New and reimagined paintings

I started this series of images by reimagining the first image-based stories I created. These images came from a place of trauma and resilience.

Recreating/reimagining these images was difficult. Somewhere along this journey of creating image-based stories my body refused to recreate the indignities that Indigenous people have suffered. However, I was gifted by the realisation that great healing has taken place over the years. As the flowers and strawberries flow out of my body finding their home in these images I understand that we are more powerful than I could have ever imagined. There is wisdom and beauty in our knowledge systems.

We come with the medicine II (2021)

Many Indigenous people believe that we are born with certain gifts that are given to us. Some Elders will refer to these gifts as original instructions. If we are in a situation where we are raised within our culture we will easily discover our original instructions and live a fruitful life. In this image we have the prayers of the mother represented by flowers and strawberries. The transformation from spirit to human and the vitality of youth is represented by butterflies. The flowers and strawberries we see in utero are the gifts and original instructions Creator sends with us.

Cutting away culture II (2021)

Severance from land and culture disrupts wellness. Cutting Away Culture shows the colonial violence children experienced in residential school. It started with a haircut, and was followed by a continual severance from culture. The colonial process is experienced throughout a lifetime.

Sixties Scoop (2021)

When residential school was no longer enforced by legislation the sixties scoop began. 20000 children were taken from their homes and adopted into non Indigenous families. Many of these separations took place at birth in “Indian hospitals”.

The medicalisation (2021)

This image demonstrates the past and present medicalization that takes place in clinical spaces. Indigenous people are often presented as a clinical problem to be solved. This is complicated further as illness is understood as a measure of physical ailments and symptoms with no other factors such as how the experience of colonialism, systemic racism and intergenerational trauma impact health outcomes.

Noncompliance (2021)

As a healthcare educator one of the most common complaints I hear from clinicians is that, “Indigenous patients are noncompliant.” This is deep misunderstanding of how colonialism disrupts relationships. Indigenous patients are not noncompliant. They are resisting further colonisation. The medical system has been used to surveil, criminalise and separate families for 5 centuries. Resistance and mistrust is a natural response to a system that is used to disempower Indigenous people. When a clinician tells me that their Indigenous patient is “noncompliant”, I respond with, “If you are in a room with someone who has the power to take your children and put you in jail would you be compliant?”

There is also another layer to this. An Indigenous patient’s pain is often denied. If they report they experiencing pain they are labelled as drug seeking.

Sharing Bioethics II (2021)

This is a second iteration of a previous painting. The message is similar with more participants holding hands, creating a new circle of medicine.

The circle of medicine is empty in the center representing potential to create wellness through good relationships. As Indigenous people working in healthcare, we endeavor to create a new circle of medicine between community and healthcare practitioners. 

Wolf:  Wolf teaches us about the importance of family and including family members in the treatment plan if possible. Wolf teaches us to communicate clearly, to be tenacious and to learn from failures when they occur. Clinical medicine is a difficult terrain to navigate. You must be persistent. Learn from elders and clinicians who have good relationships with communities.

Clipboard: Represents the sacred ceremony of informed consent.

Hawk feather: Reflects connection to your spiritual self. Speak clearly and with kindness. Informed consent is a sacred ceremony.

Hummingbird: Ability to hover and observe. Hummingbird also holds the ability to pollenate. In clinical terms, we must be able to translate knowledge and activate clinical plans across diverse team members.

Caribou: Represents generosity. Also represents slight changes in intergenerational teachings. Each year caribou trails deviate slightly to ensure survival. Each generation, our teachings change slightly to navigate these complex times. Also, caribou naturally gravitate towards places that are healthy to ensure their offspring survive. 

Butterfly: Butterfly reflects youth and learning from the young, as well as transformation.

Strawberries: Strawberries are little hearts. They cradle all beings in the love of the land.

Patient-centered care reflections: The wolf teachings emphasize relationships within family-centered care and community. The engagement with Indigenous communities and what is important to them. Caribou reminds us about sharing complex teachings; and of simultaneously changing and remaining the same. The hawk in the circle of medicine reflects seeing everything, recognizing new gifts, and being open to new gifts. The hawk feather, drum and clipboard point to creating safe relationships.

Medicine is ceremony

This painting is a response to a press image. After smudging and a prayer, Dr. James Makokis administered the first vaccine for the northern Kehewin Cree Nation community – starting with his aunt, elder Leona Makokis. Young drummers play behind a screen to celebrate this clinical ceremony.

