At the opening ceremony for Calgary’s southwest ring road, seth cardinal dodginghorse interrupted the proceedings —in the presence of Jason Kenney, Ric McIver, Tsuu’tina Chief Roy Whitney, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi— and told his story. We’re pleased to have seth join us to discuss the context behind his action, the history of Tsuu’tina and Calgary, the legacy of colonization, and Calgary’s fixation on automobile culture.
Follow seth on Instagram @sadbirthdays, on Twitter @lawrenceteeth, and at lawrenceteeth on Bandcamp.
seth’s installation at the Calgary Central Library (as part of the Tina Guyani Collective), titled “210 Chaguzagha-tsi tina (For 210 Weaselhead Road),” is on display for the month of October, and a virtual sit-down with the artists is occuring on Thursday, Oct. 29th, from 7 – 8 p.m.
UNTUNNELLING VISION | JIN-ME YOON, featuring acoustic experiments by seth cardinal dodinghorse, can be viewed at Truck Contemporary Art until December 12, 2020.
Yoko Ono’s WATER EVENT 1971/2020, featuring seth cardinal dodginghorse, is on display at Contemporary Calgary until January 31, 2021.
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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I’m your host, Kate Jacobson, and joining me today is seth cardinal dodginghorse. seth, thank you for joining us here on the podcast.
seth: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Kate: So, on October 1st, an opening ceremony was held for the southwest Ring Road here in Calgary. Premier Jason Kenney spoke, followed by Transportation Minister Ric McIver, Chief Roy Whitney, and then Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Then, disrupting the script of planned speakers for the event, seth cardinal dodginghorse stepped up to the podium and delivered his story for the next ten minutes. Here is what he said — and, for those who haven’t seen any photos or videos from this event while seth speaks, picture a handful of RCMP officers in their ceremonial dress and masks standing behind him during these remarks.
seth: I am going to speak, and you are going to listen. Sizi ch’āt’ághá mizá sizi [Editor’s note: this is our transcriber’s best guess]— my colonial name is seth cardinal dodginghorse. The Ring Road is built on my family’s land. I lived on 210 Weaselhead Road. If you look straight that way, you can see where my family’s home was. People are going to be driving on my family’s home. Today is not a good day. I woke up this morning to see my mother crying when she heard the news that this road was going to be opening. She wrote this letter in her frustration in 5-10 minutes, and I’m going to share it with you.
“Hello. I am writing to share with you my Tsuut’ina Nation history. I grew up on the land 210 Weaselhead Road, which was the home of five generations of my Tsuut’ina grandmothers. I lived on the land my Tsuut’ina great-grandmother, winnie bull crow child, grandmother elsie jacobs bull, and my mother, ethel jacobs, grew up on.”
This is the land that I also grew up on and I was intending for my future generations to preserve and hold.
“I have experienced the loss of agency, was made powerless, and, finally, I was invisible. There was a lack of inclusion, the Tsuut’ina Nation southwest Calgary Ring Road discussions, for my family, and, eventually, I was told that I had no right to speak or negotiate anything. In 2014, we were forcibly removed from our homes and erased from any Tsuut’ina Nations supports or services. I was homeless. I was told, by Tsuut’ina Nation Daryl Crowchild, to go live in a hotel, and another provincial official, Anne Coffin, to ‘take your family to a women’s shelter.’”
This happened when I was 20 years. I am 26 years old now.
“Taza Crossing west of 90th Avenue and Oakridge where transportation connections are already in place. It’s intended to be a hub of health, wellness, and innovation with a mix of commercial, research, and residential.”
So, this is a quote for the developments that will be being built here. My mother said this.
“This future development also affects us directly. We lived here. We grew up here. We touched that land. The way this land was taken was not healthy, nor well done. Again, it was hard to read your development plans — you left us out of Tsuut’ina Nation history. There continues to be a lack of inclusion and ceremony.”
I remember the day I woke up, in 2014, we moved — I remember the day, driving to go to school, and I saw all the trees knocked down. These were the trees that I played in, that my Tsuut’ina grandmothers played in. I knew all the trails and all the animal trails. These trees used to connect over here. I played in them. On October 24th, 2014, Chief Roy Whitney said this about the Ring Road: “It will be remembered as a historic day during this signing.”
