Singing the West is a project that draws on collective knowledge to compose a symphony of vibrant cultures.
This two-part project consists of a video and an interactive map. It explores themes of creative resistance and cultural critique by telling the story of the land in the songs and stories told by the people who have called Turtle Island home from time immemorial.
First Piece: Video
An excerpt from the city of Edmonton website:
Naming is tied to conquest, settlement, and colonialism. In order for the Dominion Government to administer the west, and allow it to be settled by newcomers, names needed to be standardized. In response, the Geographic Board of Canada was established in 1897. Although Provinces were allowed input, the ultimate decision was made in Ottawa. (source: edmonton.ca)
When I was young, a commercial would come on listing all these places where a freight company delivered goods. As I got older and began travelling to these places, I used it as a reference for remembering locations.
Thinking about songlines as a way to remember ways of sharing information about the land, I realized that I had spent most of my life using the jingle from the commercial as a map but without understanding the song of the land it was referencing.
The commercial draws on two cultural references. A 1959 song written by Geoff Mack, "I've Been Everywhere," and the 1963 movie "How the West Was Won."
Drawing inspiration from Jackson 2Bears and his ongoing Iron Tomahawks remix performance pieces, I aimed to juxtapose the two commercial references as a cultural critique of colonial naming conventions.
Second Piece: Interactive Map
The second part of this project focuses on songlines.
Cheryl L’Hirondelle, an Indigenous award-winning multi-hyphenate artist, explains that singing land means to sing together. To focus on the life-affirming experiences that do not diminish life experiences but are also not explicitly focused on the trouble or hard times.
Singing land is about indigenous survivance, and the interactive map below is a composition of songs to guide others to join singing land. There are stories of basket weaving, medicinal plant harvesting, and language revitalization projects.
This collection is by no means perfect. It is a growing composition. The information comes from various sources, most linked in the interactive map and are from the local indigenous people and cultures. There are a few other sources that I would like to mention as they were essential to my research.
The British Columbia Assembly of First Nations interactive map was the backbone to sourcing traditional territories and names. It was an immensely powerful tool that allowed me to source info while making it clear and an easy jumping-off point.
The First Voices language database gave me access to language sites, revitalization efforts, and pronunciation guides.
"Already-And: The Art of Indigenous Survivance." Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Natalie Alvarez & Keren Zaiontz (October 2019)
INVC 2002 - Materials & Methods: Media