Shelley Niro: women, land, river – Artist Talk

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Shelley Niro: women, land, river – Artist Talk

So I just wanted to begin by respectfully acknowledging that the Art Gallery of Peterborough is located on Treaty 20 Michi Saagig territory and the territory of the Michi Saagig and Chippewa nations collectively known as the Williams Treaty First Nations And I’m really glad that we’ve got reasonable weather here because I can recall back, not too long ago, to the opening when we were glad to see as many people as we did but we knew that there were a lot of our friends from the region, from Toronto, that just didn’t make it So, thanks to the weather for cooperating with us as much as it has And we also wanted to start with thanking our sponsors and our funders because of course, without the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council and of course support from the City of Peterborough we would not be here. We would not be in this fantastic building, we would not have the opportunity to bring incredible artists and guest curators here. So thanks to those guys So the plan for today basically is, we’re going to have a conversation between the guest curator, Lori Beavis, and the artist, Shelley Niro There will be some time to ask some questions, so please hold those until the end And, when that is concluded, we’ll work fairly quickly down here to disappear the chairs so that the exhibition gets back to normal for you and while that’s happening, please feel free to go upstairs we’ve got refreshments, some hot cider, before you go out and brave the cold Without further ado, I’m going to turn it over to Lori and she is going to begin Thank you all for coming this afternoon And thank you, Shelley, for agreeing to do this I wanted to start … kind of at the beginning and just talk about your life experiences and art experiences across your lifetime And I’m hoping that you can start by telling us where you grew up Well I was born in Niagara Falls, New York and I stayed there until I was either four or five years old I don’t really remember, I just remember being excited about going to kindergarten the next fall, but then my parents moved to Six Nations and I never did get to kindergarten And then I grew up on Six Nations until I was about eighteen and moved away, and went to college what else? [laughter] Beavis: Did you know from a fairly young age that you wanted to be an artist? Niro: Yes, I think I always wanted to be an artist but … I don’t know, I didn’t want to start putting a label on myself as “artist” because to me, it looked like it was a fashion statement and I just … I don’t know, I kind of wanted to find that thread in my own life, to know how to become an artist and know how to, you know, say “I am an artist” because I think there’s a huge responsibility with that label And … it’s something that I just pursued from a very young age, you know just looking at other people’s art that was around me, and I always acknowledge people who made things that lived in my environment and they were … like, drum makers and rattle makers and soap stone carvers, and … more or less traditional types of art that I grew up with Beavis: On Six Nations? Niro: Yes Beavis: And were there specific people that you intervened with in childhood … or were you just sort of aware of what was happening? Was there a sort of ceremonial … like I know that at Hiawatha [First Nation] there was no Pow Wow, or anything like that, through the early part of my life even And so, was there a Pow Wow, were there Pow Wow workers and people doing things, ceremonial, and also making art that sort of connected to that past? Niro: I was aware that there were ceremonies but, you know, my family never participated in those ceremonies, but I did know that these people made things for ceremony, but they also made it to create their their own economic platform, that they could you know, sell, and keep on living So it was kind of like something that was just quite natural, to see these people making what they make, and … know that what they made was multifaceted

not just to sell to the public Beavis: How about in your own family, like in your own home, when you were kids Like I know you have four siblings? Niro: Yes Beavis: Did you kids make art, did you do things at home? Niro: Yes, we were …. we made a lot of soap stone carvings, on our kitchen table, and when it came down to lunch time, we’d have to clear up all the soap stone dust and put everything away, and have our lunch, and then go back to work after [both laugh] Niro: And it was … it was like ‘look at it, get a piece of stone, look and see what the shape calls for, because you couldn’t the stone dictated what you were going to do with it So, you know, you spend some time doing that And … just making stuff was a huge family activity because my parents would quite often take stuff and go to Pow Wows, and sell, stuff like that And that was their way of getting income into the family Beavis: Do you remember some of the things that they made? Niro: Yes, they made, you know, earrings, necklaces, I don’t know, it was like … purses, you know … the stuff wasn’t quality, it was more about quantity, Beavis: Yes, and to generate income Niro, Beavis: Yes Niro: So it was like, you know, let’s just get this done And so we’d