Something that stuck out with me is, while my family was moving and we were were packing up two houses, and we were told to keep quiet, the negotiations, the deal had been signed for the Ring Road and my family. We were moving two homes and leaving our history, and people were shaking hands. Roy — this is what you said, and I remember it — “Much will be lost. My heart, my compassion, goes out to our members who will have to relocate and accomodate this project. I assure you and everyone that we will walk with you in the transition to a new place and a new life for your families.”
I did not see you walk with me anywhere for the past six years. I did not see anyone talk about the people that had to be moved. I need to share something that our chief, Bull Head Chula, said. To people that don’t know Tsuut’ina history, it is also Calgary’s history. In 1880, Chief Bull Head, for a few years, what he did is he fought for our own reservation and negotiated our own treaty with Calgary, which was just a ford at the time — and, in 1883, us Tsuut’ina people came to this land to reside. This treaty ensured that we were protected.
My treaty rights were never sold, and you can never take them — you may sell your own treaty rights, but you cannot take and sell mine. This is what Bull Head said. Ever since Tsuut’ina have been here, the city of Calgary had been pushing for the nation to surrender land, and this is what he had to say in regards to this — “We don’t want to quarrel about it, we don’t want to sell. The reserve is just big enough for ourselves. But the white men are bothering us to give us our land. The treaty was made. We’ll try not to be cross about it.”
For the past six years, I have had to drive and see my home be destroyed and changed every single day. This is something that myself and my family has had to live with and endure. I don’t think any of you will ever understand that. Have you ever felt upset in your local community when one of the trees was knocked down near your house? Have you ever felt upset when one of the houses were knocked down in your community? Local familiar sights. Now, imagine your home and your history being removed, all in the name of progress. I have had to watch for six years to see people say, “This economic development is bringing prosperity, and it is bridging together two nations,” but this isn’t something. You can’t build prosperity, and you can’t build relationships, when you erase the women that came from this land.
In my bag, here, I have carried, for the past four years, dirt from my family’s land. I did not touch that land for years. I did not look at it when I drove by. After I saw the trees knocked down and I saw my home moved, I did not look at it, I did not talk about it. I was silenced. After a few years, I finally went and I walked there at night, alone, by myself, and I walked there. And, when I returned, I could not even remember any of the paths — it was all gone, it was just dirt. Right now, it is concrete.
What I carry in here is dirt from my family’s land, shards of trees. This is something that I have carried for protection and strength, to endure and survive this. This is something I will continue to survive and endure. This is something my family has had to survive and endure.
I need all of you to be open to conversations. I want you to know the history that I carry and will forever carry. I invite anyone to reach out to me and come talk. You can come talk to me, and I will share my truths — I will share my family’s truths and my family’s stories. These are important and must be heard. The history of this road, the history of my family — these will be known, and these will be shared. The legacy of this — I will always do my best to make sure that the legacy of this involves my family story, and that the women, my grandmothers that came from that land, that their stories are also known.
Today is not a good day. Today is not a day to be shaking hands and smiling. Today is a sad day. My mom is probably at home, right now, crying. She’s probably going to continue to be crying for the rest of the day, and for who knows how long.
This is something that affects my family, and I need you to know that. My family has been mourning for years. Please, reach out to me. Please share this story that I am sharing with you. With this, I leave a piece of me with the road. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
Kate: At the conclusion of your speech, you cut both of your braids off and threw them on the highway you were standing on. For our listeners that may be unaware of the significance of this action in a culture, could you explain to us what braids mean and what it means to cut them?
seth: Sure. So, hair is pretty important in Tsuut’ina culture. I have been growing my hair for a long time — I’m 26 now, but when I was 11 years old, I started growing my hair, and that’s also when I started dancing at powwows and learning more about my culture. Originally, when I started growing my hair, it was something more along the lines of — I was a huge fan of music, like punk music and metal and stuff like that, and I also noticed other dancers, male dancers, had long hair, and they had braids, and I thought they looked really cool. And I never had long hair, and, as a child, I always used to get my head shaved, and I always really wanted long hair — and so I started growing my hair, and as I got older, into my teens, I started learning more about why we have long hair, culturally, and the importance of it, and then I started to learn about residential school and the effects of it on my family and my grandparents and how there’s a lot of older First Nations men that weren’t given the opportunity, or weren’t allowed, to grow their hair. And so I started to feel more pride in growing my hair, culturally in that way. And then I also learned, from some of my grandparents, that — because, originally, I wouldn’t really wear my hair in braids in public or outside of powwows, and then I remember they told me, they asked if I was in mourning; and then I said, “Oh, what do you mean?” And then they were like, “You have your hair out.” And then they said, “In our culture, as is taught from them,” they said, “We wear our hair out, we don’t wear it in braids, we let it hang loose, and that’s also when we cut it, and we cut our hair when we lose a loved one.” And so I kind of hung onto that. Originally, I didn’t feel super comfortable wearing my hair in public in braids, because being brown and having long hair and having braids, there’s a lot of racist people, even in Calgary, that — I’ll walk into a store and they’ll look at me different, probably get treated differently. So, in recent years, I’ve felt more comfortable wearing my hair in braids in public and everything. And I was just taught that it’s a source of pride, and, in a way, it’s also our power, and it’s connected to our bodies, and there’s spiritual values behind braiding your hair and having your hair.
