Taskoch pipon kona kah nipa muskoseya, nepin pesim eti pimachihew | Like the winter snow kills the grass, the summer sun revives it

Susan Blight, On the Occasion of Our Small Gatherings, hooked rug, 2019.

Exhibition Dates: November 1, 2019 – December 14, 2019

Opening Reception: November 1, 2019 from 7PM - 11PM

Book launch and reading by Michelle Sylliboy: October 30, 2019 from 2PM - 330PM at the Insurgent Architect's House for Creative Writing (618 Campus Place, University of Calgary campus)

Performance by Alberta Rose W./Ingniq: November 1, 2019 at 830PM

MAD AUNTY pop-up shop: November 1 , 2019 - December 14, 2019 or while supplies last

Artist talk and Mother Tongues Gathering: November 3, 2019 from 12PM - 4:30 PM at the Calgary Central Library

Publication launch for Taskoch pipon kona kah nipa muskoseya, nepin pesim eti pimachihew: November 28, 2019 from 7PM-9PM

Taskoch pipon kona kah nipa muskoseya, nepin pesim eti pimachihew | Like the winter snow kills the grass, the summer sun revives it, curated by TRUCK Contemporary Art’s inaugural Emerging Curatorial Resident,­ Missy LeBlanc, includes works from Joi T. Arcand, Richelle Bear Hat, Susan Blight, Tsēmā Igharas, Michelle Sylliboy, and Alberta Rose W./Ingniq 

The exhibitionfeatures six Indigenous artists who create work in an Indigenous language from each of the major geographic regions of what is now known as Canada—Anishinaabemowin, Nēhiyawēwin, Nitsiipowahsiin, Tāłtān, Uummarmiutun, and Komqwejwi'kasikl. Taskoch pipon kona kah nipa muskoseya, nepin pesim eti pimachichew celebrates and centres Indigenous language revitalization and ways of knowing. This exhibition aims to address and initiate a discussion on how Indigenous languages intertwine with Indigenous epistemologies and how the dormancy and extinction of Indigenous languages leads to a hinderance of culture and knowledge. Bringing together emerging and established Indigenous artists based in so-called Canada, the exhibition gives space back to those artists whose practices deal with Indigenous languages in each of their visibilities, vulnerabilities, and regional voices.

Curated by TRUCK’s inaugural Emerging Curatorial Resident, Missy Leblanc. 

Like the winter snow kills the grass, the summer sun revives it
Essay by Missy LeBlanc

Growing up in Millwoods, a predominantly South Asian community in the Southeast corner of Edmonton, I was surrounded by languages that were not familiar, that were not of this land, this territory. But neither is the English that I was taught. It’s an imperial language, the language of colonizers. It always amazed me to bear witness to my friends speaking to their families in their mother tongues [1] as this was something that I could not do back then and cannot do now. But it’s not my fault, any of our faults, that we were raised with foster languages while our mother tongues were kept from us, stolen from us, lost.

Our ancestral languages are embedded in us—they are us. They are at the base of our worldviews and they shape how we see and relate to the world. But it is so much more than that. Language is the soil the nurtures us, lets us grow. We take root and are nourished within and by our language. It gives us life. Language is entwined with the land, they cannot be separated. Land is not a commodity or just a place. It is our life source, it is our kin. We learn from the land, and we learn our language from the land. How do they expect us to survive without our land, without our language? We need to nurture ourselves and the land to take back what is ours, what is us.

Historically, Indigenous peoples learned our languages from spending time on the land and intergenerationally through our parents, grandparents, aunties, and elders. Stories and teachings would be told about the land and of how things came to be. Land based intergenerational learning is still the best way to learn an ancestral language, but this is difficult when you do not live on or have access to the land. There are lucky outliers who grew up with their mother tongue on their ancestral territory, with their worldview embedded in the language and undamaged by imperial rule. Since colonization, many Indigenous people have been dispossessed of their lands and do not know their mother tongue, yet they still ache to learn and connect with their language. How are we expected to survive when we don't have the words to fight?

Indigenous languages are dying at an alarming rate across the world. Here in so-called-Canada, there are approximately 60 Indigenous languages [2], with only three of them predicted to survive the next 100 years—Nêhiyawêwin, Ojibwemowin, and Inuktitut. With the loss of so many Indigenous languages, comes the loss of entire worldviews. Language shapes how we view and move through space and time; with the loss of our words, we lose our guide. Since the implementation of colonization, Indigenous peoples have had to fight for the right to exist. Our cultures, our territories, our languages were taken and the goal was genocide. Great strides are being made by Indigenous peoples here in so-called Canada and around the world towards the revitalization of Indigenous languages and to take back what was stolen. Language revitalization is a form of cultural resurgence, continuance, and survivance [3]

Encompassed within ancestral languages is so much more than just the straight translation of the word or phrase. There are specific epistemologies and ontologies encompassed within languages. Language is the pathway through which cultural dissemination takes place. It is through language that we retain our identities, values, and cultural practices. There are deeper meanings within the stories and they can take a lifetime to understand. These stories grow, with new meaning arising as one grows and ages within the world. When language is lost or stolen, it is not just the words that are missing; it is thousands of years of ceremony and cultural understanding lost and never to be regained. Thousands of years of kinship bonds broken. Thousands of years of teachings from the land and Elders that will never be able to nourish our minds and hearts.  

