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Michelle McGeough

Michelle McGeough is Métis-Cree on her mother’s side, and Northern Irish on her father’s. She grew up mostly in and near Edmonton. Michelle is a Two Spirit queer artist and curator who uses she/her pronouns.

Michelle McGeough InterviewMichelle McGeough
00:00 / 59:19

Interpretations of their own teachings and opinions shared here are the responsibility of each artist. 

Written transcript is below.

"Think about how the discipline itself disciplines you about the types of questions that you form, the ways that you tackle problems, the way that you think about things. What is it about the way that you approach something that is defined by the discipline, and how do you become aware of that so that if it's only producing a certain kind of result... how can you move away from that and kind of expand it?

Written Transcript,
Interview with Michelle McGeough
for Kindling

Michelle McGeough: Do I really have to tell you my age? Oh, my gosh, it's alright, it's fine. 
Louis Esmé: You could say whatever you want to for the answers. 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah, yeah. 
Louis Esmé: That's very much up to you. So, yeah, we can just get started and if you feel like sharing them, like, as a conversation it doesn't have to be so formal. 
Michelle McGeough: Okay, okay. Sure. Sure. 
Louis Esmé: Yeah, so if you don't mind just sharing who you are. 
Michelle McGeough: So I am - my name is Michelle. My last name is McGeough. I'm Métis-Cree on my mother's side. My father was from Northern Ireland. I grew up in mostly Edmonton and the Edmonton area until I was about 12 and we moved. And so I also grew up in rural Alberta, not far from what's now known as Maskwacis, so the reservation that is just south of Edmonton. So I worked on that as a young adult. Let's see, so my age, okay, I just turned 60, which just kind of freaked me out. 
Louis Esmé: Congratulations! 
Michelle McGeough: Thank you. And it's just I don't know what happened. I was thinking about it the other day and kind of going, "how did I get here?" And also in terms of just thinking about... Because I teach, you know, people that are quite young and it's kind of this moment. It's like, yes, I'm no longer in my 20s or my 30s or my 40s or my 50s. So, yeah, that was kind of a shock. I'm still trying to get over it and I'm still in a lot of denial about it. So I identify in terms of: for my gender, is she and her, those are my pronouns, and then my sexual identity is I identify as Two Spirit queer. And it's very specific in terms of why I utilize those those terms. And, should I talk about that now or? 
Louis Esmé: More specifically? 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah. 
Louis Esmé: Do you want to - from the future questions about talking about how they relate to your practice or your growing up experience. 
Michelle McGeough: Right, right. 
Louis Esmé: Maybe there's another element that you want to bring in here. 
Michelle McGeough: Sure, sure. So I actually, like, I have a degree - whoops. You see it’s the music.  There we go. So I presently live in Vancouver on the Squamish Nation territory because I live here on campus. But also that can sometimes be contested in terms of also Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations but there's some contestation between Musqueam and Salish in terms of the shared kinds of territory. So I never know what to say, so I include everyone, you know, in that regard. And I've been living here for the last two years. Yes, it's two years in January that I've been here on the UBC campus. Yeah. 
So I grew up in Edmonton. I have four siblings and I'm the youngest in my family. And there's about six years between myself and the next oldest. So I kind of grew up in some ways as an only child, in some instances because they were quite a bit older than I was. So, you know, by the time I'm six, they're 12, by the time I'm 12 they're 18 and out of the house kind of thing. So in that regard, that was my upbringing. In terms of my artistic practice and the arts: the arts were something that I was told that was something you could do when you retire. You had to find a good job. You had to find a good paying job so that you could take care of yourself. And the arts were seen as being more or less a pastime and not necessarily a viable career. Both my parents, my mother, she didn't work outside the house. We had a small general store in the middle of the country, you know, and so that's what my mother did. She ran the store and my father, he worked in the oilfield. So he was gone a lot. And so the family was basically run by my mother, my grandmother, my auntie. And it was always the men had to kind of find their way back in when they came back home into town, because these women were basically the ones that ran the family. And yeah, so they were the ones that had all the power too, so. 
So that's kind of how I grew up in terms of my grandmother was very present. She raised her kids on her own. She was a single parent in the forties after the - like my grandfather was in the scene, but he wasn't, he was there at the very beginning. But then the war came. And I think, you know, it's probably post-traumatic stress syndrome for him. But he was never quite right after the war. And so my grandmother basically kicked him out and said, you know, basically I can do better on my own. I have five kids to raise. I don't need a sixth kid. And so - and my grandfather was kind of a womanizer. So it's just like - my grandmother's just like, "that's it."
So that's kind of how, you know, I grew up with/around these really, really strong women who were at the helm. And as basically - not that they dictated, but it was just like they're very practical, you know, in terms of that. My father was the dreamer and my mother was the one that just kind of like, "we need to put food on the table. We need to have a roof over our house. Those are the things that we kind of need to take care of," so my mother was the big influence for me in terms of, you know, get a good job.
