Learning With Others: Karla Point

When it came time to hire a new Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator (IRC) for the Faculty of Fine Arts, we didn’t have to look very far: just down the Ring Road to the Faculty of Law, in fact. 

Karla Point—whose traditional Nuu chah nulth name is Hii nulth tsa kaa—is now the second person to hold this position, following Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde (currently pursuing her PhD with our Theatre department). A life-long learner with strong ties to UVic thanks to both her BA (Humanities, 2003) and LL.B (Law, 2006), Karla was previously the cultural support liaison with UVic Law. 

“When I read the description for this job, I thought, ‘This is me—this is where I belong’,” she says. “The idea of sharing knowledge, learning with others and working with artistic people really appeals to me.”

Engaging her creative license

In addition to her position with the Faculty of Law, Karla has been a reconciliation agreement coordinator with the Sts’ailes Nation, a First Nations program coordinator with Parks Canada, and a treaty negotiator and elected councillor for the Hesquiaht First Nation

“I know I can do something for this job, but this job can also do something for me,” she says. “It’s such a huge contrast to the law—law is so set, but here you’re encouraged to have creative license. There’s so much we can share and collaborate on to ultimately come up with a model that’s a blend of Western and Indigenous knowledge.”

Exploring resurgence initiatives

As the IRC, Karla will support and guide Fine Arts on ways to decolonize existing curriculum and methodologies, incorporate Indigenous perspectives and pedagogies into our curriculum, and develop and implement a variety of resurgence initiatives—including outreach to local communities and student recruitment.

“When I thought about all the different jobs I’ve had and the different people I’ve worked with, I felt like I had what it took to indigenize a curriculum,” she says. “To do a good job, it has to be really collaborative . . . if everyone starts at the beginning together, then we know what the journey is—and it will be successful and well-received.”

Education as a healing journey

Karla will work with university staff, faculty and students while consulting with Elders, Knowledge Keepers and community partners, ensuring her work as the IRC aligns with Indigenous community aspirations for post-secondary education—a topic close to her own heart.

“I’ve had a really hard time with education . . . school and institutionalized education was always a real struggle,” she admits. “But when I went to college, I really appreciated the world of knowledge.”

After attending the Christie Indian Residential School on Meares Island for 15 months in the 1960s, Karla’s parents withdrew her and her brothers; she then attended 25 public schools in 10 different towns, but never graduated from grade 12. “My parents were residential school survivors who were always looking for the geographic cure,” she explains. “They never found it.”

Her own journey to post-secondary began as an adult at Camosun College, eventually culminating in both a diploma and her UVic degrees. “While I was on my educational journey, I was also on my healing journey.”

Welcoming “Auntie Karla”

The mother of three children and grandmother to nine, Karla looks forward to building relationships with the Fine Arts community. “Even though I’m here to develop resurgence initiatives and help Indigenous students, I don’t discriminate: I’ll help any student who comes through the door,” she says. “When I was a cultural support liaison with Law, I was ‘Auntie Karla’ for the Law students—so I’d love to be Auntie Karla for all the Fine Arts students.”

After spending the summer familiarizing herself with the new position and the Faculty in general, Karla will be ready for the return of students in September.

“I’m really excited about this position and feel very welcomed,” she says. “I think I’m going to enjoy it here.”

Beadwork as resistance

When it comes to beadwork, a design is created bead by bead, row by row: it’s much the same in writing, where poems and stories are created word by word, line by line. But for award-winning poet, memoirist and University of Victoria writing professor Gregory Scofield—also a traditional Cree-Metis beadworker—the two art forms are intimately connected through his creative practice and teaching.

As a child, Scofield recalls how he would sit with his auntie at her kitchen table while she was beading, learning Cree and listening as she shared family and traditional stories. “As I listened and learned, I became interested in beadwork and creating something—so I’ve always linked the act of creativity to storytelling,” he explains. “There’s something quite sacred about listening and working with your hands at the same time.”

Current awareness of beadwork

With archaeological evidence dating back thousands of years before European contact, the practice of Indigenous beadwork has never stopped—yet is flourishing in contemporary media, and the exhibit On Beaded Ground at UVic’s Legacy Gallery until September 18, 2021.

“There’s definitely more awareness and appreciation of beadwork,” he says. “But it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t just a homogenous Indigenous expression: people work in the mediums of their own nations.”

