Sociologist and activist Guy Sioui Durand (Tsei8ei 8aho8en in Wendat) met with me in Québec City’s Cartier-Brébeuf Park, on unceded Iroquois territory. He lives in a condominium on the edge of the Park, his way of “recolonizing” the land of his ancestors.
By Flora Lasalle
“I come from a reserve, so I’ve seen a lot of arts and crafts in my time. My grandparents worked with my uncle, so I was very young. They worked on crafts that they sold commercially. I was immersed in an artistic environment.”
Despite the constant presence of the arts in the life of this young man, Guy was 14 when he participated for the first time in an artistic event. It was Montréal’s Expo 67 world’s fair, the “Man and His World” exhibition.
“Ten contemporary Amerindian artists were invited to create the large frescoes that decorated the Indians of Canada Pavilion,” he explains “There were, among others, Norval Copper Thunderbird Morrisseau, as well as Jean-Marie Gros-Louis from my community, in tandem with the Iroquois Mohawk artist Tom Hill. Together they created the sacred peace tree. Their works of art all carried a political message and I, a young teen in high school, didn’t completely understand it, but I saw it. It was the first time that we showed the reality of what life was like for Indians in Canada on the reserves, so it was a major historical moment, and also my first contact with the arts.”
The exposition took place two years before the American Indian Movement, the revolt by indigenous people in the United States. For Guy, this group of artists announced their reengagement in society, their will to be activists and militants through art.
The Voice of the Pioneer
Guy Sioui Durand studied the humanities and specialized in art. Supported by the famous sociologist Jean-Charles Falardeau, he completed his thesis in sociology. His university courses taught him to master what he called “western tools to understand and explain society.”
He can therefore offer an expertise in indigenous art as seen from the inside. His status as a First Nations person allows him to be as close to his subject as you can get. Despite operating in an era during which racism against First Nations people is strong, Guy has forged a reputation based on the quality of his research and of the exhibitions he organizes, as well as his closeness to the artists.
“I was the first Wendat to give a course in the history of indigenous art at the University of Laval, at students’ request,” he explains. “I was also a lecturer at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, three times. The students knew me from my writings, because I was linked with an autonomous arts centre. With my friends I was one of the founders of the magazine Inter, art actuel, which is attached to Québec City’s Centre en art actuel (contemporary arts centre). So I collaborate with the artists.”
He’s also developed a sociology of art out in the field. For him it’s vital that he travels widely to see how art is produced where it’s produced, and that he talk to the artists directly.
His work doesn’t stop at the Canadian border. He’s been invited Asia, South America and Europe. He’s become an expert in and a spokesperson for indigenous artists. As he isn’t burdened by any attachments to one particular institution, he can explore where he likes, and speak freely.