And I did have - I worked for the government for years. And that's, I work for tribal governments, I worked for provincial governments. But then how I got into the Arts, actually, this does have a... But my mum died very young. And so all of a sudden I kind of, like, for our family, was probably one of the most devastating things that could have ever happened, because we all kind of - she was the core and my grandmother had past and then my aunt had passed and then my mother had passed, and she was only... She just turned 64. And so when that happened it was like, for me, this kind of wake up call in terms of: "well, I might not get old, so I need to kind of do what I want to do," so I took a leave of absence from my job with the government. I was working for the provincial government at the time. And you could do that. You could take a leave of absence. And I had accumulated enough time off that I could take I could take a year. And so I decided to go to art school and that's - I ran away from home. 
So I ended up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And it was like a two year program. I had only intended on going for a year and then going back to my job. And then once I had kind of that taste - that year of freedom, that's when I decided, "I don't want to go back,". So I only had enough money for the first year. I actually had a huge scholarship from, at that time it was, what is it? The Native Arts Foundation that was run by John Kim Bell. They gave me ten thousand dollars to go to school because it was really expensive there, because you had to pay with US. At that time if you were a tribal citizen of a American recognized tribe, then you got to go for free. But if you weren't, then you had to pay and you paid a lot of money. So my first year was paid for. And that to me, like if there was a place to kind of mourn and a place to open up my practice and start thinking about my practice as an artist, that was the best place for me, it was the most supportive.
And I met people there, like lifelong friends, that I still have to this day and as a consequence - but I went down there to study. I studied, because I was going to the southwest, I studied the pottery. I studied pottery, traditional pottery, which was like really traditional in terms of you dug your clay, you washed it, it took you months - not months, weeks to prepare it, but it felt like months. And then I also took jewellery making as well. And I got into photography because I had to, you know, take pictures of my work for my portfolio. And actually, Rosalie Favell? She was down there for a year teaching photography, and that's where I met Rosalie. And also that's how I kind of got into doing photography, because that's what I ended up as my artistic practice was photography. And so, like, I went back after the first year and I was just like, "oh, I wanted to go back," I wanted to graduate with, you know, with my friends, because at that time it was only a two year college. So as a consequence, my father took out another mortgage on the house so that he could give me the money to go to school. My father was one of those people, just like, "if this is what you want to do, we'll figure out a way,", you know, kind of thing. So I had a lot of support in that regard. And I think, you know, part of it was like also my father - part of his mourning in the ways that my mother's death was totally unpredicted. And he, I think, in terms of also just kind of realizing that, you know, you have to do the things that you want to do. And so that's why he kind of supported me in that regard. 
And so I finished my degree at IA and I came back to Canada and I went to Emily Carr. So, and there I did mostly photography and film and not so much ceramics because I - things would blow up. Anyway, so like it was really - but I learnt a lot, a lot of appreciation, you know, in terms of ceramics and because we had to - because it was like a - I did my foundational years, like, I did printmaking, drawing. Oh, and they made me do more drawing classes, when I went to Emily Carr, which I hated. And, yeah, so that's basically like my background, my educational training in that.
And it's actually when I was in New Mexico was when I came out, so I was in my thirties when I came out, I'd always known but part of it I think was I didn't want to disappoint my family. I also have, within my family, I don't know if my uncle would have identified as Two Spirit or - because he was of the generation of more around being gay, you know, the term in that regard. 1990s when Two Spirit started being used... I don't know how much he really identified with that, but like I said, there's a history of of queerness in my family. And so, although -. 
Louis Esmé: Do you want to share a bit more about what you were saying earlier about how you identify as Two Spirited queer? 
Michelle McGeough: Right, so the reason why, like, in terms of the reason why I identify as Two Spirit is because it's grounding gender and sexual identity for me in Indigenous knowledge as opposed to a Western construction. So to me, it's a political statement of grounding my identity in an idea that comes from an Indigenous perspective as opposed to a Western perspective. And it isn't just about my sexual identity.
And I also, you know, like I will use queer in terms of whatever, you know, like, you know, the books that I read, you know, it's just like - and things like terms of Mark Rifkin, you know, that Indigenous people are queer from the onset, you know what I mean? We're outside the norm. So that's why I use that, 'cause in terms of: I'm not a Western thinker, I'm not a Western scholar. I am outside of that. And I hope that's what I bring into my classroom is being outside of that and thinking outside of that. So, yeah. So that's kind of in terms of how I identify the reasons why I identify the way that I do. And I'm, you know, here on campus, I'm pretty open about it, like I will when I introduce myself in the beginning of my class at the beginning of the year, when I do the recognition and introduce who I am and basically say, "this is what I'm going to be teaching you and how I'm going to be teaching it,". So it does ruffle some feathers, but that's neither here nor there.
