a culture of presence and creating

[Yesterday, many of us at SSU participated in the “Blanket Exercise,” a creative way to get a new experience of the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It led me to turn again to Leanne Simpson for inspiration.]

When I think back to the pre-colonial lives of my ancestors, the most striking thing about the way they lived is that they were constantly engaged in the act of creating: making clothes, food, shelter, stories, games, modes of transportation, instruments, songs and dances…. Creating was the base of our culture. Creating was regenerative and ensured more diversity, more innovation and more life. In essence, Indigenous societies were societies of doing; they were societies of presence. Our processes – be they political, spiritual, education or healing – required a higher degree of presence than modern colonial existence.

In the space of the modern empire, society is a culture of absence because consumer culture requires both absence and wanting things in order to perpetuate itself. Without wanting, consumer culture simply cannot exist. In terms of representation, modern society primarily looks for meaning (in books, computers, art) whereas Indigenous cultures engage in processes or acts to create meaning. Indigenous cultures understand and generate meaning through engagement, presence, and process – storytelling, ceremony, singing, dancing, doing. The re-creation story of dancing on the turtle’s back means that creation requires presence, innovation and emergence. It also requires the support of the spiritual world: the process of doing or making is one way that the spiritual word intervenes (through dreams). Making aligns us with our Creation and Re-creation stories because we begin to act. We use the creative, innovative intelligence imparted to us by Gzhwe Mnidoo [the Great Spirit] to create and voice our truths, to strategize our response, and ultimately to act in creating new and better realities. Creating aligns us with our Ancestors because when we engage in artistic or creative processes, we disconnect ever so slightly from the dominant economic system and connect to a way of being based on doing, rather than blind consumption.

– Leanne Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back (2011)

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