"Citizen of Nowhere": A Conversation with Interdisciplinary Artist Marcella Ernest—Part 1

By Vivien Greene

Marcella Ernest (Ojibwe), an interdisciplinary film and video artist and a postdoctoral fellow in art history at the University of New Mexico, is currently working on a multimedia video installation, The Indians of Gunflint Lake. The focus of the work, as she describes it, is an “abstract narrative about the land, displacement, and memories.”

In this interview—the first of a three-part series—Ernest discusses her work in progress with Nancy Marie Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache), Professor, UCLA Department of Gender Studies, and an Indigenous arts writer and curator, and Guggenheim Senior Curator Vivien Greene.

Vivien Greene: Marcella, where is Gunflint Lake?

Marcella Ernest: That is where the border between Canada and the United States goes through the water. Gunflint Lake is a small lake in a corridor that people call the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It’s a million acres of wilderness, thousands of lakes and streams, and 1,500 miles of canoe routes. I’ve met random people that ask in disbelief, “Is your family from there?”

Greene: So the “Indians” are your family?

Ernest: Correct. There’s a peninsula on Gunflint Lake, and that is where my family is from.

I looked at the archaeological record, and our people have been there 10,000 years. Then, from the time of contact, you could say, and then later, when the border was actually created, they continued to live there. The border would go through their homes. They would essentially be preparing food in America and then eating food in Canada. That’s an analogy.

There’s no formal border with checkpoints and fencing, nor certainly a militarized border, throughout history. The border is established in 1823, but it was not until 1931 that the border is located, from extensive surveys, as we know it today. Then the railroad comes in at some point. Before that there’s the fur trade (1680–1870). Everything, especially with the railroad going through, cuts right through what you would now call “property.” That’s where they all lived and continued to live until 1997. Our great-great-uncle Charlie Cook moved off of the property around that time. He died in his late nineties. There’s one cabin of the four or five that still stands that’s used as a seasonal home, for hunting and trapping and in the summer, by my great-great-grandma’s sister’s family. But other than that, the rest are dilapidated and slowly becoming part of the earth.

Read the full interview here: https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/checklist/citizen-of-nowhere-a-conversation-with-interdisciplinary-artist-marcella-ernest-part-1



Posted August 31, 3:21 PM PST