Drum: Represents the heartbeat connecting us to Earth and each other.

Hawk Medicine (2021)

When Hawk appears, she is asking us to take a good look at our surroundings. Hawk has the ability to circle and analyze what is below her. She encourages us to look at our situation with a broader lens. Hawk comes to heighten our awareness. Enabling us to recognize the gifts of knowledge we have received and to open ourselves to future gifts we will be given. In this painting each flower represents a small piece of knowledge.

Searching for Answers in the Garden of Bioethics II (2021)

Caribou tracks simultaneously represent intergenerational teachings and change. Each year the caribou trails deviate slightly to avoid predators. The older caribou lead the younger so they will survive. Similarly our medicine changes slightly from generation to generation so out culture will survive. Caribou also teach us about respect. Me must treat them respectfully so they will return. This is the same in clinical relationships.

Index

Scissors

Scissors symbolise cutting away culture. This is continual process that takes place throughout a lifetime.

Syringe

Syringe Brings attention to past and present pandemics. In particular to the withholding of resources. Many Indigenous nations were decimated by illnesses brought over by settlers and resources were withheld which resulted in mass illness and death.

Swab

Swab is a reminder to be mindful of how information is collected and reported. Indigenous people are surveilled throughout many systems. Healthcare, criminal justice, social services and educational systems have used collected information to disempower and colonialize Indigenous populations since first contact.

Hawk

Hawk

Hawk reminds us to take a wider view so we can see everything. This is very important when we look at clinical relationships. Clinicians must consider everything in the life of the patient. As such, they must look out of the four walls of the clinic to truly be effective in clinical relationships. This includes having a fundamental understanding of the history of colonialism and how it impacts the health outcomes of Indigenous people and populations.

Indigenous Teachings

  • Hawk can see everything
  • reminds us to open up our gaze take a wider view
  • Recognize the gifts you have received
  • Open yourself up to future gifts

Clinical Teachings 

  • Take a wider view. Clinicians must consider everything in the life of the patient. look out of the four walls of the clinic to be effective in clinical relationships.
  • Understand the of the history of colonialism and how it impacts the health outcomes of Indigenous people and populations.
  • Open themselves up to new knowledge systems. They are gifts
Wolf

Wolf

Indigenous Teachings

  • Teach us about overcoming failure.
  • They are tenacious. 
  • They are good citizens and work out squabbles amongst themselves.
  • They navigate their position in their community with humility. 
  • They listen and communicate carefully.
  • Family is everything.

Clinical Teachings

  • There will be challenges in clinical relationships and sometimes failure. Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be tenacious. 
  • Be good citizens, you are a guest in communities.
  • Be humble in your clinical relationships.
  • Listen and learn to communicate carefully.
  • Include family in clinical plan if this is possible.
Hummingbird

Hummingbird

Indigenous Teachings 

  • Has the ability to hover and observe.
  • They can fly in multiple directions. 
  • Helps mother earth flourish.
  • Cross pollenates flowers with precision.
  • Hummingbird is adaptable.

Clinical Teachings

  • Observe quietly
  • Be a part of a good health plan. Put patients in a position to flourish.
  • Translate information between healthcare institutions carefully and with precision.
  • Be adaptable in clinical plans.
Caribou Antler

Caribou

Indigenous teachings

  • People share dreams with caribou.
  • Generosity 
  • Intergenerational teachings 
  • Caribou take care of their feet because they are “walking people‟.
  • Caribou meat must be shared- Never waste caribou meat.
  • Caribou must be treated properly, or they won’t return.

Clinical Teachings

  • Allow patient/client to share with you.
  • Be generous.
  • There are intergenerational teachings that have existed for 1000s of years, be respectful of them.
  • Caribou take care of their feet because they are “walking people‟. Hence my use of silly boots.
  • Share what you learn with colleagues- Don’t waste these teachings. They have been gifted to you for a reason.
  • Patients/clients must be treated properly or they won’t return.

Arranging Pretty: Piecing together frameworks for past and present pandemics

Commissioned for A Very Different World, curated by Ngahiraka Mason opening at Te Tuhi on 27 February.

These collages help me articulate my experience as a bioethicist who was invited to participate in a process of developing a critical care triage protocol for the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the perception among some that bioethicists are cold and detached, bioethics is an intimate phenomenon. Through hearing stories of this pandemic, I walked in my mind’s eye through a series of hallways, linking homes, hospitals and long-term care facilities. I continually contemplated the day-to-day lives of those impacted most by the clinical decisions that are shaped by bioethicists. The contemplation was relentless. I would not return to the comfort of my own home for days.    