Cree-Metis floral beadwork

As a Red River Metis of Cree, Scottish and European descent, Scofield practices traditional 19th century Cree-Metis floral beadwork. An example of his own work is seen here on the right: a Cree-Métis panel/fire bag using all traditional materials. 

“Towards the end of the 19th century, there were huge changes for Indigenous and Metis people . . . there were incredible obstacles, and communities ended up completely impoverished. Women were sewing as supplemental income to support their families, and a lot of those pieces ended up in the tourist trade.”

All of this unites in Scofield’s course on Indigenous women’s resistance writing and material art, which combines hands-on learning in traditional Cree-Metis beadwork with readings, films and writing practice centered on resurgence and resistance.

 

“Because everything happened for me at that kitchen table . . . I wanted to be able to bring that mental, emotional and tactile experience to students, who really have very little understanding or knowledge of Indigenous history or the impacts of colonial violence toward Indigenous women,” he explains.

“I teach my students how Indigenous women used beadwork as a way to resist colonial violence, as a way of maintaining and preserving identity—but also as a way of telling stories. It’s beadwork as a form of resistance.”

Repatriating beadwork

Another form of resistance is Scofield’s history of repatriating beadwork pieces—a practice which began years ago when he noticed a beaded pocket-watch holder in a Royal BC Museum display mislabeled as “Victoriana,” when he recognized it as a piece of 19th century Cree-Metis beadwork. He holds many such pieces in his own collection (seen in photo above). 

“I often refer to myself as an ‘unintentional curator’ because a lot of specifically Cree-Metis pieces are folded into other First Nations or Victoriana exhibits, because curators haven’t any idea about us as a people and our unique artforms,” he says. “By misidentifying them, the stories and geography are stripped away, and communities are stripped of their identity too.” 

Ever the poet, Scofield sees this as more than just repatriation. 

“It’s about giving these pieces their stories back.”

Gregory Scofield: fast facts

  • Scofield traces his ancestry back to the fur trade era and the Metis community of Kinosota, Manitoba. In March 2021, he was named a recipient of the Order of Gabriel Dumont, one of the Métis Nation’s highest civilian honours. He has donated many pieces of repatriated beadwork to organizations like the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research.
  • One of Scofield’s poems—“The Sewing Circle”, from his 2011 collection Louis: The Heretic Poems—is permanently installed at the Batoche National Historic Site, where Louis Riel was defeated during the North-West Rebellion of 1885.
  • Scofield’s first memoir, Thunder Through My Veins, was selected for CBC’s 2021 Canada Reads longlist. The author of nine books, he is also the recipient of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the $25,000 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize, given to an accomplished mid-career poet.
  • Scofield has just released wapihkwanîy: A Beginner’s Guide to Métis Floral Beadwork (with co-author Amy Briley) through the Gabriel Dumont Institute. “I’m so proud of this book, and to be able to share all my aunty taught me,” he says.
  • See beautiful examples of Scofield’s own beadwork via his Instagram page: @metisboi.
  • Earlier this month, Gregory Scofield participated in “Kitchen Table Talk: The Beauty of Beading” as part of Legacy Gallery’s On Beaded Ground exhibit.

This story originally appeared as part of UVic’s monthly KnowlEDGE feature in the Times Colonist newspaper on June 27, 2021. KnowlEDGE is a continuing series highlighting the research and creative practice of UVic professors and graduate students.  

Banting Fellow & Vanier Scholar named in Fine Arts

Fine Arts researchers and creative practitioners Taylor Brook and Troy Sebastian are among UVic’s recipients of the prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholars,

“Congratulations to Taylor and Troy,” says Acting Dean Allana Lindgren. “Having a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and a Vanier Scholar in the Faculty of Fine Arts is an honour.”

Together with Canada’s federal granting agencies, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada announced the results of the 2020-2021 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships and Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships competitions on July 15.

“Both Taylor and Troy are highly talented and accomplished young artists/scholars, so it is very satisfying to see the excellence of their creative work and research recognized at the national level,” says Lindgren. “I am confident that their expertise, creativity, and aspirations will enrich our community.”

