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Issue # 1

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Indians in Cyberspace
by Mike MacDonald

Who is
by Cheryl L'Hirondelle

First Nations in Cyberspace
by Mike Patterson

Mike MacDonald

Feature: Indians in Cyberspace

by Mike MacDonald

In the early 90s I met the director of a new media school in Vancouver. She wanted to know if I had a web site- in those days I didn't even have a computer. She asked why Indians were not on the Web and argued passionately that we should be. "Good God," I thought, "This woman is like a missionary- the Christians have been trying to save us for five hundred years- now the geeks are going to do it."

Buffy Ste.-MarieIn fact, even then there were Indians in cyberspace, Buffy Sainte-Marie was creating on the web and Anishnaabe teacher and activist, Paula Giese was building web sites about artists like Norval Morriseau, Daphne Odjig and eventually hundreds more. Buffy and Paula were leading the way and we will start by visiting Buffy's site.

I click on Audio Clips first so I can enjoy her music as well as her visual art. The first digital art that really impacted me was a self-portrait by Buffy done way back when - she has worked with computers since the seventies. She also paints and teaches and is the only person I know with a rose named after her. Be sure to read her Cyberskins essay.

The Banff Centre has been important as a place where many of the works we will view have been created. Most of the artists listed here have worked in Banff. I am presenting the artists mostly in chronological order starting with the pioneers. Most of the sites are by visual artists but we will also be viewing work by writers working on line and digital artists who are streaming music and video on the web.

Edward Poitras Edward Poitras was born in 1953 in Regina and has been active as an artist since the early 1970s. A frequent visitor to Banff he produced his first web site at the Centre in 1996 - JAW REZ.

Jaw Rez manages to critique the web as it contributes to it. The site focuses on the idea of the beginning and the end of civilizations drawing on references from Amerindian cosmogony and Christian sources. Within the framework of the piece, the movement of the worlds from life to death transcends time. With no indication of the time interval between beginning and end, the universe constructed remains still. The Coyote/ Trickster is at work here and has created false links. The viewer moves the cursor to find links but when clicking, he/she remains at the same place. This creates the impression of endlessly searching for the right spot in the dark. It takes time to find a link that actually opens something. The artist forces us to confront the need for immediate change of place, which might be engendered by the Internet. Source- Banff Centre Press Release.

In 1995 Edward was the first native artist to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale. In the past decade, he has become increasingly engaged with digital information, gathering and processing it as material for art. In-x-isle at the SOIL Digital Media Production Suite, Neutral Ground in Regina is a good example.

Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew is a Cree Metis artist who took early aesthetic strides forward in creating Aboriginal new media works that made use of the capacities of the technology of the time, 1996-7.

Speaking the Language of Spiders engaged fourteen Aboriginal artists and writers in the development of a time cycle that stretches from the beginning of time to infinity and then back to the beginning. The work speaks of the life cycle and different ways of living through experiences- immersed, contemplative, suffering, and filled with hope. A beautiful, multi-layered interactive experience, it sustains its power many years later. Source- Sara Diamond
Speaking the Language of Spiders consists of an interactive screenplay and multi-media storyboard. The theme is based on an examination of the differences in worldview between cultures structured by First Nations' languages and those structured by English. Using poetic, fragmentary, highly visual and intuitive modes of expression this project brings into play the ways First Nations historic cultural paradigms, and ancestral and animistic spiritual forces impact contemporary First Nations culture. The work concentrates on the experiences of people consigned to the fringes of urban street-life, their sources of joy and grief and their intense humanity. Source- Dunlop Art Gallery.


I find similarities in the works by Poitras and Ahasiw but they certainly have different personalities. I have always thought Edward to be like a monk, quiet and self-contained and deeply into a spirituality that enables and permeates his strong works. Edward sometimes works intensely with a technician or photographer to make his art but mostly he works on his own. Ahasiw on the other hand often works with a group of collaborators as he did for the Spider Language site and as Skawennati does with Cyber PowWoW.

Skawennati Tricia Fragnito Skawennati Tricia Fragnito, Mohawk/Italian, is a multidisciplinary artist and curator. She has a [Fine Arts] degree from Concordia in Montreal [and] is just as comfortable with a sewing machine as she is with cameras and computers. Like Ahasiw she is a people person who works well in a group and does solo works too. CyberPowWow is a virtual gallery/chat room with art and texts by new and established artists and writers. Skawennati and the Nation to Nation group started CyberPowWow in 1996.

Lori Blondeau Lori Blondeau, Cree/Saulteaux, based in Saskatoon, she teaches art at the University of Saskatchewan. Her performance works have thrilled, excited and delighted me on the few occasions I have been privileged to experience them. Lori's got guts; posing with a pink surfboard in her beaver-skin bikini she forces us to focus on important issues with good humor and style. See the article STREET WISE on her work with 7th Generation Image Makers (7thGIM) youth art program for a good example. Lori's work was also the subject of a feature "Scandalous Personas, Difficult Knowledge, Restless Images" by Lynne Bell in Canadian Art Magazine, Winter 2000.

KC Adams K C Adams from Manitoba questions the relationship between nature and technology combining real and virtual elements in her installations and web work. Bleach II addresses consumerism and Martha Stewart's style by removing all colour from the environment she has created.


