THE Gynocratic Art Gallery

value the brain & cut the priviledge

march 2016 – Meg Irving

Visual Reading List- 2016

Becoming informed on current themes surrounding the intersection of art, feminism and the matrilineal has never been easier. Discussions once only held around university dorms and college study groups are now wildly available to the masses. Breaking free of the privilege that was once part and parcel with those spaces, internet access has created a boom in conversation, resulting in a refreshing new wave of females and their allies ready to have some much needed conversations.

If you have ten minutes and a thumb to scroll on your iPhone, you have the ability to stay on the forefront of the myriad of passionate discussions currently surrounding the intersection of art, feminism and the matrilineal.

Here five Instagram accounts run by inspiring women, for your 2016 Visual Reading List:

Sarah Sophie Flicker, Writer, Performer

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Sara Shoe Flickerʼs Tumblr and Instagram accounts provide short, sweet and astute updates on the American political landscape, the feminine and mothering. As an actress, writer and performer, Flicker unapologetically denounces the current state of reproductive rights as easily as she provides honest and heartfelt glimpses into parenting her three children.

Kimberly Drew, Curator, Lecturer, Writer

museum mammy

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Kimberly Drew kind of hit the gates running. Enlightening nearly everyone she digitally meets, Drew sheds light on contemporary black art culture through her diverse range of Instagram and Tumblr accounts – which center on inspiring

fellow Americans of African decent, creating a place where artists of color are highlighted and educating the greater art community. Sheʼs the Metropolitan Museum of Artʼs Online Community Producer, too.

Nayyirah Waheed, Poet

nayyirah.waheed

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Waheed offers powerful brevity to her growing readership – perfect little bites for the word weary. Sometimes compared to her contemporary Warsan Shire, her ability to distill a sonata of emotions into a few powerful words is fantastic. The US based writer has built on these strengths and continues to make poetry accessible for audiences previously un-enraptured by the written word. Her two collections of poetry, Salt and Neima, are available on Amazon.

Nahanni Arntzen, Designer

Niate ahanniarntzn

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On her Instagram account the Portland, Oregon based Arntzen provides a glimpse into the tree-planting community of British Columbia in the 70ʼs and 80ʼs. Nahanni Reforestation (her fatherʼs company) planted an estimated 12 million tress throughout B.C. A simple, hard working, earth-bound ethic is seen in both the photography she shares and her timeless and sustainable design work.

 

Rematriate

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Rematriate highlights First Nations women from around Canada who are adding value to their communities and families. This method of grassroots promotion and networking has bolstered writers, lawyers, community activists and all manner of artist. Highlighting the strong matrilineal culture of some First nations, Rematriate would be on the daily to-read list of all women.

-Meg Irving

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The Unbreakable Sisterhood

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Ashley Machiskinic (Kawacatoose First Nation) died in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES, Coast Salish Territories) on September 15, 2010. She was 22 years old. The coroner’s report lists Ashley’s cause of death as undetermined, but most community members insist Ashley did not commit suicide, rather she was thrown from her residence in the notorious single room occupancy Regent Hotel onto a populated ally below to warn others about settling their drug debts. Ashley was the latest death in what was another year of mourning for the community.

More than five years since Ashley’s passing, a federal enquiry into Canada’s missing and murdered First Nations women has been a national cry, campaign fodder, and now finally a reality. On December 8th 2015 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally launched the Inquiry. After three months of cross-country consultation, the following statement was released on February 15th 2016 by the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, “In the coming months, we will be announcing details of the inquiry, and on how the inquiry will contribute to the Government’s commitment to reconciliation and a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples in Canada. We are determined to do this right for the survivors, families and loved ones, to honour the spirits and memories of those we have lost, and to protect future generations”. Less than one month later on March 14th 2016, on Ashley’s home territory back in Saskatchewan, a mental health state of emergency was declared, with Chiefs representing Cote, Key and Keeseekoose First Nations asking “all levels of government to intervene” the CBC reported yesterday.

The national crisis to keep our First Nations sisters safe from violent physical and sexual assaults, abduction and murder in their home territories and chosen towns continues to loom, despite efforts from the front line to the boardroom. Like so many other lives cut too short, Ashley’s death remains unsolved and her cause of death disputed. She has faded from the national headlines, but in the hearts of those who knew her – and many who didn’t, her memory is as bright as ever, yet root problems must be addressed to prevent another beautiful life lost.