Kate: So, settler capitalist societies like Alberta are accustomed to treating land like a commodity — something that is bought and sold and exchanged — and we’re also often taught that having an emotional attachment to land, or having stories that are associated with particular places, are superstitious or are kind of sentimental nonsense. What, in your mind, is wrong with this approach, and why is it important to tell the stories of particular places, and what do our attachments to these places tell us about ourselves?
seth: Sure. Well, to begin with, in Western capitalist society, everyone’s assigned a job, and even the land is assigned a job, you know? People look at undeveloped lands and they kind of look at them in the same way that they look at people that, in their eyes and how they see, it’s not being utilized, that that land has so much potential for profit and, depending on where it’s located, it has a lot of high value and, in a lot of ways, needs to be exploited. But the land doesn’t necessarily have a job. And a big thing is — Calgary and Tsuut’ina, because they’re so close to one another — and now, with the Ring Road, Calgary cuts through the reserve — a big part of the reason why Calgary and the province wanted a road through the reserve was because people in Calgary, and people that weren’t from Tsuut’ina, viewed the land as being uninhabited and underutilized. And that land had so much potential for a job, and it wasn’t realizing its full potential in these Western settler perspectives. I think a big thing, when it comes to that, as well, is — the settler folks, and people from Calgary, something that I heard growing up on the reserve from them — and I went to school in the city, I didn’t go to school on Tsuut’ina, I went to school in Calgary from elementary school to university, and it was something I even heard teachers talk about in elementary school, where people would talk about — they’d be like, “Wow, I was driving by and I saw the reserve,” and then they would mention, they’d be like, “I noticed that there aren’t a lot of tall buildings out there. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of buildings. It seems very beautiful there, but it also seems like there isn’t much happening there, as well.” And for myself, growing up on Tsuut’ina — especially where I grew up — it was a huge expanse of area, of forest and natural springs and those, and I didn’t really understand what people meant when they’d say that the land wasn’t being realized to its full potential or that the land wasn’t being developed. Because, as I go, it’s very strange because, for folks that live in Calgary, if you want to go and visit the outdoors, you kind of have to drive to a park within the city or you’ve got to drive outside the city and go to Banff and places like that; and, for someone living on Tsuut’ina, for myself, that outdoor natural area was just outside my front door, and I could go visit it and everything. And it was pretty strange that, to the forests around Banff, it would essentially be like, “Why isn’t there another highway going through them?” It’s very interesting when those Crown lands are treated in a way where it’s the great, beautiful, natural outdoors, but when it’s a reserve, it isn’t considered in those same terms, and that beauty of it isn’t respected, and also seen. A big thing I think it’s also important to mention is that people from Calgary don’t have access to that land in the same way that they do to be able to go hike around Banff or go for walks there; they can’t go for walks on Tsuut’ina, they can’t hike through the forests there, and, to them, I guess that’s also another reason why, to them, they don’t have an attachment to that land, because they don’t have those experiences with that land — to them, they don’t have a relationship with that land, but they’re so close to the reserve that, in a lot of ways, they do have a relationship to that land, and there is a huge history and connection to that land.