In terms of like, for me, that's the core of my research is: trying to figure out ways in which I can continually really centre Indigenous knowledge as opposed to Western knowledge. And I have to constantly remind myself in terms of thinking, or how I'm thinking, or what I'm thinking about because of the way that Western philosophy kind of identifies the world is always being in binaries and these hierarchical combinations. And so I always kind of have to retrain myself and think, "what is slipping in that I'm not addressing," or slipping in that I'm not thinking about it outside of, you know, the way that, well, the disciplines trained us. So it's always for me, it's how - and I share this with students in terms of, you know, "think about how the discipline itself disciplines you,", about the types of questions that you form, the ways that you tackle problems, the way that you think about things. What is it about the way that you approach something that is defined by the discipline, and how do you become aware of that so that if it's only producing a certain kind of result, you know, how can you move away from that and kind of expand it? So that's kind of the question for me, that it's always kind of - and I get called on it, which is great, and then I kind of sit there and I kind of think, "damn, [am] I ever gonna get outside of this way of thinking?" It's so ingrained, especially as a scholar, and the types of knowledge that we celebrate and the way that we celebrate the certain kinds of productions of knowledge. So that's what I, you know, I'm interested in kind of thinking and looking at is, like: how do we produce knowledge, and what informs that production? 
And so, that's why for me, language is kind of become this really important aspect to my research. And I'm not a fluent speaker in any - and I may even have trouble with english, but yeah. So, and I think that one of the nice things about the fact that I am in art history is that I have an artistic background. So I have an appreciation. I'm fascinated by the artistic process and in particular how different artists manifest that. And part of my own research has been looking at, in terms of, this notion of Two Spiritness, queerness; how is that knowledge manifested in artistic production? How, you know, is it just, you know, reacting against, you know, the colonization that kind of creates the space for us to open it up and talk about it? Is it in the artist's process, the way that they've been trained? The way that, you know, with the - like thinking about people like Barry Ace, who grew up learning basketry, beadwork and, you know, how he was never put into a box by his family, and it was never spoken about, but it was never repressed, you know, kind of thing.
So is that, you know, for me, is that kind of more our traditional way of doing it or is it because of colonization that we just we don't - you know, or do we just not think about it in that way? So that's the kinds of things that I'm kind of interested in in terms of talking about artistic production, and even in like my own artistic practice I've continued doing photography, but I've - kind of the last things that I've done, and it's been a while, is actually been encaustic painting with photographs, and it's like all these different kinds of layers. And they're - the ones that I've done are mostly photographs of my mother as a young girl, as a child, you know, kind of thing, because even with my mother's experience: my mother didn't grow up in an Indigenous community.
She grew up in a small town. In Stettler, which is just south of the city, and where they were the only Native family. My grandmother was the only Native woman. I have these beautiful pictures of her standing amongst all these white faces and this beautiful brown face right in the middle of it. And I'm always fascinated, and I think one of the reasons why photography has been a thing for me is that even though they were really, really poor, they still had a camera. They still recorded, you know, these family events or important events, like I have a photograph of my grandmother carrying probably my youngest uncle in her arms. I have a picture of my mother and her sister as little girls playing with a, you know, a wooden crate that they fashioned a sleigh out of. So, you know, and I mean those - and then my uncle, of course, you know, he was a bit of a dandy and he loved having his picture taken, you know, he'd always be posing. And those are some of my favourite pictures. And because I've moved around a lot, I didn't have those pictures of my siblings did. And so I recently, maybe about three years, I went home and I said, "where are the family pictures?" Like, we had boxes of them. 
And part of it was because of my grandmother being taken from her family at a very young age, as a young teenager, because her mother died on the trap - her mother died and her father was on the trapline. This is part of the mythology around my family. And they came and took the kids and put them into an orphanage. And then she was kind of like fostered out. She was never adopted, but fostered out and was basically working as a hired hand. So she had a really tough life. And so we didn't grow up with, you know - well, my mom never grew up with extended family. And so family was really important to my mom. So we'd have trunks of all the things that we had done, like our report cards, our little things. And it's just like, "wait, mom, you know, why are you collecting all this stuff?" And she's like, "because I want whoever comes after us to know who we were and what was important to us," and because she didn't have that. And it was actually myself that like... We always knew that we were Native, like you couldn't look at my grandmother and not know. And even my mother, and she was treated very, very badly by people. But anyway, so it's just like I think that's kind of - like this is beginning to end up like therapy in terms of thinking about how difficult it was for her. And so -. 
Louis Esmé: Do you want to take a minute? Or do you need a glass of water? 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, definitely. 
Louis Esmé: Okay, do you want me to ask the question, or do you want to -. 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah, you can ask the question, then we kind of... 
Louis Esmé: Which one? Sorry. 
Michelle McGeough: I think it's this one here. 
Louis Esmé: Okay, the B: do you identify as Two Spirit and/or Indigenous LGBTQ? 