all be there, doing our bit Beavis: So you participated in that, in making the things themselves? Niro: Yes Grudgingly [laughs] Beavis: [laughing] Of course! Like any kid would Niro: I think that’s why I resisted being an artist for so long Like “I don’t want to do that!” [laughter] Beavis: So, how … who was the first Indigenous artist that you discovered, and how old were you? Niro: Well, I think I was about … Beavis: I mean, outside your community Niro: I remember seeing a print of Norval Morrisseau on the wall of the dentist or was it eyeglasses … I forget Anyway, [laughs] seeing something on the wall, and I thought, “That’s Indian art?” You know … [laughs] took me a while to appreciate Noval Morrisseau And then another one was Daphne Odjig who I could understand and relate to, because she was doing realistic drawings of her environment And most often, I came across her work, anyways, through little tourist-y, handy notes … or what did they call them? Handy notes I think And just thinking, wow, that’s an Indian woman and she can draw like that, you know, so I was really fascinated, that she could actually … almost like photographic drawing So I was really impressed by her And that’s about it. When I first started looking at Native art, and there were other artists in my environment that I’d see, like, people from my reserve really did nice hand-coloured paintings of people in traditional costume, and it was really elegantly performed Beavis: What sort of medium? Niro: Watercolour So it was really delicate And I was always impressed by those, because I’ve tried to do watercolour, and my watercolours aren’t that delicate, they’re very … like, you know, I use it like acrylic paint more than watercolour Beavis: Right. And did seeing the Daphne Odjig’s, did it did it … have an impact on what you started to do, For example, did you start drawing things around you, family scenes, or anything? Niro: Yes, I always tried to draw. I don’t consider myself to be, like, a drawer, you know But it is something that really made me interested in trying to draw And I still try, but … you know, it’s one of those life-long struggles of an artist [laughs] that I will continue Beavis: Because you would prefer to paint than to draw? Niro: Yes, yes I think it’s … painting is … you can be pretty aggressive with paint And I think in, like, the pastels that are in the hallway there, those are drawings, they’re pastel, but you can treat them like, you know, paints as well [nodding, agreement] Beavis: Are there other artists … I guess we’ve sort of talked about this, but are there any artists who are working right now

who you’re finding particularly interesting? And who are influencing you? Sort of, making you think about things in a different way? Niro: I always like to look and see what artists are doing, because I find their use of the material and the direction they’re going is is always fascinating, because it’s like … sometimes I could be thinking about something in the same way, and then to see how they’re approaching it and thinking about the same things as I am, is like … we must have met somewhere in the cosmos, and put our thoughts together And now, we’re working in this field, or this area That’s always a hard question, because I can never think of names right off the bat like that [both laugh] I don’t know, artists are just amazing They keep creating and they keep being pretty innovative with what they’re doing ya, I can’t think of anybody Beavis: That’s OK Can you tell us about the first exhibition that you were in, and how that … do you remember the first exhibition you were in, do you remember what year it was? Niro: I was about ten years old … [both laugh] … no Beavis: well, you’re only twenty-nine now. Niro: That’s right [laughs] Niro: The first exhibition I was in was called Changes, and it was ten Native women, it was shown at the Harbourfront [in Toronto] in 1990 And it was pretty amazing, because … I thought ‘Wow, this is pretty cool’ … and it had Joan Cardinal Schubert, Jane Ash Poitras, Rebecca Baird, Rebecca Belmore, Doreen Jensen, and … who else was in there Alanis Obomsowin was in there Faye HeavyShield, Am I missing somebody else? There were ten of us And it was just really great to see all that work that went up on the walls And when I was asked to be a part of that show, I was really happy and excited, and somebody said, “Could you send us a resume?”, I said “I can tell you my resume over the phone” [laughter] There’s nothing there! [laughs] So I think I was in a couple Indian art shows at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford That was probably … as far as my resume went. So from there, it just … you know, I started adding on to that resume Beavis: And you were at OCA still? Niro: No, I graduated that year Beavis: Oh, you had graduated, OK Beavis: So, how do you think they found you? Niro: Hmmm … don’t know … but [both laugh] I think then, too, Native artists were very small in number And there was a show that was held at Ontario Arts Council I think it was the year before And maybe, you know, somebody saw the work then Beavis: That was a really auspicious group of people that you were included in That’s amazing Niro: Yes. Beavis: It’s hard to … I’ve looked for the catalogue, and there’s no … I don’t know if you’ve ever seen, Caroline [gestures to audience] or