Kate: So, in the story you told on the Ring Road, you told us that the story of Tsuut’ina is also the story of Calgary. And many Calgarians might not be aware of this very long history. So, the hereditary chief of the Tsuut’ina, Chief Bull Head, reluctantly signed onto the terms of Treaty 7 in 1877 and, for decades after, Calgary’s municipal government and the Calgary Board of Trade lobbied to open up their lands to sale. And the Canadian military actually eventually ended up using portions of the land for a really substantial amount of time. Could you tell us a bit more about the Canadian military’s use of Tsuut’ina lands, particularly the Harvey Barracks and how they were leased by the Canadian military?
seth: Sure. At my speech at the opening of the Ring Road, I read a passage from the book, and it has a quote from Bull Head. And the book is called “Battle Grounds: The Canadian Military and Aboriginal Lands,” and it was written by P. Whitney Lackenbauer, and I think that’s an incredibly amazing and important book to read. For a lot of the books, I’ve tried to read as many books as I could find – -but they’re pretty much all written by settlers — about Tsuut’ina history, but I think it’s one of the best. It talks a lot about the history of the Tsuut’ina lands that were surrendered and used for the army barracks, and my connection to the army barracks that’s on the reserve is: I’m 26, but when I was — I think it was 2007, or just before 2007; it might have been 2005 — up until 2005, from when I was a child, living where I lived on Tsuut’ina, I used to see army vehicles. And the army bases are the still there, and I used to see tanks driving around on that portion of the reserve. So, to people in Calgary, where the Grey Eagle Casino is is where I believe there used to be a base there, and there used to be — not a tollbooth, but one of those booths like when you go into a drive-in garage, where it has those arms that come down and the person lets you in and lets you out, but there used to be one of those, and I remember that there was one of my family friends who was from Tsuut’ina working that, and I remember you’d pull up to it and the arm would let us off the reserve. And this would’ve been, like, 2002 — the arm would reach up and we’d go into town, buy our groceries, go see a movie, and then we’d go back home and that same person would lift that arm up again and let us drive back onto the reserve, and some of those old bases were there. And so, when I was growing up, it isn’t something that I thought about much, or thought was strange or anything, but looking back it, it is a little strange to think about why that military presence was there, and that was because the Canadian military, for years, since the 1890s, wanted to, as Calgary developed and Canada grew, they needed a base and they needed land to build a military base that was close to Calgary because Calgary was growing to be a pretty significant city at the time, and they could tell that it was going to be a huge city in western Canada, so they needed land to build a reserve. And, to the Canadian government and to the military, they thought it would be easier and cheaper if they could get the land from First Nations. And, if you read that Battle Grounds book, there’s a section in it — and the sources in that book are amazing because they take quotes and they take information straight from letters that were written by people in the military that wanted to build a base on the reserve — there’s a piece in there where one of the colonels is talking about why building a base on Tsuut’ina would be perfect, and they describe the land, and they describe the land in this way where they describe how beautiful it is and how diverse the ecosystem, and how diverse the landscape, is, and then, after describing it, they go into talking about how it’s unfortunate, though, because that land is being underutilized and that land is basically being wasted. And so one of those colonels actually talks about how they were going to, on behalf of the Canadian military, they proposed, “Well, why don’t we just move the Tsuut’ina? Let’s move them onto another reserve, and we’ll build the military base and essentially take all that land that the treaty promised them — essentially, take that treaty land, put them on another reserve, and we could have our military base really easily.” And so, with that — that didn’t end up happening. And Bull Head was alive at that time, and this was when Tsuut’ina Chief Bull Head was alive, and Bull Head was extremely adamant that they didn’t let go of any lands and that they didn’t surrender and sell a huge portion of land to the Canadian military for this base. That’s a huge history of people trying to take Tsuut’ina land, and take the land and use it and give it a job because, in their eyes, the land wasn’t being used. It wasn’t until after Bull Head died in 1911 that these huge land surrenders happened, like the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary. The Glenmore Reservoir used to be part of the Tsuut’ina reserve and Tsuut’ina lands, and that was land that was surrendered after Bull Head passed away in 1911. I think it was in the 1930s that the Glenmore Reservoir was built. So, the military base is pretty intense because it was kind of the same thing with the Ring Road, where the Calgary Herald and these news outlets were writing about how a new military base was going to be built on the Tsuut’ina reserve, and the Tsuut’ina Indian agent — who isn’t Tsuut’ina, but a settler — is reading the newspaper and is like, “What? Who agreed to this?” So it’s kind of like how these colonial and settler organizations have this understanding and kind of evil confidence where they know that, they’re like, “Okay, if we keep trying and pushing, we’re going to get this land no matter what, so it’s totally okay if we continue to say this future military base, that’s going to be built on the reserve, even though no agreements were made at the time.” But that’s a little bit about the history of the military base. And so, basically, after Bull Head passed away — while Bull Head was alive, he agreed to let the military train on the lands, but he didn’t agree to sell land to the military or to lease it for a long amount of time. He was like, “Okay, you guys can train here for a little bit, but you guys aren’t going to stick around here forever.” And then, after he passed away, the next chief and the next councillors — after Bull Head passed away, there was one more hereditary chief after him, Joe Big Plume — or, there was two more: Big Belly was after Bull Head, and then, after Big Belly, the last recognized hereditary chief was Joe Big Plume. And once you get into the era of Joe Big Plume, around his time is when they start to have council members that are men that graduated from residential schools, so the next era of future leaders are men that came from residential schools and that weren’t taught the same values and connections to land. So it wasn’t until those era of chiefs that went to residential school that land was surrendered and sold, such as lands for the Glenmore Reservoir and then the military leases for land on Tsuut’ina were extended, and — pretty intense, but all of these things are also connected to residential school, and the Ring Road and all of those, all of those same colonial perspectives and goals, those all come from those eras.
