Indigenous and Western ideas come together at the Firehall

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      I don’t need to tell you that we’re in a climate crisis. You know it, I know it—our kids know it and our pets know it. Our gas-guzzling cars definitely know it. It’s a constant topic of discussion (for good reason), but something that is often missing from the conversation is tangible action.

      It’s one thing to announce that things are still bad—it’s another to come up with ways forward. The latter is the focus of Etuaptmumk/Two-Eyed Seeing: Ways of Being and Seeing, a five-part cultural gathering taking place at Firehall Arts Centre starting November 2.

      Facilitated by Sahtu Dene/Coast Salish artist, writer, and storyteller Rosemary Georgeson and Turkish performance artist Lara Aysal of climate arts group The Only Animal, Etuaptmumk will bring Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and Elders, along with activists, academics, and members of the community, together in dialogue surrounding the state of our planet—and where we go from here.

      Etuaptmumk/Two-Eyed Seeing: Ways of Being and Seeing facilitators Rosemary Georgeson and Lara Aysal.

      “It’s such a big, unwieldy topic,” says Georgeson during a video call. “If people want to do something, but they don’t know where to step in or they don’t know what’s out there—who to talk to, organizations they can support, initiatives that are going on—I’m hoping that’s something that people will find through this.”

      Adds Aysal: “That feeling of belonging and moving forward together is what’s really important for me.”

      The concept of Etuaptmumk comes from Unama’ki Cape Breton and Mi’kmaq Elder Advisor Albert Marshall, who according to The Only Animal, describes it as “learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledge and ways of knowing.”

      It makes a lot of sense. Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge shouldn’t be in opposition—they should work in tandem.

      For this project, the inclusion of, and emphasis on, Indigenous teachings is deeply meaningful.

      “We’ve had stewardship over this land since the beginning, but we don’t often get asked for our stories,” shares Georgeson. “So this seemed like a very powerful way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re here, too.’ ”

      I ask her to expand on what it means to her that Indigenous people are being brought into the conversation.

      “It’s taking our place back,” she answers, mentioning that even in her own community, people have historically never asked her family for their input on the health and care of the land. “That feeling of everyone thinking they know better, and more—sometimes it gets a little monotonous after a while. We should be able to all have these conversations together, rather than just being told.”

      Etuaptmumk/Two-Eyed Seeing: Ways of Being and Seeing is organized into four conversation circles, which are themed based on the four elements: water, air, fire, and earth. Hosted by reconciliation and inclusion coach Kim Haxton from the Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario, each circle will hold space for Elders, activists, and academics to share their stories, ideas, and viewpoints—and for community members to bear witness. Following that, a workshop session facilitated by Georgeson and Aysal will take place (members of the public are encouraged to join this, too; advance sign-up is required and can be done on the Firehall’s website). Georgeson and Aysal will then take their learnings and begin the work of creating community-based art inspired by the entire experience.

      Event host Kimi Haxton.
      Photo courtesy of Hollyhock.

      “After the event and the workshop, we will take away all that we heard and try to bring the community into the creative process,” explains Aysal. “How do we engage with this huge topic, and through our individual experiences, find the strength of community to come together and create something together? So it’s not only in the event, where you come and you listen, but we will call on the community to join us afterwards, as well—as a continuing process.”

      I don’t think art will save the world, but I do think that the lessons we learn through engaging with art—and with artists—can certainly propel our humanity forward. On the best of days, art is a vehicle for change. And as Georgeson reminds me during our chat, change happens at the grassroots level; it’s the work of individuals, coming together in solidarity for a cause, that truly moves the needle. We have the tools. We just need to open our eyes to them.

      Etuaptmumk/Two-Eyed Seeing: Ways of Being and Seeing takes place at Firehall Arts Centre from November 2 to 5.