A Roundtable Discussion with Cherish Violet Blood, Ange Loft, and Jada Reynolds Tabobondung
Initiated and facilitated by Amandeep Kaur Panag
This roundtable was held on February 12, 2017 at the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina Ave in Toronto.
Amandeep Kaur Panag: This roundtable is co-hosted by Marvellous Grounds and Muskrat Magazine. We have invited you here to talk about your experiences as queer Indigenous artists, activists and community members in Toronto. The roundtable is part of issue two of the Marvellous Grounds blog, which highlights the various ways art and performance is used by queer and trans people of colour to tell our stories, build community and foster creative resistance to structural violence and colonialism, and also to imagine new possibilities. So first I’m going to ask you to please introduce yourself, your art and your work, and how it relates to some of these themes.
Ange Loft: Hi, my name is Ange Loft and I’m Mohawk from Kahnawake, Mohawk Territory. I am the Associate Artistic Director of Jumblies Theatre, a community arts organization that’s in downtown Toronto, in CityPlace. Jumblies Theatre is building new work with a lot of interesting people and community members and trying to pull together stories all over the place. We go around to a lot of places across Ontario and work with community arts groups that are out there, so I do a bit of work with other Native groups but I don’t work for any Native art organizations, really. I do a lot of my own projects these days. I’m into history these days, like really into history! And I didn’t realize that was what I wanted to do now. I felt like an amateur historian then. I’d rather just research than make art these days. So I’m really into arts research these days. I’m trying to figure out how to use different types of art. Working super across disciplines on how to tell our own stories, how to make stories become something other than just words. I’m obsessed right now with ideas around taking away the English language and adding in symbols and then having to re-interpret those symbols. Work like that is what is on my brain. And then lately, which is exciting, I’m getting these opportunities to do this structural stuff. Working with organizations with their strategic plans. This large-scale project planning thing. I’m now understanding that I’m really good at it. This is exciting. I can get people to think about their own projects and see what is missing. And also work with giant organizations. I got to work with the Banff Centre just two weeks ago and helped them figure out how they can get more people into their art. So my job is really about trying to make sure everyone gets different kinds of art in their life. And I think that’s the most resistance heavy thing that I do, to make sure lots of people get to make things and tell a bazillion stories, and that it’s not always the same few people telling stories. I’m really into making sure, trying to hassle people and get them to do all kinds of work all the time. I feel like that’s my calling. I don’t want to make my own work. I just want other people to do things.
Jada Reynolds Tabobondung: I’m Jada Reynolds Tabobondung. I currently work at Muskrat Magazine as online content coordinator. I was also in a hardcore punk band called Fathers. And I produce and promote a monthly POC (people of colour) queer dance party at the Beaver in Parkdale. I am Jamaican, Ojibway, Thai and Dutch. I host these monthly queer dance parties as a way to reclaim a predominantly white space because I found that one of my favourite queer bars, the Beaver, was more of a white space and a lot of my POC friends didn’t want to go there because there were a lot of white people in attendance at the events and I took it upon myself to create an event and to reclaim the space.
Cherish Violet Blood: I am Cherish Violet Blood. I am a theatre practitioner. I am a storyteller. I do a lot of theatre workshops with youth, not specifically with queer youth. I have been doing them for the past seven years or so.
AKP: Did any of you want to speak specifically to the importance of community arts in creating social change, because something that you all have in common is your work in community arts?
I went to one of the earlier workshop performances of the After The Fire production you created and directed, Ange, at Jumblies Theatre. I do remember Cherish you were also a part of that. In that performance you used audio of interviews you had collected from people across the country about people’s responses and thoughts on the Idle No More movement to create an interactive performance and installation.
CVB: Specifically on working with community, I think most of it happened with little to no money, like all the time. Usually it’s friends getting together with an idea and making it happen. I think accessibility to space is a big problem most of the time. And if you have a friend that happens to have that space, to get things done, it’s great. You had space, Ange, because you were working at Jumblies and we were able to use the interviews that you had taken from other people in that same project.
AKP: At that performance of After the Fire, I really felt like it was a queer space.
CVB: I think it’s because there was just a bunch of gays that were doing all the acting. Maybe that’s what it was. But actually it was awesome because I think with After the Fire, Ange really opened up the conversation. A lot of people that don’t usually get the opportunity to be heard, were heard, in one way or another. Their opinions, whatever they thought about Idle No More or the movement or what had led up to it or what was the conclusion were all included somehow in most of those monologues.
AL: It was also kinda fun that the second time we did it we had them write these postcards to different federal departments at the end, as the final thing that the audience does. And it took a while, but we mailed them out and then months later we got a response from the Ministry of the Status of Women. They got them. Just one department wrote back but they got them. So that’s good.
AKP: Jada, I’m curious to hear about yourself being a musician and a part of the Toronto punk scene and now throwing parties for queer people of colour. What is important about that?
JRT: What I found when I was in a band – because the Toronto punk scene is very white – is that you can count the people of colour in that scene on your hands and you may not need your second hand. I found whenever there were touring bands that came up that included POCs and queer bands and that focused on politics, my band would be brought in. I have to be honest with you, we were horrible, we were not a good band at all! Like I forgot the words to all the songs. It was a mess! But we were brought in to play with, like, Downtown Boys. I’ve played with Gloss! A lot of big queer bands and big POC bands, but I didn’t think we deserved it. I felt like I was just brought in because we were one of the few bands that had POC.
