Finding fluidity in Canada’s Indigenous history

Concordia graduate Hannah Claus premieres her new work in hochelaga rock

Fluidity and change in connection with the history of Canada, specifically the Hochelaga Rock monument, are the focus of Hannah Claus’s exhibition, titled hochelaga rock, which opened at Articule Gallery on Oct. 20.

Hochelaga Rock is a commemorative stone located on the McGill campus, on Tiohtià:ke land Jacques Cartier visited in 1535. Claus’ use of this stone in her work broadens the conversation around its presence, meaning and significance, and of First Nations and settler worldviews in general. Claus is a graduate of Concordia’s fine arts master’s program. She created the exhibition this past summer during her time as an artist-in-residence with Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) and Milieux, Concordia’s institute for arts, culture and technology.

Claus’ work consists of several large photographic prints of Hochelaga Rock, each modified differently and preventing a clear view of the statement written on the rock’s plaque. Small, circular forms create this obscuration, varying from piece to piece. Some are black, and in one case they are small images of running water and foliage. Paired with these prints are several hanging, coloured acrylic sheets in various colours, each with different words carved into them. “Karahkwa,” meaning ‘sun’ in Mohawk, is written on one. “Ohne:ka,” meaning ‘water,’ is on another.

There will be a discussion with the artist about her exhibition at Article on November 4. Photos by Alex Hutchins.

The inspiration for the installation came to Claus from a number of different places, including the 150th and 375th anniversary celebrations of Canada and Montreal, respectively. Focusing her work on the history of Canada and Montreal was significant to Claus because of the many inaccuracies often found within the country’s history and the glossing over of deeply rooted colonialism.

The lack of detail and misrepresentation of Hochelaga Rock’s history in a textbook’s description of the stone also motivated Claus to create this exhibition. She explained that the textbook devoted 10 lines to describing how Jacques Carter “found” the Iroquois village the monument now commemorates and that it was simply gone when Samuel de Champlain arrived decades later. The small amount of information—with a predominantly colonial focus—on this important part of Canada’s past left a space that Claus said she hopes hochelaga rock will fill with deeper understanding and consideration for this historical matter.

Another source of inspiration for hochelaga rock came from a visit to Edmonton, Alta., earlier this year when Claus was a contender for an art commission in the area. While there, Claus met with the First Nations elders of the Dene and Cree communities in Edmonton to talk about the area and its history. She also visited a site that was to be developed into an Aboriginal art park. Before European contact, the site was used as a gathering place where travelers would leave from to journey across North America. At this time, Claus explained, trade was a ceremony, a coming together of people. It was not simply about the exchange of goods, but about the communities and connections as well.

“When I heard the Dene elder talking about Hochelaga, it felt like I found a missing link that could explain the ‘mystery of the disappeared St-Lawrence Iroquoians’ discussed so briefly in history books,” Claus said. “Knowing about the connections between this place and others across the country—the fluid space of people traveling and gathering—inspired me.”

According to Claus, the physical form of the stone was also significant to her. “There is the solid nature of the rock, acting as a marker or monument for one version of history,” she explained. “To me, rocks hold memory. They are the land and the ancestors. In this project, I try to disrupt the solidity of the history that is placed on this particular rock.”

Through personal experiences and research, Claus was able to identify a common theme of fluidity in Indigenous history, which contrasts with the notions of stability brought on by colonization and settlement. Focusing on the rock as a subject—an object that is solid, strong and rarely changes—Claus plays with its meaning.

Along with the installation and photographs, hochelaga rock also includes a video component in the form of a film loop of different Facebook Live videos. The subjects of these social media films are the peaceful protests over First Nations lands and contested areas that have occurred since the Oka Crisis in 1990. By including footage of recent  events in the exhibition, the artist said she hoped to connect the history of Hochelaga to the contemporary issues occurring on Indigenous land. “It’s important to me to bring us out of a historical moment and into the present,” Claus said. “These issues of place and peoples are still pertinent and real.”

hochelaga rock will be on display at Articule until Nov. 19. The gallery is open Wednesday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on the weekends until 5 p.m. Admission is free. There will also be a discussion with Claus at the gallery on Nov. 4 at 3 p.m., as part of the exhibition.

Photos by Alex Hutchins

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