Robert L. Peters

1 July 2018

Reconciliation… begins with acknowledgement and understanding.

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Winnipeg, Manitoba

Canada, which just finished celebrating its 150th year as a “nation,” has a big problem. Since Europeans first arrived, the founding fathers “…used racism, bigotry and discrimination as a tool to not only assimilate First Nations into the Canadian polity, but to engage in a deliberate policy of genocide both cultural and physical…” Surprisingly, there are still many Canadians who are not aware of the country’s dark history, which makes it difficult for them to help bring about the positive change that is so needed.

A decade ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Established in June 2008 with the purpose of documenting the history and impacts of the Indian residential school, it provided former residential school attendees an opportunity to share their experiences during public and private meetings held across the country.

In June 2015, the TRC released an Executive Summary of its findings along with 94 “calls to action” regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. The Commission officially concluded in December 2015 with the publication of a multi-volume report that concluded the school system amounted to cultural genocide. The TRC’s “calls to action” provide a clear path forward…

Links to two significant documents are provided here (in PDF form). Click on the images above for access and to download the documents. Please feel free to share this post…


10 January 2018

Words to live by… and stand by.

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Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba

I’ve enjoyed living with my partner Evelin in this quiet little town for the past few years, here on the Western shore of Lake Winnipeg (the world’s 10th-largest freshwater lake by area, slightly smaller than Belgium). Water levels can fluctuate significantly in the lake’s relatively shallow southern basin, and strong or sustained winds can whip up powerful waves…

In 2016, Winnipeg Beach undertook extensive re-building of the longstanding “boardwalk” along the beach, following storm-damage and shoreline flooding the previous year. The broken and eroded wooden boardwalk was replaced by a concrete breakwater-walkway, and thousands of “engraved bricks” were installed (including 3900 that were “grandfathered” from the walk’s original wooden planks) — most commemorated the names and/or passages of loved ones who once were part of (or who regularly visited) this quiet resort/community. As part of its efforts to raise funds for the beachfront reconstruction, the town “sold” inscribed bricks (replete with a Certificate of Title), of which I “bought” four. It was fun to “leave a mark,” and easier (also more sustainable) than carving in trees. (-:

As I had not seen any previous acknowledgment along the boardwalk of the original Indigenous inhabitants of this shoreline, that seemed like an obvious first brick. Three more offered the opportunity to share some “words to live and work by” from the Maxim/Dictum that I have referenced as a Leitmotif or manifesto for the past several decades. (Technical problems with the “brick-production” delayed the installation until autumn of 2017, but I was happy to see these finally put in place…).

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23 November 2017

Decolonizing Community Engagement

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Guest Blog by Dr. Derek Kornelsen

Recently, terms like decolonization and community engagement have become buzzwords in popular discourses about Indigenous health research. But what does decolonization actually mean? How can we really try to decolonize community engagement? If this is to make any sense, and provide any kind of realistic guide for action, we need to start by gaining some sense of how colonization has impacted — and continues to impact — Indigenous communities and Western academic/research institutions. Only then can we consider why community engagement matters and what a decolonized form of community engagement might look like.

Settler Colonialism in Canada

A good starting point for understanding colonialism in Canada is to recognize that there is a distinct form of colonialism at work here — both past and present. This form is called settler colonialism. Typical understandings of colonialism usually refer to a situation where a colonial entity oppresses and manipulates foreign peoples in order to extract wealth and resources — India and South Africa are key examples. In these cases, there is a point at which we see the colonial power officially leaving, and the colonized peoples achieving some level of independence. On the other hand, in cases of settler colonialism, the colonial entity doesn’t leave, but continues to bring in more and more settlers in order to reproduce itself in the colonized space — Canada, USA, Australia, and New Zealand are the usual suspects here. The particularly horrifying aspect of this practice — as scholars like Patrick Wolfe have discussed in depth — is that, in order to reproduce itself in a given place, the settler colonial entity must ‘destroy to replace’. In Canada, we’ve seen this through overt genocidal acts that morphed into the kinds of cultural genocide that have occured throughout the residential school era.

Read more here…

Dr. Derek Kornelsen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. His research focuses on examining/contrasting Western and Indigenous philosophies and institutional frameworks, with a particular emphasis on developing a theoretical framework grounded in an understanding of the dynamics and impacts of Settler Colonialism. This theoretical framework enables a sensitivity to 2 key under-researched areas in Indigenous health and wellness research: the impacts of the disruption of Indigenous peoples’ relationships with land and environment; and strategies for decolonizing key institutions that Indigenous peoples must access (health as well as political, legal, educational, economic institutions). Broadly speaking, this theoretical frame contributes to the development of robust Indigenous determinants of health and wellness. He is currently involved in developing a number of local, national, and international research projects and partnerships in areas of environmental health and Indigenous health and wellness.


23 October 2010

Cultural narratives… told with a pencil!

