A Totem Pole on a Toxic Site

A Totem Pole on a Toxic Site: Asking Questions
A Totem Pole on a Toxic Site: Asking Questions


Belle Island, Kingston Ontario CA
Laura Murray, Dorit Naaman & Erin Sutherland

For the Environmental Racism is Garbage symposium we propose to engage specifically with the pole at the park’s entrance, a pole that is literally installed on garbage. Totem poles outside of the Pacific West Coast can be read as sanitized signs of pan-Indigenous culture, even as they often stand in places from which Indigenous people have been violently removed. At the same time, the Belle Park totem pole is unique in various ways: it is not a West Coast pole, and its carved figures represent predominantly Haudenosaunee histories and values, starting with the Tree of Peace at the base, symbolizing the peaceful creation of the confederacy and its complex democratic system. The cedar pole was sent from the West Coast and carved by inmates at the Joyceville Correctional institute. The pole thus embodies and speaks to racism inside and outside the Canadian penal system, and also testifies to Indigenous cultural and political alliance and regeneration as practiced by the Native Brotherhood and the pole’s incarcerated carvers. 

This proposed video and sound piece will make space for the voices of those who are connected to the park and through them, the voices inhabited in the pole. We are inspired by the work of Indigenous performance artists such as Peter Morin and David Garneau, who speak to, with, and through beings that in Western culture are considered inanimate objects.

Laura Murray
Laura Murray

Laura Murray’s current research focuses on and around Kingston, Ontario, a city which tends only to acknowledge its nineteenth-century white, colonial, male, mercantile history. Through her Swamp Ward and Inner Harbour History Project (2015-2018), Murray used multiple methodologies (oral history, archival research, curatorship) and modes of communication (walking tours, blogging, photography exhibit, podcasts, etc.) to reveal the twentieth-century life of a working class immigrant neighbourhood. She is also researching the eighteenth-century treaty history of the area, bringing archival sources into conversation with students, Indigenous research collaborators, and land and waterways. She lives near Belle Park and visits regularly.  

Dorit Naaman
Dorit Naaman

Dorit Naaman is the producer/director of Jerusalem, We Are Here, a Research-Creation interactive documentary (2016-2018). By means of digital technology, this participatory project brings Palestinians back into the Jerusalem neighbourhoods from which they were expelled in 1948. With participants, Naaman co-produced poetic short videos filled with nostalgia, sorrow, and fleeting returns. The films are embedded into a virtual tour where the audience—in Cairo, Jerusalem, Toronto and beyond—can “walk” down the streets of Katamon as filmed in 2012-2015. The project offers an online map, populated organically with information provided by participants. Naaman has been a pioneer in the teaching of Research-Creation at Queen’s University’s dynamic Graduate Program in Cultural Studies. Funded by a SSHRC SIG grant, she is currently designing a tool to evaluate participatory media processes.

Erin Sutherland

Erin Sutherland identifies as Métis and settler. Her research contributions take the form of curatorial interventions into settler discourses of Canadian history: she aims to take up colonial space with Indigenous presence through curation of performance art. For her PhD dissertation research in Cultural Studies at Queen’s, Sutherland curated a five-part performance series titled Talkin’ Back to Johnny Mac (2015), which offered powerful critique of the 200th birthday celebrations of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald; Now teaching at the University of Calgary, Sutherland is pursuing innovative pedagogy involving traditional tanning and craft methods, building an Indigenous performance art archive, and writing about that process. 

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