Final Project — Cedar

Hello! I’m not even sure if I can catch up on Braiding Sweetgrass, not having a schedule has made me slack off quite a bit, and since I require the pressure of others to motivate me… I’ve really been struggling to sit down and listen to the audiobook. Sometimes I fall asleep, other times I ended up drawing and the voice became white noise, and I would have to listen to the whole thing in order to write the blogs.

But what I DID manage to pull off is this! My final project. Since we can do ANYTHING, I might as well do what I love to do best… Character creation

I do not have a name for the character, but she’s a personification of Red Cedar Trees. We’ll just call her Cedar for the rest of this post so I don’t have to repeat “The Red Cedar Tree Lady” over and over again. Imagine the word count!

The idea of treating everything as people has intrigued me since middle school, especially for my high school visual arts project, I picked animal welfare as my theme and took the route of substituting people in the animals’ perspective in order to deliver my theme. (or as I’ve titled… putting yourself in their paws… hehe… get it…?)

After all, since ancient times, anthropomorphism is what allows humans to sympathize with things that are otherwise non-human.

When we had our basket making session, the guest instructor described taking the tree’s bark as “Asking her to borrow a part of her dress”.

Since I’ve been relying on my internet buddies to keep my company during quarantine, I shared my design process around, and many had said that the character looks like some kind of nature deity or titan.

From Braiding Sweetgrass, maple trees are described to be the Maple Nation. I can only imagine that there would be a Red Cedar Nation out there as well. Cedar would simply be one of the many members of the nation.

Cedar would be one of the kinder members who are generous enough to allow humans to borrow part of her dress. She might also be interested in what humans can create with their hands and creativity, splitting the bark into tiny strips and forming it into various manmade tools.

I am interested in creating a proper illustration, but I can guarantee it will happen. If this blog were to be around by the time I finished it, I can and will share it.

For now… back to Braiding Sweetgrass.

Braiding Sweet Grass : Picking Sweet Grass and Braiding Sweet Grass

During this time in quarantine I have attempted many times to just sit and listen to each section of the book. With this chapter I connected to a this quote and it was to “build a sustainable relationship with the eco system.” As usual, in any attempt absorbing the book content my mind wonders and I begin to question my relationship with the ecosystem and the world around me. Have I been acknowledging what the land has done for me? Have I been accepting of whats around me and embracing changes? Have I even thought about what this change means for nature around us or have I just been thinking about what the change has done to me physically and mentally?

As days progress, I am starting to think a little less about myself and freeing my mind from any constraints that I’ve put myself in.  Putting myself in nature and observing the things that I normally don’t pay attention to.

“When you have all the time in the world, you an spend it, not on going somewhere but on being where you are.”

FINAL PROJECT

 

Image 1:

Look beyond the trees. Observe the unseen or be seen.

 

Image 2:

5:00 am. Lost. Overwhelmed. Close your eyes and put your mind at ease.

 

Image 3:

Step out for a moment. Absorb the crisp air and cold atmosphere. Release old bad energy. Take in the new.  Appreciate and recreate.

It’s time for a reset.

Final Project – The One that got Away

 

Medium: Watercolour and Coloured pencil

When creating this illustration, I was thinking about a chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass, The Honorable Harvest. This chapter impacted me the most, and teaches a lesson that can be understood by everyone. In this chapter, different stories are being told. One story reads:

‘I must have seen ten deer that day, but I only took one shot.’ He tips his chair back and looks at the hill, remembering. The young men listen, looking intently at the porch floor. ‘The first one came crunching through the dry leaves, but was shielded by the brush as it wove down the hill. It never saw me sitting there. Then a young buck came moving upwind toward me and then stepped behind a boulder. I could have tracked it…but I knew it wasn’t the one.’ Deer by deer, he recounts the day’s encounters for which he never even raised his rifle: the doe by the water, the three-pointer concealed behind a basswood with only its rump showing. ‘I only take one bullet with me’.

