Bubblegum Grief: My Experience of tīná gúyáńí: no respect

Kaitlyn Purcell

This is a reminder of the insidious nature of colonial-capitalism. Lateral violence is a result of systemic violence, and it takes on many forms. 

Recently, I have been studying the Nêhiyaw teaching of wâhkôhtowin through the work of scholars Dwayne Donald and Deanna Reder. While I am Dënesųłı̨né and Irish, and I grew up in the city, in Amiskwaciy, the teachings of wâhkôhtowin have resonated with me. The absence of wâhkôhtowin dehumanizes to take, remove, or separate. Without it, there is an absence of relationality, of being a good relative. It is saying, “You are not kin, nor alive to me.” 

I grew up with a lot of estrangement in my life. My parents split up when I was around ten years old. There were long periods of my life where I could no longer speak to my mother, to protect myself from the intergenerational trauma she inherited from day school. In 2020, I reconnected with my mother after a two-year separation. It was around that time, I was preparing to write the biggest exam of my academic career on Turtle Island literatures. It was around that same time that seth cardinal dodginghorse cut off his braids in response to the Southwest Calgary Ring Road—at its ribbon cutting ceremony. The chief expressed his distaste for what cardinal dodginghorse did, revealing how deeply our communities are ruptured and divided by colonial capitalism. This sort of communal rupture is also experienced within my mother’s community and family in Fort Smith, NT. These communal ruptures have an omnipresence, but many of these stories often exist in silence. 

I grew up learning that it was better to be quiet than to risk the experience of violence. It wasn’t until 2020, when I first learned that my mother had attended day school. It was maybe 10 years ago that I learned how my mother’s family was coerced be the government to move from Fort Fitzgerald across the Alberta-Northwest Territories border into Fort Smith. 

In addition to the teachings of wâhkôhtowin, Dwayne Donald has many stories and teachings around the histories and symbolism of the fort, the myth of unused land and prescribed narratives of civility. The Indian Act is akin to the fort; devices to divide.

When I saw the video of cardinal dodginghorse cutting his braids, I felt the immensity of his grief. I also felt empowered. When I was a child, I had dreams to protect a field behind my home from being destroyed. The day the construction started; I learned that destruction is often named development. 

I can only begin to imagine what it would be like to have your home physically destroyed for the rot of capitalism, followed by lateral violence. I am reminded of this memory when I was in Amiskwaciy, and I saw someone in their Ford F-150 dumping an ashtray out their window. I am reminded of the times I walked along the Bow in Mohkinstis, and I would see all the remnants of bush camps. Mounds of cigarette butts left behind. I know what it can feel like to believe that nothing matters. Donald has described this as relational psychosis. Now I have come to learn that this relational psychosis could also be called tīná gúyáńí, or no respect

When I was invited to write this essay and visit the gallery, I was in the process of moving from Mohkinstis back to Amiskwaciy. Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to write this, as I have always been overly optimistic about my capacity to take on different projects. But I felt deeply connected to the stories and artwork of seth cardinal dodginghorse. Knowing that this was an exhibition created by Glenna Cardinal and seth cardinal dodginghorse, a mother-son duo, I felt especially drawn to the experience of what it might be like to be able to collaborate with one’s own mother on such a project. 

Entering Stride Gallery, there is a table and chair in the window front. This piece named dagumisaatuy (we keep preserving), is a table holding what looks like a children’s play area or board game. A woodblock house in the centre, with a road circling around the four sides. An old 3D view finder toy, and a cassette player sit on the lawn of the home. Memories and sounds of what home once were. On one of the 3D images, there is a house with the word “$OULD” spray painted on its side. This image and word have stayed with me. 

A poem, written by Glenna, on what it means to take back our power (new agency), an installation piece of a deer’s head standing on what looks like a river of plastic water bottles (mourning home). A depiction of the absence of respect for all our relations: An elk hide suspended in the air containing a construction map, with a piece cut out and on the floor. The missing piece containing an image of a mother and child: Ina. A stunning short film, Nisgua Chu (Underneath/Near the Ground), fills the space with the beautiful, yet haunting, crescendo of melodic guitar and a voice repeating the word “Tsuut’ina.”

To see the ways that Glenna Cardinal is an inspiration, a supportive parent, and a collaborative artist with her child, fills the space with the power from their shared intergenerational resilience. Glenna has given seth the knowledge and language to be proud of where they come from, despite the grief of their home and community. It is in this moment, that I write this, that I realize how I have many mothers I could choose to collaborate with. My sisters, my aunties, my two-spirit and non-binary kin. 

While this exhibition is sown out of grief, each piece is full of playfulness, power, light, and some humour. In economic reconciliation (don’t be a shithead), toilet paper rolls hang from wall. Four rolls contain the logos for companies tied to the construction of the ring road, and one on the adjacent wall containing the “Statement from Tsuut’ina Chief and Council regarding Seth Cardinal.” Essentially, the letter is a statement of how they “strongly disagree with Seth Cardinal’s radical protests.” In a world full of absurd acts of violence, the depiction of these toilet paper scrolls is fitting. 

Collectively, this exhibition is a reminder to treasure and respect our relationships with the land, with each other, and all our relations. To be anticolonial and to grieve publicly might both be viewed as radical. But from the work of Glenn Cardinal and seth cardinal dodginghorse, I learned how to heal parts of my mother wound and my inner child wounds. Sometimes grief is bubblebum pink, and grief can be a reminder that you are powerful.

Kaitlyn Purcell is Dene-Irish and an urban member of Smith’s Landing First Nation. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary where she is creating a multimodal memoir on dreamwork, personal archives, and intergenerational grief. It is tentatively titled Łuk’é: A Child Called Dream. Part of this work has been shortlisted for the 2023 Indigenous Voices Award in Unpublished Poetry in English. Her writing can be found in The Capilano ReviewGrain Magazine, and Contemporary Verse 2. Her ekphrastic poetry has been featured by art galleries such as the Esker Foundation, YYZ Artists’ Outlet, and Artspeak.She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a doctoral SSHRC award and the Metatron Prize for her debut poetic novella ʔbédayine.