.

I am still listening to Brian play when someone to the left of the stage uses a drill. The buzz draws my attention to a wooden construction. I notice on the ground beside it, there is a wooden extension and if this was put on top, it would look like the Treaty Four monument.

My cousin, Angela, Brian's wife sits down with me. She tells me that the wooden structure is indeed a model of the Treaty Four Monument. She says that the kids dance, which will be on at 12:45 is all about the Treaty relationship, the relationship with the land and or course, the birds, hence the name, "Valley Arts Pelican Project".

At a break in the music she takes me over to meet Edward Poitras and I ask him if he had an installation of a similar replica of the Treaty Four Cenetaph, and he thinks that maybe he did.

Later in the day, I read over the information that Scott Fulton had given me at the end of June, to recruit kids to the project. I see Edward Poitras' words, "Landmarks that no longer exist, trails that are now covered and historic sites will  become the source of inspiration in an act of remarking the Qu'Appelle."

I think back to my nieces and nephew participating in the dances, drama and music of the project. Jigging, square dancing, fiddling. Enacting the Treaty handshake. I look at the picture I took of Poitras and my cousin, Angela. I remember the little buffalo the kids drew on the wooden Treaty replica.

"If colonialism is indeed a shared condition, then decolonization needs to be a shared endeavor," writes Donald. "I am convinced that decolonization in the Canadian context can only occur when Aboriginal peoples and Canadians face each other across historic divides, deconstruct their shared past, and engage critically with the realization that their present and future is similarly tied together."

Louis Riel said on July 4th, 1885, "My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back."

The Mid Summer's Arts Festival is a good place to be this long weekend Saturday. Today, this happy crowd is with Riel, cheering as the spirit dances into the valley with the artists at the lead.


Manitoba Metis Federation, Louis Riel quote
Riel was hung in Regina, 80 km from Fort Qu'Appelle, for high treason on November 16th, 1885



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