All posts by connie watts

My Imperfect Journey

To our AGP Community,

I will begin by thanking Mimi for her heartfelt Open Letter to the Emily Carr Community and advocating kindness and compassion towards each other during these difficult times of uncertainty. I was inspired by her unwavering commitment to respect and reciprocity.

Chief Leon Shenandoah words and actions have influenced my imperfect journey to become a good human being on this path called life.

“Everybody is on a path. What you think about the most tells you which path you are on. The best path is the spiritual one. It’s the only one that helps you become a human being”

We are busy preparing the Aboriginal Gathering Place for accommodating new and returning Aboriginal students in September (adhering to provincial COVID protocols) and it has been challenging to maintain our cultural connections while being physically disconnected. I am encouraged that my Indigenous knowledge continually reminds me that our spiritual, cultural and physical world are all inextricably interconnected.

I would like to acknowledge the support and leadership of our local Indigenous healers, cultural advisors/leaders and knowledge keepers who are deeply connected to this land. Laura Wee Lay Laq is a graduate of Emily Carr (Vancouver School of Art) and continues to provide ongoing support to the AGP. Prior to the new campus construction Laura blessed and cleansed the land to provide a cultural foundation for the work being done within our institution. Thus…we are accountable to the land for our words and actions.

Eugene Harry is a healer and spiritual guide and has supported us in moving forward in a path focused on “good hearts and good mind”. Xwalacktun is also a graduate of Emily Carr and his son James is a graduate as well. In recent weeks we have connected with all of them for their ongoing guidance, strength and wisdom. Their guidance and support inspired me to share our teachings and protocols deeply rooted in our current and ancestral connection to this land.

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the destructive actions and policies of the past and aspire to do better in the future. Often it’s as much about unlearning as it is about learning. I am often frustrated with the pace of institutional change but I’m also encouraged by the number of initiatives and projects we have accomplished and are working on. I believe that collaboration, collegiality and commitment can create an environment of transformational change. While we cannot escape or deny wounds along the way we can move forward in the spirit of reconciliation.

In a recent essay I wrote titled What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (published by the Or Gallery, Dana Claxton, editor) I share my 21-year educational, cultural and artistic journey at Emily Carr University. In it I share my strengths and weaknesses and more importantly my personal family history of Residential School trauma including the death my father’s sisters, Gladys and Margaret. The ancestral teachings I carry with me are from our beloved matriarch Thiapan who remains the strength of our family long after her passing in 1973 as well as my father Nekastte who was one of Thaipan’s seventeen children. It is an important protocol for me to share my ancestral roots. It holds me accountable to my family cultural teachings and responsibilities of perpetuating and honouring traditional knowledge in a productive, meaningful way. I am continually learning new ways to move forward within the context of working within institutional procedural and policy driven frameworks. It takes patience and resilience…and is often exhausting but I remain committed to the voices of our ancestors.

Activism and persistence are important methods of facilitating meaningful change within our academy and I believe it can be and should be done in a respectful thoughtful exchange. I don’t always get it right but it is my intention to apply the basic tenets of respect and reconciliation as I continue on my imperfect journey to become a good human. Indigenization, decolonization and reconciliation work continues to evolve and move forward at Emily Carr.

I end my essay with a quote by Rumi – Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there…

For me…our Emily Carr community is that field and I would like to meet you there.


Brenda Crabtree (Xyolholemo:t)
Proud member of the Spuzzum Band (Nlaka’pamux Nation)
Proud daughter of Nekastte and granddaughter of Thiapan

Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity.
It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice,
the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer,
the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight
but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.
It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both
the oppressed and oppressors free.”

Shane Claborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (2010)

Brenda Crabtree (Xyolholemo:t) MA (she/her)
Director, Aboriginal Programs + Special Advisor To The President On Indigenous Initiatives
Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Emily Carr University is situated on unceded, traditional and ancestral xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories.

