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11.00  Seize the Space

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11:00, Saturday 4 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

When I first visited the Samuel de Champlain monument in 1992, I never imagined that one day, the kneeling Indian at the base of the monument would be removed. But in 1999, that day came and to my surprise I found that the empty platform inspired a new series of work. I invited artist Greg Hill to come to the site and bring his canoe made from cereal boxes and pose on the empty platform. This was the beginning of “Seize the Space.” The story about the Indian Scout was interesting, in that he was an afterthought and added to the monument in 1916. He was kneeling because he was supposed to be placed in a canoe. Funds to complete the addition never materialized and to compensate, a bow was placed in his hand.  

In 2012, I received an invitation from Greg Hill, curator at the National Gallery of Canada and one of three curators for the 2013 exhibition Sakahàn, to take part in community-related events for Sakahàn. I suggested renewing my Seize the Space project at the Champlain monument. We agreed on four separate sittings during the summer-long run of the exhibition. The sitters ranged from gallery personel, artists in the exhibition, and people attending the exhibition, to tourists and people happening by.  

2013 also marked Samuel de Champlain’s 400th anniversary arrival in the Ottawa area. But, more important for me, it was also the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Treaty, an agreement of peaceful and respectful coexistence between my Iroquois ancestors and the emerging Dutch settlement at present-day Albany, New York. Each participant in my project received a print and the opportunity to submit information about themselves and the project. Two hundred and forty people took part in my project.  

This paper will focus on a strategy that I developed for addressing the absence and recognition of indigenous culture in the urban world: an animated conversation with a lone Indian figure that once resided at the base of the Samuel de Champlain monument in Ottawa, Ontario Canada; the Indian Scout. 

Jeff Thomas


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