YoU Dispatch Questionnaire: Tecumseh Ceaser

By Tecumseh Ceaser

September 1, 2022

At the conclusion of YoU, the Artists-In-Residence were asked seven questions about their experience and the overall mission of this collaborative program. Five artists shared their responses, which can be viewed in their entirety below. A large-format broadsheet was also produced to highlight a selection of answers and images that delve into the strengths and challenges of interconnectedness, and the continued work to be done within the institution.

Caption: Tecumseh Ceaser presenting Water Connects Us All to Museum Experience Ambassadors, October 2021.
Image Description: A group of a half-dozen individuals are seen from the back. They are all facing Indigenous artist Tecumseh Ceaser, who is wearing a brown hat over two braids, black mace mask, beaded necklace, orange shirt, and beige pants. He is standing in front of a blue wall has small white wall text on the left. In the middle, a large monitor with a blue water droplet displays ways to say “water” across languages in the Algonquian language family. There is a large white wall text on the right: “Tecumseh Ceaser Water Connects Us All”

Question 1: Was there a relationship you built during YoU that impacted your work in a meaningful way?

I think the relationship with Guardians of Flushing Bay has continued to generate more outlets for my environmental work. We collaborated on two workshops for QM staff to examine stewardship practices from the perspective of individual and institutional relationships with the land. The workshops stemmed from conversations about what a living land acknowledgment can look like. We were mindful to center on where QM is located: as Native land, a historic wetland, and near a floodplain and sewershed. We framed the conversation by defining what it means to be a good guest, a good co-habitator, and working towards becoming a good steward. We grounded with Indigenous teachings on giving thanks and posed questions as a way to empower staff to reconsider the impacts of their daily practices. We discussed the limits staff faced in accomplishing stewardship goals, the resources needed, systemic challenges, and how we can heal our relationships with the land and animals. We talked about how to remain accountable to the commitments made during the workshops, and the tangible outcomes included minimizing the waste created, park cleanups, and limiting single-use plastics. I think the process of creating the workshops with the Guardians was a generative one because it was long-term, where we listened to one another and our thoughts naturally evolved. Often when people and institutions are considering land acknowledgments, it can feel rushed and like you’re just checking off a box. This process was organic and mutually beneficial. Our work together has continued even past YoU, where we’ve invited one another to participate in different projects.

Question 2: Which theme was most relevant to your work throughout YoU?

For me, and I think for many of the other Artists-In-Residence, the YoU themes overlapped in so many ways. Care, Repair, Justice, and The Future are all integral and interconnected parts of my work. I see some type of justice being considered in all of the works presented as part of YoU, with care and repair being a big part of the fight towards true equity, especially during the pandemic when so much was being reevaluated. This is also visible in my project Water Connects Us All, which looked at the power of language to hold vital interconnected teachings between Indigenous communities. With collaborators, I made a video that visualizes the ongoing language reclamation research that I have been participating in with many communities as part of the Algonquian Language Revitalization Project. By animating the spoken and written words for “water” across sister languages in the Algonquian language family, I demonstrated the deep connections between them. The work stands to represent the power of collective memory to recover dormant or resting languages. These languages are never truly lost but, like water, can be seen as a shared life source for regeneration and healing. The connectivity of everything is so important here, and as part of my research during YoU and the public programs I presented, there were so many hidden histories, connections, and teachings that were uncovered by weaving in and out of these YoU themes. But it was also important to leave a lot of this artwork open for interpretation.

Question 3: How has your work embraced uncertainty?

There was some level of uncertainty in the outreach and research phases of my project. Was I going to get enough knowledge bearers to participate across languages? Would the results show the interconnected nature of the Algonquian language family? It was important for me to trust the strong kinship ties that I have across different Indigenous communities. While the medium of video was entirely new to me, I tried to maintain the ways in which my artwork is used to either amplify information that I’ve received from my community work. Despite the uncertainty, I felt supported by all the cousins, friends, and elders who were willing to chip in.

Question 4: What are two things you learned from YoU?

I saw the importance of institutions having time to reflect on, analyze, and get input on their work. It was clear how powerful it was to have that dedicated time during YoU. In my experience, a lot of institutions want to evaluate change, but don’t actually make time to work on it. Often these things are only talked about theoretically. It was great to see that the museum was interested in doing that but also that the pandemic gave time for it to happen, it almost created a kind of forced opportunity, which turned out to be healthy for the institution.

Question 5: What does a “community museum” mean to you?

It means an institution that is making constant effort to evaluate and address community needs. This means not just being sited in an area or neighborhood, but playing an active role in being a part of the community and not perpetuating gentrification. A community museum is built or shaped to represent the people who live around it. I think it’s important for institutions to constantly be checking in with themselves about what a community museum should be and if they are really meeting those goals. Are they really serving the people who live there? As part of YoU, I saw QM rethinking what roles museums can play in communities and I hope other institutions find time to do that as well. A big part of the puzzle is making funding available to do that kind of work, which would reinforce its importance, not just during the time of a pandemic.

Question 6: Did YoU change the way you exist within museums?

It was an opportunity to build a deeper understanding between the specifics of QM and the work that I do. Because I do consulting work as well as art, the opportunity to work with the Museum for over a year really showed the possibilities of what can happen when creatives working across disciplines have a better understanding of the structure of the museum that they’re working within. This is a rarity, because a lot of times when I’ve done programming and consulting in the past it has felt very surface level. In particular, the conversations around how to incorporate Indigenous working into the frameworks of the Museum were important. I was also able to bring in many different Indigenous knowledge holders and artists that they did not know before. This included teaching, exhibiting, and programming with local Native artists, scholars, and filmmakers; and bringing together language teachers who are revitalizing Indigenous languages, as well as folks reclaiming ceremony and our relationships with local waterways.