Lianne Marie Leda Charlie: Hot pink bull moose, modern treaties, and decolonization

Lianne Marie Leda Charlie’s hot pink bull moose

Jessica Simpson

Lianne Marie Leda Charlie is a woman of Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, Northern Tutchone. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa and an instructor in the Indigenous Governance degree program at Yukon College. She is also an artist and a new mother.

As part of the art exhibit “To Talk to Others” featured at the Yukon Arts Centre, winter 2018-19, five Indigenous Yukon artists were invited by Valerie Salez to create pieces in response to minutes from a 1977 meeting between Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Yukon First Nations leaders on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. Lianne responded with a life-sized hot pink papier-mâché moose covered in the Yukon’s Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA), which caught the eye of many, including us here at the Modern Treaties Implementation Research Project. In this interview, I sat down with Lianne to listen to her unpack the metaphorical parallels between the hot pink moose, the struggles with modern treaties, and the Umbrella Final Agreement.

This interview was edited for clarity.

Jessica Simpson (JS): So, maybe you can tell me a about how the moose was constructed?
Well, I’ve never done anything like this before – I’m a digital artist, everything I make doesn’t even have material form. I happen to have a friend who does this kind of thing in Vancouver, so I gave her a call and asked, “How would I construct this thing? Where would you even start?” She sat with that for a few days and eventually took me through step-by-step.

She found a 2D life size bull moose pattern for a lawn ornament – you know those toys with the wood sticks and the slats? It’s like that but life sized made by a company in the U.S. She recommended I start with that, and then 3-Dify it. It’s 2D plywood frame, and then we filled it out with Styrofoam ribbing, rump, and legs. My friend, Sarah Porter, an architect and a very creative person, made that base out of carved Styrofoam. In the shaping of the body, there was a lot of referencing Google images trying to find images of the bull moose from the right angle trying to imagine how its butt sticks out, how it connects to the legs… Then we laid chicken wire, duct tape, construction adhesive, and then layers of papier-mâché.

In that beginning process, we had a small core of people working on the project and then when we started the papier-mâché it became a community project. We were lucky enough to get some space at Yukon College and then I just invited people – “I’m working on this thing, come help” – and all of a sudden about 25 people came and it just became a matter of handing things off to people.

JS: That sounds symbolic of how communities should work – you have this whole thing, but you can’t do it all on your own.
Exactly. It is interesting, the linkages between the relationship of making the moose and the theory of creating our desired futures. Identifying this desired goal, the mix of skills sets required in order to make this thing you want. And for us it just happened to be a life sized hot pink papier-mâché bull moose – but it made me realize it could have been anything. We needed all of these people from different communities, different ages, different skill sets, different places, different ideas to buy into this and see themselves reflected in this idea and empower people to own it and take responsibility for what it is that they are going to contribute to it.

So, one thing that stands out – on one of those community work days a student from my class came to help. She had been there for a couple of hours and understood what was happening, what she needed to do and had some experience now, so when someone new came she was in a position to be like “this is what we’re doing, this is how you do it, these are the ‘tricks-of-the-trade’ and now you can help.” One of the interactions happened to be with the Dean of Liberal Arts coming in new and she was in a position to teach him what was happening and then he stepped in.

So it’s interesting to think of positionality, and being in positions of knowledge and power and then sharing and disseminating that knowledge and power outwards in new configurations of people. So there’s an interesting outcome or practice that we can even think about when designing our governance systems or trying to create something together.

JS: Now we’re touching on the next question – what is the connection between modern treaties and the hot pink moose? Is there anything you want to say about that?
To clarify, the UFA is the framework that guides modern treaty making. The agreements that come from it are the treaties. The UFA is in everybody’s agreements and those become the legal documents.

But I wanted to make that connection between a moose and the UFA. The moose, is something that has sustained our people forever. It feeds us, it clothes us, and it represents a way of being and a relationship that is our ancestral way. Then we have a modern treaty that feeds, clothes, sustains us and then by putting those two together (moose and the UFA), my intention was to help me depict some hard questions that I had about modern treaty, land claims, our ancestral way, and the responsibilities we have to our land, to ourselves, and to our future. I don’t know the answers to that question, but it’s about putting the question out there so that we can think through it together.

JS: It’s a think piece really. It gets you thinking and it’s not just something pretty to look at.
What’s really neat about this is that people are drawn to it. It’s a hot pink moose, and it’s huge and it’s standing there and you’re like “WHAT IS THAT?” And when you come into it, all of a sudden you’re asking “What’s the UFA? What does that mean? Why would you put those things together? Why is it pink? Why is the rack gold? Why are those arrows there?”

JS: Well, this is reminding me of the concept of how the treaties are supposed to represent the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples, therefore all Canadians are treaty people. So, anybody walking into this [art installation] is automatically engaging with the treaty.
And that’s interesting when thinking of who was all there to make it [the UFA]. If you do take the idea of “we are all treaty people,” and this is something I’ve also heard this in the Yukon, Indigenous people are reminding non-Indigenous people that this your government that signed these agreements too and so you actually have a responsibility to us, to these agreements, and there is work there for you to do. So that becomes something to think about in the creation of the moose.

JS: I want to touch on what was the inspiration for the project – it was part of “To Talk to Others.”
Valerie Salez, the person who brought us all together for the exhibition “To Talk to Others,” was working for the Tr’ondek Hwechin heritage division in Dawson City about 10 years ago. She came across this transcript of a meeting that took place in 1977 and Pierre Elliott Trudeau was in the Yukon on holiday and ended up having a meeting with the First Nations leadership at the time and this is a transcript from that meeting.

