Photographer Pat Kane discusses his project focused on how Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories of Northern Canada are moving towards meaningful self-determination.
Photographer Pat Kane discusses his project focused on how Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories of Northern Canada are moving towards meaningful self-determination by resetting the past.
An Algonquin Anishinaabe member of the Timiskaming First Nation, Canadian photographer Pat Kane was raised in a mixed-race home. “My mother was born on a reservation in Quebec and my father grew up in an Irish immigrant family,” he says.
“It wasn’t until I moved to Yellowknife [in the Northwest Territories] that I reconnected with my Indigenous side. The people here are so proud of their culture and their elders. That was a turning point for me.”
Photography provided Kane with a path to explore his identity by documenting the lives of the local Indigenous community, who are related to the Dene people of the Navajo Nation. Although Kane isn’t from their nation, his work over the past 20 years has established a bond of trust, understanding and respect.
Although many outsiders have traveled to Indigenous communities, their focus can be exclusionary, framing stories through the lens of fetishistic exoticism to fit a preconceived narrative. Recognising the importance of showing a complex and multifaceted portrait of contemporary life, Kane is exhibiting works from the series Here is Where We Shall Stay, an exploration of the impact of the Anglican Catholic Church on the Dene.
In recent months, more than 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four sites once home to Canadian residential schools — just the latest horror in a 500 year genocide waged against Indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere.
Between 1894 and 1947, the government mandated some 150,000 Indigenous children enroll in boarding schools run by the church, which stripped them of their ancestral culture, removed their legal identity as Indians, and subjected them to psychological, physical and sexual abuse. After the mandate was lifted, schools continued to run until another 50 years, the last one finally closing its doors in 1997.
“The Northwest Territories is ground zero for residential schools — a lot of people living here today attended them,” says Kane. “Indigenous people have gone through a lot of traumatic colonisation because of the church. I wanted to explore that and the relationship between Indigenous spirituality and more formalised Catholic and Anglican [religion].”
Used as a tool of imperialism, Christianity has been used to support genocide, slavery, and oppression for centuries; but perhaps more curious is the hold it has had on those who it was used against, as many have found solace in the story and teachings of Christ.
“It’s amazing how people who have been to residential school still pray and go to church every day,” says Kane. “I wanted to explore this complex relationship but also acknowledge the people moving forward and reclaiming their own identity and sense of place, doing traditional Indigenous things.”
In Here is Where We Shall Stay, Kane shows how the two sides have fused together as part of a shared history of survival and resilience becomes a form of resistance itself. “Indigenous people are not resentful, hateful, or vengeful,” Kane says. “They just want to move forward in a positive way.”
Pat Kane: Here is Where We Shall Stay, presented by Indigenous Photograph, is on view at Photoville, Brooklyn, through December 1, 2021.
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