Rita Wong is the author of four books of poetry: undercurrent (Nightwood 2015), sybil unrest (co-written with Larissa Lai, Line Books, 2008), forage (Nightwood 2007), and monkeypuzzle (Press Gang 1998). forage won Canada Reads Poetry 2011. Wong received the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop Emerging Writer Award in 1997, and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2008. Building from her doctoral dissertation which examined labour in Asian North American literature, her work investigates the relationships between contemporary poetics, social justice, ecology, and decolonization. She lives on the unceded Coast Salish territories also known as Vancouver, where she is learning what it means to be a responsible guest/settler/unsettler.
MA-NEE CHACABY, AIYYANA MARACLE, CHRYSTOS
January 18–February 29, 2020
Her words are Not Vanishing as she leaves her howl inside us  is a project that brings together selected works of Ma-Nee Chacaby, Aiyyana Maracle, and Chrystos; gathering three Indigenous grandmothers around a fire, laughing, telling stories, reading poetry, and speaking of love and heartbreak. All three of these grandmothers have paved different fire paths for younger generations of two-spirit/queer/trans/non-binary/gay/lesbian/dyke folks in their own lineages. When Bopha the director/curator here at Artspeak invited me to do a show I knew I didn’t want to take the space for a solo show. I wanted to do a project that would make space rather than take it.
All three of these grandmother’s work saves lives; each has nourished my life and influenced my practice. I came to their work through mentorship, listening, then following, and found a deep sense of fire in their works and presence. While their work varies in form and focus, all three of these grandmother’s activist and artistic practices are rooted in their individual and collective experience fighting for Indigenous and two-spirit/queer/trans/non-binary/gay/lesbian rights and lives. Ma-Nee Chacaby as a visual artist and writer led the first gay pride parade in Thunder Bay. Chrystos as a poet and visual artist wrote six books and continues to write about social justice issues, colonialism, class, erotica, and gender. Aiyyana as a multimedia performance artist and artist started a press called Write On Press  in the 1980s that published Indian women speaking about their contemporary social reality. Maracle served as a voice and activist for young trans or gender nonconforming individuals and at age sixty four co-facilitated Gender Journey, a peer support group for trans and gender nonconforming youth run out of the Grand River Community Health Centre.
When I first picked up Chrystos’ book of poetry Not Vanishing (1988) I couldn’t put it down. Here were words that resonated in a way I hadn’t before experienced, waiting in pages from the 1980s for a new generation of Indigiqueers to find and treasure. Four of Chrystos’ six published books were published by Vancouver-based Press Gang Publishers (in operation from the 1970s–2002) to escape censorship in the US. I went on to read each of those books. With her lesbian erotica book In her I am—I didn’t stop blushing for months. During the first few pages there is a rush, then realize you don’t want to read such a rare book too fast. In Dream on, Fire Power, and Not Vanishing, her drawings are featured on the cover and throughout the books. As I came across them, I wondered if she had shown them publicly as I could see her poetry in them. Those drawings formed the constellation of seeds that would germinate into this show.
I first came across Ma-Nee Chacaby’s book A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder in 2016, the year it came out. I remember reading Ma-Nee’s story and coming across a few of her drawings in the book and found they possessed deep healing energy. One of the seeds for this show came from the moment I read her recounting how her Kookum would poke her gently in the chest as a little girl and say, “Little girl you have niizhin ojijaak (two spirits) living inside you”. She would go on to tell Ma-Nee about two-spirited people in their community and that one day she would have “a powerful, deep connection with someone”. This image of a kookum gently and unconditionally seeing a young two-spirit person with love and tenderness resonated deep emotions in me. It is that kookum love that all two-spirit/queer/trans/non-binary/gay/lesbian Indigenous hearts desire and deserve.
Aiyyana’s practice is expansive and multidisciplinary. She directed theatre, curated important shows and events of Indigenous Art, directed an opera, wrote important pivotal essays on gender. She mentored two-spirit/queer/trans/gay/lesbian/non-binary Indigenous youth and artists, and created ground breaking Indigenous programming at grunt gallery, Vancouver. I was lucky enough to meet Aiyyana in 2013 while supporting her as a curatorial assistant for the group exhibition, Queering the International curated by Laiwan. In our various planning meetings together for Aiyyana’s installation for the show, Aiyyana offered me much kindness and care during a time when I was deeply in need of grandmotherly care. I have never forgotten this as she impacted me greatly.
