C Magazine


Issue 150

Directions to BUSH Gallery
by Leah Decter and Tania Willard

Giving directions is one of the first steps when inviting someone to visit. It is a hosting obligation. Following these directions is a guesting obligation. But there are so many more directions than those guiding a visitor geographically to a place—turn left here, drive until you reach such-and-such a landmark. These directions to BUSH Gallery1—an Indigenous-led conceptual and real gallery space enacted as a collaborative project between artists Tania Willard, Peter Morin, Gabrielle Hill, and Jeneen Frei Njootli, as well as the land—direct the (settler) visitor to reflect on moving through the territories of distinct Indigenous Nations and Indian reserves, and ultimately entering the land as a visitor. Implicating each trip as a political and conceptual journey, the directions suggest that when visiting, settlers do not take mobility on Indigenous lands for granted. These directions draw on divergent experiences of shared histories and signal the exchange of guest-host relations. While highlighting hosting as a form of sovereignty, a relational welcoming, these directions do not let the settler visitor off the hook, instead appealing for a form of guesting that is undertaken with humility.
This is part of a larger creative discussion about hosting through art on sovereign Secwépemc Territory (#BUSHGallery) from Tania’s Secwépemc (and settler) perspective, and guesting responsibly on unceded Indigenous lands from Leah’s critical white settler perspective. This visiting exercise has been ongoing during the pandemic, remotely enacted through snail mail and the passing of gifts from the land: from Tania, wenéx (huckleberry) preserves from the steep slopes of Secwépemc Territory and from Leah, maple syrup from trees along the Red River where she lives in Winnipeg, Treaty 1 territory, the territory of the Cree, Oji-Cree, Anishinaabe, Dakota, Dene, and Métis Nations. Enriched by these exchanges, our discussion continues here in this first iteration of “Directions to BUSH Gallery.”

The early land-rights document Memorial to Sir Wilfred Laurier, Premier of the Dominion of Canada, which was issued by the Chiefs of the Secwepémc, Syilx, and Nlaka’pamux Nations and presented in Kamloops, BC, on August 25, 1910, uses the metaphor of guest and host to call for settler accountability:

With us when a person enters our house he becomes our guest and we must treat him hospitably as long as he shows no hostile intentions. At the same time we expect him to return to us equal treatment for what he receives. [2]

The Memorial continues:

We expect good from Canada. When they [white people] first came among us there were only Indians here. They found the people of each tribe supreme in their own territory, and having tribal boundaries known and recognized by all.3

Adopting the ethics of guest-host relations and visiting as a non-colonial/decolonial activation, we offer these directions as both a provocation and a disruption.

Firstly, you [4] must know where you are at:
You must know who you are, where you are, and how you got there. Ask, as Chickasaw scholar Jodi Byrd suggests, what your “positions in empire”5 are, both historically and in the present. What are the intergenerational responsibilities that flow from these positions?
From your relations?

(include in relations the human and more-than-human) (include in relations your complicities and co-resistances)

What lands, territories, migrations, and journeys do you carry with you?
What privileges and benefits?
What struggles?
Know that struggles ≠ innocence.6

Once you know where you are starting from you can begin your trip planning.
Note whose land you start from and will be moving through. Consider the Indigenous histories, stories, and knowledges that are unmarked in the everyday descriptions of those territories.

Next, take the highway out of your comfort zone.

You will not find BUSH Gallery on Google Maps.
You need to be invited.
BUSH Gallery is a home.

Tania’s great-grandfather used to talk about Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living in different worlds. This is because the Indian reserve system is literally segregated.

You will be leaving your system to enter into another realm.
One that is not, as you are accustomed, made for you. Prepare yourself: study the unsung, the unstoried, the unheard, and the unwelcome.

Soon they saw the country was good, and some of them made up their minds, to settle it. They commenced to take up pieces of land here and there. They told us they wanted only the use of these pieces of land for a few years, and then would hand them back to us in an improved condition; meanwhile they would give us some of the products they raised for the loan of our land.7

As you cross over colonially designated territories, question the lines, the borders, the power of prescribed boundaries, and maps as tools of domination.
Think about how colonial assumptions of unfettered access to, and mobility across, Indigenous lands have been mapped into the “Canadian” state and the state of being “Canadian.”

