Sunday June 18, 2017

Artists and activists use Twitter to highlight 150 years of Indigenous resistance

Isaac Murdoch says the pictograph site is a meaningful, sacred place to several Anishinaabe communities in the area.

Isaac Murdoch says the pictograph site is a meaningful, sacred place to several Anishinaabe communities in the area. (Submitted)

A social media campaign called #Resistance150 features Indigenous acts of resistance, resilience and reclamation in response to #Canada150 celebrations.

The hashtag campaign on social media was started by Michif artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist and advocate Tanya Kappo, M├ętis elder and author Maria Campbell and Anishinaabe teacher and storyteller Isaac Murdoch.

"I think in Canada there's been a real important history of Indigenous resistance all along and prior to the Canadian state even existing," Belcourt said. "The idea of celebrating Canada 150 really flies in the face of our continued history of Indigenous nations in this land that go back 15,000 or more years."

Isaac Murdoch said the idea began with a conversation about how to respond to the celebration.

They came up with #Resistance150 and invited people to share on social media their acts of resistance.

"Part of this is to create awareness and so some of it to ask people to observe," he said. "Part of this is to ask people to take action, to stand up."

150 Heroes

One of those people taking action is Mary Grace Kosta, a librarian and a linguist from London, Ont. She is tweeting 150 Indigenous heroes, one each day. Although Canadians are celebrating the country's 150th birthday this July 1st, Kosta says she knows Indigenous peoples have a far longer history on this land.

Ellen Neel

Ellen Neel was the first female totem pole carver. (David Neel)

"I feel that celebrating Canada's 150th ignores centuries of Indigenous history and the history of colonialism in our country. Recent calls to reconciliation meant to address femicide of Indigenous women have not been met with urgent action," she explained.

"My main motivation was to share stories that aren't taught in the school system with a goal of educating, inspiring and commemorating peoples whose lives have shown really remarkable resilience, courage, dedication and determination."

Some of the people she has featured are Helen Betty Osborne, a Cree teen who was murdered in The Pas, MB., in 1971 by four white men, Chief Sitting Bull, Louis Riel, Ellen Gabriel, Norval Morrisseau and Senator Murray Sinclair.

She stood alone

One of Kosta's favourite heroes was Ellen Neel, from Alert Bay, B.C., who was the first female carver of totem poles.

David Neel

David Neel is a carver and jewelry designer. (davidneel.com)

"She raised six children, her husband got too sick to work," she said. "She had learned to carve from her uncle Mungo Martin. Even though she became the most famous female carver in history, in Canada, she was denied a Canada Council grant."

Ellen's grandson, David Neel, a carver and jewellery designer in his own right says although she passed away when he was 5-years-old he still carries a strong memory of her.

"She was always this larger than life character and a very big influence in my life," he recalled.

"The memory I have of my grandmother is going to visit the carving studio when I was a very young boy. I remember it was down in a basement and it was full of yellow cedar chips. My memory is that these cedar chips were up to my chest and I asked why they don't get swept up and she said 'Oh, we're too busy, we're always carving.' I always remember the smell, yellow cedar has a very distinctive smell. To this day when I smell yellow cedar I think of my grandmother."