Honoring stories: Aboriginal media, art, and activism in Vancouver

Kristin L Dowell
Dept. of Anthropology, New York University
July, 2006


Honoring Stories. Aboriginal Media, Art, and Activism in Vancouver ; examines the role of media production in shaping community practices and cultural identity among intertribal, urban Aboriginal filmmakers in Vancouver, British Columbia. I argue that Aboriginal media is a practice that simultaneously alters the visual landscape of Canadian media by representing Aboriginal faces, histories, and experiences on-screen , while serving a crucial social role off-screen as a practice through which new forms of Aboriginal sociality and community are created and negotiated. I examine how global media technologies are appropriated and transformed to meet the needs of local indigenous communities. Given that the majority of Native people in the U.S. and Canada now reside in urban areas, it is increasingly vital to understand the role of practices, such as media production, through which urban Indians create alternative social and community structures. Within this context, I analyze the ways in which urban Aboriginal filmmakers in Vancouver---some of whom identify as mixed-blood, residential school survivors or adoptees---use media production to reintroduce themselves to their communities of origin, create Aboriginal social networks between cities and reserves, and re-imagine kinship ties to help bridge the ruptures that colonial policies have wrought on Native family and community structures. I argue that Aboriginal media is more than merely expressive of Aboriginal stories and indigenous cultural traditions, but is constitutive of Aboriginal social and kinship relationships.

Honoring Stories builds upon thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2003-2004 with urban Aboriginal filmmakers, artists, activists and the Indigenous Media Arts Group (IMAG), a non-profit Aboriginal media resource center in Vancouver. I emphasize the social life behind the production of Aboriginal media, contextualizing the impact of Aboriginal media through life histories and interviews with Aboriginal filmmakers from diverse tribal, generational, socio-economic, and political backgrounds with particular attention to the prominent role of women. I contend that Aboriginal filmmakers indigenize the technologies of media production by drawing upon Aboriginal cultural protocols off-screen and indigenous aesthetic traditions on-screen to create a media practice that alters Western film practices in the service of Aboriginal cultural traditions while expanding the horizon of Aboriginal cultural futures.