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Ashley Machiskinic. Image Courtesy of CBC

The DTES continues to live up to its title of Canada’s ‘poorest postal code’, though the volume of cash-based commerce does not surprise those who live and work there. Nor are those familiar surprised by the sense of community and camaraderie of the long-term residents, service workers and community advocates. Yet the females in this arguably matriarchal neighborhood are often it’s worst victims: women born in the northern prairies, the artic circle, on Haida Gwaii, who will never return to their home territories have suffered at the hands of federal, provincial and local governments as well as drug dealers and pimps.

Outstanding debts owed to the community’s drug dealers are increasingly becoming more of a threat to women’s safety than ever before. In this neighborhood, females might get their heads shaved for a $30 debt, and they can be killed for as little as $50 said Carol Martin (Nisga’a-Gitksan) of the Downtown East side Women’s Centre, in an interview shortly after Ashley’s death. Martin was one of the first to respond to Ashley that day. Many of the victims are young First-Nations women, and to speak of retributive head shaving says nothing of the cultural and spiritual implications that such attacks mean for these women, long after debts have been paid in one form or another.

 

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Mona Woodward image courtesy of The Windsor Star

Witnesses to assaults, murders and rapes in this tight knit community are hard to come by for complex reasons. The priorities of those as entrenched as many folks are in this neighborhood begin with attending to their own life or death addictions. Despite the dehumanizing nature of these retributive crimes committed, relationships with police and other reporting authorities are shaky.

Mona Woodward (Cree, Lakota and Saulteax First Nations) is Ashley’s cousin, former Executive Director of the Aboriginal Front Door Society and long-term DTES community advocate. She created the Sister Watch Committee in conjunction with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). Sister Watch’s mission is part to keep women safer by improving the relationship with the VPD and bring better cultural standards forth when in contact with First Nations residents. Bridges are being rebuilt and old habits checked, “Whether the cause is fear of reprisals or general distrust of authority, women have been traditionally reluctant to report crimes against themselves and others.” Mona has lived this experience and her survival is an ode to others.

Like the Sister Watch Committee, women led movements are gaining more momentum and creating measurable outcomes in our society, from ‘The Hill’ in Ottawa to Main and Hastings, British Columbia. Eriel Deranger (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation) speaks to the important work honoring women has in creating effective change in our country, “Colonization came with the imposition of patriarchy. The real power of our communities came from our women, as we were matriarchal societies. Our women today are

reclaiming our roles as leaders of our community, as part of this resurgence of our people, not just in the climate movement but in all of the different movements to reclaim our indigeneity,” she said. As an Indigenous rights advocate and Communications Coordinator for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Eriel stands at the forefront of a generation empowered to see changes in their communities while grappling national policy and international headlines.

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Image courtesy of Dryden Observer

One year and one day after Ashley died falling from the Regent Hotel, Verna Simard, 50 (Wabigoon Lake Ojibway First Nation) met the same fate. Verna was a mother, grandmother, aunt, sister and cousin. Like Ashley, she has a family who survives despite their great loss, and like Ashley, most in the community believe she was thrown from the building. Her death remains unsolved.

Both women were killed at ‘high-traffic’ times in and around the Regent Hotel. The message from those who are accused of their assaults and deaths is clear- those with debts will pay for them, and life is expendable. This public declaration must be met with public response, one rooted in honoring the strong and powerful First Nations women in the DTES and the rest of Canada. The minimum effort any Canadian can give to the memory of these loved mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts is that we will replace the darkness of their final moments with action and echo the strong voices of our First Nations sisters.

-Meg Irving

Sources & Further Reading:

CBC – 3 Saskatchewan First Nations declare mental health emergency C. (2015, March 15). 3 Saskatchewan First Nations declare mental health emergency. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/saskatoon/first-nations-saskatchewan-mental-health-emergency- 1.3491471

Vancouver Media Co-op – DTES Reels after Resident Falls to her Death on Hastings Street
C. (2015, March 15). 3 Saskatchewan First Nations declare mental health emergency. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/saskatoon/first-nations-saskatchewan-mental-health- emergency-1.3491471

CBC – Vancouver police investigate suspicious death
C. (2015, March 15). 3 Saskatchewan First Nations declare mental health emergency. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/saskatoon/first-nations-saskatchewan-mental-health- emergency-1.3491471

Yes Magazine – How Women-Led Movements Are Redefining Power, From California to Nepal
C. (2015, March 15). 3 Saskatchewan First Nations declare mental health emergency. Retrieved March 15, 2015, from http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/how-women-led-movements-are-redefining-power- from-california-to-nepal-1.3491471

News.GC.CA- Statement By Ministers Bennett, Wilson-Raybould and Hajdu Following the Final Pre-Inquiry Design Meeting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls “Http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=1034289&tp=980&_ga=1.104935941.767044599.1453150881.” 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Raincity Housing and Support Society
Portland Hotel Society
Sister Watch Committee
The Government of Canada: Federal Enquiry “What we heard” CBC- Missing and Murdered

Aboriginal Front Door Society
Downtown Eastside Woman’s Centre
It Could of Been Me, Mona Woodward for Maclean’s Magazine

 

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Matrilineal: Three generations of women leave home

 

four generations

The women in my family, like yours, have always been quiet leaders, treasured for their ability to run a house, respected for their friendship, slightly feared for their curry chicken casseroles. They are not the exception in the eras they came of age in they are the rule. As the stories of women occupy more pages in our history books, common threads appear. One of the threads in my maternal line weaves a story about three generations who all left their homes, sometimes abruptly, before turning twenty.