The story teller later reminisces the time he encountered a grown deer. During this time they both had a connection, almost a consensual feeling, from both the hunter and the deer, that it was the one. That’s why he only takes on bullet with him. Earth created these resources that benefit the land, however we should never take advantage of these gifts. Instead, we should reciprocate and live in mutual benefit. In short, the lesson he concludes is:

”Take only what is given and then treat it with respect.”

This story almost made my eyes water, not because of sadness, but because of the thoughtfulness and care this story holds. I wish many  people could listen to the lesson being taught due to this concept often being disregarded in a consumerist world. During this time, i wanted to get back into something that I dearly love, and that is nature. So I Illustrated the one that got away , the deer by the water, surrounded by vegetation and life, a peaceful scene.

Braiding sweetgrass (3)

Burning Cascade Head / Putting Down Roots / The bellybutton of the world

Listening to braiding sweetgrass is quite different nowadays. Before, I would much prefer to listen to Kimmerer outside, either walking to or from school, or when a I am drawing. Although currently it is a change of routine for everyone, It is also a good time to reflect on the thing we are thankful for. Everyone has experienced a sense of panic, change or worry, which is normal, in short it just means you care. However sometimes, like kimmerer has proclaimed , it is also healthy to reflect on the positives of today. Today I am thankful for the rain, that waters the new buds of spring and the incoming sun that beams through the window. I am also thankful for the watercolour palette that I am going to use during this time, and the random calls from my dad throughout the day, it reminds me that we both care. It has been rough, for everyone, but it’s the little things that keep me grounded.

In the beginning of this chapter, robin talks about the diseases of small pox and measles that were brought upon Indigenous people around 1830, from settler colonialists. Not only did this eradicate first nations people, destroying lives and their culture, they also ruined the land, transitioning the capillaries of water to single streams so they could “benefit” off of farming. this is only a fraction of damage. There was no mutual respect for others and the land, just the introduction to greed.

Later, she talks about land renewal and nature regeneration from eradicating these dams, and in doing so, salmon and other ecosystems started to thrive. She takes us along her adventure, in nature, that many of us can relate to. It is magical and blissful, and her connection was deep and poetic.

During these times of isolation, it is our job to stay away from public spaces, like parks and crowded spaces, and other people. I often miss going on walks with peers and enjoying nature without worry. Although it is difficult and confusing, in truth this is temporary. I am not trying to dismiss the damage and sadness it has brought, but in reflection, many things in our everyday life will come back to “normal” in sense of routine and the general public.  Due to colonization, erasure of culture and land damage, these events are still in effect today. And the complexity of history in sense of colonization has been way more damaging.

While listening to these chapters full of history, ecology and wisdom, I learned a lot, and reflected upon such.

March 17/23

For this week, I’m sharing another piece of prose but it’s one I’m still working on. I feel like I’m half way through writing it and I definitely get caught editing while still writing which is not a great process due to always stopping and starting instead of a flow state.

Anyways.

Let me know what you think.

shapeshifter

I swore to myself I would never write about a shape shifter
the allusions, the allegories are too apparent, to ready.
the metaphor so obvious; of the cultural shapeshifter, reconfigure to survive
in this “post colonial” world; retain your heritage but assimilate too. Shapeshift like the legends
but do it modern
do it post modern
do it to alleviate white guilt, if we’re succeeding in this world then there is no need to feel bad about the past.
all is forgiven, right?
I swore I would never write about a shape shifter,
yet I write about myself
and I have shifted my shape more times than I can count
Identity is a fluid thing
mine is drawn as much from me as it is from who surrounds me
what surrounds me.
shift from straight to gay
gay to two spirit
ignorant to informed
informed to intrigued
intrigued back to ignorant
restart
I never wanted to take up this mantle
of shapeshifting
of reinforcing the narrative
of the past
of fading into the past
my gender is new
to the settler
but old to my nation
how do I bridge that paradox in their head
that non-binary is as old as the trees
that this sci-fi x-men fictional futurism gender
that they fear so much
speculate about
is a part of that fading indian myth
they carry around with them
or how we never really faded
just because the nation
put our nation
out of sight
out of mind
it somehow allows our place to be historical
not contemporary
again,
I’m shifting
from past
to present
and back again
I swore I would never write about a shapeshifter
and yet here I am
writing
and shaping
and shifting