Kate: So, both Conservative and NDP provincial governments in Alberta have approved of and supported the construction of Calgary’s Ring Road. So, reasons for supporting big projects like this usually have to do with dealing with automobile traffic, but what gets ignored in promoting these big roadway projects is that they are huge subsidies for continued suburban development and for private automobile transportation. Do you think that your childhood home would be a highway today if our governments had any tendency or inclination towards planning thoughtfully about the future and what it should look like?
seth: Yeah, I can confidently say that my home wouldn’t be a highway right now if things were handled respectfully and properly. And something that I’ve thought a lot about is how I would’ve had a lot more rights, when it comes to protection of my family’s land and being able to say no, had I lived in Calgary and had I been a Calgarian citizen and had my house, and wherever I lived, been in Calgary and they planned to build a highway through where I lived. I would’ve had a lot more protection, and my family would’ve had a lot more protection and supports around that. Lakeview residents, residents in Lakeview — which is across the fence from where my family lived on 210 Weaselhead Road on Tsuut’ina — my family’s land, where our fence ended, our back fence ended — on the other side of that fence, where our forest connected connected to the Weaselhead Park area, and the Weaselhead Part area around the Glenmore Reservoir is a man-made park, and that man-made park, the Ring Road plans, alternate plans had it so the Ring Road would have gone through the Weaselhead area and through, I believe, some Lakeview homes as well. And residents of Lakeview voted — or, they didn’t vote, but they were adamant that that road wouldn’t be going through their homes, and they objected to it. They said, “No, we don’t want this.” And so people listened to that, and they were like, “Okay, then we’re going to go back to our main plan, which is to put it through the reserve.” And through those plans, it always went through my family’s land. That was something that my family had always been aware of, the Ring Road — it’s this type of anxiety that we always lived with whenever anyone on the news would talk about, they’d be like, “Oh, we’re talking about the Ring Road again,” and it’s something that’s affected my family even back to the 1970s with my family building horse corrals on our land and planning for the future and for our future generations to live there, and then having people be like, “That’s a waste of time. The Ring Road’s going through there, don’t you know? It’s just a matter of time until that highway is going through this land.” And we were always opposed to it, and I’m still opposed to it. Had we had the same stretch of land, let’s say in Calgary or in Lakeview and all those things, we would’ve been protected and we would’ve been fine, but it comes down to those colonial attitudes that it’s easier to take it from the First Nations and it’s easier to get those lands and frame it in the way where, kind of like the mayor said at the opening of the Ring Road, he said, “This road is reconciliation,” and it isn’t reconciliation at all when you look at what’s happened with my family. That wasn’t reconciliation. And so, yeah, I can confidently say that my home would still be here. And it is pretty confusing in the way where it’s like, okay, the other side of my family’s fence is the man-made park, the Weaselhead area, it’s a man-made park, and settlers are fighting to protect that man-made park, but on the other side of the fence is the actual untouched and undeveloped lands which is on the reserves, and those lands are undeveloped and they haven’t been touched by any type of developments besides my family’s homes that were built there. And so it’s interesting where all these different perspectives, and which perspectives are heard and seen and which aren’t.
