Existence is Resistance: Hamilton indigenous students make a statement through the arts

HAMILTON — It was just part of the normal school day for the students in Hamilton Regional Indian Centre’s alternative high school program — making posters and t-shirts with a powerful slogan, “Existence is Resistance”.

The poster design — which can be found in this week’s centre spread poster of the Two Row Times — was a collective work made by the students in the HRIC’s Strengthening Hamilton Aboriginal Education (SHAE) high school program.

SHAE is one of eleven alternative secondary school programs running in Indigenous Friendship Centres throughout Ontario — with the goal of assisting urban indigenous students to graduate high school with cultural support and life skills they might not get in a traditional classroom setting.

This week, SHAE brought two indigenous artists into it’s classroom in partnership with Hamilton’s Centre 3 for print and media arts — a progressive gallery in the city’s James Street North community noted for it’s involvement in leading Hamilton’s Art Crawl events held throughout the year.

Centre 3’s Artists in the Schools program brought Daniel Hill, an Onondaga visual artist from Six Nations of the Grand River; and Adam Sturgeon, an Annishnabe musician and artist from Chippewas of the Thames First Nation — into SHAE’s classrooms to lead students through a project that bringing together the programs art and social justice components.

Sturgeon, who is also known as the guitar playing vocalist for the indie psychedelic rock group WHOOP-Szo, led the students through a screen-printing workshop.

Students were introduced to how they can take everyday materials, like a few milk cartons and a strong light bulb, to make an at-home rig to start making their own screen printed posters and t-shirts to make a statement of their own.

SHAE students created a collective work, inspired by the work of Shelly Niro’s “The Shirt”. Hill explained that as part of the students social justice lessons – they were inspired by Niro’s work to produce a piece of art that conveyed a message. In the short film attached to the Niro’s “The Shirt”, indigenous women are shown wearing shirts captioned “My ancestors were annihilated, exterminated, murdered and massacred…and all I got is this shirt.”

Hill said the students were impacted by Niro’s work and wanted to bring that kind of messaging to the collective piece and so the birth of their message – “Existence is Resistance” – was born.

Centre 3’s Outreach Director Becky Katz said she has been a fan of Niro’s influential works and said she was impressed with the work that came from the partnership with the SHAE program students.

For a full size poster of “Existence is Resistance” – turn to page 16.

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