anybody, but it would be amazing. And I don’t know if … it was Harbourfront, so I don’t know if there’s even any documentation There must be documentation, somewhere. Niro: There must be, yes Audience member: Was it at the Power Plant? Niro: No, it wasn’t the Power Plant. Beavis: I think it was just in the Harbourfront One of those other gallery spaces Audience member: Who curated it? Niro: Shirley Bear Beavis: Anyway, I’ll keep looking for it Niro: OK. Beavis: Do you remember what you put in it [the exhibition]? Niro: I had “Waitress”, and I had “The Rebel” And I had another photograph titled … “Tall and Big Man” And it was a photograph of an artist standing beside a set of billboards advertising tall and big man jobs [both laugh] Niro: Yes, so it was … Beavis: We’ll get to humour in a minute Beavis: So how did it feel to be in that exhibition, did it give you momentum? Because you were … I guess you were … as an emerging artist who just graduated How did you feel about [it]? Niro: I was really scared, it was a very nervous time for me to be in a show like that You know, I just didn’t know what to expect. Didn’t know what to do I was really kind of … I didn’t really know what to think about it But I think that show traveled quite a bit Beavis: Did it? Niro: I think so. I don’t know Beavis: I found a tiny, tiny quote from Ryan Rice

And he has written that your work “draws upon a narrative of identity, self-discovery, and belonging.” Do you agree with him? Niro: I do. [laughter] Beavis: Well that’s good [laughs]. And how do you place yourself in that statement? Niro: Well I think every time I make work, I always go through the stages of Sometimes I concentrate on being an Iroquois person, and try to not get caught up in the rhetoric of being Mohawk, because sometimes it’s almost like an easy thing to step through, to say, ‘I’m Mohawk, and here’s my work’, you know But I really want to explore where that is coming from, and where it leads me For example, this piece here, “Grand River,” that’s just outside of the reserve. On the other side is Caledonia I took this photograph, just at the time … I think it was right after the conflict in Caledonia And I think this photograph really illustrates what that conflict is all about So we see the Grand River sign, and then right across the river is the hydro towers that are just on the edge of Caledonia And to me, it just references the economic source and, you know … what all of that is all about What were the other two Beavis: Just that he talks about you drawing upon this narrative of your life, your identity, and discovery, self-discovery So you’re finding yourself in your work as you go along Niro: Yes Beavis: And the sense that of belonging that you have to the Turtle Clan, and to Haudenosaunee, and to yourself, and your family Niro: Yes. I think it’s … for me it’s like half the fun. Putting those parts into a piece of work It gives it meaning. Other people who have the same identity as myself, I hope they see a reflection of themselves in it And if other people can see themselves in the work, I feel like I’ve done my job here As opposed to just making a landscape painting That’s what I try to cover Beavis: And so moving slightly from putting yourself in the work to putting your family in the work We have “The Rebel” [gestures to exhibition] And “The Iroquois Is A Highly Developed Matriarchal Society” And those two works are there, with your mom, front and centre in both of them, can you talk to us a little bit about putting your family, and using your family as your models and having them in your work, and what that does for you, and for them. Are they willing participants? Niro: Well, I grew up at a time when Native people were very poor. They lived in poverty, photos were like the last thing on their mind, to archive and hold on to And so when it comes back to looking at films, and thinking ‘those people are so lucky, they can have a film, they can look at themselves, over and over and over again.’ And I always thought that it was important to archive my family, in my own kind of way, so that we always have those images there, so that we can look at them years down the road and say, “Oh ya, I remember when I took the picture, and I took the picture of that person then,” and What it means to me personally, You know, it might not mean the same thing to the people looking at the photo But for me, it creates … an emotional history around it So it’s … I just like using my family as much as I can And I like to put them into my work, but I also have to step back and not put them in my work all the time. [laughs] Beavis: And do they … do they contribute, do they collaborate, or do you tell them what to do? Like, for example, in “The Rebel,” did you say ‘Do you want to jump up on the hood or the trunk of the car there…’ Or did she just do that, or Niro: Well, you know, it’s just having a camera, saying ‘let me take a picture of you,’ and then I think she just stretched out across the car like that, and I took the picture, and history has been made [laughter] Niro: So I always try to keep it joyful, so that when they have the memories of the work, it’s like, “Ya, I remember that one, when that was done. That was fun.” Beavis: And now, getting Raven, your granddaughter … [gestures to painting] is it based on a photograph? Or did she sit for you?

