Maura Tamez is an enrolled member of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas and is related to the larger Dene Nation. She currently lives in the unceded Okanagan territory of the Syilx peoples, specifically with her family on the Okanagan Indian Band #1 Reserve near Vernon, amongst the Nk'mlpqs (Head of the Lake) community on the Okanagan Lake within the Syilx families of Nsis'soolwx (Dry Creek). Her art draws on personal themes of belonging, identity, place, borders, displacement, loss, and history. Her work (re)thinks and (re)examines how colonialism has affected Dene Ndé people’s experiences and is a way of resistance. The following is a conversation with Maura about her artistic practice and her thoughts surrounding the current identity and racial politics at the forefront of our times.
1. What are you currently working on? Or what was the most recent thing you worked on?
I recently had an exhibition at the Lake Country Art Gallery. I collaborated with Ashleigh Giffen and Hagar Wirba, kin in the Indigenous and Black communities, who collaborated to make this show a reality. The pop up was made possible by The Laundry Room Collective and Lake Country Art Gallery. Works exhibited were “je’egi”, a sculpture made from concrete and steel, and “soos”, an acrylic painting.
2. How does your personal identity influence your work?
That depends, it’s complicated. Obviously, as a racialized Indigenous body, it is already presumed by the dominant audiences in the 21st century that my work is going to be about Indigenous subject matter. Being recognizably Indigenous means that my very physical features are read in a particular racialized way, and that’s part of the experience of the viewers who are affected by race and racial ideas in Western Canada. Unknowingly, the last viewer's mind is affected by race and they politicize the work of art in front of them. My identity is something I have never been separate from. My work is a way that I am actively resisting and transforming misconceptions. I am aware of my decisions to make work that involves the past, present and future of Indigenous peoples. My identity gives me strength and grounding. It is my perspective and will always influence how I engage with the world. Identity is affected by race. Race is not my identity but has an impact on how I am perceived.
3. What changes would you like to see at UBCO/in Kelowna in regard to racism/discrimination against minorities?
- Minimum 50% of staff and faculty be Indigenous and Black across all departments at UBCV and UBCO.
- An increase in subsidized housing for Indigenous students on campus.
- An increase in subsidized housing for Indigenous students with dependents in a separate family housing section.
- Create culturally sensitive daycares for children of Indigenous students which is staffed by Indigenous licensed child care professionals and which centres on Indigenous healthy child care philosophy.
- The ability to collaborate and reshape the campus’s cold western architecture which promotes the institutions of colonialism and hierarchy.
- A building dedicated to Indigenous and Black Indigenous peoples in global diaspora.
- UBC needs to divest from the system which upholds the racial policing of Indigenous and Black bodies and this extends to faculty and student racism in the classroom, this extends to the racist and discriminatory treatment of Indigenous and Black bodies from secretaries all the way up to the Dean's office.
- UBC needs to create systems to respond to these critiques and hold themselves responsible publicly, beyond the rhetoric of accountability.