As part of my Rock Bands exhibit at HAVN in November 2016, I created a spoken word piece with the same title. I found myself fascinated by the layers of language in the term “Rock Bands”. It might as easily indicate a ribbon of stone as a musical ensemble. But it also calls to mind the current events at Standing Rock, where corporate greed has come into conflict with the wisdom of water protectors. Here, Dakota Access LLC proposes a long “band” (pipeline) to carry oil through areas that are culturally sensitive, in ways that violate federal law. In one sense, this is not my struggle, but rather (primarily) that of a community of Sioux. Yet I also understand that this is not a struggle to ignore. I am implicated, as someone who participates in the oil economy, but also as a Canadian, living in a country with its own present legacy of failing to listen to the First Peoples of Turtle Island. I thus want to draw attention to these stories, to highlight the value of resistance to the assumptions of our bitumen-bias, and to applaud the courage of those who uphold their own heritage and identity in the face of powerful opposition. More locally, there are those of us who seek solidarity with Chippewas of the Thames, whose battle with Enbridge goes to the Supreme Court of Canada this month. At Earthstock, a recent benefit concert in Waterloo, I had the privilege of contributing my artwork to the effort. Here I encountered the powerful stories of indigenous leaders, describing the pipeline as a “Black Snake”, an emblem I had previously rendered in my own ecological explorations as the serpentine shrapnel of truck tires. With these narrative threads thoroughly in my awareness, “Rock Bands” articulates how #NODAPL, connects for me to the local resources that inform my own sense of place in Ontario, including questions about the naming of Niagara, and the appropriation of native names for capitalist ends. Beginning with what is here, right in front of us, we can articulate a perspective about our relationship to the land, and an understanding of its histories and prehistories. Moving towards broader cultural awareness and respect, and with the added eyes of science, geology, and poetry, I hope to add strength to the yearning for us to “become the multicoloured rock bands that under the surface we already are”.
Rock Bands is ongoing at HAVN (26 Barton Street East) until November 26. We’ll have a closing performance on the evening of the November 26 2016, to which everyone is invited.
A transcript of “Rock Bands” follows below.
In ascending and descending the Jolley Cut,
I am moved to link the lilt of limestone with rhythm and blues.
We rock on the rocks. Above or below the escarpment sounding out our place.
But Niagara is no local landmark.
We may take her million kilowatts, but
Unstolen, as of yet, are those original thundering waters, which
unlike the lichens can still remember the glaciers,
and the ancient inland seas.
Aqueous eons of glee precede our Lake Erie.
Pock marks in the rock mock the Ontario parks we’ve wrought.
Kettles pop with the cadence of primordial froth.
Fossils of Ordovician arthropods laugh.
They stand in solidarity.
And in solid air I see that Standing Rock isn’t static.
More than a place to check in to (let alone check out), it’s a tectonic movement.
The Hunkpapa and the Blackfeet are bands I barely know.
But the land knows, better than I, in my aging Toyota,
of the Sioux, and of the deeper oil change we need.
Have I in the linear thrust of the panorama also aligned myself with greed?
400 million views
400 million pixels
400 million barrels
400 series highways
400 million years in the making.
These and other untamed geysers rise
perpetually from the bottom of my screen.
scroll scroll scroll scroll
You know the ritual.
The rock brand loyalty.
Where are our softer pipelines now?
Those suppler vessels of love to and from the heart?
Have they grown hard?
Like, love, haha, wow, sad, angry.
Have we been diminished to this?
We need an artery that heeds to hope,
that rocks to the beat of protection for water, health, and sanity.
Searching, I meander ’round the fringes of my province:
along the edges of the land, and water and sky
to discover contrasts in the arrangement of things
to break open windows into pasts and presents and patterns
to creep into crevices, and reflect
on what they may articulate.
I drift a while along this ridge, sifting sorts of sediment.
The better part is lingering marine life: corals and such, squished into formation.
Bygone beasts have here been broken into bones and brittle bracken.
Buried for a while, they anticipate upheavals yet unknown
to reshape the way they ache.
Could halcyon hammerings of elemental earth and ice
predict the dynamite that forged the Hammer’s present promontory?
This cliff recalls an earlier flourishing.
A time machine, it takes me back to a cerebral cerulean.
And I concoct the throb of waves on that former shore.
Could we yet conduct ourselves according to that score?
As we amble over ribbons of shale and dolomite,
This adequate invitation echoes: but for us to become
the multicoloured rock bands
that under the surface
we already are.