Kate: Mhm. seth, after your action during the Ring Road ceremony, a lot of media outlets mistakenly reported that you were a band member of the Tsuut’ina Nation. Could you explain, for our listeners, why that is inaccurate? And what are some of the differences and nuances that people might not know about when it comes to who counts as a member and who doesn’t?
seth: So, for myself, I am not a Tsuut’ina Nation band member. And a band member is someone who has membership to the nation. And my grandmother, she’s a Tsuut’ina Nation member and, with things that come down to the Indian Act — which was extremely sexist — with the Indian Act, it was kind of determined and affected First Nations kinship and ideas of kinship and erased traditional ideas and values of kinship and introduced a more patriarchal one, and so, with that, essentially, with things like my grandmother — who, she is First Nations, she is Tsuut’ina, and she married my grandfather, who isn’t Tsuut’ina — he’s Cree, but he’s also First Nations — so, for the woman, since she married him, she lost her Tsuut’ina status to her own tribe and she took on his membership status to his Cree tribe. So, even though she isn’t Cree and she didn’t grow up within his Cree nation, she lost her status to Tsuut’ina and took on his status. It’s pretty complicated, but, also, another thing is: my grandfather — so, a First Nations man — he’s free to marry whoever he wants to. So, if he married a First Nations woman, he wouldn’t be affected, he’d keep his same status. If he married a non-First Nations woman, then she would actually gain status. In the past, she could gain status, and she would actually become enrolled in his tribe, so she would become a Cree nation member, even though she’s not First Nations. But the First Nations women were the ones who were affected. So, if a First Nations woman married a non-First Nations man, a settler, then she would lose her status completely and she’d cease to be First Nations and what that means under the Indian Act — so, she’d lose all of her status and her band membership. So, it’s pretty sexist in how it doesn’t affect the man and it affects the woman, and how that enforces this patriarchal family and these patriarchal family systems. And so, when my grandparents got married and my grandmother because a Cree nation member and she lost her Tsuut’ina status, even though she still lived on Tsuut’ina and lived on her family’s land and the land that her Tsuut’ina mother and grandmother and grandmothers going back all lived on. And so their children — my mom — because enrolled in my grandfather’s tribe, and so that went down to me, and I became enrolled in my grandfather’s tribe, and I still am enrolled in my grandfather’s tribe. And, even though I am Tsuut’ina as a person and culturally, and in every way I am Tsuut’ina, on paper, I am not a Tsuut’ina Nation band member. And, with the way these band memberships are run, because of colonial influences, it’s become a thing where it’s essentially like a club, and who’s in the club and who isn’t in the club, and the people who are inside the club are able to determine who is, and who isn’t, a club member. And so, with the way the Tsuut’ina Nation membership is run, it’s essentially run like a club. And my grandmother and my grandfather got divorced, and my grandmother had to go to a vote and pay a fee in order to get her Tsuut’ina status back, and so she became a band member just before the vote for the Ring Road happened in 2013. So, in 2012, she became a band member again, but that didn’t affect her children, so none of her siblings reverted back to being Tsuut’ina because they lived on the land and because they grew up in the Tsuut’ina culture, in their mother’s culture; they didn’t revert, they still retained their father’s Cree status, and their children — me and my cousins — were all still Cree on paper even though, culturally, we’ve all grown up Tsuut’ina. Not to say we’re not Cree as well, but being Tsuut’ina has been an important part of where we come from and where we live, so, when it came down to negotiations for the Ring Road and discussions, my family wasn’t included; and, even though my grandmother is a Nation member, she also wasn’t included and she wasn’t treated the same as a Tsuut’ina man would have been treated, and it’s because she is a woman and because of these influences from the Indian Act and residential schools. So there’s that complex history that a lot of non-First Nations people don’t understand, where I’ve seen people comment and be like, “Well, how could he be Tsuut’ina but not be a Tsuut’ina band member?” What I explained here pretty much sums it up; all these complicated colonial values and beliefs and structures that are pretty complex and, hopefully, will get sorted out in the future by other people that don’t agree with them and other people that are affected negatively by them.
