The Silence of Sovereignty
Aniibiminanaki-Pembina by Dylan Miner, woodcut, 2015
June 26th, 2015 to August 7th, 2015
Opening: June 26th, 5-8pm
Artist talk, Friday, June 26th, 5:30pm
What does Indigenous sovereignty look and sound like? How can we imagine sovereignty outside the machinations of Canadian and US political structures? Do artists have anything to add to this conversation? With these questions in mind, The Silence of Sovereignty engages with the quotidian and silent ways that Indigenous sovereignties are performed and enacted, not in ways that are linked to Western political structures, but ones that intimately connect individuals with each other and with the land.
From the perspective of settler-colonial institutions, Indigenous presence is simply a noisy confrontation and intervention in its otherwise well-oiled machine. As the past few years clearly demonstrate, Indigenous survivance is central to both Canadian and US political life, regardless of what either nation-state desires. On the prairies, Idle No More – as well as important court rulings (such as the federal and appeals courts’ Daniels Decision and the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of the Manitoba Métis Federation) – indicates the ever-present political reality of Indigenous people. In the Maritimes, we saw the direct confrontation of the RCMP by Mi’kmaq activists over fracking in their territory. The recently findings of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the responses by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt, indicate the ongoing colonial relationship between Indigenous peoples and settler-colonial governments.
From the perspective of settler-society, Indigenous sovereignty exists as loud and noisy confrontations with Euro-Canadian (and Euro-American) society, which it often must be. At other times, however, can silence be performed as an autonomous and resistant structure? Can one be silent, while not being silenced?
Text Response by Jenny Western
Silence of Sovereignty - Dylan Miner
I recently had someone tell me that although they support Indigenous political activism, they felt that the demonstrated approach was unnecessarily aggressive and negative. While this viewpoint is deeply problematic and incredibly troubling, it is sadly not an uncommon perspective for many non-Aboriginal people operating within the mainstream North American mindset. As Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) artist Dylan Miner points out, for settler-society, Indigenous sovereignty is mainly perceived in loud and noisy confrontations such as the Idle No More movement and other events receiving mass media coverage. But Miner also importantly states, “Indigenous survivance is often located within the quotidian and the mundane, as well as within silence.” It is these moments of silence that Miner has chosen to explore through his exhibition Silence of Sovereignty.
Silence of Sovereignty is made up of four works: Giimoodwewe'akokwe (s/he drums secretly), an installation of marching-band drumheads; Biibaagi (s/he calls out), an audio installation of three birchbark moosecalls with audio soundscapes; Goshkwaawaadabi (s/he stays quietly), a selection of woodcuts of Indigenous spaces across Turtle Island; and Michif, Michin (the people, the medicine), a selection of relief prints of medicinal and edible plants, printed in berry ink made from berries harvested by the artist. The audio installation sets the tone of the exhibition by playing the show’s sound component at a very low decibel. These field recordings, captured both on and off reserve as well as in urban Native spaces, present Miner’s attempts at listening to the land. Each selected site is a place of Indigenous sovereignty as well as a place with personal or familial attachment for him. The audio was recorded by either Miner, his friends or family, or acquired through social media in a variety of locations throughout Canada and the United States: Batoche, Seven Oaks, Michilimackinac, Isle Royale, Drummond Island, Mica Bay, Pembina, etc. By listening to the soft sounds of the land speaking in these spaces, Miner then responds visually with the accompanying series of circular relief prints.
Resembling the round drumheads and moosecalls that share the exhibition space, the circular prints also suggest viewing these landscapes from a distance via a small telescope or through the curvilinear shapes of nature. Miner keeps these visual interpretations loose, choosing to reduce the image to as few lines as possible. He deems these to be “quiet prints” and titles them in their Anishinaabemowin names:
I am thinking about quiet ways of articulating sovereignty in these spaces and the way that these places have kin relationships with me/us. For instance, Rabbit Island in Lake Superior is known as Ni-aazhawa’am-minis (which means something about being a temporary point of crossing over) or Drummond Island, which my family defended against the Americans is Bootaagani-minis (meaning a wild rice mill).
These spaces are not silent in the sense that they are void or empty. Rather, the visually and aurally depicted sites in “Silence of Sovereignty” have much to say. Miner’s project is about the articulation of Indigenous Sovereignty. These voices are present at all times, no matter what the volume.
Dylan Miner is a Wiisaakodewinini (Métis) artist, activist, and scholar. He is Director of American Indian Studies and Associate Professor at Michigan State University, as well as member of Justseeds artists collective. Miner has been featured in more than twenty solo exhibitions. His book Creating Aztlán: Chicano Art, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Lowriding Across Turtle Island was published last year. He is presently working on two books – one on contemporary Indigenous aesthetics and a book of poetry, Ikidowinan Ninandagikendaanan (words I seek to learn).