“WĀWĪNDAMAW – PROMISE” AT NONAM, ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

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wāwīndamaw – promise: Indigenous Art and Colonial Treaties in Canada, Nordamerika Native Museum (NONAM), Zurich, Switzerland (April 8 to September 17, 2022).

wāwīndamaw means promise. Three Anishinaabe artists, Barry Ace, Michael Belmore, and Frank Shebageget respond to the concept of treaty and treaty-making processes in Canada; inherent rights and relationship to land and power; and the historical and contemporary impacts from an Indigenous perspective.

For wāwīndamaw. promise: Indigenous Art and Colonial Treaties in Canada, Ace created a brand new site specific work that is an extension of his 2018 collaborative work For as long as the sun shines, grass grows and water flows made during his Art + Law Indigenous Artist in Residence Program, a partnership between the Arts Council Windsor & Region, the University of Windsor Faculty of Law and School of Creative Arts (Windsor, Ontario, Canada).  The Art + Law residency brought together 94 students, faculty, and participants from the Indigenous community and the general public around a collaborative project that coalesced a very complex legal document, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s – 94 Calls to Action. The TRC was charged to listen to Survivors, their families, communities and others affected by the residential school system and educate Canadians about their experiences. Starting in 2008, the TRC spent 6 years travelling to all parts of Canada and heard from more than 6,500 witnesses. They also hosted 7 national events across Canada to engage the Canadian public, educate people about the history and legacy of the residential schools system, and share and honour the experiences of former students and their families. In June 2015, the TRC held its closing event in Ottawa and presented the executive summary of the findings contained in its multi-volume final report, including 94 “calls to action” (or recommendations) to further reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples through social, political, economic and cultural reparations including the recognition and honour of treaty agreements.

During the  Art + Law Indigenous Artist in Residence Program, the participants worked with Ace and completed over a 4 day period 54 mixed media beaded panels with 94 handwritten call to action scrolls that were mounted together in a continuous horizontal row set against a larger painted blue strip referencing a wampum belt. By creating this site specific collaborative work, Ace and the participants completed Call to Action #83, in particular “for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process;” and Call to Action #28, “law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.”

For as long as the sun shines, grass grows and water flows (2018) is included in the NONAM exhibition wāwīndamaw. promise: Indigenous Art and Colonial Treaties in Canada.

Ace’s new site specific work for the exhibition is based on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). While the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) – Calls to Action document is applicable within Canada, UNDRIP is an international instrument that calls for the international recognition of Indigenous treaty rights by the United Nations and signatory countries. Article 37 of UNDRIP states:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.

2. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as diminishing or eliminating the rights of indigenous peoples contained in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.

The new work waawiindmawaa – promise (to promise something to somebody) consists of three floor pottery vessels that rest on top of three mounds of sand mixed with cedar, sage and tobacco. Evenly spaced apart, each vessel is positioned directly below and is in dialogue with For as long as the sun shines, grass grows and water flows (2018). The collaborative workshop sessions took place in Zurich at NONAM with a second session taking place at the Musée d’ethnographie de Genève (MEG) in Geneva. They involved 46 international law students, artists and general public participants (23 in Zurich and 23 in Geneva) who each hand-beaded a floral motif design and hand wrote one of the 46 UNDRIP articles in graphite on a sheet of vellum. At the start of the workshop, each participant confirmed their participation by first surrendering their rights to the collaborative work by signing a witnessed document and symbolically accepting one Swiss Franc in exchange for the extinguishment of their rights. This surrender was a wry reference to the treaty-making process in Canada.

During the workshop, the participants discussed and reflected on the meaning and intent of UNDRIP and its impact on Indigenous peoples in Canada and globally.  At the conclusion of the workshop, the vellum sheets were rolled into scrolls and attached to the beaded floral medallion with a tobacco tie and placed in one of the three pottery vessels.  This collaborative work is a collective acknowledgement of UNDRIP and a commitment by the United Nations and Canada as signatory to this international declaration to uphold and honour the treaty agreements (including other social, political, economic and cultural rights contained therein) with Indigenous peoples of Canada. When read together, the works are a contemporary visual and mnemonic waawiindmawaa – promise.

The new collaborative work waawiindmawaa – promise also fulfills the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #83 and takes the call to an international level, “We call upon the Canada Council for the Arts to establish, as a funding priority, a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.”

While undertaking the workshops in Zurich and Geneva between April 22 and April 28, the Assembly of First Nations, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald was in New York City calling for the United Nations to launch an independent investigation into Canada’s role in violations of human rights associated with residential schools. She made the request at the 21st Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on April 25, 2022 and also sent a written request to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Barry Ace acknowledges all of the participants for their unwavering support in the completion of these collaborate works and for their artistic activism and advocacy in heightening international and domestic awareness of social, political, economic, environmental, cultural, treaty and land based rights of Indigenous people in Canada and globally.

Barry Ace acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts; Nordamerika Native Museum (Zurich, Switzerland)Musée d’ethnographie de Genève (Geneva, Switzerland); and the Embassy of Canada to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (Bern, Switzerland).

 

Download PDF Poster (here)

Download Program PDF (here)

Download Workshop PDF (here)

List of Participants by UNDRIP Article:

Zurich (NONAM)

    1. Morena Dollé
    2. Sebastian Benavides Florez
    3. Souad Khairallah
    4. Gabriella Naidu
    5. Sabrina Berardelli
    6. Helena Nyberg
    7. Simon Karrer
    8. Heinz Entzeroth
    9. Viola Stäheli
    10. Ulrike Kastrup
    11. Melanie de Visser
    12. Esther Siegrist
    13. Nina Mildred Reuther
    14. Laura Tschigg
    15. Laura Sigg
    16. Daniel Seitz
    17. Sairan Kareem
    18. Yvonne Sandoz
    19. Katharina Kägi
    20. Lea Sophie Richter
    21. Peter Keller
    22. Rahel Benavides Florez
    23. Eveline Nussbaumer (Runa Löb, Karin Kaufmann)

Geneva (MEG)

    1. Rosie H. Cook
    2. Romy Peschl
    3. Juan José Ruiz Quintero
    4. Anouck Hoyois
    5. Eduardo Cavalcanti de Mello
    6. Yannick Gilestro
    7. Adriana Batalha
    8. Kyle Lynch
    9. Margot Donzé
    10. Thomas Gindrat
    11. Johnathan Watts
    12. Isabel Garcia Gomez
    13. Larissa Mina Lee
    14. Jason Nemerovski
    15. Monika Egli
    16. Farzad Fallah
    17. Kilian Anheuser
    18. Marisa Giustiniani
    19. Chiara Cosenza
    20. Barry Ace
    21. Lucie Monot
    22. Mauricio Estrada Muñoz
    23. Mariia Bykova