This very long and rambling essay was initially written for a presentation at the Reconciliation Works in Progress at the Shingwauk Centre, Algoma University, Sault Ste Marie.
It has been reworked since and I have posted it here in series of linked posts.
Thank you to Reworks organizers Sophie McCall, Jonathan Dewar, Ashok Mathur, Steve Loft and Trina Cooper Bolam; to our hosts the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and Algoma University; and to my friends and colleagues—new and old.
It is an honour to be invited to this inspired / inspiring gathering. Among so many acclaimed artists, writers, and thinkers, in the context of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, I am humbled by the opportunity to reflect on my engagement with digital platforms and how I see them relating to the daunting challenges of re/conciliation, “progress” and the legacies of the Residential School System.
Coming here, I have been thinking about home and family, and the journeys that frame my speaking and knowing. I struggle to get my head around what it means to return from Vancouver, where I live as an unsettled settler on unceded Coast Salish land, to Toronto, where I grew up and where my family lives on and among the territories of the Neutral, Seneca, Cayuga, and Mohawk nations, and then traveling on to Sault Ste. Marie, to be hosted by CSAA on the ancestral land of the Anishnaabeg.
As I try to come to terms with these complex geographies and the web of historical treaties and land claims they describe, I am struck by the landscape—the trees, rivers and great lakes—and how I am relatively comfortable moving through it. This identification with the local is integral to my self and my work, but I am also troubled by it, particularly in the context of this meeting on the grounds of the Shingwauk Residential School.
Flying in, I tracked the St. Marys River. I imagined a line reaching back along the shore of Lake Huron, down to Lake Ontario, back the east end of Toronto. The first 20 years of my life were spent in a home overlooking the lake, tuned to its sounds, sights, smells—each day walking to and from school, away from and back to the lake.
I feel the need to rehearse a litany of lakes and rivers:
Great, great grandparents traveling north on the Trail of the Conestoga, settling by the Speed River outside of Guelph, or North of Toronto around Musselman’s lake. Great grandparents who left Ireland early in the 20th century to settle in Toronto east of the Don River. A great grandmother who came to Canada with the name of the Protestant Minister who took her in. Her son (my grandfather) fondly reminiscing about the Orangemen’s parade each July, celebrating King William crossing the Boyne.
These are deep colonial investments—and I have barely scratched the surface of my own settler geography. These snippets of remembered history are but a taste of a larger programmatic violence that is absorbed over many years, passed down among families, friends and neighbors. In the rush to produce a Canadian identity, they become sweetened and are consumed alongside polite confections and pots of tea and coffee.
I turn west, imagining the miles of shoreline arcing around Lake Superior—all the rivers and lakes that remain unknown to me, unnamed and unclaimed in my family’s lore. The thought of all stories and history that are shared by or around these waters gives me hope. I am buoyed by thinking about the various economies of knowledge that are shaped by the First Nations who have lived on and around them.
Coming here, I have crossed so many territories, those protected by treaty as well as those unceded to any crown or colonial nation. As I think of the narratives of class, religion, race and nation that underwrite my upbringing and education, I am struck by my tenuous grasp on the histories of resistance and healing shared by Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis survivors of the Residential school system. I am angry about how ill prepared I feel to participate in these larger conversations. At the invitation of the elders who welcomed up, however, I am compelled to take up the challenge and to enter in.
As a point of beginning, I try to imagine all the different economies of light I have known. Years ago when I wrote my dissertation, I borrowed an epigraph from painter, sculptor, poet, photographer Roy Kiyooka:
the light that obtains in any given place permeates what is made there.
And at different times, I have thought or felt I know what this means. Looking at artworks, reading certain texts, I have sensed a strong connection to particular places and times. I have tried to let this guide my work.
As a way of concluding this rambling preface, I may say that my forays into online platform building come from a curiosity and how “the light that obtains in any given place” travels across the world—at the speed of light. I’m fascinated by how the traces of reflected light—lakes, trees, clouds—continues to underwrite the new spatial practices afforded us by the internet and emerging digital workflows.