Kate: What kind of reaction did you receive after the action you took at the Ring Road ceremony, both from within your community and from outside of it?
seth: Within Tsuut’ina, after I spoke, it’s been pretty quiet, actually, in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of fear out here for folks speaking up, and that’s a part of the reason why I chose to speak up that day, because, when it comes to issues and things being handled poorly on the reserve and within the community, people are often afraid to speak up, and there’s a big issue of that. And so it has been a little quiet from responses within the community to me, as well. I feel like I’d probably get a lot more face-to-face feedback from folks if it wasn’t the pandemic and COVID wasn’t a thing and it was easier to visit people, but, from what I’ve seen online from people within the community, there has been some negative comments about me speaking up; things saying that it was rude of me to speak up and that it wasn’t my place, but, at the same time, there has actually been quite a bit of positive feedback from Tsuut’ina community, from folks in it, and there’s been people that have sent me private messages and that have said, “Thank you so much for speaking up, seth. Seeing you speak up that day has given me the strength to want to speak up when people do wrong things, or when bad things happen to me and my family.” And, for a lot people, it was also a moment of healing for them, as well; seeing me speak and also seeing me cut my hair, and that there’s a lot of people proud of me. And I did also notice that there was kind of a gendered thing that happened where a lot of the folks that did message me, and a lot of the folks that did come to support me, were women, and I think that’s an interesting thing, where there’s a big history, and there’s a lot of history and effects, that people are still feeling from residential schools and patriarchy and all those things, and that I did notice that a lot of men didn’t respond, or they were the ones saying negative things, but there was a lot of women that were supporting me and sending me a lot of support, and I really appreciated that. As for negative comments and things outside of the community, I’ve also received a lot of positive feedback from people, and a lot of the same thing with folks saying that it was very healing for them to have watched the video of me, and that they were sending support and love to my family, which was amazing, because, when I spoke up that day, I had the fear that the Ring Road would open and my family would become invisible again and that my family’s history, and our stories and all those, would be erased, and I’d have to continue fighting — not that I’m not going to continue fighting, but that I’d have to continue to fight in a way to be heard and that no one would be wanting to listen or want to hear me. And, so, there’s also a lot of negative comments from quite a few racist people, and I’m pretty good at ignoring all those comments — they don’t really affect me, or I don’t bother reading the comment section on Facebook or online sources, you know. Being First Nations and having been on the Internet since I was a teenager, I’ve learned to avoid reading those things because, often, you’ll just find ignorant people and ignorant comments, and so those things haven’t really bothered me at all, and I haven’t paid much attention to them. I haven’t heard a response from Chief and council; I haven’t really heaerd much from them. There has been some talks within the community that I may be possibly getting banned from the reserve, but I don’t know how legitimate that is or anything. It’s kind of hard to judge those things when you just read about them online or hear from word of mouth on the phone and stuff, so I’m not too sure about that. And yeah, I’m just really glad that I spoke up, and all of the positive feedback that I received, I wasn’t expecting it, and when I spoke up, I wasn’t going into it to expect and receive praise, and I’m really glad that what I said resonated with a lot of people and that my family story’s connected with a lot of people, and also that I’ve had people message me that say that they’ve had similar experiences, which makes me feel pretty terrible, but in a way that I’m also glad that these people also shared their stories with me, and that this is an ongoing issue, and that the Ring Road is connected to all of these other things — it’s connected to First Nations people and suicide, it’s connected to what’s going on in Nova Scotia with the racist fishermen, the settlers over there, and it’s connected to pipelines; all of these things are all connected because they all come from the same colonial mindset and the same expectations of how land should be used and all these colonial expectations and ideals of the purpose that land had. The feedback from the community and everything — I was expecting a lot of it, and also not expecting a lot of it, so this is something I’m going to continue to speak up about and to share my family’s story, and I’ve also been making art about it and speaking about it for six years. And something that happened when I spoke up that day at the opening was: the Tsuut’ina chief told me, in front of everyone, he said that he wouldn’t speak to me, and I don’t think a lot of people realized that or understood that, because of colonial reasons, even though I grew up on Tsuut’ina and my ancestors come from there and everything, my grandmother married my grandpa, and so all of my grandmother’s children, like my mom and her siblings, were registered in another First Nation, they were registered in Treaty 6, and Tsuut’ina is Treaty 7. And even though my family comes from Tsuut’ina and lives there, because of patriarchal reasons, my mom and myself are registered in my grandfather’s tribe, and so, on paper, I’m not a Tsuut’ina Nation member, and at the opening of the Ring Road, the chief told me, and he said, “I will only speak to Tsuut’ina Nation members,” and then he looked at me; and so, what he told me in front of everyone was: for myself, in that moment, he knew I wasn’t a Tsuut’ina Nation member, and so he looked at me and told me, in front of everyone, he said, “I will not speak to you.” And it’s been six years since my family was forced to move, and I would love to talk to him and share my family’s stories with him, and as much as I think it’s important that the Calgary mayor, Nenshi, knows my family’s story and family’s history, and Calgarians, I also think it’s important that the chief who signed the agreements for the Ring Road also acknowledges and views my family’s stories. So that’s someone that I would like to hear feedback from and that I would like to visit with and that I would like to speak with and hold space, so I hold a lot of space for the chief to come and sit outside and speak one-on-one, and I think that’s someone that’s important, that needs to connect with me and my family.
