Participants in the Braids of Resistance workshops created braids to weave into a larger one, dedicating their portion to someone significant in their life.
Ombaasin means “to be lifted by the wind” in Anishinaabemowin. The Ombaasin Collective is a team of word and image warriors which includes, Elwood Jimmy (Cree), Wanda Nanibush (Anishinaabe-kwe) and Brian Norton (Anishnawbe). Together they are committed to building community and growing the Native arts community through innovative programming and spaces of experiment and exchange. Saturday, August 8, 2015, they hosted a Live Performance at The Power Plant, the last part of their Braids of Resistance series in partnership with Planet IndigenUs 4. The event was held to honor the resistance of two-spirited people and women from violence and colonization.
The inspiration for organizing this event came from a dream that Nanibush had about creating a massive braid that would go around the world. Jimmy states, “We decided to do a community-based project where we would invite people to come in and make braids in honor of people in their lives. It was a response to the missing and murdered Indigenous women cases. We didn’t want Indigenous women reduced to a statistic. We wanted to honor the ongoing contributions and gifts that Indigenous women bring to us on a daily basis.”
The series of events included two, three day workshops and a live performance. The first workshop, Braids of Resistance Community Creation, had participants creating portions of a large braid while they listened to, Elder, Pauline Shirt (Plains Cree), give traditional teachings. The second workshop, Songs of Spirit, was hosted by celebrated singer, Rosary Spence (Cree), where she taught participants traditional drum songs. During the Live Performance at The Power Plant, Shirt, was on hand to give teachings about the significance of the braid and perform a water ceremony as guests feasted and sang.
A teaching Shirt taught was that woven together, the braid is symbolic of the past, present and future. Jimmy explained that Shirt, “gave us a foundation to think about what we were doing while we were asking people to make braids. The braid is kind of like weaving a particular person’s story into this object that was going to be part of a larger object and larger process. So people were asked to think about a person in particular and a story about that person and how they wanted to honour them through this project.” Another teaching of the braid is that each strand represents the mind, body and spirit and how together they are connected to each other, you can’t affect one without affecting the other. He says that creating the braid “was very therapeutic, people were very relaxed, it became almost like this meditative process.”
It was amazing to see how Ombaasin managed to create a space for people to open up and share their stories and to participate in whatever way they felt comfortable. Participants told stories about who their braid was dedicated to and sang the traditional drum songs that they learned. After completing the project, Jimmy hopes that they will take away a sense of community and collaboration. “The intention behind this project was to bring people together in a really meaningful way and have them participate in something fully, while being present the whole time, not just standing and listening, but also making and doing a lot of physical things,” he says, “all those things are rooted in building a community.” Now that the three part project is over and the braid has been sung and feasted, it belongs to the community. Jimmy will hold onto the braid until they find a permanent home for it. In the future, Ombaasin hopes, “that people will bring it out each time there is a gathering or rally or anything is community based. We really want to community to have ownership over it.”
The Ombaasin Collective:
Brian Norton is an anishnawbe from Chimnissing First Nation with a passion for supporting the arts and promoting environmental responsibility through active involvement in the community.
Elwood Jimmy is from the Thunderchild First Nation in northwestern Saskatchewan, works in Toronto as a curator, programmer, writer, cultural manager, and artist.
Wanda Nanibush is an Anishinaabe-kwe image from the Beausoliel First Nation and lives on her people’s territory. She is a word warrior who has organized for Idle No More and who has taught and written on the history of Indigenous women’s resistances. Currently she is an adjunct curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, writing a book on Indigenous women’s resistance to violence and finishing a film called A Love Letter to My People.