Niro: She sat a little bit and I took a photograph So I did both But she enjoyed being in that painting Beavis: Oh, that’s good. That’s good And you’ve used many many other sisters and daughters and nephews and nieces and again, that’s still coming back to just developing a … sort of … body of work with people that you know Niro: Yes, it seems like I’ve always emphasized the female presence in my work, and using my sisters and my mother and friends, and I just wanted … you know, without even thinking about it too much, I wanted to to have Native women present in the work To say these are real people, and this is what real people look like As opposed to … making more images that sort of fill that stereotype of you know, not that they’re not beautiful but … I just didn’t want to keep on creating that kind of image So I just wanted to have a full-bodied person in front of that camera Beavis: Well, Ryan…not Ryan Rice, but Allan Ryan, it’s a really ancient quote, but I still kind of like it He says, “Women, especially those in their middle years, have rarely been portrayed with such candor and confidence It may well take a Mohawk woman to photograph a Mohawk woman.” And I think it’s because he was getting to the idea of, of not locating people in the past, not racializing them, and also not sexualizing women’s bodies, and I think that’s something that’s always comes through, and comes back again and again in the way that you’re portraying people Niro: Yes Niro: And I think too that over the years, first I think I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it, and how I was going to do it but as the years have gone on, now I just do it you know, without really going through those steps, like ‘now I’m going to do this, now I’m going to do it this way, I’m doing it for this reason,’ blah blah blah, whereas … I guess it’s so much part of my work now, that it’s there anyways Which makes it more interesting Beavis: It’s interesting because right now in the video is “The Shirt” with Hulleah and then around the corner we’ve got your daughter, and I know that in “M, Stories of Women” a number of your artist friends collaborated, or are participants in the work. Um … was it … how is it to work with artist friends, like Lori Blondeau and Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, Do they sort of direct it in any way, or do they just hand themselves over to you? Niro: Mostly, they just let me take their picture, and then I take that photograph and I start manipulating it so that it tells their own narrative too, I’m hoping that their story comes through in the work, and it’s not just a picture of a person, you know For example, well, Lori’s not here, but there’s one with Lori Blondeau and it’s called … “Beyond the Horizon” or something like that and underneath her are four buffalo that represent her kids, because she has four children, and she is a Blackfoot person from Saskatchewan Niro: Yes. Beavis: Saskatewan, yes. Gordon Reserve, yes Niro: I also have a small photoshopped image of Edward Curtis in that photograph too Just to … remind myself that these are the kind of photos that were taken of Indian people, and I’m sort of like … appropriating some of that imagery for my benefit Beavis: Good. Niro: Ya Beavis: And can you tell us a little bit about “The Shirt” and … with Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie Niro: Yes, “The Shirt” was made in 2003 It started in 2002, I was flying to a conference, a photo conference in Texas Houston, Texas, and I just looked out at the landscape outside the window, and realized that all the landscape was cut up, parceled, and probably owned and possessed by people. Because everything was so square, it looked like a blanket So then I start thinking about the history of North America, and how everything was owned now, and … what people had to go through

And I was thinking about Native people, and what they had to … what they did to try to hold on to their land or their territory And the words that came to my head just came to me very quickly, like you know, all of the destruction of colonizers, what they did on Native people So when I got to the conference, I asked Hulleah and her partner, Veronica Passalacqua if they would be interested in participating in this photo essay that I wanted to do and they said yes, so great, so I went home, came back maybe a year later, and I brought my video camera, and we did a video, because I was also invited to participate in the IA3, which is the Indian Alliance … of America, I don’t know I forget the whole title But it was to take it to the Venice Biennale So … the Curator of that show, Nancy Mithlo said “Don’t bring anything that is valuable, or, with any money, because it will disappear.” “Oh, OK [laughs]” So instead of showing the photo essay, I made a video And, ya, that’s how that came into being But it happened really fast, you know Beavis: So it was … I didn’t know that “The Shirt” was shown in Venice because you did “Grace” in Venice as well at that same … with Lori … was that the same year? Niro: No, that was the year later, or the next one, that was 2007 Beavis: So, I guess this is a good way for us to sort of move on and talk about your connection to the land and, sort of, women’s presence on the land So … can you … it would be nice to sort of bring in, to be sort of in between these two