Friday, August 21, 2009

Once or twice a week I take my morning coffee at gene. The staff at gene are serious about coffee, and as a result the lines are long. During my last visit I found myself next to artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, who, after a bit of chitchat, asked if I might be interested in writing for an upcoming publication on his work.

Yuxweluptun was born in Kamloops, B.C., the son of a Cowichan Salish father and an Okanagan mom, though he spent much of his adolescence in Vancouver (his First Nations affiliation is Coast Salish). Although known primarily for his large figurative and abstract canvases, he has done the odd performance, most notably at an English gun club, where, in 1997, he shot the Indian Act, a vile bit of paternalism authored by the Government of Canada some hundred and thirty-three years ago.

While cycling home I thought about what I might write for Yuxweluptun’s book, recalling a talk I gave at the Western Front last April, where the curators exhibited a single Yuxweluptun painting, entitled Guardian Spirits on the Land: Ceremony of Sovereignty (2000), alongside a selection of science fiction paperbacks. The painting, rendered in vivid acrylics, features a group of spirits moving over a surrealist landscape. These figures, comprised of ovoid forms in various states of articulation, are not unlike the androids depicted on the paperbacks. For the curators and myself, the juxtaposition of Yuxweluptun’s painting with these futuristic covers seemed a good way to talk about the artist’s canvases not as landscapes but as history paintings -- history, for Yuxweluptun, being as much about the future as the present and the past.

Once home, I decided to reread the Indian Act. Although the intent of the Act remains the same as it did when I was at university (in effect making all Aboriginals wards of the state), the internet version appears to have been line-edited, looking more like a work of technical writing than the cavalcade of sentence fragments and semi-colons I remember from my youth. The design was different too. Instead of thick black blocks of endless text, today’s Act looks more like a how-to manual, with lots of space between each section. But as I said, the intent remains the same -- only this time I noticed a number of instances where the Act applies to Non-Indians.

That night, while lying in bed, I devised a trauma fantasy, one that had me going to the Capilano 5 Reserve and, beside the paintball park, digging a small hole and planting something indigenous, like a bleeding heart. After watering the plant, I would take the displaced earth and put it in my watering can, thereby ensuring that once I left the reserve I would have broken two laws: the first being trespassing (a fifty dollar fine), the second, the removal of soil. My point? The Indian Act is not an enemy of the Aboriginal but an enemy of everyone – past, present and future. And that is what I might write about.

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