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Culture Clash (1993)

73 x 12 x 18 cm, steel, wood, rocks and leather

During my time in Quebec, I went on a field trip to northern Quebec with other Indigenous students to see first-hand the impact the James Bay dam projects had on the approximately 11,000 Cree and Inuit who resided in those areas and the ecological affects on plant and wildlife. We visited Cree communities, stayed on trap lines, and observed the enormous dams and flooded village sites and burial grounds. The community dislocation had proven to have devastating, psychological affects on Indigenous communities, whose traditional hunting and fishing territory, for thousands of years, suddenly disappeared. These traditional practises are so significant amongst the Woodlands Cree that their school year breaks revolve around hunting and fishing seasons. The dams put a sudden end to a way of life and means of subsistence for many communities. Their burial grounds were submerged, with only an erected stone by the water to honor the deceased. Collective depression and the rise of suicide rates after community relocations are known psychological results.

The damage to the ecosystem is highly significant after a flood gate opens. I saw images of hundreds of caribou being swept away. The submergence of plant life creates a chemical reaction that raises mercury levels, which poison the fish, and in turn poisons the people. Mercury has had serious impact on pregnant women that resulted in deformed offspring. It is also said to raise cancer rates. The destruction and poisoning of the local wildlife greatly impacted the hunting and fishing of the Indigenous peoples, because the majority still actively used their trap lines for subsistence.

It is a rare circumstance for any governing or corporate agency to have permission to flood an entire community or cemetery for the sake of economic development, yet this has been a frequent occurrence with Indigenous communities, without legal consequence. The appropriation of Indigenous territories for the sake of economic development has been a recurring act of racial discrimination since colonial contact.

From this experience, the work Culture Clash was developed, that addresses the clash of values pertaining to land and natural resources. In governments and big business, values revolve around capital gain, and often the land and its resources are appreciated solely for their monetary value and for the attainment of economic development. The impact on life tends to be a secondary consideration. In this work, the simulated justice scales suspend pans of rocks. On one side, the rocks are in natural form, on the other, the more weighted side, contains a pan of golden rocks. The scale is constructed with a six-foot metal shotgun with a stylized bow straddling the butt with its string around the trigger, creating tension and seemingly preventing the gun from reloading. This work questions the justice system that certainly is not one law for all when it comes to take over of Indigenous territories for economic gain.

For further information on the impact of community dislocation see the video, Place of the Boss, Utshi and Jeffory York’s book, The Dispossessed.