History Lessons

This series explores the topic of colonialism in Canada’s past and current times. Looking at all aspects from personal to socio-political to industrial development, these pieces try to emphasize the importance of recognizing and dismantling colonial systems still present in our society, and honouring Indigenous rights and sovereignty.  This series consists of different works under this theme, with some collaborations.  They have been included in various exhibitions over the years, separately. More specific artist statements are posted at the bottom of the image collection.

THE PORTRAITS:

These two selections from Rath’s ongoing portrait project “History Lessons” depict local First Nations members who are active in their community as carriers of culture and indigenous rights.  Both artworks have an underlayer of pages from an old history textbook called “Canada: Growth of a Nation”.  On top of that is splashed a white paint, to symbolize the tendency to whitewash history as focused around the dominant colonial perspective.  The portraits are painted on top of this in a limited palette, utilizing traditional NW Coast art colours of red and black, as well as a translucent iron oxide and blueish-grey to symbolize the earth and atmosphere (the grey being the smoke of fires, smokehouses and ceremony).  Emerging from all sides of the paintings are weathered cedar planks, cut as defensive stakewalls, as would surround forts in the past.  These echo the fur-trading/settler forts and Hudson’s Bay Company posts of the contact era (eg. Fort Fraser, Fort George, etc.).  Affirmative quotes and lyrics encircle these portraits, as if reclaiming the cedar palisade, breaking through the barriers of the fences of the dominant culture.

 

  1. History Lessons (Mavis) The first portrait is of Mavis Dennis, a young Witsuwit’en woman who has been a member of ‘Ewk Hiyah Hozdli Drum and Dance Group since 2014.  She is a role-model to many young people, with her courage to live an outstanding life, and keep her culture alive.  Her quote which frames her portrait is:

I dance for the kids behind me,

I dance for the ancestors who died for me,

and I dance to keep my culture alive for the future generations.

Bring that culture back to me

 

  1. History Lessons (Mob Bounce) The second portrait is of Mob Bounce, an Indigenous hip hop/EDM (electronic dance music) duo comprised of Travis Hebert (Heebz the Earthchild) and Craig Edes (The Northwest Kid), who grew up in the Bulkley Valley.  Travis is Metis/Cree and Craig is Gitxsan.  They combine traditional and contemporary elements in their music, and their lyrical content explores social awareness/justice, spirituality and Mother Earth connection. They are rising on Canada’s music scene, and are an inspiration to many young Indigenous kids in our community, and offer their ‘medicine’ music to the larger Canadian society. The lyrics written on this piece are excerpted from their song “Redfist”:

My people fished with torches in the river of mist,

Where the two rivers meet, where heaven exists,

The world isn’t evil, it’s feeble and plastic

It’s not people who do wrong, it’s that people are passive

This is my prayer song, the Eagle can grasp it

RECLAMATION PIPE:  The bottom of this piece is comprised of a stack of old books on Canadian history, themselves now historical, as they define Canada in terms of a colonial perspective.  Balanced atop these books is a black tube, representing a pipeline, a more modern version of colonialism, since the federal government does not seem to be interested in respecting the laws and rights of our First Nations opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Proposal.  However, this pipeline is transformed into a sort of Peace Pipe, as feathers sprout atop the length of it.  This represents the renewal of cultural strength, growing from this colonial past and contemporary challenge.  It overcomes the stated purpose of the pipeline to be reclaimed in the power of the indigenous traditions, founded in the laws of Nature.