 

As if a coal fell from the fire to rest on a scrap of flannel, the gentle warming started in adolescence and was only dampened by motherhood. In a small prairie town, the growing city of Vancouver, and around the Hecate Straight, my Grandmother, my mother, me- we all left home in a hurry for somewhere new. None of us have returned to live in our ‘hometowns’; each of us has raised her daughter in a new place. This is a direct result two things: the privilege we have been afforded as resourceful, middle-class, able bodied women and a shared restlessness that would surly go rancid if not for a bus ticket and the blessing of our mothers. I wonder when my own daughter will relent to this tradition; I wonder if I will have my mothers grace when she does.

*          *          *

Cristena Lorene Howden (nee: Black) aka: ‘Ginger’ was born in Whitewood, Saskatchewan. She was named after her maternal grandmother and great-grandmother. Her father, a miner, died at only 46 years old leaving her mother to care for 4 children and run the Hotel Ninette in rural Manitoba. Ginger grew up moving around remote mining towns- Flin Flon, The Pas, Herb Lake and landed somewhat upright as a teenager in Brandon, Manitoba.

 

She left Brandon in 1948, riding a CP train for three days before arriving in Vancouver. While finalizing the purchase of his new luggage, acquired with veterans bonds, Ginger promptly announced that her customer could pick her up, along with his new luggage the following week. In a act of defiance against a rather mobile upbringing, Ginger and her date continued to live in Vancouver for another sixty-five years, happily married and raising their daughters.

 

Today, when I ask my Grandmother about her mother, and their early days in various prairie towns, she demurs, her memory has begun to mix up the years and dates and people. When I tell her I must get the laundry done and a soup made before the kids are done school she repeats a phrase her mother used to say – “your either damned dirty or damned clean.” I know it, Grandma.

 

She and my Grandfather spent their hard-earned retirement travelling to many exotic locations, so travelling to places as a reward for making money and paying one’s bills on time made sense to subsequent generations. My mother observed this too- “I think all growing up she taught us responsibility – if you want something or want to do something, work for it, save up and do it.” My Grandmother witnessed this sense of self-sufficiency and community from her female relatives that have been imparted to all of us who came after; No one owes you anything, you owe your friends everything.

*          *          *

What being the descendants of colonizers and immigrants has shaped in us, amongst so much else, is an inherent homelessness borne of our foremothers. Having no land to be tethered to – for better and for worse – has left us expert nest builders. Having no ancestral homeland- in the form of a town or village has left us seeking.

 

My mother, Debra Lynn Renney (nee: Howden) was born in Burnaby, British Columbia. Her adolescence was shared with the city she lived in, and she and Vancouver came of age together in the sixties and early seventies. She had already seen Europe when she graduated from John Oliver High School in 1972 and left quickly again across Canada, with stops in the lively staff dorm rooms of the Banff Springs Hotel and an attic-apartment in Toronto. Ask her how to make ketchup soup.

 

When my mother left home for the first time, my Grandmother imparted the following advice, “Keep your money close to you; beware of ‘fast-talking’ men [and] keep in touch with family.” There was not a lot of discussion, if any, about my mother’s decision to leave home- it was a natural course of events following high school graduation. There was the expectation that she would be responsible for her well being, and the wellbeing of the women she travelled with. The seed to take care of your friends was planted early, and amidst the inevitable and hushed late-night conversations, and the concerned glances universal to parents of teenage girls, it took. “She also taught us about being a good friend.  If you’re travelling with someone, it really helps if you’re good friends who can talk things over and get over the bumps.”

*          *          *

I, Megan Elizabeth Irving (nee: Renney) was born in Kamloops, British Columbia. I grew up in the western suburbs of Victoria B.C. and on Gabriola Island. I started to loathe the predictable traffic patters and familiar sites of my hometown with gusto before I was seventeen, and left Victoria a few months after my eighteenth birthday. I kept my travel in Canada, and then left for Australia the following year.