March 3 / 16

For these two weeks, I would like to offer a piece of prose written as a way to summarize not only what I’ve been mulling over from our Humanities lecture, but also the writings of the indigenous writer Tommy Pico, and other errant thoughts I’ve had over my many identities and how they overlap or separate; being a human and having an identity is much like being a venn diagram while also being like oil and water.Anyways, here’s my writing.

the nature of the body

The nature of the body is mercurial.

As I would pass through different spaces inhabited by different people, who I was or
who I was perceived to be would change.

In the locker rooms, I was thin and effeminate; the other boys would tell me so as they joked about how I should be in the other change room with the girls.

In the Kootenay Country Co-op, I was affluent; my fresh clothes and the handful of dollars spent on organic food made me like-able because I could afford indulgences. My lack of a part time job spoke volumes, in conjunction with my fashionable clothes, allowing me to move between cliques at school with relative ease.

In the AB ED class, I was expressly first nations; the other students who weren’t indigenous were resentful of our privilege of missing morning classes to sit in a circle and basket weave, ignorant of the fact that we were learning through story telling of the genocide that had happened to our ancestors – the schools our ancestors attended that were both alike and dissimilar to the one we were in now. The colour of my skin felt like a bright reflective surface in a dark night despite its deep tanned tone.

In the home of my parents, I was white; their house was in a nice part of town with a well maintained lawn and two point five cars in the driveway. I could get out of a parking ticket or  being written up for riding my bike without a helmet because my dad knew everyone and everyone knew him. Their reputation and their skin tone was my shield – my buffer, but it could not last forever.

In a line of cars at a police blockade, I was potentially a statistic. Once, I forgot my second piece of government ID and had to hand the officer my Registered Indian card; wanting to crawl out of my skin, the policeman asked me to get out of my car. I walked the line down the middle of the road, caught between my two worlds; If I tipped to far to one side, this grey liminal space I occupy would fade as fast as fog in the morning sun leaving me bare. The breathalizer produced negative responses three times and then I was let off with a warning. My spotless ’92 Toyota Carola and equally feckless driver’s history couldn’t save me from 250 years of prejudice.

In white or affluent spaces, I was white. In liminal or poor spaces, I was brown; lesser than until I was branded indigenous – the lowest spot on the totem pole as it were.

My safety and I were caught in an ever spiralling dance, drawing nearer or farther with each new step but never touching.

In the queer community, I was an object to be owned and coveted; gone were the spaces of high school where I felt ugly or worse, invisible.
My dating app inbox was filled with men lusting for this young body and for it’s many qualities I was taught to be ashamed of – for it’s slender hairless frame, for it’s dark skin.

In Nelson, I was effeminate and stylish-
In Vancouver, I was masculine and, dare I say it,

average.

Men would guess at my race, always getting it wrong.
“I love Brazilian men,”
“Mexicans have big dicks, don’t they?”
“Greek, yeah?”
But when the “I” word was mentioned, I would be hit with “You’re so beautiful for an indian guy.”
That, or they would block me.
Their hunt for exoticism was too far afield to find something so close to home desirable; how can a man want fuck that which he has already conquered.

My body was something to be owned, to be acted upon, consumed but never really valued.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but so is disgust. Repulsion. Worth.
The gaze of the viewer would flatten me, simultaneously interrogate and simplify my body,

projecting what they wished

making me
white,
brown – any brown
(but indian),
something weak
to hurt,
something beautiful
to own.

