Canadian Artist Tania Willard, Secwepemc Nation and settler heritage, exposes and disrupts colonization of Indigenous lands, beliefs, and ways of knowing through her work. The thunderbird holds a place of importance in many North American Indigenous belief systems, signifying power and strength, however, the spirit of thunderbird has long been dismissed as myth and its image and concept widely appropriated. Willard’s print series is presented behind a blue circle, provoking a different lens on the image and evoking connection to sky, water, and land. Through Dreaming Terra Incognita, a map and accompanying artist book, Willard examines western mapping practice as a force of assimilation perpetuating ongoing violence and trauma. Contemporary geographic representation of what is now called the Americas is printed over a 15th century rendering, showing colonial measuring and domination of the land. Yet, this exacting colonial claim is countered by the text etched atop which dismantles the map as fact or truth. The book engages with assimilation of Indigenous beliefs and lifeways, past and present. In these works, Willard unsettles the colonizing forces that write over and silence Indigenous knowledge in understandings of place and land. Willard remaps meaning and power onto appropriated symbology and belief.
“Situating our resistance to the assimilation of our cultures within a context of strength and power, like the thunderbird, we find our struggles echoed in the stories of our ancestors, our old ways realities, and it is here that our power lies. We believe in our dreams, our stories, our selves,” she says.