Michelle McGeough: I mostly, like I said, identify mostly as Two Spirit and Indigenous. And I think that's, for me, I've always identified as Indigenous, always. And we always grew up knowing that we were Indigenous, how we we embrace that's totally different within my family, and like my sisters have mostly done, you know, mostly volunteer work within the Métis community in Edmonton. And when I came back - or no, even before when I was working for the province, I was a Native liaison within my position.
So, and that's how I heard - it's funny because when I was working in Musqueam - not Musqueam, Maskwecis, I was working in Maskwecis. I worked in the Education Department, Adult Education, and I would do a lot - of my background was in career counselling and so I would do some career counselling. And I had been at this conference and I had seen the Institute of American Indian Art and I picked up all the material and I thought, "oh," like, "I know there's so many really talented artists," where I was working. And I thought this would be great, you know, they'll probably be interested in this. This is kind of - I was fascinated by it. And it's funny because in all the jobs, whenever I changed it, I still had that pamphlet in my desk. And so after, like I said, well, after my mother passed away, I pulled out the pamphlet and I kind of go, "I could do this now. I could take that year and I could do this.” And it was interesting because I wanted to go check out the school. So I went down, I checked out the school, my dad drove with me and we checked out the school. And I remember sitting in the bathroom wanting to go - or like on the tub - I was sitting on the ledge of the tub and we had gone to the school, and I started having a panic attack because this was something that I really wanted to do but it's also something that meant that I would have to leave my family. I was moving to the United States, although, you know, it's still pretty big, you know, to do this on my own and be by myself and do this. And I was having like I would have panic attacks and I'd never had a panic attack. I had no idea what was happening to me. And so I remember sitting on the bathroom floor and just like my father saying, "you okay?" I was like, "yeah, yeah. Fine, you know, just like I can't breath and the roof is crashing in on me. But, you know, I'm okay,". And it was interesting because like I’d still have the panic attacks and I still, thinking about, you know, doing the thing. 
And I got the scholarship to go and I kind of go, "okay, like, I can't back out now because I've committed myself," you know, I've put in for the funding, now the funding there and I just have to overcome this. And - but I was having dreams and it was actually the dreams that kind of pushed me forward, because I think if I wouldn't have been having the dreams, I probably wouldn't have gone. I was just that panicked.
And it just so happened that there was another person, there was a young woman from Maskwecis that was - or is it Maskwecis? [She] was actually going to school as well. So we followed each other in our cars with all of our stuff in them all the way down so I didn't have to panic and we stayed - her family was involved with the Native American Church. So we stayed with people all the way down, it was a two day, two and a half day drive, straight driving. And I got there and that's when I met Rosalie, Rosalie was from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I thought, "great!" You know, "another Canadian," you know, "I'm not the only one down here,". And then I met another, like a lifelong - Chief Janice George, she was going to school there, I met her, that was her first year and then I met one of my best friends in our first class. We are in a drawing class I hate drawing. We're in a drawing class and we were sitting around, and at the beginning, you know, how they made you go around and talk about who you are and things like that. Everybody was going around and introduced ourselves and then after class, my friend Jennifer walked up to me and she said, "you and me, we're going to be friends," and she says, "I knew as soon as you opened up your mouth and you talked," she said that "I like you," and so I had a friend. And that's the thing that kept me there.
You know, these relationships, you know, the times that you kind of felt like I'm homesick. You know, it was so different. I'm living in the high desert. The light is beautiful there. It's the best place in the world to be a photographer or any kind of artist because the light is unbelievable. You don't see shades of colour that you see up there because of the altitude. And it's just this really kind of very magical place. So, you know why people come to the, as an art centre, why people are there. It's also very important, powerful place in terms of Indigenous presence, because the Pueblos have been there since the beginning of time and continue to do things to ensure that they remain and that we remain on this earth. 
But like I said, it was the best place for me to begin my artistic practice in terms of thinking about it. And the way that I think about my artistic practice is - I don't want to sound, like, I'm like airy fairy or anything like that, but it's a ceremonial practice for me and that the space that I operate when I'm in - like every artist talks about being in the zone, of being in this particular place. And so it was a good training ground for me. And to be around people that were, you know, come from so many different walks of life, so many different experiences and being, you know, coming out there was probably the safest place, although there was homophobia and there had been homophobic incidences in the years previous. But I was there at a really good time.
We had Diane Raina, who is a respected Pueblo elder and Two Spirit queer woman, was working; you had Rosalie Favell, who was also there, and it just seemed like there was a lot of queerness in the air and there were a lot of young people, younger than I am, you know, in their 20s that, you know - many of them were coming out. This is the first time that they were leaving their homes, their communities. And it was a safe place for them to do it because it was art school, you know. And so it was much easier, I think, in terms of my coming into the world as this other being that I hadn't really allowed to emerge until that time.
