Jordan Abel Interview 1: Clip 1
In this clip, Jordan Abel discusses his relationship to Vancouver as a place and how his family histories and traumas are tied to Vancouver and the legacy of colonial violence. He discusses the placement of Indigenous art throughout Vancouver (and the totem poles in Stanley Park in particular) and the complexities around displaying Indigenous art and tradition in such a public space, weighing accessibility against voyeurism.
ColonisationLandscape / SkylineTotem Poles
Dr. Joanne Leow
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon
Jordan Abel: My name is Jordan Abel. I’m a Nisga’a writer from BC. The main geography for me in The Place of Scraps, I think, is Vancouver as a city, in part because I was born there, but also in part because I never live there and had to return there as an adult in this place that, in many ways, I felt like I was supposed to feel very intimately familiar with those spaces, particularly in the ways that I’d heard about my parents navigating those spaces, but also coming to it, you know, as a stranger, unfamiliar with that geography. The other spaces that I think about a lot in this work are the spaces that exist for Indigenous forms of art in the city of Vancouver, in particular, like, the way that Indigenous art seems to be strategically positioned within the city, and what that says about the function of Indigenous arts and the pathway that Indigenous artists are attempting to navigate. (1:12) Joanne Leow: I, I mean, I think I want to skip to this question first, because this—what you said about pathways and about the place of Indigenous art, and also the kind of negotiations that you have to make with the—and sometimes a very transactional nature, right, of how art is treated in cities, in a sense. One of the pages of the book that really struck me, again, is that “Please stay out of Totem Pole Area” part of Place of Scraps, which really made me think about who’s in control of the art, who’s in control of that space, thinking about the governmentality of it, and thinking about how your book tries to almost, in some senses, wrest back control. What is the meaning of the art in the space, what is the meaning of the totem pole in the space, what is the meaning of the space just generally, right? So yeah, I’d love to hear more about what struck you when you took that photo, and how you sort of came to incorporate it in your work. (1:59) Jordan Abel: I think the first thing, as an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, and as, as a person who grew up severed from my Indigenous community, I think encountering those totem poles in that way with that sign that says “Please stay out of the Totem Pole Area,” I think is…that particular moment and photograph felt like a microcosm of my experience of Indigeneity, and, you know, seemed to run in parallel to the legacies of colonial violence that disrupt Indigenous forms of knowledge and art from generation to generation. That’s one way that I think about it. You know, I think the other way that I think about that space is I guess, through the city of Vancouver’s, I guess, intentions to display Indigeneity in Stanley Park, which is an area that (laughing), you know, I think is a really complicated area because the Indigenous peoples who originally occupied that space were of course forcibly removed from that area, but the park itself really has this—like there’s this really kind of complicated line that it walks, you know, where it wants to present itself as this kind of natural, untouched space that was there before…that mythical before Indigenous peoples. There’s this myth of preservation, I think, that surrounds that park, and to have that area specifically to say, “okay, here’s this selection of totem poles that we’ve curated to represent the complex history, the complex artistic traditions of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific-Northwest in like fifteen poles” (laughing) or something, that is so complicated. And that space is further complicated, I think, you know, by the fact that it's a tourist spot, you know, every time I’m there, there’s—they actually have, there’s a parking lot right outside that space where there’s the enormous long parking spots that are for tour buses, and those buses stop there all the time, and there’s constantly people just showing up and taking pictures. It’s very much part of the cultural tourism that Vancouver is interested in, and I wonder about my own place in relation to that kind of tourism and to the kind of gaze that those poles are subjected to, and I wonder about my relationship to those poles and how I should interact with them and be present there in that space, or not be.