Winnipeg, Canada

I’ve long held that “we live in stories,” (a notion I first heard expressed in those four eloquent words by colleague Bruce Brown of Brighton, UK, at a Vancouver GDC conference I was participating in a decade ago). This leitmotif was driven home once again for me yesterday morning while attending a keynote presentation by Gerald Kuehl to hundreds of Manitoba art teachers at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Gerald enraptured those present with passionate, poignant story-telling of his ventures into Manitoba’s and Nunavut’s far-flung communities of First Nation peoples… where he has devoted the past decade-and-a-half to the exquisite portrayal (by means of graphite on paper) of elders—the spontaneous standing ovation at the end of his presentation could hardly do justice to the devoted narrative loosed by his illustrative talents.

This evening Gerald shared an e-mail with me from someone else in the audience on Friday (I hope it’s OK if I pass that on here): “Wow… today was so moving.  I can’t begin to find the words to say how much of what you do touches my heart. I cried throughout, it was so good. You understand us and what we have gone through as a people. I wish there were more people like you. I wish people didn’t hate us just because of who we are but, they do. It’s everywhere and then I have the very good fortune to meet someone like you, someone who does not judge. You are such a good man with a good heart. As my future daughter-in-law says, “I may be white on the outside but, I am brown on the inside.” And this is something you can say too. Thank you so much Gerald and I thank the Creator for showing me you.”

The images above are of Charlie Learjaw and Luke Moose. You can view more of Gerald’s incredible graphite portraiture on his website here. In case you’re wondering, Gerald spends approximately one month on each portrait—he only works in monochrome, in part, because he is colour-blind).


22 July 2010

We live in stories…

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Winnipeg, Canada

I’ve always been interested in the oral narratives that are passed on from one generation to another. The launch of INDIGO’s Mother Tongue project provided incentive to begin a series of graphic “copyfree” posters featuring such stories as told by First Peoples. Above are the first two pieces: Two Wolves features the well-known Cherokee tale of the battle between good and evil as told by an elder to his grandson; Turtle includes the Anishinaabe story of how the turtle got its shell, and passes on the knowledge of the 13 large moons and 28 smaller segments that appear on the back of every turtle (many First Nations descendants are taught that the turtle shell represents the perfect depiction of the lunar year—I learned of this from one of our Indigenous clients).

You can read the stories (or download, distribute, or print these posters) here: Two Wolves (1.2 MB PDF); Turtle (1.3 MB PDF).

Thanks to Adrian J. K. Shum for your assistance. Credit for the wolf images goes to www.firstpeople.us


19 June 2010

Apologies are in order…

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Winnipeg, Canada

All this week, hundreds of Indian Residential School survivors, together with Aboriginal leaders, church groups, government representatives, and members of the public gathered locally at The Forks for the opening ceremonies of the first National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Former students and others whose lives have been fundamentally impacted by the residential schools system have come together to talk with each other and to share their experiences with the Commission. Included in those heart-wrenching conversations are the voices of former staff and other school workers who have been contacted and encouraged to come forward.

This national event (the first of seven to be held across Canada over the next five years), is of great importance for non-aboriginal Canadians who may have had nothing whatsoever to do with the schools directly, but who have everything to gain from understanding what actually happened at them. It has drawn together thousands to participate in cultural exhibitions by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit groups, film screenings, plays, art exhibits, and musical performances.

Word clouds: I thought it would be interesting to use Wordle as a tool to compare several different apologies (and the various vocabularies deployed) regarding Aboriginal survivors of residential schools.* Wordle gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in a selected source text. The top image represents the formal apology given in the House of Commons by the Canadian Prime Minister on behalf of the Government of Canada on 11 June 2008. The middle image represents the historic formal apology given to the Aboriginal people of Australia by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on behalf of its parliament and government on 12 February 2008. The bottom image represents the English version of the apology of the Anglican Church of Canada to Native People as delivered by the Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, to the National Native Convocation in Minaki, Ontario on 6 August 1993.

*Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children. During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there are an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.


18 November 2008

Back in Wanganui…

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Wanganui, New Zealand

Friends from W(h)anganui picked us up in Wellington last Friday (with an inspirational stop at The New Dowse along the way). It was great to re-connect with Vicki Campbell (thanks for the chauffeuring!), Andrès Salinas (and fiancee Claudia Borella), Hazel Gamec (recently retired) with hubby Harvey Coughlin, Riki Waitokia, and other Wanganuians I had met a year ago. It was also good to meet Betsy Berger, who has just taken over the reins from Hazel.

