The perseverance of indigenous people, given the overwhelming odds against of our survival

The last plate for my exhibition is also a new work. It is titled “Resistance is NOT Futile,” and is based on the Borg Collective from the Star Trek series, and their mantra, “Resistance Is Futile.”

When I first encountered the Borg I was surprised how similar they were to the masters of colonialism in this country and colonized countries around the world. The disembodied Indian heads are part of the Christopher Columbus monument in Syracuse, New York, the last stop on my return trip from St. Louis, Missouri this past spring.

The two portraits of Noel Habel were made during my 2013 portrait project at the Samuel de Champlain monument in Ottawa, titled “Seize the Space.” The series began in the fall of 2000, when artist and now curator at the National Gallery of Canada, Greg Hill posed for me on the vacant platform. It has been occupied by a kneeling Indian man I called the “Indian Scout.”

I photographed 230 people that summer. I renewed my project when Greg invited me to take part in events around the Sakahan exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.

Noel Habel, a Dakota man from Manitoba, was the last person to pose for me that summer. And he was the first person to ask if he could pose with his shirt off. He said he wanted to show that his culture was still very much alive, as seen in the Sun Dance scars on his chest. After everyone had left, I packed up my equipment but my camera bag wasn’t completely closed and a lens fell out. It was damaged beyond repair.

There are several ways one could read this, but I never thought about it in a negative light. I thought about how dependent I am on sun light for my work and that I have to honour that privilege and gift. I took it as a good sign and in a small way, my offering for a successful project, was made.

I am always surprised by the perseverance of indigenous people, given the overwhelming odds against of our survival. But what also comes to mind, and why I am so respectful of historical images showing our ancestors, is seeing their strength and knowing that we are part of their legacy. The battle rages on and one only needs to look a little bit left from the Indian Scouts former home, to see Parliament Hill and its current master of colonialism.

This is how I have chosen to engage the portrait work of Nicholas de Grandmaison in the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, with respect for the elders who posed.

Plate 764, Resistance Is NOT Futile, 2015, pigment print on archival paper

Left: Jeff Thomas, Christopher Columbus monument, 2015, Syracuse, New York, N43 02.802 W76 08.954

Centre & Right: Jeff Thomas, Noel Habel, Dakota, 2013, Samuel de Champlain Monument, Ottawa, Ontario, N45 25.768 W75 42.085


This post is part of a series about the image panels selected to be exhibited in “A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with Nicholas de Grandmaison” taking place at the University of Lethbridge Alberta Art Gallery from September 17 to October 29, 2015.

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