And so, coming up to Vancouver, again, you know, I'm not in my home community. I'm in a large urban centre. And so it was much easier, I think, for me. And I didn't run into, like, it was a safe place. I was at Emily Carr. In many instances, there was more pushback from being Indigenous than being queer or Two Spirited. And yeah, that was kind of like, for me, it was I didn't know how to deal with that, I didn't know how to deal with that, in terms of, you know, we'd organize, we'd have Native Week, you know, so we do an art exhibition, we do a feast, and then people would be like this and the non-Native people would be like this, "oh you get all the breaks," - it's just like, are you freaking kidding me? Like we raised the money. You know, we're sharing our culture because we're bringing in these wonderful artists to speak to you about Indigenous art. And it's just like... And also like the professor is like... Oh, my God, like some of their imagery was really racist. And you're sitting there and you just kind of going: "I don't believe it," and then you get labelled as being angry and you get labelled as being, oh, you know, like, you know, "she'll kick up a fuss," or something like that. 
And it just... And it was I can remember it was... I think it was the first time that I kind of run up against even like the privilege of of non-Indigenous artists. And they didn't recognize their own privilege. And it was specifically about, you know, taking kids to the museum and people saying, "oh, well, you know, anybody can do that," you know, and I was saying, "yeah, well, if you have five kids," you know, bus, you know, getting, you know, and "it's free on certain days," and all this other good stuff. And it was just like, yeah, you know... So I remember getting into a really big argument and actually being dismissed. And I was just like I was so emotional and then I was mad at myself for getting emotional. But art school was Emily Carr. That was a trip and a half and I'm so glad that I had the experience of the art school in Santa Fe. It was so different. Yeah.
Mainstream, like, art scenes, like most of those - I think I've only been in a couple of shows in Vancouver that were mainstream. It was like a photograph - a photography exhibition. And like, in my artwork, I always dealt with being Indigenous and what it was like to be Indigenous. For one of my projects that I did like images from the Downtown Eastside Women's March, the early, early years onto a dress, a T dress. And then I had sewn like - because, you know, the symbol of the remembrance where the little purple ribbons, so I'd sewn one for each woman that had been missing onto the the dress and then -. 
Louis Esmé: What year was that? 
Michelle McGeough: Oh, so that would have been 1997, '98, I graduated in '98 so 1997-1998. So it was really early in the years of the protests and the march that took place. And it was actually one of the other students, Judy Chartrand, that was organizing it, so, and involved with the Downtown Eastside. So she - all the Indigenous school students, she organized us and told us what was going on. And so many of us went down and participated in our ways. So I took photographs and then I took the photographs, I gave a set of them to the Downtown Eastside Women's, and I think for years they had them up. And then I took the images and I put them on a dress that I had made. And that was the second in a series, I didn't realize I was working in series. So the next one, the other one was a - And that dress was in an exhibition in downtown Vancouver, it was a photography show.
And then one of the projects that I worked in for sculpture when I was at IAI was the first one was actually like a Ghost Dance dress. And on one side I had an American flag with the definition of genocide. And then on the other I had a Canadian flag with our national anthem, Home of the Brave. I guess we don't say that anymore, you know, kind of thing. So and then barbed wire was used to suspend it from - I made barb wire, God, that was hard. And so that was the second, that was the first one. So I was talking about women, but also talking about, you know, genocide statistics, you know, the statistics dealing with - and the U.N. definition of genocide. And so this other one had to do with the Downtown Eastside Women's. And then the last one was actually a dress that I had done is kind of like a memorial piece for a woman - I used to live in Native housing, Downtown Eastside. It's not ADNAC, is it ADNAC? I can't remember, so I lived in - I shared a place with another Indigenous artist, Michelle Sylliboy. 
And so we lived down the hall from a woman who was HIV positive. And she was an older woman who contracted HIV through blood transfusion. And she had passed. But we did a lot of like checking on her and going back and forth and trying to help and advocate for her now she was going through the medical system. And it was through, you know, taking her places and experiencing just the the racism, I suppose, being an Indigenous woman, but also being someone that was HIV postiive was a real eye opener for me. And so I did the final dress. She passed just before we graduated. And so the final dress was was for her.
And so, in my artistic practice, it's kind of been I see it as both a celebratory but also like a mourning, but also, you know what I mean? It's a way of kind of thinking about our experience within a settler colonial state and I've always kind of, like in my own work, I've always more or less dealt with that. I wouldn't say that is the case in my work, now, my work is more centred around me and my family. And, yeah, but it's kind of, you know, how you - I think it's part of that process is when you're young, you're out there looking at the world and, you know, trying to figure out your place in the world. And then as you get older, you kind of move back in a little bit and think about your position in this long history of progression. A family of people, but a community and community means different things.
And I will say that I was very fortunate when I came here to Vancouver that there was an Indigenous community, but I also hung out a lot with Asian Canadians. We played baseball. You know, we just - we were the only, this is it, we were the only women of colour team in the Mable League here in Vancouver at the time. And there was a film, Warrior Woman, was the name of the team. And there was myself and one other Indigenous woman, Cher Eneas, who was from the interior on the team, Cherbear, we called her Cherbear. 