I learned, once I joined dating apps, that beauty is subjective as I am subjective
and that I would much rather have someone value my mind over the vessel that houses me.
The nature of the body is that it is mercurial,
mutable,
ever changing.
My bodies physical form, it’s appearance, it’s constituent parts, stayed the same but it was the gaze that changed and thus my body changed with it.
The view of another changed the view I had of myself,
refracting and distorting what I saw
or how they saw me.
The privilege ascribed to your body is
always under negotiation;
how you are seen
is under constant negotiation.
The narrative given to bodies stays the same.

Feb 24 / March 2

Black Ash Basket
This chapter had me thinking on how our society values material; We
value things for how cheaply they are made, how readily available they are,or for it’s trendy design. We do not think too hard on how these objects are produced, or how the materials are sourced, or what sort of life the material led before it was integrated into products we are consuming. I’ve always thought that we design in spite of death; that plastic is a sort of manifestation of our fear of dying – we fear it, so we create something to outlast us, thus it will remain unchanged as we age giving our life the illusion of continuity or of ageless-ness. Life and death, in my mind, are two sides of the same coin; a balance, an equilibrium, and if we attempt to subvert or tip that balance as we do with the creation of plastic, it
will result in action that brings everything back to the fulcrum.
If we were to design with death in mind and as something not to be feared but rather respected, where the degradation or composting of a product were a natural, necessary or even integral part of the design, we may not be where we are today in regards to the climate crisis. We must honour both the life of the materials we use but also respect that everything must die – ourselves included.
Reading Lo-Tek really reinforces this idea to me, for each example of an indigenous technology is produced through and with living organic material. A core function of the technology is that is will eventually die, redistribute it’s nutrients for the next generation and ensure the balance is kept. I would say that it is ingenious, how ever it is really indigenous; the only reason modern science thinks these technologies is ingenious is because it is outside their traditional ways of thinking and generating knowledge.
This chapter also had me thinking a lot about a new sector in design and science which is called Material Ecology. Headed by the MIT instructor, Neri Oxman, the MIT project called the Mediated Matter research group is working at creating and designing for, with and by nature – which is to say, they are attempting to create new material and modes of production that work to maintain the balance of nature and design death and decay into the life of consumable goods. Neri has created biopolymer plastics, 3-D glass printers, and many other new technologies that will transform how we produce and consume not only products but energy as well. Her work, to me at least, seems synonymous to Lo-TEK design and traditional indigenous knowledge systems, which gives me a lot of hope for future. It is my hope that we can live at the fulcrum again someday,
that we can exist in balance with the natural world around us, draw from it but also give back to it in an ever cycling system of reciprocity.

Feb 10/16

Allegiance to gratitude
Leaders are the first to offer their gifts. Leadership is not rooted in authority but rather in wisdom and responsibility.
Gratitude reminds us that we are only one community member in a larger ecosystem; that being grateful keeps us humble and responsible.
Appreciation begets abundance. Reciprocity.
Picking Sweetgrass
Reciprocity is talked about in this chapter as well; that if we view our
relationship to the earth the same as we view our relationships to each
other, our understanding of our place on the earth would deepen.
Kimmerer speaks to loving the earth, but also believing the earth loves
us back. As we care for the earth, and it’s complex systems, it cares for
us too. Kimmerer even argues that we were domesticated by plants in
unison to us domesticating plants – the plants evolved to grow in straight
lines and we evolved to live next to these organized growing beings.
 
The Three Sisters
 
The book Lo-TEK talks about this phenomena of the three sisters! The
corn grows first, which then provides a straight stock for the beans to
grow up and around – the gourd grows on the ground and provides a leafy foliage and shade to prevent pests. Furthermore, the sisters create a
balanced and whole meal for human sustenance. They co-exist and
co-operate.

The extra resources on moodle this week reminded me of a project I wanted to take on a couple years ago that interrogated the way in which indigenous objects are displayed in fine arts spaces – I was always frustrated that indigenous cultural art objects were displayed in museum spaces as opposed to galleries for it reinforces the dying race narrative. Furthermore, if they are displayed in galleries, they are usually displayed in glass cases rather than plinths or on walls, which alters how they function as symbols – Contemporary pieces are shown on walls and on plinths and thus are perceived to have cultural agency/potency and while you should not touch the piece you are still technically able to. This creates a different emotional relationship between the viewer and the object. When an object is in a display case, the fact that you cannot physically touch it due to the case has a historicizing affect on the object in the mind of the viewer. It is cut off from context and therefore is not culturally potent or have agency, it is decontextualized and frozen in time.

