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Water, Clay and Stone:
KC Adams

Gidamaji’igoomin maamikawiseyang gidoodaanaaminaan

Our spirit awakens when we remember our past

 

Embracing a multitude of approaches in her practice, KC Adams, a Winnipeg-based maker with Anishinaabe, Inninew and British roots, brings together making, activism, and a connection to history and land to express her ideas. Adams describes herself as a relational maker, a term she defines as anyone making within a community, where making imparts knowledge. Her practice draws from Indigenous knowledge systems and how making and technology can connect communities, noting how digital spaces and documentation engender new connections, questioning the legitimacy of structural power dynamics and material making. Adams’ work permeates the liminal spaces between material and digital making.

 

Working to revive traditional Indigenous pottery techniques, Adams is a generous teacher, running workshops on how to forage clay and make vessels. Adamant that “everyone is capable of creating — it’s a joyful expression,” Adams sees herself as a relational maker within a community of other relational makers with modelling — teaching by doing — an important tool to engage the next generation. Her creation process is a visual representation of Indigenous knowledge and spirituality, each item carrying within it the knowledge of its own making. Adams’ use of technology is to enact cultural understanding, imparting Indigenous ways of being and cultural survival in new ways. 

 

An example is the Nibi Gathering [1], which is led by Elders and Knowledge Keepers from Treaty 1, 2 and 3 Territories (which encompass Winnipeg and Brandon, and include provincial parks and beaches in Manitoba) who ensure the continuity of Anishinaabe teachings, language, songs and ceremonies for future generations. In sharing water stories, teachings and songs, the gathering activates Indigenous legal and traditional knowledge about responsibilities to water and its protection.

 

In a 2021 video for the Nibi Gathering, Adams shares the different characteristics of foraged clay, noting the higher density of clay in White Rapids, N.B., than in Brandon, Man. In speaking about gathering clay for cooking vessels, Adams notes the importance of foraging from areas with uncontaminated water. She also explains the use of temper (grog), which in her Tradition can be grandfather rocks (granite stones) that have been transformed through the intense heat, water and snow of a Sweat Lodge, sand (which she collected from Belair Forest, Man.) or mollusc shells. Adams stresses the importance of reciprocity in gathering from the land, noting to leave an offering of tobacco. In the intimate knowledge of gathering each material, Adams’ connection to the vessel is cyclical and she enacts the physical act of making vessels through a long line of ancestors. Clay and stone are crushed and brought together by hand, accompanied by song — in this way, time is an integral element of the work.

 

Rooting her practice in ceremony, Adams centres community and reciprocal relationships with water — nibi — in Gidamaji’igoomin maamikawiseyang gidoodaanaaminaan / Our spirit awakens when we remember our past, a multi-medium exhibition at the C2 Centre for Craft in Winnipeg in summer 2022. The exhibition centres community, water and clay, and draws upon many of the central themes throughout Adams’ practice to explore community relationships, Indigenous knowledge practices rooted in ceremony, and the potential of technology in these spaces. Working within traditional Indigenous processes of making clay vessels, foraging clay from the riverbank of Lake Agassiz (a large glacial lake in Manitoba) and on Adams’ traditional territory, Adams’ clay vessels are shaped with a full roundness and small lip, decorated with markings and shapes that evoke woven grass, shapes of turtles and beaded flowers that dance across the surface. 

 

Relational ties to the sovereignty of water are centred in the video ceremony of Honouring Nibi (2022), the coming together of seven water carriers representing seven generations, with vessels holding water evoking both a relationship between water and community, and a commitment to water and its preservation. The clay vessels are set before the video installation, alongside hides and red willow branches; the vessels’ physical presence echo the ceremony in the gallery space. 

 

“Indigenous Peoples’ very existence is ceremony. Experiencing ceremony, embodying it, it’s part of who I am,” says Adams. “Creating is a part of that.” In coming together, community ties and relational ties to land and water are made again, a commitment renewed in sharing knowledge. 

 

“Think of the vessels as animate beings and relatives, full of food, holding water and living,” [2] writes Aimée Craft in the exhibition essay. Craft, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and a practising Anishinaabe-Métis lawyer from Manitoba, works in Indigenous water sovereignty. Craft and Adams met through a mutual friend, and it was Craft that first invited Adams to a Nibi Gathering. It was in a communal traditional firing of vessels, one that had not been done in a very long time, filled with women and men and song, that Adams saw the ceremony in people coming together. Carrying on this idea, Adams and Craft have come together in this exhibition to show a different way of understanding water and clay. Rather than a performance, the exhibition is an invitation to consider community.

 

The UN acknowledges the stewardship and leadership roles of Indigenous Peoples, that “respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment.” [3] At a time of intense climate upheaval and disaster, Indigenous water and land protectors are at the forefront of battling climate change, protecting 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. [4] 

 

“(Materials and ceremony) are a connection (not only to) our spirituality, but also our physical connection to the land”, [5] with water and clay from different regions reflected in the different vessels, and their appearance and sound representing their unique voices. Adams recorded the sound of water from around Manitoba, music made by the overlapping sounds brought together in the clay vessels, and mixed them with songs and laughter of the water carriers, giving water agency — a voice, a place in the circle. The soundscape of water is familiar to us on a level closer than surface memory: lapping at the shore, swirling, babbling, falling, it recalls life from a deep memory of water as a part of our very being — a sound that lulls us, brings us closer to our surroundings, and sharpens our focus to experience the world around us. Honouring Nibi is a video installation we watch, but it also brings into focus our responsibilities to one another and the water around us, from person to land and back again. In sharing ceremony and the experience, Adams brings us, the viewer, into the circle and into the knowledge of our shared responsibility to water. And in embracing the collective, we are made stronger together.

 

Adams’ work engages Indigenous worldviews around colonial failures of stewardship. Generosity and reciprocity suffuse Adams’ practice. She offers hope: an opportunity for connection to community and collective solutions rather than criticism alone. “Water is life. It is more important than any of our needs or desires. I want to see everyone being ignited and cherishing water.” [6]

 

Adams works toward building community relationships and working together in creating solutions. Her work invites us to witness and take part in an act of generosity and relationship and community building. As the water carriers in Honouring Nibi lead, we are invited to personally reflect upon our relationships with water and one another. Here the act of making and sharing is not for spectacle but as a gift of generous knowledge sharing. 

1. KC Adams, “Traditional clay and pottery workshop: How to Process the Clay,” May 19, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=330036145203159.

2. Aimée Craft, “Gidamaji’igoomin maamikawiseyang gidoodaanaaminaan / Our spirit awakens when we remember our past”. Winnipeg: C2 Centre for Craft, 2022, exhibition catalogue.

3. UN General Assembly, Resolution 61/295, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, A/RES/61/295 (Sept. 13, 2007), https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html. See also Charnel Anderson. “What are Indigenous knowledge systems -— and how can they help fight climate change?” TVO Today, September 30, 2021,. https://www.tvo.org/article/what-are-indigenous-knowledge-systems-and-how-can-they-help-fight-climate-change/.

4. Gleb Raygorodetsky, “Indigenous peoples protect Earth’s biodiversity — but they’re in danger.” National Geographic, November 16, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/can-indigenous-land-stewardship-protect-biodiversity-/.

5. KC Adams, “In the Studio with KC Adams.” Canadian Art, June 17, 2018, video, 3:25, https://vimeo.com/334520393/.

6. Interview with KC Adams, April 8, 2022.

WHAT

ROLE

Writer

WHEN

Spring/Summer 2022

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