pieces here Can you talk about your relationship to the Grand River, and what it means to you? Niro: Well, Six Nations is right on the Grand River, and it was a big part of our life when we were growing up You know, even though it was probably so polluted that you couldn’t eat anything out of it, we’d go swimming in the river and of course, go home and have to take a bath right away. [laughter] But it was still a big part of our childhood. And I remember our dad, he’d take us for walks along the river quite a bit, and it must have been a big part of his life because he made it a part of our life And Tutela here [gestures behind herself to photographs] was also a part of that going to the river and he, you know, would just tell us. Because it didn’t look – and it doesn’t look like this now But when he took us there, it was … just a little stretch of a road, just outside of Brantford And he said “You know, this is where Tutela Indians lived … and … they’re not here anymore.” Of course being kids, you never really pay attention to what somebody’s telling you, you go “Oh yeah…” [laughs] So … But at the same time, those sorts of things really stuck with me So when I started getting older, and started doing my own research on these different areas in Brantford, Tutela was a big part of that And I worked on a film in 1991, and part of that narrative was put into the film And it was about, you know, memory And how the Tutela Indians came to Six Nations looking for a place to live because they were escaping Indian wars out west, and Six Nations let them have this area of land here And, in history books, it talks about how they died off from disease, but then other people say they didn’t really die off, but they were absorbed into the Six Nations and how some of the songs and some of the ceremonies are now part of … Cayuga ceremonies And so, you know, it’s just like little whispers of history that come to me and I remember them And I just think, wow, that’s really kind of poetic that those little bits of history that were kind of passed they weren’t specifically said ‘Oh, you must remember this’ but it was just kind of like, you know, oral history And then, I remember it and then part of that oral history gets transferred into my art Beavis: It’s interesting to be thinking about the way you interact with this territory, and as a child, and then through the time that you’ve … the research you’ve done,

and I know we’ve talked a lot about the Halidmand Decree, and how the land base, like every reserve land in this country, has shrunk from the original treaties and things like that. So that always seems to be something that you’re trying to … sort of, bring forward again And also the fact that the presence has always been on the land, whether it’s ancestors or, you know … cultural experience or just simply you know, working the land in a way that’s not necessarily based on, you know, hydro poles and things like that But I also think about something like, um, you know the really poetic way that you insert ancestors and reiterate who was on the land before, like, thinking about “Kissed by Lightning” which is coming here on Thursday night, and and how when Mavis and Bug are lost in upper New York state, in the snowy landscape, and then they’re stopping, and about to argue, and and then the ancestors pass the road in front of them, and Bug actually says, “They look like they’re lost.” And in fact actually, I think that sort of translates back, so it’s kind of a nice way to think about the way that you put people back onto the land Niro: Yes Beavis: Can you say something about that Niro: Yes, it’s funny, because you know, if I’m working on a script like “Kissed by Lightning,” which I worked on for, I don’t know, ten years or something It really gives you a great opportunity to sit down and really have those thoughts kind of come to fruition because it’s not like I think about those things all the time but because I’m sitting there with my own thoughts, and then you can really kind of let things fly, you know? Like bring those things together Creating that warrior scene was really kind of … a lot of times those things come out of the blue Because … if you traveled through the Mohawk Valley, kind of in search of … not answers, but just kind of an appreciation of memory, and so I always think about warriors whose spirits are still there and we don’t live there anymore So I think, I wonder how these spirits are. How are they doing, how are they feeling I’m sure part of the Iroquois Confederacy is addressing that as they go and they do their ceremonies But it’s something that I think about personally And … it’s something that I just question I was going to say something … I forget Beavis: You told me once a long time ago about your dad, and how he talked about the Mohawk Valley and then you realized that he had never been there before, and I thought that was really interesting, the way you can sort of hold memories in the body that you don’t necessarily haven’t actually necessarily experienced Niro: Yes, it’s kind of strange because he would always talk about the Mohawk Valley and how beautiful he heard it would be, and these are memories of his grandmother And how he held those memories for her And then it feels like I’m holding those memories for him And so, when you actually get there, and you see how beautiful