And so my, you know, like the community, like I didn't - I think I've been really isolated or even that I've just kind of chosen to be really protective in terms of my association. And that also that I didn't run into a lot of pushback because, you know, I felt a lot in common with people that were coming in and minorities to begin with, racialized minorities.
But still in that way of - you try to think about my artistic practice, I see my writing now as my practice and I've kind of given more attention to that. And, like I said, you know, at the very beginning, part of that has been like thinking about the ways that we construct knowledge around gender and sexuality as Indigenous people, and then how do we see that in art work? So my practice has been looking at other people's practice. So I started looking at Norval Morrisseau's work, and in particular his, you know, the way that he talks about gender and sexuality in his own work. And we were talking a little bit more about transforming and that notion of transformation. That's also something that I find very prevalent within a lot of the Indigenous cultures that I've looked at is that the body's just... That's not the thing, that's not the important thing.
So that's kind of been really interesting for me to kind of think about and even understanding my own place. That's, you know, it's all about me, you know, research is always about me. Even, really, you know, when you think about it, it's just like, "yes! I want to know this and I want to understand this," because it has an impact on me and who I am. And, you know, specifically what kind of future are we creating for those that kind of come after us? And if we're talking about things about, you know, being just then, you know, we have to create a space for everyone. But I think that that's specifically like with Indigenous - like when I think about the teachings that I've had, that I've learnt - not specific to being queer, Two Spirit, or other gender, but rather that within the idea of Indigenous community. And I'm hoping this isn't a romantic idea, or too romantic, but it's just that everybody in that group had skills and those skills were all employed in order to ensure the survival and the existence of the group. And so everybody had a role to play. And so you couldn't afford not to be inclusive. And I think that that's something that we've always carried with us is that.. Is to be inclusive. And those people that threatened that were banished and as a consequence, like our political order, our structures of governance, was to take care of our kin and everything that we contributed to through our skills or whatever it was to take care of our kin. 
And so I think that in terms of thinking about individuals that we're different or, you know, they weren't treated - as far as I understand, weren't treated or cast aside because you needed them. You needed what they offered or that you would look at the person's strengths and their abilities, like even thinking about our governance in terms of the women would choose the leaders, and the leaders - their job was to do what was best for everyone. And if they didn't do it, then they were removed from power. You know, so I think that in terms of - I don't think they really look past, or they look beyond that, and I also think that in terms of languages, when I think of teachings and languages, is that because we didn't have gender in our languages and it's not the the individual or it was more sometimes the role that was gendered. And so that could be occupied by any woman depending on their abilities and their skills. There wasn't this kind of strict delineation that you do this and you do this, and that way you got the best of everything and the best of everyone.
So those are kind of the teachings that that I've kind of gleaned from things that, you know, I've been taught. So it wasn't about gender, it wasn't about sexuality, you know, it was: that's only one aspect of who you are. And as a consequence, what it is is, you know, what do you do to ensure that you're taking care of your relatives? So that's, you know, to me that that's kind of thing. And you even see it, like I'm talking about as being a visitor here in these territories, is like, I remember saying, "well, what do I do as being a visitor?" And someone said, "well, you uphold the work of the people here,". And so it's just being a good relation, you know, that's it. So those are some of the things that I learnt in terms of that, not specific to being Indigenous, but - or being Two Spirited, but being Indigenous. 
Louis Esmé: Maybe you've already answered this question - I'm wondering about just the piece around how to support, like, what do you think would be important? Here, let me make sure I'm asking the question correctly. What's useful for you in terms of other people's solidarity and support for your practice and for your being? 
Michelle McGeough: Well I'm just trying to - for myself I think what's helpful is if I'm doing something for people to tell me, you know, that's not helpful, and to do it in a good way, you know what I mean? And I think that in terms of like with my practice... I don't, you know, I really haven't thought too much about about that in terms of... I think some of it is just kind of... I, you know, I think part of it - no, I don't know how to answer this, I'm just thinking in terms of colonization and just the way that we kind of take on some of the behaviours that have been hurtful to us and kind of replicate them. And I think it's important that we call those kinds of behaviours out, but I think it's also very important that we do it in a way that doesn't, again, replicate the violence of the past. In terms of my own -. 
Louis Esmé: Can you give an example of like when you've seen that done well? 
Michelle McGeough: When I've seen it done well - I'll take it, for example, I think - I'm not sure, but when I've been at a talk and, for example, somebody has talked about an Indigenous artist and it became obvious that they actually hadn't talked to the Indigenous artist. And rather than do it publicly, you know, set up, it's just like to take, you know, make a point of talking to the person afterwards and saying, you know, "have you talked to the artists?", you know, "what kind of feedback have you gotten?" Did you, you know, because - and then sometimes it's because they don't know different because like within our discipline, within the, you know, art history discipline is that, you know, they're used to writing about dead white guys. And so nobody's going to come back and question what they've written.
