I was invited to attend the Native American Art Studies Association conference in the fall of 2017 to talk with folks on a session titled “Thinking through the Museum: Decolonizing and Indigenizing Arts Institutions in Canada” with Alexandra Kahsenniio Nahwegahbow, Amy Prouty, and Heather Igloliorte, who was also facilitating the discussion.
This was my first NAASA, and my first time visiting the States, so I was understandably overwhelmed with all the information I was able to absorb. There were so many lovely people who made me feel comfortable despite the fact that many NAASA goers have been attending for years and seemed to split their conference time up to be able to catch-up with old friends. I find that it is very difficult to enter these spaces as a young Inuk who often feels not educated enough and a generally underwhelming presence in academic settings.
In preparing for the talk, I went into it without looking up my fellow speakers and only using Heather’s write up as a guide; it may have been a rookie mistake but I wanted the discussion to be more informal, less practiced, more relaxed, and easily accessible while ensuring that I was not too intimidated by my amazing co-presenters to speak. Alexandra blew me away with her curatorial practice, her knowledge, and her words about community. From my recollection, she spoke about “making your world smaller” to better your chances at having a more impactful change in the community. I find that sentiment to be an amazing tactic to attempt to decolonize your world (baby steps, right?). Amy’s vast knowledge on Inuit art is incredibly admirable and inspiring, and––not to sound too cheesy––but her work gives me hope in the sense that our stories and our art will continue have space in the academy.
I spoke about my relatively new role at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity as a program participant in the Indigenous Curatorial Research Practicum. I am honoured to be able to participate in this program at the Centre as I feel that the centre is an amazing hub for Indigenous artist and curators, and to immerse myself in this setting is quite amazing. I believe during the panel I joked about how I am unsure how I made it to Banff, not having curated anything as of yet, but I feel that knowing that information makes me even more appreciative of the program. I spoke as well about some of the shortcomings of the Banff Centre that I have observed, as they work towards the admirable goal of “Indigenizing”, making an analogy during the panel that they are building stairs but forgot a few steps. By that, I mean I believe Banff Centre is trying to work towards decolonization and reconciliation, but I have been getting the sense that they don’t yet have certain groundwork in place, even while trying to implement huge changes from above (i.e., creating Indigenous specific practicums without having Indigenous mentors in place to guide those practicums). Just with speaking to a few key people at the Centre though, I am confident that they are working to make Indigenous practicums feel more supported than they currently are, and I have observed some steps in the right direction
After the talk I felt that the audience had very thoughtful questions and they seemed eager to hear from “the millennials”, or the emerging curators/arts professionals. An audience member had asked if we knew of any institutions that are getting “reconciliation” right, and I suggested the Winnipeg Art Gallery, especially in light of the soon to come Inuit Art Centre. We also discussed the role of artist run centres in Canada, and their importance in making small but meaningful changes within communities.
The thing that stuck with me the most is the care and support that Indigenous women have the capacity for. Mentorship from Indigenous women has been such a blessing in my life and I feel that the only way to tear down these institutions and break the glass/moose hide ceiling is by lifting each other up and supporting one another; I am very thankful to have the support of these women in my life and I hope to one day be just as supportive and inspirational.
Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter
*Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter is an Inuvialuk artist and curator based in Calgary/Banff and she currently holds the Indigenous Curatorial Research Practicum at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She uses art and humour as a coping mechanism to address cultural displacement and mental illness; the lighthearted nature of her practice extends gestures of empathy and solidarity.