Jeff Thomas Jeff Thomas, Iroquois/Onondaga, is originally from Buffalo NY. A photographer, curator, writer and cultural analyst, he now lives in Ottawa. His son is often included in his photographs so they spend that time together strengthening their relationship. Family is very important to Jeff and he writes about this in his photo essay Identity Theft (You will need to launch the Archives and search for Thomas). This on-line photo-essay produced with CBC Radio 3 really grabs me. I have watched it a lot and show it to friends and students as a model to emulate. I also enjoy Scouting for Indians- an interactive site that documents Jeff's on going search for Indians and identity in an urban environment. With a minimal use of technology he has produced a site that is intelligent and provoking.

Randy Adams Randy Adams, Metis from Alberta, is a writer and visual artist. His photography and mixed media work has been extensively exhibited and collected. In 1997 he moved to Vancouver Island and began to work with digital tools. His work has been featured in several online publications. An active member of the trAce online writing community since 1999 he was the first writer/artist to be awarded a Writer's Studio. Fascinated by marginal territories- real or virtual- he admits to a certain streak of impishness.

Cheryl L'Hirondelle: Treaty Card Cheryl l'Hirondelle, Cree/Metis, is an artist, writer, musician, storyteller and educator from Alberta. She is currently in Vancouver teaching First Nations Net Art and Digital Storytelling at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. An essay she wrote while editing volume 17 of Horizon Zero Magazine at the Banff Centre, Aboriginal Story in Digital Media, is a good example of on-line writing- the entire issue is worth a look and listen- lots of links to hot sites and with music by Jackson 2bears. You will need Flash 7.

Jackson 2bears Jackson 2bears, Metis, from Toronto, has studied music and visual art and uses both in his work. He now lives in Victoria BC. 2bears shows his video works projected large and accompanied by music produced with turntables and computers. His early streaming audio works echo leading edge contemporary composers. More recent works are in hot rock, hip-hop style with a political edge. Listen to his "ten little indians" (remix).


Anthony Dieter Anthony Dieter, Plains Cree/Ojibwe, from Saskatchewan, specializes in multimedia and graphic design. He studied in Texas and has worked on projects at the Banff Centre. Young Hawk Seven is a beautiful video with a haunting soundtrack and clever animation that explores historical and contemporary aspects of Amerindian conditions.


Tecknomadz Gabriel Lopez-Shaw, Payute from the U S, Gabriel produced Tecknomadz, Vol.1 at Skwwak Artists' Collective in Regina. This is a moving story of a young native woman from the streets working at building a better life. Although he is from the U S Lopez-Shaw produced this work in Canada.


Most of the work we are viewing was created in Canada. Thanks to the Banff Centre and the Canada Council, Indigenous artists have had more opportunities to access state of the art equipment and produce new media works in this country. Sara Diamond at the Banff Centre has been a leader indeed, creating many opportunities for peoples from all over the world to access new media.

Jenny Fraser Jenny Fraser from Australia founded and curates cyberTribe, an online Gallery that encourages the production and exhibition of Indigenous Art with a focus on the digital. Recently her own work takes iconic and everyday symbols of Australian life and places them in a context that questions the values they represent. With a laconic sense of humour she picks away at the fabric of society, exposing contradictions, absurdities, and denial. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also hosts a profile of her work.

Lisa Reihana Lisa Reihana is a Maori artist who, has played a leading role in the development of new media in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Her work demonstrates and communicates complex ideas about indigenous identity and bi-cultural living. Her new work Digital Marae continues to explore the concept of wharenui ('meeting house') prevalent in her artistic practice. Reihana uses dramatic large-format photographs to reference female mythological figures and pay homage to the strong matriarchal influence within Maori culture.

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie is a Dine/Seminole/Muscogee who has been a photographer and artist for 30 years. Hulleah creates art specifically for an indigenous audience. Her work awakens sensitivity to the complexities of native identity and gives evidence of attempts by white America to codify and dehumanize with little regard for native traditions. Always challenging, sometimes humorous, Tsinhnahjinnie's work upends the status quo. She earned her M.F.A. from the University of California at Irvine, California, where she currently resides.

Sonny Assu Sonny Assu is from the Laich-kwi-tach nation on Vancouver Island. He lives in Vancouver where he does web design work and currently is co-creating a comic book. A 2002 graduate of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design his work is a unique blend of First Nations and Pop Art Culture. His web designs are clever, crisp and clean and his graphic design shows his facility with traditional Northwest Coast and Pop Art styles. He is the only First Nations' artist I have found so far who actually has a blog.

April 2005

Mike MacDonald from Nova Scotia is of Mi'kmaq and European ancestry. Mike is a video installation artist and garden designer in addition to pursuing photography and new media projects. Self-taught, he focuses on the environment, incorporating plants and animals in his art. He finds inspiration in both his aboriginal ancestry and Western sources, drawing from science and literature as well as traditional medicine and ethnobotany. In October 2000 Mike received the first Aboriginal Achievement Award for New Media at the Toronto imagineNATIVE Festival for his Butterfly Garden web site and the first version of this essay.Mike MacDonald
  Copyright 2006 Urban Shaman Inc.
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