This thought process made me think of a project which I was going to call something along the lines of “Artifacts of a Settling Society,” in which I would take contemporary every day items, such as scissors or chairs, and embed them in plinths of concrete, or display them in handmade cedar display cases as a way to flip the narrative. If I ever get into sculptural work, I may take this project up again.

Feb 3/9

Witch Hazel
This chapter reminded me of my own experiences of visiting the reservation that my nation lives on, specifically how Kimmerer describes the first time she was complimented on her teeth and it never occurred to her that her teeth were worthy of being complimented on; in fact, it was due to the person who payed the compliment having so few teeth. To me, it seems like Kimmerer is obliquely pointing to the economic disparity between herself and this person, and how that dictates which opportunities are available to someone, the state of their health and healthcare. However she also speaks of the overwhelming joy of the people in this village – the sense of belonging. When I did “return” to my peoples land, everything I had never taken into account suddenly stood out in glaring starkness; my clothes, my speech, my teeth all communicated a different identity and lived experience than that of my biological family. And yet, this part of my family didn’t hold it against me, nor even commented on it, but rather embraced me and welcomed me.
Also, this chapter was another example of how Kimmerer uses the land as a mind palace; how witch hazel is used to remind her of a lesson she learned regarding friendship as medicine.
This chapter definitely brought up some of my own baggage; My birth mother was part of the “sixties scoop,” even though she was technically scooped in the seventies. She was adopted to a white family in Kamloops, BC. At the age of seventeen, she gave birth to my twin and I – because of her young age, she decided to give us up for adoption as well. My parents at that time had been trying to have kids for years but were not successful and eventually met my birth mother for she was working through an adoption agency my grandmother worked at. All of that being said, I am very far removed from the traditions and contemporary ways of life pertinent to my nation – I have not known Rez life. I have not known extreme racism or xenophobia. I have not yet experienced the discerning and exacting blade of the colonial Canadian bureaucracy yet, for I live in proximity to whiteness through my parents. Visiting my Rez for the first time, it was so uncomfortable because of my straight and white teeth, for it implied that my parents had spend money on them – and no small sum either. My privilege weighed heavy on my shoulders and all the fine things I had taken for granted before suddenly soured. But as the years went by, I’ve started to see this privilege not as a gift nor a hinderance but as a way to redistribute that same privilege. Because of my background, I am in a position to make change for those around me and those who come after. I can use this privilege so someday there may not be any privilege.
A mother’s work
Kimmerer talks of her relationship with the pond which reflects the complex understanding indigenous people have of ecosystems and their balances and the sense of responsiblity to that relationship; how it is symbiotic. As Kimmerer cares for the pond in the narrative, and it takes care of them in numerous ways; furthermore, Kimmerer’s emotional experiences become inexplicably bound to the landscape – her dog is buried there, apples fruit from trees she planted, she weaves baskets from the grass found in the pond.
Kimmerer also speaks of the daughter,  mother and elder which is a common motif in many religious ideologies, and how this trajectory of aging is correlated to the idea of thinking of the generations after you. As an individual ages, they first discover who they are and what their values are, then they begin taking on responsibility and work to benefit their family. Then they become an elder, concerned not only with working to benefit those in the here and now, but for those who come after. A common phrase in my nation is to think of the 7 generations before you and the 7 generations after.
The consolation of water lilies
This comparison between how old and new are correlated in the example of water lily leaves is really interesting! The idea that the old leaves have a low pressure system that released air, while the new leaves draw in air creates a system which air is circulated and thus oxygenates the rhyzome of the plant; this is representative of how old and young community members are in a relationship that continually sustains cultures, ways of life, and flow of information or energy and that it is always cyclical.