AL: I feel like we have the opposite issue. We are trying to think of who to go on tour with. We are a bigger band that’s mostly all mixed Asian people and then there is myself and another Mohawk guy, Walter Scott. He is not even in the band any more. So we can’t really play Native gigs because there is only just me. We can play other people of colour gigs. We have our record label. The majority of the time when we play gigs, it’s a lot of tall white guys with beards. And then there are young random kids of colour that are kinda just really psyched. And it’s ok they’re there. They do show up. But who do we book ahead of us as opening act? I need to know more bands. I need someone to tell us who the cool kid bands are. It would be great if we had more weirdo kids of colour bands that were playing weird psych metal. That’s what we need. That’s what I want personally. I want ten more bands that look like who I wanted to see as a teenager. That’s why I am doing this kind of music half the time, to make something that’s like what I would have liked to see when I was fifteen. So that’s the only thing I do on stage. It would be good to have more. We are trying to figure out who to go on tour with over the next little bit and we have no idea!
It’s not only about representation. I want the band that’s opening for us to be frickin good! And I want them to have the same work ethic and more weird style, which is what we need. We need more experimental, bizarre bands being made with these people that I know are writing this stuff. I work on all these mentorship projects and I get to meet all these theatre makers and writers and people and I know you are writing this really weird stuff, but it’s not going further than that little monologue that you’re going to put on stage for this one thing. So this limit to what you’re going to do with your stuff is frustrating because people feel like they’re not welcomed into these venues where they can expand on what they’re already generating. There’s amazing poetry and weird songs being created everyday by all these weirdos writing for their small programs that are happening Toronto. But then nothing happens with them. I hear about things here and there and working with young people and I’m like “Dammit! Make a frickin band! Figure out how to make this into something that people will want to listen to.”
JRT: Quality is key!
AL: The first year I got to Toronto, Amandeep, you were around for this. There was that party at the Gladstone [Hotel] that happened for a little while called Fresh to Def. And it was LeRoy Newbold’s, Elisha Lim’s and Kalmplex’s party and they took over the Gladstone once every Thursday night for a good three year run. And it was pretty solid, like there were a lot of people. I had just got to Toronto, I was young and I was going out all the time. I think it’s kinda shitty that you have to party. It’s the place where having a good time happens. But it’s frustrating to me because I can’t drink too much anymore, that part of my life is just… oh I can’t deal with it anymore, like, “Oh I’m tired.” I want to find alternative ways to hang out with gangs of people and have fun. I’m getting too old to be part of these dancey parties. I tried and I went out and everyone was younger. And I’m too old for this shit anymore.
There’s seas of white people in all the other places, and you get back to Toronto and you’re like “Thank fucking Christ!” And you get on a bus and you’re not the only one on the bus! [Laughter] I got to find other ways to congregate with cool brown kids.
CVB: There was a long time when Ange and I would get invited to all these gay parties, we would be the Native contingent. [Laughter] We were the two Native girls that’d show up at these gay parties!
I think there needs to be more collectives like Bold As Love, the one that we have. We are a music collective, but then again we only got funding for one year. And I think that has to do with them trying to check off a quota, like “Oh we did fund gay people that time and now we don’t have to do that any more.” Finding money to keep those spaces is really difficult.
AL: The 2Spirit Skillshare exists. Like yesterday [February 11th, 2017] they did a ribbon shirt making workshop. There’s a bunch of stuff still happening. It’s just I work a lot and I want to socialize but you know…
AKP: Yes, I wanted to ask about the 2Spirit Skillshare. Cherish, you did workshops with them in the past. Did any of you want to share anything about them?
AL: They’re just a group of people that are hanging out in a, like, low buy in kinda way. You can just drop in and then you can go see them again at the next activity. It’s a really tight group. A really tight group of friends that are running a really cool program. Young people. But I haven’t done anything with them in a while.
CVB: I think they need someone who is familiar with arts administration to get their funding properly. I think that is a really big thing. Just in the careers that we are in, it’s really hard to do things for free, especially in Toronto. Although that would be awesome, to create these spaces and be doing these things. But we need to pay, like for our lives. So it’s hard to volunteer time. And I think that’s still a really big thing, like people aren’t willing to pay for your skill set even though that is your job. It’s a small community and when they were first starting out, when I was doing workshops, there weren’t really queer people in my workshop. It was just Native people.
AKP: So just drawing on some of the things you all have been speaking to. We know about the intersectional experience. The experiences of racism overlapping with homophobia and transphobia. There have been a lot of specifically queer people of colour parties, events, organizing, spaces that have been happening, for quite a while. But there has also obviously been criticism that you can’t homogenize people of colour. And what does “people of colour” mean? The experiences of Indigenous queer people may be very different than experiences of Black queer people or other queer people of colour. Do you find that there has been inclusion of Indigenous people in these QPOC spaces and organizing, or even when there is storytelling or collaborative work? Do you find that Indigenous people are being represented?
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