Working on these collages brought me back to the here and now. I felt a surge of bodily memories of past pandemics experienced by my ancestors. I recollected stories my father told me. I had to be intellectually present as I pieced together my own protocol to make sense of the world around me. Most of the collages were inspired by images in the press. I continued to develop them by cutting and pasting in colonial history, patterns of epidemiology, and public health reports. I made meaning by disconnecting and reconnecting, arranging pretty, and fusing animal stories, in an attempt to make this pandemic livable, survivable.

Words by my great grandfather as quoted in As long as this land shall last.
Ventilator For Our Mother
Ventilator For Our Mother

Dr Nicole Redvers from Deninu K’ue First Nation shared that the lungs are a site of grieving. COVID-19 is an illness that incapacitates our lungs. Earth is literally grieving through our lungs. I try to comfort our mother by collaging a ventilator made of a tree trunk then I surround it with grass and flowers. 

His Last Day Here

During this pandemic, isolation protocols have often meant families do not get to say goodbye. ICU staff would step in and take on the role of family member. The dying patient is left to hold the hand of someone whose face they have never seen in its entirety. To cope with this tragedy of isolation, I re-imaged an intimate death shared between family members.

The Warning 

In my culture, we learn that wolves communicate very carefully. At times they howl to warn one another of danger. As a bioethicist assisting in developing COVID-19 protocols, I realized that there would be very little change in policy that would protect Indigenous populations, nor would their access to healthcare be improved. All I could do was howl a warning to isolate.

The background of this image is a Kokum scarf that I collaged. A Kokum scarf is a brightly colouredfloral handkerchief that is worn by grandmothers. It is an acknowledgment of matriarchal wisdom and intergenerational teachings.

The centres of the pink flowers are layered hearts. They represent layers and layers of ancestral love. I wear a Kokum scarf most days to remind myself that I am loved by past, present and future matriarchs. 

The sight/site of grieving

Lungs are a site of grieving. I honor the spirit of Bear with flowered lungs. I acknowledge the clinical journey of healthcare providers during this pandemic in this collage by representing them as Bear who teaches us about being alone. Even though Bear is not physically in isolation, his spirit is in isolation as he navigates this difficult time. Moral injury is so great that it can be necessary to detach and emotionally isolate to endure the rigors of clinical medicine during this pandemic. 

Lungs are a site of grieving

As I pieced these flowers together I offered a pray for healthcare providers. I asked Creator to encourage them to take good breaths to restore themselves as they watched those around them struggle to breathe.

Bear and Wolf 

The world was shocked by press images of mobile morgues during the first surge of the pandemic. Images of the refrigerated trucks, used for mass body storage,dehumanize the people who died of COVID-19. In this collage, I wanted to bring the focus back to the individual and honor the feelings of the family who had lost their loved one. People wince at the idea of a cute bear cub with a morgue tag on his toe. In contrast, the rows of bodies in refrigerator trucks dehumanize the victims of COVID-19 and the families who mourn them.

Discovering gratitude as the world falls around you…

In this collage we see hospital staff transporting a child to the morgue. I pieced this image together to remind myself to be grateful that, to date, this pandemic has (mostly) spared children.

Funeral for one

Deer is a generous animal, giving us everything for our survival. This image was inspired by my sweet friend who lost her brother during this pandemic. The forest with dry birch trees represents the wintery slumber and cold isolation of COVID-19.  The suppression of the ceremony of funeral amplifies the suffering of loss because family members are prevented from physically connecting in their collective grief and saying goodbye to their loved ones.

I spent a long time finding the right deer for this collage. I want to honour my friend’s stoicism. She is so strong, quiet and powerful. An elegant woman who always says the right thing in a soft voice.

The flowers for this collage came easily to me. Comforting the dead is intuitional.
The Isolation

Bear teaches us about the pleasure of being alone. However, this type of being alone is not voluntary. COVID-19 isolation centresin Northern Canada have left many of our Indigenous Elders traumatized, bringing back memories of childhood harms experienced in residential school.

The Distortions We Create 

This collage is a strange honor song to community members and the small group of allies struggling to evoke change in healthcare. While working as an Indigenous representative in this bioethics work, I questioned whether some things are always incompatible. Even with the best of intentions, when both parties come together with generosity and goodwill, what is born is deformed and not viable.

The fruits of our labour…
Photo by Sam Hartnett