the landscape is, you think, oh my goodness. For people to leave, and they were leaving in a rush because, you know, Washington is out to really kill them off And you think, you know, there must have been so much terror at that time, that they had to leave that way And … you know, people were told, “Don’t go back. Don’t ever go back there.” So I think about that too Beavis: Can you talk to us about … because another one of the things, conversations that you and I have had over and over again is also the importance of the Peacemaker to you, and to your story, and to the way that you sort of bring it into your work and … you know … make it part of you as well Maybe you start by telling people who don’t know, who the Great Peacemaker is Niro: That’s a ten day conversation, Lori. [laughs] Beavis: We have time, don’t worry [laughs] Niro: There’s a … I don’t think it’s a ceremony, but they call it the Great Law, it takes ten days, and that’s when the story of the Peacemaker is really kind of told It’s usually told in Mohawk, but … when I was in grade seven, you know, we were given that story in school, and sometimes, I think, you know, I get too hooked on just the rhetoric of

the story. I really want to explore what the story meant, and what’s it supposed to mean, and you know, what’s sort of the bottom line here When I was doing my MFA I spent time reading versions, tried to piece together what it did mean And it’s really about … um … after first contact, [excuse me] It’s been recorded that at the time there were nineteen million Indigenous people in North America and within six months of contact, it went down to six hundred thousand And the people that were left were really brought up in an orphan state, because [coughs] Because there was nobody there to teach them how to live [coughs] And manners, and culture [excuse me] And after I don’t know how many years went by, it was prophesied that somebody’s going to come and be born and take people out of the darkness that everyone had been living in And of course there were prophets that had come through, or said they were the prophet, and they weren’t So, Mohawks said “we’ve got to come up with a test The next guy that says it, we’re going to tie him to a tree and throw him in the falls, and if he survives, he is If he doesn’t, we know he’s not [laughter] So, that’s what happened Peacemaker came along, and he said “I’m the prophet,” and they tied him to a tree and threw him in the waterfalls And he did survive So people listened to him And then he met up with Hiawatha, and Hiawatha became his spokesperson because the prophet also had a cleft lip, and so in order to present himself in front of people, he had to be a great orator, and he was having difficulty So Hiawatha took on the duty of being the orator And I just find that story so interesting, because there are so many little pieces of the story that you could build, like, a whole film around it I just find that really kind of captivating, and I just think, wow, it’s so amazing that ancestors could think up these stories, and make it part of the culture And it’s … I put it in my work, “Kissed by Lightning” is based on that story Oh, no, it’s not based on that story. Part of the story is in there But it’s about … thinking with a clear mind, wiping away the tears of grief so that you can think with that clear mind because if your mind is so full of grief, you won’t be able to think at all And the bottom line to me is, looking after yourself, and then you can help others, and help look after them And if you can’t look after yourself, you will not be any good to anybody else So that’s kind of that. In a nutshell Beavis: One of the interesting things is this work, “The Essential Sensuality of Ceremony” that’s just on the wall on that side It is really interesting because of course, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha were men but in this work you switch it, and the woman is the one who is doing the caretaking Or, moving the man forward Niro: Right Beavis: Why did you feel it was important to, sort of, switch the sex roles Niro: Well, part of the story there’s a woman named Jigonhsasee and she was … she is now given the title of Mother of All Nations and she was a character in the story who is not doing good for people People, hunters would come through her territory and she would poison them, and really just kill them off The Peacemaker said, you know, ‘Why are you doing this’ Or was it … another character, I’m sorry, I’m getting my characters mixed up here I think it was … Tadodahoe Anyways, she came to realize that she was not doing good, and she could be doing good So at that point, she … became a provider, and a helper And she started looking after people passing through her territory And because of her, then other people were able to see the change she made, and were also to have a good life, based on her example

