Besho Omaa Daawag Igo Anishinaabeg
Inspired in part by mail art and other similar art practices that circumvent traditional venues and parameters of the art market, Besho Omaa Daawag Igo Anishinaabeg is a series of travel postcards reimagined to communicate Anishinaabe language and philosophy and to acknowledge Anishinaabe territory.
Drawing on our backgrounds in photography and Indigenous governance, we have chosen to photograph specific locations that hold spiritual, cultural, and political significance to the Anishinaabeg. The postcards takes the form of the divided-back travel postcard—with imagery on the front of the card and an Anishinaabe phrase in the message field on the back.
Far from a benign form of greeting, the history of the postcard in Canada is both historically and contemporarily problematic. The ubiquity of the postcard accompanied the evolution of Canadian colonial expansion, first through the railroad, establishment of mining and lumbering industries, and the deployment of treaty commissioners with a newly created national police force. All of which contributed to the alienation of Indigenous peoples from their lands. Meanwhile the postcard in Canada beckoned settlers to populate that newly emptied and starkly beautiful “natural” landscape. In other words, postcards are signifiers of Indigenous dispossession.
Still today the visual imagery of typical Canadian travel postcard preserves a mythology of a country free of the violence it perpetuates, a narrative of bounty, benevolence, and a proud national identity. If Indigenous peoples appear at all, it is via stereotypical performance, dancing at a pow-wow, an artist rendering of buckskin-clad hunter, perhaps a totem pole. Kim Ennis notes in Postcards from the Prairie: A Settlement Discourse that, “from their earliest proliferation, postcards were in the service of national fantasies.” They are a form of place-making that also erases.
We aim to subvert the ways in which tourist and travel postcards have, in these cases mentioned above, obscured our existence from the land or framed a colonial construction of “the Indian”.
Imagining or visioning a decolonial future is a vital process in strategies of transformation and change for Indigenous peoples in Canada. While the residential school system and corresponding assimilation policies didn’t obliterate Indigenous languages completely, it had an incredibly negative impact on transmission across generations. The Anishinaabeg have complex knowledge systems which remain to this day rooted in our relationality to the lands and waters and these knowledge systems are best articulated through Anishinaabemowin. Our language developed – and continues to develop – over ten thousand years in relationship to the land and is of such cultural importance that it is connected to our very existence.
Theories of Indigenous futurism articulate an understanding of and positioning within non-linear time: “The past is always-already in the present, as is the future” (Cornum, The Creation Story is a Spaceship: Indigenous Futurism and Decolonial Deep Space). The work here alludes to both a past and a future, a past/future in which Anishinaabe people had/have the capital, mobility and freedom to make and re-imagine the world in our own language, to reclaim our narrative, and to re-insert ourselves in the natural landscape but also the built environment. Participants at the Grow Op exhibition can help transmit that message, door-to-door, priority service.
- Susan Blight and Hayden King, 2017