An Open letter to the Emily Carr Community

Dr. Mimi Gellman, 2020-2021 Indigenous Teaching Fellow

I am writing this message as an offering to the Emily Carr Community. This past year has been like no other. We have survived a fire, numerous snowstorms and storms of the head and heart. We have engaged with each other and debated in hallways and stairwells and classrooms, in labs and in crits and we have learned about each other’s subjectivities and the ways in which members of our community have been diminished and oppressed. And then there was covid with its attendant isolation, fears and anxieties and precarity about the future. All of this has contributed to an intensity of emotion and affect the likes of which our generation has never before experienced. We are all coping with grief and loss and the uncertainty that comes with the unknown…with not knowing what kind of new world will emerge.

And here is the magnificent opportunity that awaits us…we have the possibility of envisioning a new paradigm, a new world, a new way of being and doing.

The recent petition penned by an anonymous group of Emily Carr students and alumna under the mantle of the Anti-Racist Initiative has called in many places for the Indigenization of Emily Carr. I believe in the inexorable advancement of Indigenization and have dedicated much of my research, my energies and my engagements at ECU towards achieving this ambition. In my considered opinion, the tone and spirit of the petition did not realize its intended objective. I invite you to consider a different approach. If Emily Carr University is truly sincere in realizing this goal of Indigenization and not merely paying lip service, we are obliged individually and collectively to embody and express Indigenous values and ideals as we work together, envision, and plan a good way forward. The first Indigenous tenets to consider are respect and reciprocity, respect for our mother the earth, respect for our other than human relations, respect towards one another and respect towards our elders. The next Indigenous value is hospitality. This means that we meet each other and engage with each other with openness, with a generosity of spirit, in a spirit of hospitality. As Indigenous peoples we accept and embrace difference within our own communities, and this includes those that disagree with us, have different habits or different world views. We believe in the strength and the importance of building community, and understand that we only survive and flourish when our whole community is flourishing. We learn from each other through modelling right action and observing those knowledge keepers who have gained expertise through years and years of doing. We honour our knowledge keepers.

And this leads me to ask, what kind of world do we want to build? How do we want to engage with each other? How do we include each other …even the quiet ones, even the fearful, the humble, even the ones with no words. What is your vision for the world that you want to create, for the school that you want to learn within, teach within, for the ways that you long for?

This new world does not begin after our needs are met it begins with the quality of our intention, the nature of our engagement and the field of vision within which all things reside and from which all things emerge. It will take great self reflexivity “from all of us” in order not to replicate the colonial strategy of divide and conquer. We cannot afford to be divisive and punitive. There is no time for this if we want to move forward in a good way and begin to achieve our goals, now.

Let us begin by extending kindness and compassion towards each other and by demonstrating the ethos that we are seeking. I send this to you because I believe in us, I believe in this place of learning and most of all I believe that together we can create an extraordinary place for us to grow and flourish as human beings. We CAN be the change.

With respect,

Dr. Mimi Gellman
Associate Professor, Faculty of Culture +Community
emily carr university of art + design

Aboriginal Gathering Place Creates Material Practice Wellness Kits for Indigenous Students

Bringing together an extraordinary diversity of materials, the kits will help sustain cultural connection and creativity during the pandemic and beyond.

With pandemic restrictions only gradually beginning to lift in B.C., the Aboriginal Gathering Place at Emily Carr University has been assembling Material Practice Wellness kits to send to Indigenous community members.

Led by Brenda Crabtree, Director of the AGP and Special Advisor to the President on Indigenous Initiatives, and AGP Associate Director Connie Watts, the project is a way to engage remotely with community members, and sustain connection during the first phase of provincial reopening.

“We are targeting the kits for the Aboriginal students first, and depending on how many are left we will be including Aboriginal staff and faculty,” says Connie.

“The kits are a cultural connection to the materials and to the land.”

Material Practice Wellness Kit1


Materials on hand at the AGP include a selection of beads, natural and dyed caribou hair for tufting, hide rattle kits (cut rattle shaped hide, sinew for the seam and wooden dowel for the handle), interfacing and felt for beading, porcupine quills, leather and beading needles, scissors, tanned fish skins, tanned beaver tails, smoke tanned moose hide, seal skin, tanned hide, earring and necklace clasps, key ring, larger glass beads, horse hair, feathers, shimmering abalone buttons and thread.

Full article by Perrin Grauer :

Photo by Perrin Grauer / Emily Carr University of Art + Design