But the practice, you know, within the Indigenous community, art historians, is specifically the same thing that you're doing is, is that, you know, you do the interview, you take, and then you give it back to the individual and for the individual to say yes or no, I don't want this or you can say this, and so I think that's a really important practice in that regard, before you publish it, because I think we understand how important words are, especially what happens when they become printed. And I think that I've seen instances where people have stood up and they kind of more or less shamed the individual. And I don't think that's helpful because they don't know better. So you basically take them aside, you know, and say, "you know, this is not the way that we do this. This is the way that we do this," and you will find that if you don't, that people won't talk to you, you know, so you have to decide kind of thing. And I don't know how effective that's been, but I'm pretty sure, you know, someone said that to me, you know, and did that to me in a good way, you know, I'd certainly take it to heart and be really careful in, you know, in the future, kind of thing, so. Yeah. 
And I'm trying to think in terms of, like, I've had an experience when I've used the incorrect pronouns and then actually the person correcting me, who wasn't the person, but, you know, somebody else. And so I went back to the person in question that I had been talking about their work. And I said, "what are the pronouns that you you know, you prefer?" kind of thing. So checking up on those kinds of things that I think we have to be really kind of aware of and I don't think people mind being corrected and, like I said, sometimes it's just like so automatic that you don't think about it, but it's when you're not thinking that you get into trouble. Yeah. Yeah, and I'm trying to think of anything else. What do we have here? I already talked about that, so yes, I did do that - Indigenous art scenes. 
I also think it's part of - yeah, I try to think of the early days, you know, like in, specifically how people were really homophobic, and really, like it was always behind your back that they would say, you know, say something, but it just isn't allowed anymore. Not to the degree - like it used to be really ugly. Really, really ugly. And I think that people - it's really interesting because I don't know where or when or how, and this is something that would be of interest, is like what kind of precipitated this openness. But then there's also not an openness because there's still really large, like this is an obvious reason why most of us live in urban centres, that we're not living in our home communities, that it's still very violent. It's still very difficult to remain in, you know, in a small community.
I grew up in a really small community. And there were gay people, but they were white that lived in the community. And they were accepted, but they weren't accepted, and I think that that's kind of the same that it was within the Indigenous community. It's just like there's on the surface acceptance. But, you know, at this much deeper level, there was like fear, great fear. And I think that that was part of it, like being here in an urban centre in the art scene, you know, people would make jokes and it's their fear. It's always - that's where people always operate from. Not always. But in that instance, it's like it was from fear and, I think that I've been really lucky because I can pass, you know, I can pass as a white person, I can pass as a straight woman, you know what I mean? That just like - and so I don't run into the issues that individuals who encounter more difficulties than I do. And so I don't - I haven't had to deal with the amount of violence that I know other people have had to. 
You mentioned, well, Aiyyana [Maracle] you know, I met her in, gosh, it had to be in the 1990s and when she was doing found object sculptures, these little, very delicate sculptures. And one of the things that, you know, like in retrospect and realizing, is that, you know, she was actually like out there as a trailblazer in so many ways, and I remember, you know, she was treated like crap. And I think, thinking about that, is there isn't a lot of space given to trans, there isn't a lot of discussion around it. And so, even like thinking about writing, there isn't a lot of writing, I have students that are in transition and they're looking for this and it's like the availability of, and access to, scholarly journals, things like that - or even not even scholarly journals, just even talking about stories, because a lot of them are doing their own zines, because they don't have access to other ways of publishing. But at the same time, some of them, that isn't what they want to do anyways. But I'm thinking about in terms of like our own community and the Indigenous art scene, there's still a lot of of - What's the word I'm looking for? Discrimination, but it's worse than that. You know, it's not just, you know, it's also it's very violent, very, very violent. 
Yeah, because I'm finding that like I'm going to other journals, Duke (University) has a journal, but I'm also aware of in terms of the deep thinking of my students, in terms of thinking about future, Indigenous Futurisms, Trans Indigenous Futurisms. Yeah, it's just that there's not a lot out there. And what is out there sometimes is not - it's violent, so you don't want to kind of - what's the word for it? Re-traumatize people and then sometimes you don't know, like, it's just kind of like, because of what's out, you know, kinds of information or the resources that are out there, it's knowing what is okay or safe, because I don't have that experience. I have it from being Two Spirit and queer, and there are some kinds of similarities in terms of that, but it's - I can't speak from that experience, so I can't really understand, in order - what - am I saying that right? You know, like not what is... I know what would offend me, and I don't want to assume that wouldn't also be offensive to someone else with a different experience mine. So I think in terms of the resources would be really, really helpful as a teacher, because I have people coming in and they're, you know, they're questioning, you know, I have people that come into my class and I'll look up, and like they'll come into my class and then at some point they will have put on their earrings, you know what I mean? You know, like the long dangly earrings. And obviously there's someone, you know, like it isn't safe for them to wear them on the bus, but on campus, they feel safe enough to identify in this kind of way. 
