She goes into the museum looking for the Mi’kmaq displays.
Yesterday she stood outside Mic Mac Mall holding a sign saying Mi’kmaq Mall as a hurried gesture of defiance and solidarity. Mic Mac, in this form, with a space between the syllables, has a catchy ring of contemporary living and fast food, so why change it to this weird thing that no one can spell. Then there’s Mac as a prefix for so many Scottish surnames, Mac as an iconic world-beating snack that even starts with Mc but who cares, and before that it was Mac the Knife. You ok Mac? And the tarmac, so vehicle and airplane friendly, and the Mick of Jagger, Hucknall and Mouse. Mic Mac simply makes sense. These two were destined for connection before the Mall word entered the frame. Who came up with this? Bring me the copywriters and I’ll give them a bonus, Mic Mac Mall. Everybody loves it. It sticks in the brain like a product hook.
Did you spell it right on your sign? Andrea asks her later. Did anyone see you? Was it essentially conceptual art? Were you doing it for the indigenous ones, the first nation of here, or to appease your own sense of guilt?
She had to do it, even though it was a hurried print-out made in Mark’s office, as if a piece of white paper with black lettering will make a difference. That wasn’t the point. It was a symbolic start. And it marked the manifestation of an empathic rage, an acknowledgement of the trashy juggernaut of the English language rolling over everything in its path. And she stands holding a piece of paper in front of the official entry sign that’s made of pressed concrete, marking Atlantic Canada’s second largest mall, with 117 brand name stores including Bunnyland and the Build-a Bear Workshop, with cars passing her on the smooth road surface on their way to the parking lot, on stolen Mi’kmaq land. She makes eye contact with drivers when they catch sight of her. They glance away quickly, sensing an infringement and that it’s just a question of time before security intervenes. This is just the kind of situation that Allied Universal Security are paid to deal with. She gradually realises these drivers are not her target, it’s the mall owners she wants to reach, Ivanhoé Cambridge in Montreal, a ‘global industry real estate leader’, with social responsibility listed on their home page. French-speaking, and with their own historic issues with the English, they are sure to understand. Sylvain, Nathalie, Mathieu and Claude are in the leadership team and board of directors. She will ask them to change the spelling as a gesture to the Mi’kmaq people of Atlantic Canada. Then she will ask for land.
Public Affairs and Communications, Ivanhoé Cambridge, Édifice Jacques-Parizeau, 1001, rue du Square-Victoria, Montréal, Québec Canada H2Z 2B5
Dear Public Affairs
As a supporter of the indigenous Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people’s of Atlantic Canada, on a recent visit to Halifax I was shocked to find the mis-spelling of Mic Mac Mall. I’m sure you recognize the offence this causes a First Nations people of such distinctive and proud heritage as the Mi’kmaq. This is the equivalent of your company being publicly misnamed as IVYHO or at the very least losing the acute accent on Ivanhoé, which is clearly important to you and represents a link to your French heritage.
I also note in your mission statement that you have a clear commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), are committed to ‘the wellness of the planet as a whole’ and to ‘giving back to the community’. You may have heard of the success of the Mi’kmaq community in Halifax in having the statue of Cornwallis removed in Halifax last year. This statue honoured the founder of Halifax, Edward Cornwallis, whose shocking ‘scalping proclamation’ offered a large cash reward to anyone who killed a Mi’kmaw person. The city finally saw sense and removed his statue.
Your gesture to rename Mic Mac Mall as Mi’kmaq Mall will be enthusiastically received, and an ideal example of ‘giving back’ to the local community within the context of CSR. You would also, no doubt, gain considerable positive press and PR coverage.
I look forward to hearing back from you about this important and sensitive matter.
And where’s her rage now? It’s here in the museum, where the Mi’kmaq displays have been removed and replaced with an innocuous creative project where individuals make a ceramic plate about This is What I Wish You Knew, with short interviews to complement the awkward exhibits. These rely on headphones, creating that extra effort for the causal visitor. It’s easier to spend some time with the bullfrog incongruously sitting in a glass aquarium on the other side of the room. Barely alive she breathes and rests with nowhere to go and waiting to be fed, in her own residential school removed from her family, and on display here as the only non human living creature in the museum. Why a bullfrog? The English name sticks again. It must be a frog that looks like a bull. Yes, she can see that. It does have a bull’s face and a toad’s body, close enough, little heartbeat revealed through finely pigmented mottled skin. It’s alive and breathing, swivelling eyes looking out at her through the glass seeing the tripod and the camera seeing back. They are also static and barely moving, the camera and Kino, recording the aquarium scene while no one interferes like you’d expect. This seems good enough and the only relationship she can achieve here on this Saturday afternoon, while on the other side of the room there are the plates and recordings, twelve or so. This will be a commitment, perhaps filming and being with the bullfrog is enough.
She walks across and puts on the first pair of headphones, starts to listen and then cannot stop. What’s revealed in these interviews is momentous, telling, shaming and huge. There are shocking levels of sadness, dissipation, disempowerment, recovery, hanging on, in recovery, not making it, loss, suicide, illness, murder, deprivation, and these are the ones who volunteered, who had the commitment to take this on and answer the question of this is what I wish you knew and now she does. No one else is participating in this experience. Perhaps it seems like too much effort. Headphones on, headphones off. This solitude increases the intimacy of the listening experience. She is being spoken to directly. Tayla Paul’s is the third one she comes to. Paul is a common First Nations surname here and in New Brunswick. Tayla knows her lineage. She’s unquestionably Mi’kmaq. And she does the smart thing and repeats the phrase, this is what I wish you knew, at the start and end. She talks about her plate design with a tree falling down and the other stuff comes in, as it does in all the interviews:
There is a difference of philosophy between the two cultures that has evolved over thousands of years, the cultures living here and sharing the land right now. There are two conflicting worlds, one that’s developed and one that’s undeveloped and pushed aside. There is no assimilation. There is no living my life freely as I want to within the other culture. There are no allowances for both cultures to be represented. My connection to the natural world is internal and when I see broken trees and developments, when I see rampant development and over-development, no recognition that there is any preexistent value beyond resource and resource extraction. When I see this, this is all on me. I feel this every day.
The reserve I’m from I have never lived on because of pollution. Before I was born it was polluted. You cannot touch the water there or pick things up off the beach and there is a 40% cancer rate. I was 12 when the government promised to clean it up and I’m 40 now. I don’t see any way to return to my reserve, to return to the land that was designated for me.
This is the world we live in and it’s very conflicted.
These are Tayla’s words transcribed without seeing her face looking out from the screen in pain, without hearing the intensity in THIS IS ALL ON ME and I FEEL THIS EVERY DAY. She is simply describing her reality and Kino’s landscape changes at this moment. It is this simple and this awful. Conflicted doesn’t cover it. And you don’t hear a thing without the headphones and can just walk by and be bored with this display of strange plates and written statements, and not even notice that the bullfrog is alive, so still.