 

My mother’s advice to me was nearly identical to what her own mother has passed on to her at eighteen. She gave me three gifts, to: a book of poems, a letter I read ragged when truly alone and a brown paper bag filled with twelve months of birth control. At the time, I was both bashful and grateful. Looking back now as a mother myself, I see how very progressive her parting gifts were, how honest. My heart breaks a little knowing that my excitement- first love, a new country, utter freedom was nothing compared to what my mother felt – every nautical mile twisting under her breastbone as I flew away, south, for the entire length of the Pacific Ocean with a backpack and a man she had never met before.

 

She tells me her biggest fears then were that I would get hurt, or sick and that I was so alone and far away if I needed her or my father. She hoped that I would return more grown up, “Travelling is a real education, you grow and learn to rely on yourself and realize how competent you really can be.” I did return a little more grown up, after many calling-card phone calls to my Mother and Grandmother from the side of the road, or payphone, or Saturday night that somehow became Monday afternoon.

 

We spill our blood and make our home and let our daughters go, because we have no true land to keep them tethered to, and because we see when that old ember catches on soft flannel of our daughter’s hearts. We come to understand one another and the relentless pull sets in somewhere between eighteen and adulthood.

-Meg Irving, written February 2016

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Let’s Talk About Death (We Don’t Have An Eternity): Krista Manuel, Death Doula

No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. – Euripides

Encircled by mountains, veined with glacier-fed rivers, around Revelstoke British Columbia, new life is everywhere. The rhythmic seasonality offers a reminder to the observant that we are all at the whim of elements greater than us – rain pounding on bare shoulders, a scalding sun bleaching drift wood pale, the cascading detonation of snow – at once both solid and fluid, relentless until gravity permits a silencing cease-fire. Death remains the great equalizer of us all.

 

On February 25th 2016, Revelstoke’s first death café was hosted by local Death Doula, Krista Manuel in her much-loved café, Sanga Bean. Well attended by community members of all ages, the conversation came easy and various topics were discussed. Creating a dialogue, and offering a safe space for conversation to ignite is a central force in Krista’s work, “With discussion, difficult emotions and situations can be communicated.   This does not happen all at once but over time.   That is why I feel that beginning the conversation around death is important now; for those of all ages and health status.” To those leaving this world for the next, Krista’s inherent warmth, compassion and willingness to hold space for the dying offers what has been lost by institutionalized medical care and the breakdown of intergenerational family units, among other factors.

 

Before the rise of a male dominated and institutionalized medical practice, females were widely, organically and simply known in many cultures at the creators of life, and in turn the consorts of death. The hands that pull us into this world have historically guided those dead alive through the journey of dying and grief, respectively. Krista elaborates, “The women cared for all; often simultaneously and across generations. I, as a practitioner of death midwifery embrace openness, acceptance, my role as an empathetic and compassionate “amicus mortis” or ‘friend in death’.” Received as a modern vocation, the acts of the Death Doula are in fact a return to a way of life our foremothers knew well.

 

So, what has Krista gleaned from her time with the dying? “Fear is a big aspect of the conversation around death. Fear of pain, of not existing, of not continuing to care for those we love, of the unknown. I think about my own death every day. I am still afraid to die but the level of fear is depreciating. Planning helps to minimize the unknown; again the position of empowerment. Regrets are usually around what has been left unsaid and undone. I also believe that discussion around death can help to minimize such regrets.” Conversation, compassion and empowerment are themes in Krista’s work as a Death Doula, as well as business owner – and personifying these traits seems to come without effort for this mother of two.

 

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalized doctor-assisted suicide for Canadians. Krista’s opinions on this topic have varied greatly. Currently, she believes that, “everyone should have the freedom to plan his or her own death journey.” As the debate continues nationally for Canadians, most seem to agree – quality of life for individuals who are terminally ill and/or dying is important. Krista continues, “No two people will experience the same journey through the process of death. We have different birth experiences, childhood experiences and adult life experience. Our religion, demographics, socio-economic status, birth order, education level etcetera all play a role in what tools, expectations and experiences we have through the death journey; both ours and our loved ones. Death does not discriminate on any level”

 

The conversation we cannot ignore or be inconvenienced by any longer has been ignited by health care workers, children of aging parents, and our elders themselves. Holding space for those during their end of life is perhaps as natural as dying itself – forgoing the political for something far more ancient and human – compassion.

-Meg Irving

Just Meg

Meg Irving has a range of experience in the communications and social service sector she is from Vancouver Island. She studied publishing and communications at Douglas College and Simon Fraser University and holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. Her creative non-fiction has been featured online and in print, in various publications including Color Magazine, Sad Mag and The Revelstoke Mountaineer. She lives in Revelstoke with her husband, and two children.

megrenney@gmail.com

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