The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.  

Robert Innes: My name is Rob Innes. I'm a member of Cowessess First Nation located in Treaty Four territory. I am currently the Chair of the Indigenous Studies Department and I'm an associate professor.  

Was there anything you had to adjust to when moving from one university to another? 

I'm from Saskatchewan and there's a different dynamic in terms of Indigenous people. Indigenous people have a much bigger presence at the University of Saskatchewan. Here in Hamilton and the [Greater Toronto Area], in general, Indigenous people are erased and may be an afterthought. At McMaster [University], there are fewer Indigenous professors than at the University of Saskatchewan. People reach out to Indigenous faculty, to our department, for all kinds of requests. It is a little bit more pressure but at the same time, we're the Indigenous Studies Department. This is part of what we do. We educate and provide skills for students to better the sense of Indigenous community. For the faculty itself, however, it is extra labour and it often happens at a very early time in their career. Junior faculty usually get some time to develop their research and get their horses up and running before they have to do more administrative work. Indigenous faculty get burdened with administrative work right from the get-go. First-year tenure track faculty are already asked to do a lot more administrative work than the average faculty at the university. For McMaster's new Indigenous Studies Department, I tell people that we got this brand new kitchen, we got nice new cupboards, but the cupboards are empty. What we're doing this year is stocking those cupboards. It's an opportunity to build on the foundation of what's being done here and set an exciting direction for Indigenous Studies on campus. 

For McMaster's new Indigenous Studies Department, I tell people that we got this brand new kitchen, we got nice new cupboards, but the cupboards are empty. What we're doing this year is stocking those cupboards. It's an opportunity to build on the foundation of what's being done here and set an exciting direction for Indigenous Studies on campus.

Dr. Robert Innes, Chair of the Indigenous Studies Department

How do you see this department and its growth benefiting students? 

The department has 11 faculty, all Indigenous, and currently, there is no other department in Indigenous Studies in Canada with that many Indigenous faculty—that in itself is sending a message to Indigenous students in the region that this is something they can pursue here. There's a lot of opportunity here. Even for non-Indigenous students, they can benefit from taking courses in Indigenous Studies. Many of our faculty are cross-listed in different departments so students can still take classes with an Indigenous focus. So, we're also looking at working collaboratively with other departments for courses and looking at ways that we can tap into students in other departments. It's a precedent that definitely leads an example for other institutions across Ontario. It's so necessary and we're just really excited to see those cross-faculty linkages. One other thing is we've talked to a number of the faculty at Laurier, Guelph and other institutions and the ideas are germinating. In particular, we've been in discussions with folks at Mohawk College talking about collaborations too. We'll be looking at working with different nations to create pathways for Indigenous students to come to McMaster. 

What’s next for the department? 

We are really looking at solidifying our undergraduate program. We have some really dynamic instructors in our department and they do amazing things in research and in their teaching. We're pushing for more land-based spiritual learning, service-learning kinds of lab classes, courses that take students outside of the classroom. We want to push students to get on the land and work with communities.

We're pushing for more land-based spiritual learning, service-learning kinds of lab classes, courses that take students outside of the classroom. We want to push students to get on the land and work with communities.

DR. ROBERT INNES, CHAIR OF THE INDIGENOUS STUDIES DEPARTMENT

Something about Indigenous Studies has been, since its inception, pushing students to become critical thinkers, to go beyond critiquing policies and to then have skills that are useful to community. We want them to be conscious [and] not just about: 'Okay, how do I get a job?' Yes, we all want jobs, but how are you going to give back to the community? No matter what students pursue, we want to impart skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, coming up with new ideas and being creative in ways that will benefit communities. We want students to bring together the applied and the theoretical. It's not good enough to critique and tear something down, we have to think: 'What's an alternative? How do we solve this?' 

We want students to bring together the applied and the theoretical. It's not good enough to critique and tear something down, we have to think: 'What's an alternative? How do we solve this?'

DR. ROBERT INNES, CHAIR OF THE INDIGENOUS STUDIES DEPARTMENT
Photos by Kyle West

By: Andrew Mrozowski

From a very young age, Annette Paiement felt connected to the land she played on. It was this connection that would eventually lead her on a road to Hamilton, then on a solo drive to Northern Winnipeg and back home to share her experiences through the Where the Soul is Never Frozen exhibit.

“As a kid, I would leave the house first thing in the morning and wouldn’t come home until dusk… I loved to play in the forest, but always had a really strong connection to the water,” said Paiement.

Paiement grew up just west of Toronto and while nature was her calling, she pursued a degree in sculpture installation at the Ontario College of Arts and Design. On the side, she would take pictures and use them to influence whatever medium she was working with at the time.

She later moved to Hamilton in the early 2000s and became very involved with the arts and culture scene that the city had to offer, so much so that she hung up her camera as she started to pursue other opportunities.

“When I came to Hamilton, I really needed to reconnect to an environment that could allow me access to greenspace and water. It was for my peace of mind. I felt as if my soul yearned to be here,” said Paiement.

Paiement also found serenity hundreds of kilometers away in Northern Winnipeg, a place she has been travelling to for nearly twenty years.

“Every time I go, it is always about healing and through that time, I’ve been welcomed into the communities [in Sagkeeng, First Nation] and gratefully so. I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a number of different sacred ceremonies,” explained Paiement.

Following the passing of her mother and grandmother in 2016, Paiement went through a difficult time coming to terms with loss.

“At this particular time in my life, I helped to launch the Cotton Factory launch and didn’t take any time off. The Elders [in Sagkeeng, First Nation] invited me to [a climate change] summit, and I had just gotten my drivers license so I said I’d go. Without any intention of returning to Ontario I packed whatever I could fit into my Fiat and left,” explained Paiement.

Upon her arrival, she realized that the Elders cancelled the summit but invited her to stay with them.

While participating in various meetings and ceremonies with the Manitoba government and the Elders, Paiement would take time to drive around by herself in -50 weather. She would pick destinations and drove out to take pictures.

“There was just something about it that made me feel like I was suspended in this altered [reality]. The prairies are something so different. The expansion of the sky, the horizon and all of it flat and frozen? It’s something I can’t even express in words,” said Paiement.

It was only when the artist returned to Ontario that she decided to turn her photographs into an exhibit for all to experience. Where the Soul is Never Frozen is comprised of approximately ten photographs from Paiement’s journey.

“I see them more as a way to speak about a feeling or a land-based spiritual practice and an appreciation for nature,” explained Paiement.

Paiement utilized photography to capture, communicate and take viewers along with her on a healing journey through the frozen prairies. Each work of art has an energy that it gives off, easily transporting the viewer to Northern Winnipeg.

As Paiement’s art hangs on the Member’s Gallery walls of Centre[3] for Print and Media Arts, she hopes that it’s legacy has a lasting effect on Hamiltonians and encourages others to connect with the land around them.

“It is my hope that people will say ‘let’s try hiking this weekend’ and they will take out their cameras and fall in love with nature. Hopefully they will say ‘why don’t I do this all the time?’,” said Paiement.

Where the Soul is Never Frozen is on display at Centre[3] for Print and Media Arts at 173 James Street North until Feb. 2, 2019.

 

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