The Praxis of Sovereignty: The Aboriginal Film and Video Art Alliance

Curator's Note

The Aboriginal Film and Video Art Alliance (AFVAA), an Indigenous media- and arts-based organization founded in Canada in 1991, has played a key, though historically underacknowleged, role in the rise of Indigenous media in Canada. One of the AFVAA’s goals was to advocate for development of an Indigenous screen language that would link Indigenous cultural politics of the era with the formal features of screen representation. The AFVAA operated on the principle of Indigenous “self-government,” a term arising from Indigenous sovereignty movements of the latter part of the twentieth century in North America. Indigenous self-government refers to the inherent right of Indigenous peoples to govern themselves according to their own nation- and community-specific political traditions and structures (Russell 2000, 11). Consistent with this principle, the AFVAA advocated for Indigenously controlled programs and resources within Canadian cultural institutions. The exact design and operations of these spaces were necessarily open and undefined in order to parallel the principle of self-government: Indigenous self-government does not have one prescriptive model that can be applied to all Indigenous communities and nations; instead, self-government must be developed and tested on the ground as the purview of Indigenous communities (ibid). The AFVAA’s activities sought to extend self-government into art and media production, where self-government was to be exercised and represented through experiments with the formal features of media technologies. The AFVAA thereby contributed to the production of an influential and widespread discourse of Indigenous media that weds cultural politics to the textual features of moving image media.

In 1992, the AFVAA partnered with the Banff Centre, one of Canada’s oldest and most renowned arts-based institutions, to adapt the Centre’s residency program model for an early experiment in self-government in media practice (Beaucage 2014; Todd 2014). The activities of the residency program sought to explore self-government by experimenting with production practices and through the textual features of screen content. This program resulted in the Public Service Announcement (PSA) project, which consisted of six, video-recorded PSAs produced by a cohort of Indigenous artists over the nine-week residency program in 1993 that included Joane Cardinal-Schubert (Kainai), Gary Farmer (Cayuga), Ruby-Marie Dennis (Dakelh), Isabelle Knockwood (Mi’kmaq), Crissy Redcrow (Blackfoot), and Angie Campbell (Dene). The PSA project aligned the conceptual with the formal: because “self-government” was being debated and interpreted in political and social arenas, the project asked participants to debate the concept as a part of the production process. This involved in-depth group discussions that ultimately shaped each PSA. At the same time, the process sought to maintain the individual “vision” of each participant’s PSA in order to recognize the specificity of each person’s Indigenous heritage, a design echoing the principles of Indigenous self-government. To different degrees, each of the PSAs takes an experimental approach; as a result, they are remarkably different stylistically, though they are of a common genre and share a political agenda. Thus, the AFVAA modeled a form of collaborative creativity, generating interpretations of self-government represented in and by the PSAs themselves.



Beaucage, Marjorie. Interview by the author. July 4, 2014.

Russell, Dan. A People’s Dream: Aboriginal Self-Government in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000.

Todd, Loretta. Interview by the author. August 8, 2014.

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