By Lindy Kinoshameg, YPT Community Engagement Facilitator

About INDIGENizeUS:  During YPT’s 2017/18 Season, the entire staff participated in INDIGENizeUS workshops created by Lindy Kinoshameg and Leslie McCue that focused on Indigenous relations, raising cultural awareness, and exploring individual reconciliation. Learning began around the seven sacred teachings of Respect, Bravery, Humility, Love, Honesty, Wisdom, and Truth. The intention behind the workshop series is to hear stories from Indigenous artists/elders and participate in traditions first-hand. It is our hope that programs such as this will begin building a bridge between nations and help take the first steps toward reconciliation. To read INDIGENizeUS – Part 1, click here.

The grandfather teaching of LOVE is based on viewing your inner-self from the perspective of all teachings, and from the notion that each of us must love ourselves truly. From this, the notion of “loving ourselves before we can love others” came to mind. So we thought this would be the perfect time to reflect on what it truly means to be ‘Canadian’, and to move forward with a deeper understanding of where we come from in terms of what has actually transpired on these lands over the past 150 years and the legacy of colonization that endures.

Since moving to Toronto over 10 years ago, J’net was one of the first people Leslie and I had the chance to meet and work with, and we are now glad to call her our friend. To this day, J’net is a mentor of ours in the way she truly fights for what she believes in, her continued resilience, and from perpetually helping others.

J'net AyAyQwaYakSheelth

J’net AyAyQwaYakSheelth delivers a presentation on the grandfather teaching of LOVE.

J’net AyAyQwaYakSheelth (One who gives away and still stands tall) is a member of the Ahousaht community within the Nuu-chah-nulth Lands on Vancouver Island and is a descendant of whale hunters and cedar bark weavers. Cedar bark weaving is being revived and retained by peoples across the West Coast and J’net actively practices this timeless art form to ensure her children and future unborn generations continue the practice.

Artistically, J’net is also an emerging textile artist using distinct West Coast art to create a unique expression of oral story traditions on contemporary and re-cultured clothing. As an Arts Educator J’net has a commitment to raising a positive profile of Indigenous peoples, imparting facts about a difficult colonial history and offering insights to ongoing contemporary contributions being made by diverse nations from throughout Turtle Island.

In her current appointment with the Royal Ontario Museum as the Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator, J’net engages with the Indigenous community to assist the ROM with an authentic representation of Indigenous peoples in our tours, Indigenous Professional Learning sessions, Indigenous special events and expand outreach throughout the province.

J’net began her workshop by introducing an exercise that would take the majority of the workshop to complete. She instructed everyone to create a mask by collaging images and words in magazines provided, building one side of the mask as an internal reflection of how you see yourself, and the other side as an external reflection of how you think others see you. While doing this, everyone was listening to and seeing J’net’s presentation, which touched on some of the historical facts that Indigenous people have known as reality for hundreds of years. Some of the participants in the room were learning these facts for the first time.

J’net continued with her presentation, which to some might have felt like a constant unloading of heavy information and facts to process, but this was definitely ‘going easy on them’ considering what Indigenous peoples have had to go through for hundreds of years. From the ancestors of 1492 all the way down to my grandparents and parents, generations have had to endure pain and suffering, injustice and degradation – all so that my generation and the next would not be the last; so we could stand here today free. Well, one day anyway. For now my generation fights for change: one changed heart, one changed mind, one workshop at a time.

 group work

Participants explore quotes in groups and share their feelings related to images.

I think what J’net was able to accomplish in two hours was to have a room full of colleagues from various levels within the organization forget about workplace hierarchy, look at themselves under a new lens, and work collaboratively and share as individuals on this learning journey together. One image shows an “Usher” explaining something to a “Board Member”, the “Community Programs & Education Manager”, and the “Head Carpenter”; but through these workshops (and if you asked anyone who has gone through them) it is just Guy chatting with Holly, Amber and Ryan.

It is worth noting that we conducted pre- and post-workshop surveys for INDIGENizeUS participants to share their feelings and feedback, so we could see any immediate changes, but also any patterns that emerged over the course of the entire series. With 50 staff members surveyed, some of the information was laid out in a graph like the one below, titled Staff’s self-identification of their cultural group.  Going into this work I knew the lack of diversity amongst the staff, so seeing this graph was not at all a shocker, disappointing yes, but definitely not surprising. What got to me was that re-discovery of the immense lack of Indigenous knowledge across the sector. If this reflected just a slice of my little corner of the arts industry, how many more organizations are not only lacking a program like INDIGENizeUS, but any sort of Indigenous representation at all within their collective?

staff self idenficiation graph

After seeing this statistic, and maybe feeling the loneliness of being the only Indigenous person on staff, and maybe feeling the enormity of the work ahead of me, this organization, and the entire sector, I thought ‘how did I get myself into this mess anyway?’ At the time, I was only an intern, and who am I to take the reins on such a big initiative? Sometimes the universe throws you a bone though, like when you scroll down below that statistic in the same survey, you get a great comment like:

“Please continue to do this very important work of spreading and sharing these vital stories and cultures of the Indigenous nations of this land. I used to be so proud and confident of my Canadian identity, but now I feel like those words fall short in describing what it actually means to be a person who occupies this land.”

This brought back the feelings of wanting to be the change in a sector where I love to work. I am not saying that de-railing people’s belief in the machine that is ‘Canada’ is my goal… but maybe that the breadth of that comment put a smile on my ancestors, and me in that moment.

group work

Participants collaging through magazines – while listening to J’net present.

While this work can feel very eye-opening for participants, it can become a very heavy weight on an Indigenous person as well.  It is a double-edged sword in that we are creating change and ally-ship in people and in a system designed for Indigenous people to fail, but also the emotional and spiritual toll of constantly carrying that information around with us. Some of that weight comes from explaining every single historical intricacy that affects almost every decision.

Historically, sharing cultural knowledge with non-Indigenous peoples has led to the disregard of that knowledge and the disparagement of the culture, and a lot of Indigenous artists and colleagues have not forgotten that history. So, when I ask my friend to enter this non-Indigenous circle, and give themselves to the work, I know how deep that request goes. I am not only asking for a two-hour workshop in exchange for a fee, this is deeper.

I’m asking them ― can you please share the sacred teaching of LOVE, while considering the historical relationship between Indigenous peoples and the government. Please consider breaking through the ignorance and white privilege that may accompany some non-Indigenous peoples, and please consider sharing your own personal journey while keeping your own energy safe. Lastly please consider that I work here and would like to keep working here, so go easy on ‘em! 🙂

LOVE group

LOVE workshop group photo.

INDIGENizeUS : Part 1

INDIGENizeUS : Part 2

INDIGENizeUS : Part 3

INDIGENizeUS : Part 4

INDIGENizeUS : Part 5

About Lindy Kinoshameg:

Lindy Kinoshameg, as a child.

A proud Odawa from the Pike clan, Lindy was raised in Wiikwemkoong Unceeded First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Lindy has spent the last 10 years in Toronto, focusing his energy on Indigenous cultural awareness and breaking stereotypes through the arts. Always striving to practice new art-forms, this has led to a multitude of experiences: Visual arts projects, Healthy Living Program Coordinator, and Indigenous Radio Program Host, working his way up to Production Tour Manager and Event Coordinator, Indigenous Dance and cultural workshop facilitation. Lindy is now involved with Young People’s Theatre as Community Engagement Facilitator, in part to his strong belief and push towards incorporating Indigenous values and teachings into his practice, and sharing his knowledge with others.