The Idle No More movement is altering the dynamic in Aboriginal relations, stirring a new political chemistry that may change the power balance not only between Aboriginal leaders and Canadian governments, but within Aboriginal communities. Yet the wider Canadian reaction to this development saw nothing more than a retreat into the comfort of familiar views. From these bunkers of conviction we heard the same old arguments from all sides, a recitation of positions that reinforced a dismal sense of stalemate.
The desire in these pages is to break through that impasse using the narrative power of photography. The portraits of Aboriginal people in this issue were taken by Aboriginal photographers now exhibiting their work in a National Gallery of Canada touring exhibition called “Steeling the Gaze,” which is currently showing in Saskatoon. For too long, the non-Aboriginal lens has offered two broad windows on Aboriginal subjects: the romanticized composition of the Aboriginal as warrior (whether on horseback in 19th century headdress or masked at a 21st century barricade), or as the tragic victim in a pornographic depiction of poverty. The portraits here shatter that stereotype, toying with the conventional images of their subjects, and expressing a fresh insight into Aboriginal identity.
We believe if photography can challenge our deeply ingrained assumptions about Aboriginal people, then there should be no barrier to breaking the stagnant political paradigm that frames our engagement on Aboriginal policy. The articles that accompany the photos try to light that path: underscoring the merits of an Aboriginal media that leads out of the ghetto, of the importance of getting post-secondary education right, and of seeing possibilities in better Aboriginal self-government and alternative justice. This does not deny the depth of the social, economic and political problems facing Aboriginal communities, nor does it ignore the need for comprehensive reconciliation and accommodation to resolve the clashing views in the country.
But it warns us against abdicating from action while waiting for history to turn at its often sluggish pace. Another generation of Aboriginal people cannot be asked — by governments or their own leadership — to wait while the big questions are sorted out. We must be more impatient, exploring every avenue that offers a chance to alleviate poverty or provide a better education. The next generation deserves to be given hope, not to be condemned to more of the same.