THE BEAST tells the story of two precariously employed millennials living in the heart of Canada’s oil country. Working on opposite sides of a media firestorm, they struggle to make sense of their relationship to their work, the climate and each other.
PS: This is not a love story.
Read the epilogue written by acclaimed First Nation artist, Terrance Houle and pre-order your copy of THE BEAST here.
Iinniiwahkiimah or ‘Buffalo Herder / Slaughterer’ is my Blackfoot name, and what I am called within my people, the Kainai.
It is a spiritual name based on the riders who would herd buffalo off jumps or pens to be slaughtered. I received this name years ago in a ceremony my aunty was hosting called a “Big Smoke”. In the ceremony I was asked to be a helper, but did not have a name, so the elders sang song and found it. To this day, I hold this story very dearly.
I have used this name on several projects involving the buffalo spirit and the duty I have to help feed my people and culture.
I created the “Oily Buffalo” (2012) that is iinniiwahkiimah for the exhibition Oh, Canada at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts in 2012.
When asked to be in Oh, Canada exhibit I was already working towards bringing the spirit of my buffalo namesake to life. For my contribution I used a stencil technique to create a large scale buffalo and, using flat/matte black spray paint, created the look of graffiti with paint dripping down; dripping like oil.
I have painted subsequent versions of “Oily Buffalo” on pieces of vinyl canvas cut from the wrestling mat of another of my projects, the National Indian Leg Wrestling League of North America. The medium of vinyl is made from oil (ethylene). I was using this medium to create a symbolic image of a buffalo, representing the idea of dependency, dependency my people the Kainai had on one source – The Buffalo.
The key idea I wanted to convey with this image is that the Plains Indigenous people are living in a post-apocalypse. An apocalypse wrought from the Plains peoples’ dependency on one source of energy: The Buffalo. Buffalo were everything to us. They sheltered us, fed us, clothed us, and so much more. The buffalo dictated so much for us spiritually, but also dictated the migratory manner of our camps in winter or summer. We followed the buffalo to survive and live. They were our food and energy source.
Once taken away, there was collapse. Our civilisation forever changed.
I do not blame Indigenous people for this collapse.
With “Oily Buffalo”, I set out to create work that spoke to questions about the past and present of my people.
How did we get here? What does the current era mean for Plains people of North America?
Around the same time as I was working on “Oily Buffalo” energy issues and their polarizing politics were constantly in the news. From debates over the future and impact of the oil sands to the Keystone XL Pipeline; from China’s $15.1 billion takeover of Calgary’s Nexen Energy to the devastating legacy of BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, you couldn’t go to the pub without some political, and potentially antagonistic, talk about these subjects.
As an artist and Indigenous person, I was conflicted by my own ideas and views surrounding the debates over energy politics. I have friends who depend deeply on the oil and gas industry for their livelihood. I support work for my friends and family who struggle to put food on the table; but on the other hand I am a Kainai/Anishinaabeg who doesn’t want to see the land his people live on exploited.
The message of Iinniiwahkiimah, the artwork, can be extended to modern society which depends on oil.
Growing up I loved watching sci-fi movies especially apocalyptic films such as Escape From New York, Def Con 4 and The Day After, which portrayed the impending or total collapse of humanity. In the opening of Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981) we hear a narration of the oil and gas wars that lead to nuclear war. The narrator speaks to the decimation of society and the rise of scavengers; road warriors. I can’t help but think this is how my people had survived when the onslaught of colonialism hit us after the demise of the great buffalo herd, the abundance of a source slaughtered and leading to weakness and exploitation.
The idea of indigenous people living in a post-apocalyptic world and trying to rebuild is strange at first, but when I put the pieces together through movies and culture, I realised that we as a society are not too far off from the sci-fi realm.
Iinniiwahkiimah, “Oily Buffalo”, has become a warning sign for myself that as a society we can’t just blame oil companies, governments and colonialism for the crisis of energy.In The Beast I can relate to the character Callum and his artistic convictions and ways of living. He is the struggling artist who seems to want to do the right thing but is set in the “reality” of having a career where you must, sometimes, take jobs you don’t like or feel are unjust.
I have always felt torn between certain ideas and things as an indigenous person working in the arts and the idea of alliances to causes or indigenous worldviews. The absence of any indigenous characters in the graphic novel doesn’t bother me. It also seems to be the one thing that is possibly real in many of the conversations around oil and gas and climate change. One part of The Beast that resonated with my own ideas is the confrontation between Mary and Callum’s friends about how we are all part of the system. Vilifying one aspect of a system based on oil and petrochemicals yet using other oil based products doesn’t mean you are any better than anyone else just because you have different views. We are all part of the problem not just the industry.
Change starts with all of us as individuals. We need to change and stop being dependant on oil and gas.
If we as a people – and I speak as a person – do not change our ways then we will be doomed to live through these collapses and, inevitably, apocalypse.