When choosing to curate Aiyyana, I hope to use this platform to bring a deserved attention to her work in ways that respect her families and communities. I acknowledge the vital work Indigenous trans women are doing in honouring Aiyyana’s work and life. I thank the Indigenous trans women who communicated to me their critique of my process in curating Aiyyana for this show. It is important that we support and centre the Indigenous trans women who work to continue her legacy, and I commit to deepening my own practices of relational ways of working to centre those whose stories are most at risk of erasure.
At the centre of the gallery you will find a reading/work space. In this space you will find Chrystos’ books, Ma-Nee’s autobiography, Aiyyana’s essays and interviews and other materials that exhibits the wide-ranging depth of their practices. These drawings and performances in this show are an invitation for you to dive deeper into the life work of these grandmothers and be open to the transformational gifts they have offered all of us. I want to extend an invitation to you to keep visiting the show as new stories will be evolving.
Each of these grandmothers walked the path of building relationships, modelling to us the importance of building relationships amid systems that teach us to compete with each other and to withdraw in isolation or away from connections. Despite these demands, they found ways to pass on generational knowledge and steward ancient knowledge about gender and sexual diversity during contemporary waves of colonial, homophobic, and transphobic violence. Their work and practice of knitting together chosen kinships offers vision, guidance, help and support to survive the colonial system that continues to try to erase those who do not fit the heterosexist, capitalist, colonial norm. Their words are not vanishing.
Mussi cho to these grandmothers for all of their radical work.
This show takes place on the unceded homelands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlí̓lwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-waututh) Nations.
Thank you to Laiwan, Jeane Riley, Elder Roberta Price, T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss, Metha Brown, Sunny Birdstone, Shane Camastro, Jaret Maracle, grunt gallery, Kílala Lelum (Urban Indigenous Health and Healing Cooperative), Agnieszka Forfa, Shawn Groff, Whess Harman, Glenn Alteen, Dan Pon, Storme Webber, Glida Morgan, Jade Morgan.
 The title for this show comes from Chrystos’s book ‘Not Vanishing’, and from Gloria Anzaldúa’s blurb: “Chrystos says no one is listening, but we are, we are. Her words slide into our throats, feed the hungry soul, fill the lost and homeless heart. Her voice binds into wholeness and severed selves with self-esteem. It calls us away from the death of invisibility, insists that we be seen and accounted to, no longer banished, no longer vanishing. She leaves her howl inside us.”
 I have chosen to use the word Grandmother in this text because to me all three of these artists continue to pass on wisdom with deep radical care and tenderness to younger generations of Indigenous artists.
 Interview on Tranzister Radio 29, CKUT 90.3 FM, October 9, 2014. http://7a-11d.ca/in-memoriam-aiyyana-maracle/. Accessed on January 14, 2020.
 Colleen Toms, “Six Nations woman shares her transgender experience”. January 19, 2015. https://www.yorkregion.com/news-story/5264793-six-nations-woman-shares-her-transgender-experience/. Accessed on January 14, 2020.
 Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer, ‘A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder’, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg, 2016, p.64.
February 15, 2020
12pm at the gallery.
Open to Indigenous folks who identify as two-spirit/non-binary/trans/queer/gay/lesbian/dyke community.
CHRYSTOS, RITA WONG, FRED WAH
February 13, 2020
Please join us at 4pm for a poetry reading by Chrystos with guests Fred Wah and Rita Wong at The Aboriginal Gather Place, Emily Carr University.
Open to the public.
Bannock and tea will be served.
February 12, 2020
Join us at 7pm for a reading by artist and writer Chrystos.
January 18, 2020
Join us at 7pm for Her words are Not Vanishing as she leaves her howl inside us, a project of three Indigenous grandmothers gathered around a fire-laughing, telling stories, reading poetry, talking about love and heartbreak. All three of these grandmothers have paved different fire paths for younger generations of queer/trans/non-binary/gay/les
January 18, 2020
Kílal Lelum Urban Indigenous Health and Healing Cooperative
626 Powell Street, Vancouver BC
Open to Indigneous two-spirit/non-binary/trans/queer/gay/lesbian community