Warriors Between Worlds

In his collection Warriors Between Worlds artist Mike Holden (Salteaux/Cree) explores the conflicting nature of the modern history of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and their relationships between patriotism, tradition, genocide, and a strong record of military service for governments that largely fail them.

From the War of 1812 to Afghanistan and Iraq, and every war and conflict in between, indigenous warriors have been disproportionately represented in the armed forces, making up the highest percentage per capita of any race. This in spite of the bloody history of genocide indigenous peoples have had with the Canadian and American militaries.

In Geronimo, Holden depicts not only warriors from the longest of the Indian Wars, The Apache Wars, but also the ways in which the Apache are now honoured by the American military, having a helicopter named for their nation and “Geronimo” being a battle cry for paratroopers since WWII.

Dreaver celebrates war hero Chief Joseph Dreaver who also served as the chief of Mistawasis Cree Band and was a lifetime member of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians. His service taking place during WWI and WWII it was a time when indigenous peoples did not have the right to vote in the countries they lived in, and most were not legally allowed to travel from their reserves and reservations without a permit. The great irony being that all warriors who served in either world war were fighting for the “freedom” of others, while their children were being forcibly taken to residential/boarding schools and their own language and ceremonies were outlawed. Though military service at this time granted indigenous peoples the same rights as other citizens, it also meant they lost their cultural status.

The relationship between indigenous peoples and the countries they have both served for and fought against, is complex even today. Sherman Alexie has called reserves/reservations the oldest POW camps in the world, standoffs such as Oka and Wounded Knee still evoke strong emotions on either side, the Canadian government under C-51 has defined most socially conscious and politically active indigenous people as terrorists (peaceful or not), and meaningful consultation guaranteed under treaties and laws are largely ignored from Oak Flat, AZ to the Site C Dam Project in northern British Columbia. And yet, a perplexing level of patriotism and draw toward military service still exists among many people leaving them torn between two worlds. This can be seen in Holden’s signature intermingling of Canadian and American flags with traditional indigenous imagery. As Holden works through this collection he reflects on the dynamics of what patriotism means and has meant to various nations from the beginning of colonization, and where cultural identity and loyalty as warrior to one’s indigenous nation factors in, while he seeks to understand his own place as an indigenous Canadian.