Written by: Eva Macdonald
A story of cultural pride coupled with the infectious drive of its creators. A story of local roots and international aspirations. It is my pleasure to introduce LodgePole Arts Alliance. Grounded in tradition and rooted in East Woodland artistic expression, LodgePole Arts Alliance is an exciting initiative emerging from Wolfe Island. LodgePole stems from the collective vision of two key individuals: JP Longboat and Terri-Lynn Brennan. Longboat is a multidisciplinary artist from the Mohawk nation, Turtle clan. Brennan is an intercultural planner and equity consultant, whose family also hails from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Against the now familiar backdrop of Zoom, they very kindly agreed to share the story and vision of LodgePole. One of the more recent partners of Kingston and Area Association of Museums (KAM).
“A group of dedicated people committed to the vision of manifesting a land-based Eastern Woodland Indigenous creation and presentation centre.”-JP Longboat
Carrying Tradition Forward
As a British exchange student coming to the end of my year abroad studying History at Queen’s university, the concept of LodgePole was an exciting, yet unfamiliar approach to cultural heritage. LodgePole defines itself as “a group of dedicated people committed to the vision of manifesting a land-based Eastern Woodland Indigenous creation and presentation centre”. They place emphasis on the incorporation of Eastern Woodland (Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe) cultural traditions such as language and art, into its vision. In its current form, JP describes LodgePole as a “vessel to carry that vision forward” and collect resources to enable it to evolve, in the near future, into an operational space. As such, I found myself in a privileged position learning about LodgePole’s inner workings.
I was struck how Indigenous cultural perspectives influenced the initiative from art to architecture, values to governance. The governance of LodgePole is to be based around three concentric circles: an Indigenous Leaders circle, a circle of “shared bundles” of responsibilities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and a non-Indigenous circle of allies. This circular structure has both significant symbolic and practical meaning. JP and Terri-Lynn explained the merits of a circle structure through its ability to give individuals equal opportunities to speak. Terri-Lynn further highlighted the symbolism of how sitting in a circle. Exposing your heart to your peers and allowed voices from “chiefs to children” to be heard equally. Coupled with ten important Anishinaabemowin and Mohawk values, LodgePole’s governance structure provides an important opportunity for internal reflection around the normalization of Western hierarchical governance.
“Art in Indigenous culture is actually storytelling and it’s storytelling through every medium possible.”–Terri-Lynn Brennan
Celebrating Indigenous Art
So, what types of art will be included? What kind of artists would LodgePole host? All forms of Indigenous art would be celebrated at LodgePole, with the hope of providing a creative and empowering space for regional, national and even international Indigenous artists. These international aspirations are closely intertwined with local forms of oral culture central to Eastern Woodland identity. Brennan highlighted the limitations of the definition of “art” in the English language. She revealed that, “art in Indigenous culture is actually storytelling, through every medium possible”.
This connection between art and storytelling was the most eye-opening part of our discussion. It stripped away the connotations of elitism often associated with art institutions. As most of us probably have, at one point in time, felt a bit bewildered or out of place in an art gallery, it was fascinating to hear such a simple, yet powerful interpretation of art.
LodgePole situates itself within a broader movement of Indigenous recovery in the face of settler colonialism in Canada. Amongst others, LodgePole aligns itself with the “cultural renewal” emphasised in articles eleven, twelve and thirteen of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). As an artist, JP highlighted the significance of “working from a cultural foundation” as a key mechanism to “rebuild and reclaim”. LodgePole is still working hard to achieve the implementation of UNDRIP and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and are working to meet their goals and vision on its own terms.
“In ten years, we’re operational. We’re educating, we’re offering artistic residences, we’re doing co-productions, we’re hosting, we’re performing!”-JP Longboat
Sitting in front of a computer monitor and discussing the opportunities the future will bring for LodgePole, it is easy to forget what a huge undertaking this project has been. For JP, the task of overseeing the holistic vision and integrating a land-based cultural perspective into every aspect of LodgePole’s design has been one of the hardest parts of the project so far. Nevertheless, for each new challenge there have been many standout moments. For Terri-Lynn, the wealth of community support on Wolfe Island was a significant turning point. Indeed, she emphasized the significance of the willingness of the Wolfe Island community to “stand behind us in this endeavour”. From my perspective, popular enthusiasm is central to what makes heritage and artistic centres tick. Therefore, it is heartening to hear the eagerness of the Kingston and Wolfe Island community to celebrate LodgePole’s vision.
As our discussion drew to a close, JP and Terri-Lynn put forward many exciting visions of the next ten years. “We’re educating… we’re hosting, we’re performing!”. The next steps now are turning the vision into an operational centre, incorporating traditional forms of governance and hosting Indigenous artists from all over the world. Much to be excited about! A story of cultural pride and local roots, LodgePole Arts Alliance has a very exciting future ahead of itself indeed.
I would like to express my appreciation towards the wonderful team at LodgePole for their boundless wisdom and patience during our discussion. I cannot wait to visit again when LodgePole is up and running!