Taylor Brook

School of Music composer Taylor Brook is one of four UVic recipients of the Banting fellowships. The federal program is designed to build world-class research capacity by recruiting top-tier postdoctoral researchers at an internationally competitive level of funding.

The two-year Banting fellowships are worth $70,000 per year. They are open to both Canadian and international researchers who have recently completed a PhD, PhD-equivalent or health professional degree and other eligibility criteria. UVic’s other three recipients are Kristina Barclay (Biology and Anthropology), Simon Blouin (Physics and Astronomy), and Gillian Kolla (Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research).

A Canadian composer who writes for the concert stage, video, theatre, dance and robotic instruments, Brook’s compositions have been performed by ensembles and soloists worldwide. A 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, he has won numerous SOCAN Young Composers awards, including the 2016 grand prize, and holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Columbia University.

 

Brook’s music is often concerned with finely tuned microtonal sonorities, combining his interest in exploring the perceptual qualities of sound with a unique sense of beauty and form. Current projects include a new concerto grosso for the San Francisco-based Del Sol String Quartet with the Partch Ensemble and a concert-length piece for the NYC-based TAK Ensemble.

As part of his SSHRC project, he will be writing a new composition for the Aventa Ensemble, to be performed in 2023.

“I am thrilled to begin my research at the University of Victoria as a Banting Fellow. My research will develop a novel framework for cross-cultural musical analysis that overcomes limitations engendered by Western musical notation. I hope to build a greater understanding of tuning and temperament as an expressive force in music as well as contribute to a broader effort in musicology, composition and music theory to decolonize the curriculum in higher education.​”
—Taylor Brook

SSHRC Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship

Troy Sebastian | nupqu ʔak·ǂam̓

Department of Writing alumnus and instructor Troy Sebastian is one of three UVic researchers named as Vanier Scholars in the annual competition by the Government of Canada.

The scholarships are earmarked for social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and/or engineering and health. Vanier scholars, who receive $50,000 funding each year for three years, demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies. UVic’s other two recipients are Dorothea Harris (Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies) and Lucie Kotesovska (English).

A Ktunaxa writer from ʔaq̓am, Sebastian’s research and creative practice focuses on memoir, Indigenous masculinities, Canadian military history, Ktunaxa nation building and Ktunaxa language revitalization. His proposed PhD program is a special arrangement between the Department of Writing and the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

 

“My Vanier scholarship will focus on celebrating who we and our history in our ancestral homelands by researching the life and service of a Ktunaxa veteran who was killed in action during World War II,” says Sebastian.

A graduate of UVic’s Writing MFA program and an instructor with the department, Sebastian was selected for the 2020 Writer’s Trust Rising Star program, is a recipient Hnatyshyn Foundation’s Reveal – Indigenous Arts Award and is also a graduate of the Banff Centre’s Indigenous Writers program.

His writing has been longlisted for the 2019 Writers’ Trust Journey Prize, both the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize and 2018 CBC Short Story Prize, and he has been published in Best Canadian Stories 2019, The Walrus, Ktuqcqakyam, The New Quarterly, Quill and QuirePrairie Fire and The Malahat Review.

“My research and artistic practice centres on Ktunaxa language, storytelling, morality and ethics, and is dedicated to the empowerment of the Ktunaxa Nation’s vision statement: ‘Strong, healthy citizens and communities, speaking our languages and celebrating who we are and our history in our ancestral homelands, working together, managing our lands and resources, within a self-sufficient, self-governing Nation.’”
—Troy Sebastian | nupqu ʔak·ǂam̓

Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar

Kelly Richardson working with UN Biodiversity

If you could imagine a future for our planet’s biodiversity, what would it be? Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson has been invited by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to do just that as part of a global collaborative artwork to celebrate the world’s biodiversity and urge for its protection.

Imagine compassion for nature

“The opportunity to imagine our potential futures on this platform is substantial in terms of audience reach,” says Richardson. “The idea is to awaken compassion for nature and imagine our different potential futures using images of my work—from the unthinkable to a radically different future should priorities take a dramatic turn.”

Richardson is one of six international artists and scientists invited to participate in the global Instagram movement @withnature2020 on June 25.

Fusing art and science

Her dramatic images will be paired with messages intended to encourage reflection on our relationship with biodiversity: “Imagine if we valued the species which went extinct on Earth today, as though it was found on Mars. Imagine the radically different futures that will bring.”