I’ve been busy for the past three days at the Whanganui School of Design as an external moderator for graduates in the Bachelor of Computer Graphic Design, Bachelor of Computer Graphic Design (Honours), and Master of Computer Graphic Design programs. As I’ve come to expect, I was rewarded by encountering some remarkable work and creative ingenuity (WSD has been at the forefront of graphic design in New Zealand for the past few decades)—my Bachelor students Joseph Salmon, Chet Leavai, Tom Lo, Regina Sadine, Kate Adams, Chan May-Yen (May), Mok Lew Luon (Calvin), Aaron Hunwick; and Masters students Chien Min Kee (Edwin), Wan Nor Raihan Wan Ramli, Kaye Davis, and Melissa Edmon. (Check out May Chan’s LMac Touch concept on YouTube here).

While I was in moderation sessions at the school, Ev was treated to gallery visits (Sarjeant Gallery, Chronicle Glass) and studio encounters with local artists Lynn Hurst, Andrea Gardner, and Ross Mitchell-Anyon. When it comes to creativity it’s safe to say that, pound for pound, Whanganui certainly does punch well above its weight.

Extracurricular highlights included a visit to the black sand beaches (where the Whanganui River empties into the ocean), and a delightful evening (and fantastic supper) at Hazel and Harvey’s sheep & deer station.

Images, from top: The Sarjeant Gallery, palms on the hill outside the Sarjeant, random wall typography at the WSD, the black sand beaches of the South Taranaki Bight, overlooking the endless green valleys en route to Okirae, and Harvey (along with trusty sheepdog ‘Girl’) rounding up a sheep for Ev to pet.


3 October 2008

Respect | Rajie Cook

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New York, USA

I met Dana Bartelt by chance on an airport shuttle bus to downtown Prague in June of 2002, during my first year as Icograda president. Two days later we crossed paths again at the Icograda Identity/Integrity Conference in Brno, Czech Republic, held in conjunction with the 20th Brno Biennale. Dana handed me a disk of images from Don’t Say You Didn’t Know/Posters for Palestine, an initiative she had spearheaded using propaganda art to shed light on the sustained (some would say nefarious) support the U.S. provides to Israel in its ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and its oppression of the Palestinian people. Among the images in the collection, Rajie Cook’s The Star stood out for the power and clarity of its statement re: organized Zionism as an internal force in American political life… a topic often considered taboo (and quick to trigger accusations of Antisemitism).

Here’s a snip about Rajie from The Electronic Intifada: “Born in 1930, Palestinian-American artist Rajie Cook has had a very successful career in graphic design. The ‘Symbol Signs’ that hang in airports internationally, communicating purely through icons rather than text, were designed by Cook and his design firm. He has been honored by President Reagan and the ‘Symbols Signs’ project has been acquired into the Smithsonian’s collection. However, Cook is not done creating work that intends to communicate. Born in the United States to parents originally from Palestine, the violence and continued injustice that consume his homeland spurs him to make Joseph Cornell-inspired boxes that comment upon various aspects of the conflict…” Read more about Rajie’s passionate work here, and visit his website to see more of his assemblages and posters here.

Poster images: The Star (1996) and The Dollar (2007), both © Rajie Cook.


1 October 2008

On this day…

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Lucknow, India

Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi was born 139 years ago—on the eve of the anniversary of his birth, Indian children dressed as the Mahatma pose for photos. On 15 June of last year the United Nations General Assembly voted to establish 2 October as the International Day of Non-Violence. (Photo from The New York Times slide show here: by Pawan Kumar/Reuters)


19 June 2008

Here, on this day in 1816…

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Winnipeg, Canada

This painting by Charles William Jefferys (1869-1951) depicts the The Battle of Seven Oaks (known to the Métis as la Victoire de la Grenouillière, or the Victory of Frog Plain) that took place here in the Red River Colony (modern-day Winnipeg) on June 19, 1816 during the long dispute between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, rival fur-trading companies in western Canada. The fight was triggered by a food shortage (an edict prohibiting the export of food called the Pemmican Proclamation had been issued by the Hudson’s Bay Company—this was not recognized by the local Métis, who also did not acknowledge HBC’s authority of the Red River Settlement). The Pemmican Proclamation was a blow to both the Métis and North West Company, who accused the HBC of unfairly monopolizing the fur trade with this action.

The battle erupted when a band of Métis, led by Cuthbert Grant, seized a supply of Hudson’s Bay Company pemmican (that was originally stolen from the Métis) and were travelling to a meeting with traders of the North West Company to whom they intended to sell it. They were met south of Fort Douglas along the Red River at a location called Seven Oaks by a group of HBC men and settlers—a heated argument eroded into a gunfight. Though well-supplied with hubris, the HBC men did not stand a chance against the Métis, who were skilled sharpshooters and outnumbered them by nearly three to one. The Métis killed 22 (of 24) on the HBC side, including the local Governor, while they themselves suffered only one casualty. The Métis were later exonerated by a Royal Commissioner appointed to investigate the incident. Grant went on to became an important figure in the Hudson’s Bay Company after its eventual merger with the North West Company.

(It seems clear that this incident was triggered the attempt at unfair monopolization — when “enterprising” goes too far)…


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