And so for me, it's like, how do I support that? How do I encourage that in the classroom? So, and I talk about being Two Spirit. I talk about that in class. I talk about Two Spirit history in class, whenever I get the opportunity to talk about it. You know, I bring in artists who identify as queer Two Spirit and talk about their artwork. And I don't treat - you know what I mean? It's just like they're artists. This is what they're doing, this part of social justice. And, you know, this is their experience and that they're bringing that. So I think the more resources that we have and the more that we kind of think about it in terms of it as being as informing our art practice as well. Not every artist does, but certainly I will talk about those that do. 
Louis Esmé: Yeah. I mean, I feel like you've, through each of the questions, you come back to this - around justice. 
Michelle McGeough: Right. I just did a talk on campus, the social, you know, what's it called? Social Justice Institute, gender, social - Gender Social Justice, Sexuality Institute, and it was basically talking about Indigenous artists that identify as LGBTQ, Two Spirit, queer, contemporary artists. And yeah, it's really interesting in terms of thinking about the talk. And it was kind of my first talk giving here at the university about my research. And it was scary. You know, and I always think, you know, like, I'm always kind of prepared for some kind of pushback. And it's interesting what kinds of questions you get afterwards, because it's both talking about both historical people that, you know, I don't want to put that label on them because, you know, that's - it's a modern construction. But if you think about what they're doing, they're very much queering the canon.
So, and for me, it's like, you know, how do we move beyond just queering the canon? Because if we centre Indigenous knowledge, then we're not queer. You know, it's this lens that has made us queer. So if we look at our way of being, we're not queer. We are the centre of that. So that's where I want to get - that's where I want my students to understand is that, in our own reality, it's the, you know, it's this other lens that came in and made us queer. But we're not queer. We don't have those kinds of constructions within our world views. So that's my goal. 
Louis Esmé: Yay! 
Michelle McGeough: And after that, we'll take over the world. But if you think about it, you know, like, so many Indigenous cultures, you know, just -. 
Louis Esmé: It's happening. 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah, yeah. 
Louis Esmé: Even, I hear about places where they're suing the government for land theft, Indigenous groups, I'm like, "yes, take it back." 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And it's just like, yeah, it's... 
Louis Esmé: It's happening. 
Michelle McGeough: It is, yeah, and it's not just - it's not our histories, you know, living by other people's histories. It is. It's just like I was thinking like even to her, you know, like when in the late 90s, at IA, it was like it was a really - there were a lot of - there was a lot of queerness, people just kind of exploring. And I think part of that is, you know, like with any college or university is like this is their first time away from home. And they don't have the expectations of the community. And it's just like you're forming this community here. Yeah. And I think that in some ways, like my friends did protect me. Yeah, and it was interesting because I think that those, in some instances, those that grew up in a really very kind of traditional, like for lack of a better word, that's a bad word. But grew up with a lot of teachings. They were the ones often that were - I can only speak for my friends that, because most of my friends were women, but I just remember, like my friend, my friend Jennifer, just, straight cis woman and, like her thing was, it's just, like, "who cares?" You know, who cares? I don't care. You know, I like you, you know. I mean, there was that - that's the kind of people that I had around me. She was a grandmother. She was also ran away from - you know, she raised her last kid. He was like 19. She says, "okay, now I'm going to go do what I want to do," so she ran away to art school as well, and she had like two grandsons. 
Louis Esmé: That's awesome. 
Michelle McGeough: It was, it was really interesting because - and then I just found out that one of the curators in Oklahoma and now is the president of NAISA - I went to school with her mom, like her mom was also somebody who had raised her kids and had gone back, and I just found - I just made the connection. I'm going, "oh, my God, that's Mary's daughter," so -. 
Louis Esmé: That's so cool. 
Michelle McGeough: It was - it was really like I will say that when I was there that we had such a range of ages, like we had grandmothers, grandfathers, kids that were just out of high school, people that had kicked around a bit. I think when I was there, like the average age was around twenty nine at that institute. 
Louis Esmé: I do think intergenerational is important. 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah, definitely. And it's basically - I think that was the one thing that was really helpful is that you weren't like - I was in my early thirties and you weren't the only person, you know, that was that age and then you also had people, like I said, you mentioned that, this was the first time away from home and some of them couldn't handle it and had to go back. But those of us that stayed - it's a good time. 
Louis Esmé: Look at you now! 
Michelle McGeough: Yeah, yeah. 
Louis Esmé: Yeah. Thank you for sharing with me. 
Michelle McGeough: You're welcome. 
Louis Esmé: I really appreciate your time and your stories. 
Michelle McGeough: Thank you. Yeah. 

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