“We have a limited window of time to act to change our collective futures,” says Richardson. “If people can visualise potential outcomes from insufficient address of our planet’s significant issues around biodiversity loss and climate change, it may result in an appreciation for what remains and a dramatic shift in priorities to protect it.”

A plausible future

An internationally acclaimed artist, Richardson creates video installations of rich and complex landscapes that have been manipulated using CGI, animation and sound. Her practice offers imaginative views and constructions of the future plausible enough to prompt careful consideration of the present.

Underpinning her research is a critical and often collaborative engagement with scientists, philosophers and writers whose work engages with issues related to climate change.

Follow the UN Biodiversity feed on Instagram

Poetry & motion: Writing alumni Billeh Nickerson

There’s a delightful irony in the fact that the most memorable part of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the oldest president in US history was the reading by the youngest poet to ever appear at such a ceremony. Arguably the highlight of the event, 23-year-old Amanda Gorman’s impactful performance of her poem “The Hill We Climb” wasn’t lost on Vancouver-based poet and writing professor Billeh Nickerson (BFA ’98).

“Seeing a younger person—and a younger person of colour—talking about things that are important isn’t normally the case in these situations,” he says. “Was it the best poem ever done? Probably not. Was it super successful and inspiring? Totally! And, as a poet, I can tell you it is hard to write an occasional poem: I’ve done a bunch over the years and it’s not fun.”

Fresh energy

Nickerson knows a thing or two about injecting fresh energy into old institutions, be it academia or poetry itself. Currently the co-chair of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Creative Writing department (alongside fellow UVic Writing classmate Aislinn Hunter), he’s also the former editor of PRISM International and Event, two of Canada’s most respected literary journals, and has earned a well-deserved reputation for his sexy, savvy and frequently funny poetry since the debut of his first book back in 2000.

Now, with the spring 2021 publication of his sixth book, Duct-Taped Roses (Book*hug Press), Nickerson continues his career of offering playfully evocative observations on life, work, history and queer culture. “Poetry is like fashion,” he observes. “It keeps changing and is constantly evolving, but there’s something at the heart of poetry that still exists and remains relevant. The word that keeps coming up for me is resiliency.”

Consider the new poem “Love Coward”, which reflects on the experience of having an earlier poem appear—and then be vandalized—on Vancouver’s buses and Skytrains as part of the Poetry in Transit series. (“and never for the rest of my life / will so many people read one of my poems” he writes.)

“For a lot of folks, seeing poetry in transit is the biggest and most obvious source of contemporary poetry they get,” he says. “You see people sitting there, maybe moving their lips, and realize they’re reading your poem—I’ve had that experience a couple of times now and it’s really quite lovely.”

Finding poetic inspiration

Nickerson recalls that he had no thoughts of being either a professional poet or a teacher when he left his family home in Langley BC to attend UVic’s writing program. “In retrospect, it was kind of on a whim, but I’m really happy I made that decision,” he admits. “When I found out Lorna Crozier was teaching there, that was a big sell for me.” Another early influence was Geist magazine founder Stephen Osborne. “He was one of my first teachers, and the one who really opened up the possibility of the sentence for me,” he says, noting how this led to his 20-year relationship with publishing in Geist. 

Yet it wasn’t until Nickerson started appearing at local open mic nights that he began taking the idea of poetry more seriously. “I always remember Al Purdy—bless his heart—saying, ‘If you threw a rock in Victoria, you’d hit a poet’,” he chuckles. “There’s something to be said for finding comfort in numbers.”

Pre- and post-pandemic experiences

While he’s no stranger to writing about history-making events—his 2012 volume Impact explored the legacy of theTitanic—Nickerson does note that all of the work in Duct-Taped Roses was all written pre-COVID. “I do wonder what’s next. Poems written before the pandemic have become de-facto laments for our pre-pandemic experience . . . but we haven’t gotten to the post- part yet. I’m definitely curious how that will change the reader, and change the art.” 

Right now, however, he’s hoping the publication of his new book will offer a sense of renewal, even if it is in the form of Zoom readings. “The terrible irony for me is that I had started a book about airports and airlines, but that stopped—obviously—because I’m not going to be hanging out in airports right now,” he sighs. “So it’s a bit of a conundrum to figure out what the next step is.”