home page link

Talk Indian To Me #1
Âhasiw Maskêgon-Iskwêw, 1995

Are we in the middle of momentous change, a First Peoples cultural and artistic renaissance? I don't think so. It can't happen that fast. Our house will not be built of non-Native liberal bad breath, their narcissistic patronizing posturings and incredulous naive fascinations with the exotics—"our Indians."

It will be built slowly and with care, weaving ancient and contemporary critical discourse through finely tuned ears, warily travelling the circle of time, knowing that the nightmares of the past are still with us, racists hiding in dark corners, silencing, blinding and killing us. Our house will be painted with the force of the shame and anger their violence causes in their families, their sisters' and brothers' growing respect for our strength and tenacity, and their newly found commitment to have us teach their children our words for creation, our ways of shaping metaphor and metonymy, our tools for shaping, speaking, imaging and dancing the world.

It's no renaissance, this slow and painstaking process. We can only come to be known, to be understood, to be seen if our languages, literature and orature are being taught in universities with the same honour, resourcefulness and pervasive ubiquity as are almost everyone else's. These are ancient voices of the land, and some are slowly dying from their long wait to be heard, to sing, and to teach again. However, this is a transformation of pedagogy that is looked on by most of these institutions with disbelief, skepticism, and stubborn reluctance—if they perceive it at all. This is a subtle, hidden, but most painful and dangerous twist of the racist knife.

This is why it's so slow, this glacial "renaissance." It will be for a new generation of non-Native peoples who sat as children, youth and young adults and heard and learned our languages along with their own, who remember and recite our ancestors' stories along with all the others, whose worldview is shaped by these things—these will be the ones who will be true allies and partners with our children in a real and resounding cultural renaissance.

In the meantime, in the shadows, knives are still at work, cutting more false images of us from our own flesh, cutting us off from our own people. "You can't just do your work for Indians—your work has to be relevant to a REAL audience." (Read: sanitized and romanticized, always simultaneously too Indian and not Indian enough.) Who but our own people can be a REAL audience when even the most basic and obvious elements of our histories are ignored, distorted and brutally erased in the panicky, frenetic hysteria of non-Native contemporary culture? Or perhaps the perceptions, more ominously, are that First Peoples cannot constitute a REAL audience because we are dying or dead peoples with no art of our own, a non-audience of irrelevant ghosts—that we don't have a sufficiently sophisticated level of awareness to appreciate works of art—that because we have been forcibly gagged and restrained from actively contributing to the character of contemporary culture, we have no analysis of it—that none of our cultures have a degree of elegance, grace and vitality equal to the task of reading non-Native culture.

I don't think so. Our survival and growing strength proves emphatically that we've been able to read it, talk it and walk it—it was forced down our throats until it came back up as a weapon we've had to use to keep what little was left to us and to regain that which was stolen. Now we take up these new tools to help fashion our own images of beauty, passion, terror, healing, fury and joy—from our own perspectives—incorporating these tools into the living skin of our cultures, working them side by side with older ones from our ancestors.

The old songs are loud, pounding and powerful again, heating the blood of the young—dancing fires across their dreams. Around them softly, in quiet pleasure, gray heads nod with embered remembrance—all circling together in time with the sun. Now our sneak-up dance is working, provoking the slow awakening of non-Native peoples to the richness, complexity and depth of our ways of seeing and shaping the world. The families of our allies are growing, their children are being taught, the feasting and sharing together with honour has begun—preparing for the renaissance when you will talk Indian to me.

Âhasiw Maskêgon-Iskwêw (1958 - 2006) was a Cree/Métis writer, editor, performance and spoken word artist, video and visual artist, curator and teacher. A graduate of Emily Carr College of Art and Design (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design), Maskêgon-Iskwêw was a participant in the two year Equity Internship Program at the Canada Council for the Arts that included work with the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, Circle Vision Arts Corporation, and the Aboriginal Film and Video Art Alliance. He then became Program Coordinator and Assistant Editor of the Talking Stick First Nations Arts Magazine and later developed the position of Production Manager for SOIL at Neutral Ground Digital Media Production Suite. He also worked as web editor for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. His critical writing has been published in Mix and Fuse Magazine and in the anthology The Multiple and Mutable Subject: Postmodern Subjectivity and the Internet (2002), published by the St. Norbert Arts Centre. His fictional work Cannibals was presented by the Art Gallery of Calgary as part of the Storybook Story project.

In describing rooms he created for CyberPowWow, an Aboriginally Determined Territory in Cyberspace, Âhasiw said, “They form a constellation that attempts to tell one complex story. There is a desire to say things in a more complete way, to leave a legacy.” His work has left everyone who experienced his art or read his words a rich and complex legacy of their own.

A full bio can be found on the home page.