A Dark Chapter of Our History | Through the eye of visual artist Alan Michelson

Many in Brant, and around Canada for that matter, think of children being separated from their parents by the government, and housing them in locked quarters, is a recent story about U.S. immigration reports. In the 1800’s Canada did the same thing to native children by forcing them into Indian Residential Institutes across the land to be assimilated into Euro-Canadian culture, religion and language. The horrific events tell of intolerance, cruelty, cultural decimation and death.

Alan Michelson is an incredible world renowned Indigenous  artist currently living in New York, who uses modern technology as his tools to shout the story of the Haudenosaunee (HO-den-O-SHOW-nee) Nations preceding our existence here. His current show is at the Woodland Cultural Centre Museum next to the Mohawk Institute until December 21.

In Brantford, ‘The Mohawk Institute’ was an Indian residential school on Mohawk Street and stands today as a symbol of our dark history including the scratched names, by children, on the bottom of the dining tables where the Christian leaders wouldn’t have seen this passive resistance on penalty of retribution. To the left of the Institute is Woodland Cultural Centre Museum.

The history of North American indigenous peoples is fraught with the corruption, greed and disregard for culture, rights or human life by the European invaders.

Michelson tells the well researched story of American politicians like George Washington and the travesties they were responsible for in sublimating the first nations and absorbing control of the land. The piece below is called ‘Hanodaga:yas (Town Destroyer) 2018’. Michelson uses light, historical images and maps superimposed and dynamic as they wash over a white bonded stone bust of Washington in a blackened corner of the room with sound.

On another wall display is ‘TowRow II -2005’,  a four-channel video feed with audio, about  ten feet high and 40 feet wide; each three-foot high panoramic video runs parallel to the other as videographed on the Grand River south of Brantford. The top image is the north shore of the Grand known as the Canadian side, with large homes, farms and European influence in design travelling from left to right. The bottom image is the same section of the river following the Six Nations perspective of their reserve running from right to left. Both video images are bathed in a mask of purple, the significance of the colour matching the Haudenosaunee flag. The bands are far more symbolic. It is a video wampum belt, Two Row, a form of graphic messaging on cloth.This was the one shared during the early 1800’s respecting a peaceful co-existence between the Confederacy and the Europeans,  signifying both nations travel the same waterway and although there are similarities, they are distinctly different and neither side ventures onto the other’s path.

In another dramatic video art piece, Michelson has 12 vertical HD video screens in a circle called ‘RoundDance -2013’. The on-looker stands outside the circle and watches as a group of indigenous people dance and sing in a circle holding hands moving in a counter clockwise direction from screen to screen. The first nations perspective is that everyone stands on the outside looking in and no single person is celebrated in the middle.

The artwork by Michelson, as pictured here, does no justice to a creatively designed personal perspective, and an understanding of the real impact of the historical tragedy suffered by generations of our neighbours. The many displays are accompanied by headsets with music and sound effects appropriate to the scene you are visiting.

The entire Exhibit invites your visit and runs only until December 21 at the Woodland Cultural Centre Museum 184 Mohawk St., next to the Mohawk Residential Institute. 

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