When you see Trudeau, he is actually trying to get a sense of the leadership’s receptivity to a joint venture with the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, which at the time was approved and they wanted to put another pipeline in the Yukon. In the transcript, the leadership was like “We’re just trying to figure out the land claims process, so are you guys [the Government of Canada]. We have a way of life and a way of being that we need to protect, something like a pipeline threatens that. So, we can’t have that conversation right now without having some sort of security around what’s happening with our land claim.” Then you see Trudeau being really black and white around being modern and traditional: He keeps saying that “If you’re not going to take on economic development in that way, then it sounds like you want to be traditional. No tv’s, no radio, no…”

JS: How colonial!
So ridiculous!
Five Yukon artists got this transcript and support to interpret this any way we wanted. In that [transcript] I saw the challenges and struggles with resource extraction, this need and desire to live life in a way that our ancestors would recognize, and the fact that that is constantly under threat in various forms.

And then I really picked up on the place of paper in our politics right now. So that’s why the moose is made out of paper. The other pieces in my collection are a stretched hide made out of paper on a frame, and the paper is the land claims maps. The third piece is a baby belt, a garment we would use to traditionally carry our babies. It’s also made out of paper, the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation land claims map, because I was reflecting on the afterbirth ceremony we did for our baby this past July, which meant putting the placenta out on the land in a tree because that’s what our people would have done. Because I had all of those land claims maps, I learned where I put the placenta. And then we made this baby belt in response to the feelings that came up with all of that.
So together, the collection [moose, stretched moose hide, and baby belt] grapples with the fact that our politics are largely determined and guided by paper, whereas land would have had that place in our ancestral practices. We are constantly trying to bring the land into a paper politics world and it just doesn’t go together.

JS: You have mentioned before that there is this anxiety about: “What are young people doing to bring forward the original spirit and intent of the treaties?” How do we get the next generation educated in the original spirit and intent of our treaties?
The thing that comes up for me is what kind of skills does the next generation need to have? One of them is to understand these agreements, but we also need our people on the land doing things our ancestors would recognize. Unfortunately, those things are different. Like, it’s the paper or the land. It would be really great if we can say they can do both, but I think about myself and I’m skilled in paper and my land skills are minimal, and that means that I’m not out there. And when you look closely at what Indigenous theorists are saying, especially how settler colonialism gets defined, articulated, and practiced – the whole intention was to get us off the land. And so when I know that, there’s the anxiety because I want to support youth to be out on the land, I want myself and my baby to be comfortable out on the land. That is hard, anxious work because there’s a gap in what I’ve learned because of colonialism. My dad’s family was violently taken off the land, so there’s a gap in the knowledge transmission on how to be comfortable out there.

I also feel anxiety around what youth need to learn. I want to fully understand these agreements and how the state has operated through these agreements, [so that I can teach that to the youth] and then the youth can decide what it is that we need to do. With that understanding [of the agreements], there’s consciousness and intentionality with respect to what it is that we are doing with our time. The youth might go “it’s really important to be on the land, that I am out there, that I know my language, that I know our practices, that my family is healthy and comfortable and safe.” And, that’s scary for me because I also hear that there is this necessity that we understand what the agreements are, that we know how they work, and that we use them to the best of our ability. That means capacity building in very specific, office-based, things, but when it comes to prioritizing what we are doing with our time, we need people to be comfortable, safe, and healthy on the land.

JS: When you were speaking earlier, you were speaking about [what] the UFA is for all of the Yukon, but there are all of these different nations. The UFA is divided amongst all of them. How do you divide it amongst those that also have shared land? That’s a real visual of the concept of “bringing land into paper.”
A friend who helped with the antlers, his name is Patrick, he talks about how that moose will move amongst the land despite lines, and that’s a teaching for us as we navigate the pathway moving forward. That moose is walking across borders, these lines, Category A Land, B Land, where we have title land and where we don’t. The moose doesn’t move in the world that way. So what does that tell us about the potential for moving forward for us? Can we move in a world that doesn’t prioritize those lines in the way that they’re drawn and tell us what to do – what that paper is telling us to do? Can we move on the land like our ancestors who were literally following the moose? ◉

Editor’s Note
The conversation that sparked the “To Talk to Others” exhibit occurred in 1977, a pivotal year in Northern Indigenous-Canada relations. There was public debate about the future of the Northern economy, much of it turning on proposals to build oil or natural gas pipelines to bring Northern energy reserves south. These proposals galvanized Indigenous people all over the north, who saw international corporations and the federal government making plans to transform their lands forever. This was the beginning of the land claim movement that would instead transform Northern political life and institutions.

In May 1977, Volume One of Thomas Berger’s Report on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline was released. As suggested by the title, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland offers an analysis of what is at issue in northern development decision-making. Berger’s report recommended a ten year moratorium on pipeline construction in the Mackenzie Valley, and a permanent ban on development in the North Slope. The Inquiry process and its report effectively interrupted federal and industry Northern development plans for Denendeh. In Yukon, the discussion developed differently. In July 1977, an inquiry led by Kenneth Lysyck concluded that a pipeline along the Alaska Highway was acceptable, with conditions, while in the same month, the National Energy Board concluded a review of multiple proposed routes to approve the Alaska Highway route. Neither pipeline was ever built, as world energy prices and proven Northern reserves both turned out to be lower than anticipated. (In the early 1980s, though, a pipeline to take oil from Norman Wells to northern Alberta was constructed, through unceded Dene territory.)

– Frances Abele

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