At your next left,
Move on from cities and towns. You need to drive dirt roads.
To the Indian reserve.
You need to know the history of the Indian reserves, and that in BC we mostly don’t have treaties. BC tricked the treaty.

Arthur Manuel, the late Secwépemc leader, points out that Indian reserves make up .2 percent of the land in Canada.8 The Canadian Encyclopedia states that Crown Land makes up 89 percent of the land in Canada. This includes the
.2 percent of land that is Indian reserves.9
Do the math.

They said a very large reservation would be staked off for us (southern interior tribes) and the tribal lands outside of this reservation the government would buy from us for white settlement. They let us think this would be done soon, and meanwhile until this reserve was set apart, and our lands settled for, they assured us we would have perfect freedom of traveling and camping and the same liberties as from time immemorial to hunt, fish, graze and gather our food supplies where we desired; also that all trails, land, water, timber, etc., would be as free of access to us as formerly. [10]

Before your next turn, you need to tear down farm fences, yard fences, and construction fences that have become borders.

Look as you pass towns with street names of white settlers whose racism is encoded into mapping and naming in everyday life. Notice the ways this language is repeated with ease, and the sense of innocence gained through denial.

Notice the lack of services, economies, healthcare, paved roads, clean drinking water on an Indian reserve.

Look for the crossing;
It may be a bridge, a relation, a story, a conflict. Resist the impulse to turn away.
Acknowledge your complicities.
Understand that accounting for your self-in-relation is ongoing.

After a time when they saw that our patience might get exhausted and that we might cause trouble if we thought all the land was to be occupied by whites they set aside many small reservations for us here and there over the country. This was their proposal not ours, and we never accepted these reservations as settlement for anything, nor did we sign any papers or make any treaties about same. They thought we would be satisfied with this, but we never have been satisfied and never will be until we get our rights.11

Consider the labour of hosting:
Of welcoming and asserting hospitality, relationality, and inclusivity. How hosting is an act of sovereignty that comes with responsibilities.

Consider the implications of guesting:
Of visiting in engaged and accountable ways; consciously, respectfully, and with humility.
That this entails an obligation of reciprocity.
Refuse the desire for mastery. Refuse the desire for emplacement.
Consider that refusal is a generative act. [12]

Do not miss what is important about Indigenous rights.

They have stolen our lands and everything on them and continue same for their own purposes. They treat us less than children. They say the Indians know nothing, and own nothing, yet their power and wealth has
come from our belongings. The Queen’s law which we believe guaranteed us our rights, the British Columbia government has trampled underfoot. This is how our guests have treated us—the brothers we received hospitably in our house.13

Travel with intention.
Travel with attention.
Travel with a tension.

Without this, you are reinforcing colonial ways in every step and breath you take;
In the span of your travels;
In your passages from one territory, one sovereignty, to the next; In the ease of your trespassing.

We condemn the whole policy of the BC government towards the Indian tribes of this country as utterly unjust, shameful and blundering in every way. We denounce same as being the main cause of the unsatisfactory condition of Indian affairs in this country and of animosity and friction with the whites. So long as what we consider justice is withheld from us, so long will dissatisfaction and unrest exist among us, and we will continue to struggle to better ourselves. Hoping you have had a pleasant sojourn in this country, and wishing you a good journey home, we remain

Yours very sincerely,

The Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan, and Couteau or Thompson tribes

Per their secretary, J.A. Teit14

Once you have arrived, remember:
Guest-host relations still exist on these uneven terrains that span the territories of sovereign Indigenous Nations across Canada.

As you continue to journey ask yourself what it might look like if you were aware of and followed the protocols and laws of all the Indigenous Nations who are hosts in the territories you pass through and visit. What would it be, as a guest, to reciprocate for access to these lands and the generosity of the human and more-than-human hosts?

You will not find BUSH Gallery on Google Maps. BUSH Gallery is a home.
You need to be invited.

These directions point you toward markers—markers on the land, on bodies, on spirits—but you are tasked with your own trip planning.