Towards Braiding, a book available here as a PDF and the accompanying program of artist residencies, gatherings, workshops, and other forms of engagement are part of a learning journey that Musagetes, the organization that hosts ArtsEverywhere, has embarked on to transform ourselves, our organization, and, hopefully, the wider communities of which we are part. As we have learned over the past four years of expressing a desire to work with Indigenous people, people of colour, and their many communities, our best intentions are not always aligned with our actions, and our most carefully designed plans are not always matched up with our aspirations. Often, we don’t even recognize that the frameworks we use—comprised of desires, intentions, plans, and actions—are the wrong starting points altogether.
Musagetes’ journey towards braiding together ways of being and knowing started with relationships falling apart. At that point, the easiest choice for the organization was to bail out of the conflict and start again without being able to learn the wider lessons that the falling apart was teaching. But a different invitation was put on the table: to stay with the trouble, to learn from the failures, to work through the different dimensions of the problem apart and together, to do it for the benefit not only of ourselves, but also for other groups and organizations. We decided to accept this challenge and the risks involved. In the beginning we were concerned this would be about blame, shame and guilt. It took us a while to understand that there was another form of relation, which was unthinkable for us from the outset, that was being offered as a way forward.
This form of relationship required us to let go of certain attachments and to face certain insecurities in order to make room for a more generative space to emerge, where humility and truth and attention and resonance could create the conditions for deep listening and respect.
Developing the sensibilities—the radar—for making necessary personal and organizational changes is a precondition for braiding; we can’t just declare ourselves to be braiding ways of being without embracing what Vanessa and Elwood describe in this booklet as exiled capacities. We are each wounded by the fault lines of modernity, but the wounds differ in their nature, their existential threat, and their required medicines. Each of us at Musagetes and ArtsEverywhere is committed to tending to the wounds of each other, of our communities, of other creatures, and of the planet. But we’re just now learning what it means to do this tending and we know we need to learn from inevitable failures and mistakes in this process.
Everything we learn or unlearn is one small part of a large metabolism that both nurtures us and unburdens us. Moving towards braiding is hard work, shaped through collective authorship—including this booklet and these words. But the deepest gratitude for leading the initiative towards braiding we offer to Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti.
—Shawn Van Sluys
Authors’ note about the book
In the final pages of Towards Braiding, we gesture toward three areas that will orient our work in the coming year, addressing: relationships between Indigenous and racialized communities; Indigenous and decolonizing approaches to climate change; and the internal heterogeneity of Indigenous communities. These three intentions remind us of the many complexities that are involved in braiding work, and how these complexities operate in multiple layers simultaneously.
The cover of this book is a stark reminder about the difficulties and perhaps the impossibilities of representing and addressing the heterogeneity of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, as well as a reminder of the internal tensions within Indigenous communities – including, at times, lateral violence and in particular sexual violence. Without romanticizing Indigenous communities prior to colonization, this violence must be understood in relation to the historical and ongoing legacies of colonialism, and the imposition of colonial modes of relationship—especially cisheteropatriarchy—as well as colonial imaginaries of justice.
Colonial justice is largely premised on punitive practices (what some people describe as “carceral”), in which harms done are addressed through shame, isolation, or outright removal and incarceration of the individual perpetrator from their communities. In this approach, there is little room for addressing the root causes of harms done, restoring fractured relationships, or enabling generative forms of healing. When violence is framed as an individual rather than a systemic problem, responses to violence are framed as individualistic rather than systemic and collective as well. Further, there is little room for recognizing that all of us are complex persons who are capable of both terrible and amazing things—the world is instead divided into stark binaries of good and bad.
Within a larger social context dominated by these carceral modes of justice, different Indigenous forms of accountability can offer powerful alternatives and avenues for healing that attend to both individual needs and wider kinship relations and responsibilities, and which seek to uproot both the legacies of colonial violence and of colonial modes of addressing violence. This includes restorative practices and community-based ceremonies through which we can name, process, and release our individual and collective traumas in healthy ways, rather than recirculate or pass them on to others.
However, there are no easy answers as to what these other forms of accountability and transformation might look like in the present context of unevenly distributed individual and intergenerational traumas, endemic sexism and racism, and the wider atmosphere of colonial toxicities that seem to leave no space for Indigenous peoples to have difficult but necessary internal conversations without these conversations being dissected and exploited by the non-indigenous world. This can mean, for instance, Indigenous survivors feel that they cannot share their stories, lest it lead to further pathologization of their communities, or the criminalization and violent incarceration of their abusers.
As we continue on this path towards braiding, we will need to find a way to make room for the full complexity of Indigenous life, for the demands of the challenges we will need to face together, and for what is unknowable within and before us. For this to happen, we will need to manifest modes of being that center more-than-human relations as a basis for co-existence without losing sight of the different forms of violence and violations of a world that is still colonial.