Kate: seth, you’re a multimedia artist, and your work was recently in an installation titled, “Untunneling Vision.” Could you tell us a bit more about that installation and what it’s about?
seth: Sure. So, a few years ago, the artist Jin-me Yoon — who’s Korean, she’s a Korean and Canadian artist — I was approached by her and some other arts people, and Jin-me Yoon wanted to work on a new project, and she was interested in sites that have a colonial military history. And I talked with her and visited, and I was like, “No, I know where one is, it’s just over the hill from where I grew up, a two-minute drive from where I live.” And so I took her to the site and showed her where the military base was, and also where a few films were filmed on Tsuut’ina, and one of them is Passchendaele, which, I think it was Paul Gross who made that film, but it’s a war movie, and the old movie set — I think he filmed it sometime in the mid-2000s, and it’s kind of funny because I remember, when they were filming it, I would hear explosions and machine guns and stuff, so it was pretty entertaining to me when I was a child, but — that movie set was still there on the reserve, and I took Jin-me to the movie set, and she was interested in working on her project there, and, over the years, developed her project and talks about her own family’s experience with militarism, and we had some interesting connections, as well. My father is Omscapi Begani [42:19], he is Blackfeet from the United States, he lives in Montana on the Blackfeet reservation, but my grandfather on my dad’s side fought in the Korean War and was a tank driver, and so me and Jin-me had these interesting histories and connections to the military. And so, over the years, we talked and figured out her project, and me and her son, Hanum, collaborated on some sound pieces, and we created some improvisational sound art and recorded them and performed them. One of the sites was this tunnel on the ring road, and another site was where there’s some fake trenches where the movie set was, and we recorded these sound pieces, and then Jin-me took that footage and all of that and then created her work, and it was really nice getting to collaborate with her in that way and be involved in her project. And so that project, I think, opened the same day the Ring Road opened, coincidentally — that’s one of the many projects that I’ve had open in the past few months and have worked on. Yeah, that was a pretty intense project, just because it was over the course of three years and, on Tsuut’ina, a lot has changed in those three years, and it was a very nice time to connect with her and to be able to also share my family’s stories and my family’s history with her, as well. So it was great to be involved with that project.
Kate: If our listeners are interested in following you and learning more about your work, where should they look?
seth: This summer, I was asked to create a sculpture with Yoko Ono for one of her shows, called “Water Events,” at Contemporary Calgary, so I have a sculpture that I made with Yoko Ono that’s at the — I think it’s the old planetarium here in Calgary. It’s a piece I made about the Glenmore Reservoir and Tsuut’ina land, and there’s a project description folks can read there that talks about the history of the Glenmore Reservoir. And then me and my mom also have a project that just opened — I think last week — but we installed it, it’s at the new Calgary Central Library downtown, and we have an installation, and it actually has footage that was shot at the opening of the Ring Road ceremony, so it has a bit of my speech, but it also has things that none of the media aired or showed, so it shows what happened before the cameras turned on, and then also what happened afterwards, after I spoke and after they had a question period. So it’s kind of like the director’s cut, or the uncut footage, of that day. That’s an installation me and my mom made about our home and the Ring Road. And then I am pretty active on Instagram — my Instagram handle is sadbirthdays, and I put a lot of my art on there, and also some of my family research that I do and a bit of Tsuut’ina history. I like sharing that type of knowledge with people and think that’s a great outlet, as well. And I’m also on Twitter at @lawrenceteeth, and I also have music online at Bandcamp under the name lawrenceteeth.
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seth: I’m a pretty active and creative person, and yeah. So, currently, at the moment, there’s a couple places here in Calgary you can go and check out — there’s Jun-mi’s show at Truck, and then the one at the library downtown, and then the old planetarium at Contemporary Calgary. Those are up for the next bit.
Kate: Amazing. seth, thank you so much for joining us here on The Alberta Advantage. It was a real pleasure to talk to you.
seth: Sure, great. Thank you so much for having me.
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