Beavis: I’m so happy, I only ever saw this work in book-form before, like online or in books before, and so I think it’s … I’m so happy that we borrowed it from the Library and Archives Canada It was so nice that they lent it to us, and it’s so wonderful to have this piece here So … thank you very much Beavis: I think … I have thousands more things I could ask you about, but we’re actually at a point now where we can just open it up and see if other people have questions Audience member: Thank you very much. I just wanted to go back and ask for a piece of information I gather that you did go to Ontario Collage of Art, which I don’t know if you got your MFA from there or what, but I just wondered how you made the shift from this kind of informal environment of art making that was nurtured in your home to making … the shift to going into an academic program to actually become an artist Niro: I started reading people’s resumes [laughs] ‘Hey, they went to university,’ or I started realizing that in order to get to the next level of being an artist, you have to have a certain amount of credential And being a woman, being a Native woman, I realized I had to work extra hard to get to that level Otherwise, you could be dismissed So it’s just a matter of trying to be professional And seeing what other people did to reach that level of professionalism It’s just like, you know, trying to place yourself within the accepted institutions Beavis: I think it’s also interesting that … that one of your early experiences, in terms of life and art experiences, was going to Durham College And … not to speak for you, but I know that you — because you’re in my dissertation — that you went in to a design program and quickly realized that this wasn’t for you But you then found photography Niro: Yes Yes, they had a great photography teacher, and you know, sometimes you get a teacher and everything they say to you just sticks to your head And he was one of those teachers It was basic black and white photography, and I just sort of went through the motions of learning how to work in the darkroom And another class in that course was history of art and, you know, sometimes things just hang on whereas some other things, it’s like … [laughs] “Why am I here?” But history of art and photography were the two things from Durham College that really oh, and drawing. I also took a drawing course there too So it just … it made me happy, and more curious, and it just made me want to pursue those fields Beavis: What did it feel like the first time you picked up a camera? Niro: It was amazing. It’s like magic It’s still like magic to me, when I pick up a camera Any kind of camera. It could even be a digital camera, you know and working through the process of having an image, and seeing how far you can take that image, and … just having that knowledge, knowing how to print something and what to do with it I don’t know, it’s just … so much fun I’m all out for fun. [laughter] Audience member: You haven’t talked about your beadwork at all Which I find beautifully sculptural But as I said, I’m really interested in the hats And I wonder if you could talk about their shape, and kind of … the intent of those hats Because they seem like they’re … that you had a purpose in mind Niro: Yes, well they’re based on Glengarry bonnets And when Scottish people came here, I guess they were … I can only imagine how they got here from their Glengarry bonnet to the Iroquois Glengarry bonnet

because I think we’re great appropriators, and I think they saw the design of that hat, and thought ‘Wow, what a great design.’ And so, if you see those hats in museums, you think they’re so beautiful, because … you know, you can do all this fancy beadwork on them which I tried but it’s not as fancy as some of those hats that I’ve seen And, I don’t know, I just liked the idea of making a hat to put on your head, and it can it’s like a sculpture in itself Beavis: In the rehanging of the historic and the contemporary collection at the national gallery, there’s a number of … ones from the … about 1880s I think Of the Glengarry hats by Mohawk artists So it was very exciting to go there in the summer last year and see them there Especially as I knew that these hats were going to be here But I think it’s interesting as well, that you think about it as being sculpture, because of course, your original focus at OCA was sculpture Niro: Yes, yes Beavis: Are you still doing any sculptural work, other than Niro: Not really, no … sadly, I have not had enough time, because sculpture is time-consuming And I just, you know, haven’t been able to concentrate on making a piece I will one day [laughter] Audience member: I just wanted to ask what’s coming up next for you? What’s your current preoccupation and what do you hope to say? Niro: I haven’t really done any brand new work for like two years Which is really driving me crazy, because it’s like, I have to do something But what has really taken my focus in the last year is a film that’s showing this Friday at the AGO It’s called “The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw” I started writing and working on that piece since 2005, but it’s taken until now to finish that And it started in May, we did a six-week production in Sudbury And then through the summer and the fall it was editing And toward the end of the fall it was like … the sound, soundscape and you know, just editing, making it really tight Making it as good as we can But that’s what’s been taking up a lot of my time Audience member: And hopefully we’ll see that in Peterborough some time Niro: I hope so, it would be great. Yeah Audience member: I know you’ve done video, but was that your first film? Niro: They’re showing a film here Thursday night called Kissed by Lightning, it’s a feature film, so it’s my second film