It can be a tender act to learn the language of your ancestors. Living with and through a heart broken by 500 years of ongoing colonization takes a toll. To share time and space with your ancestral language can be an act of self-care. To resist and to persist in the face of the settler-colonial state that wants you gone—culturally and physically—requires care of oneself. Learning your ancestral language opens up the knowledge that has been known since time immemorial of ways to take care of one’s self, of others, and of the land; ways of knowing that have been lost, when forced into institutionalized settler-colonial settings. The delicate act of reconnecting to what makes you you, to the ways of your ancestors, requires a tender strength to overcome the shame instilled through colonization. 

What does it mean to feel something so deeply but not have the words to explain it or to fully understand it? Those words, that feeling, embedded within you, but just out of reach. Searching for something that you know is there, but you just can’t take hold of it—not yet at least. These are the thoughts that race around my head whenever I try and explain what it’s like not knowing the language of your ancestors, your kin, those that brought you to this point. There is a thread tying us all together, but it has become frayed, knotted, tangled.


[1] The most common use of the term “mother tongue” is to refer to the language that a person first learned and speaks at home. However, many Indigenous groups around the world use the term to refer to the language of their mother and/or ancestral language. The latter is the way in which I am using the term “mother tongue” in this essay and using it interchangeably with ancestral language.

[2] Gessner, Suzanne and Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams. Indigenous Languages Recognition, Preservation and Revitalization: A Report on the National Dialogue Session on Indigenous Languages: Abridged Version. Brentwood Bay, BC: First People’s Cultural Council, 2017.

[3]  See Gerald Vizenor’s Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (Lincoln: Nebraska, 1999).

Missy LeBlanc is a curator and writer of Métis, Nêhiyaw, and Polish decent. LeBlanc is the inaugural Curatorial Resident at TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary, AB and the winner of the 2019 Middlebrook Prize for Young Canadian Curators. Her recent curatorial projects include Tina Guyani | Deer Road (2019) and Reverberate (2018). LeBlanc was born and raised in Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton) and is currently based in Moh’kins’stis (Calgary).

Joi T. Arcand is an artist from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, Treaty 6 Territory, currently residing in Ottawa, Ontario. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with Great Distinction from the University of Saskatchewan in 2005. In 2018, Arcand was shortlisted for the prestigious Sobey Art Award. Her practice includes photography, digital collage, and graphic design and is characterized by a visionary and subversive reclamation and indigenization of public spaces through the use of Cree language and syllabics.

Richelle Bear Hat is a Calgary based Blackfoot/Dane-Zaa Cree artist. She graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing in 2011 and has since gone on to work with the Banff Centre as a Collections Work Study, TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary as Engagement Coordinator and is currently a Studio Instructor at Indefinite Arts Centre. Bear Hat's artistic practice investigates ideas surrounding family relationships and the types of knowledge that are capable of being passed through them. Through the use of video, text, sound and paper-based works, she employs materials and means of production to support transferences of memory and provide a platform for storytelling.

Susan Blight (Anishinaabe, Couchiching First Nation) is an interdisciplinary artist working with public art, site-specific intervention, photography, film and social practice. Her solo and collaborative work engages questions of personal and cultural identity and its relationship to space. In August 2019, Susan joined OCAD University as Delaney Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and as Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences and School of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Tsēmā Igharas is an interdisciplinary artist and a member of the Tahltan First Nation. She uses Potlatch methodology as the foundation for the creation of compelling performance work and installations. Her practice is informed by Northwest Coast Formline Design, her studies in visual culture but also time spent in the mountains. Her unique approach is a way to challenge the colonial value system and relation to the land, and to promote, through methods of care, strategies of resistance

Michelle Sylliboy is a Mi’kmaq interdisciplinary artist who was raised in her traditional Mi’kmaq territory We’koqmaq First Nation, Cape Breton.  Michelle completed her BFA from Emily Carr University, and a Masters in Education from Simon Fraser University, Sylliboy is currently a PhD Candidate at Simon Fraser University in Philosophy of Education (Curriculum and Implementation).  Her educational pursuits is to reclaim her original written komqwej’wikasikl language through revitalization dialogues by planting seeds using art and poetry as a vehicle to share the Mi’kmaq people’s original written language.

Alberta Rose W./Ingniq is a Mohkinstsis (Calgary) based artist and she obtained her BFA in Painting, with distinction from the Alberta University of the Arts in 2016. Of mixed Inuvialuit /settler heritage, she often creates work that reflects both aspects of her cultural identity as well as broader social issues related to Indigenous people today.

This exhibition is made possible thanks to support from the Calgary Foundation, Canada Council for the Arts | Conseil des arts du Canada, and the Rozsa Foundation & partnerships with Cloverdale Paint, Little Rock Printing, Nuvo Hotel & Suites, Shelf Life Books, EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society, Untitled Art Society, and Vide Press

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