JENSEN, Doreen




Author Tags: Aboriginal Authors

"The term 'Land Claims' is really a misnomer, we're not really claiming land because it's our land. I would just say that we are redefining our boundaries." -- Doreen Jensen, 1995

"We don't have a word in our language for 'art' because art was all around us." -- Doreen Jensen, 1995

Gitksan artist and activist Doreen Jensen of the Fireweed clan was born in Kispiox in 1933, delivered by a medicine woman in her great-grandmother's bedroom. She commenced her work as an educator and carver in 1951. "As to being a community organizer," she says, "we are raised to understand how to be good community organizers because the women are the ones who put on these huge feasts." A graduate of the Kitanmax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art in Hazelton, Jensen is now fluent in Gitksan (Gitxsan) and a founding member of the 'Ksan Association and the Society of Canadian Artists of Native Ancestry. "The Kitanmax School of Northwest Coast Art was started because we needed to reclaim our traditional performance arts for a play we were putting on called Breath of Our Grandfathers. Up until 1951 we couldn't practice our arts because of the potlatch ban and the danger of going to jail. Once the potlatch ban was lifted, we had to reclaim our arts by relearning them. Work on the performance Breath of Our Grandfathers started in 1953, but the school wasn't officially established until several years after the opening of the Ksan Historic Indian Village in 1968. And Breath of Our Grandfathers was performed in 1972 when we took it to the National Art Centre in Ottawa. Breath of our Granfathers explained the intracacies of the feast, or potlatch. Most people think feasting is about gorging, but the feast is really our court of law where all kinds of business is carried out, whether it's a person receiving a name, a person getting a divorce, a child getting its first name, or a child getting its first menstruation."

Sister of Chief Walter Harris, Jensen curated the Robes of Power exhibit at the UBC Museum of Anthropology and co-wrote Robes of Power: Totem Poles on Cloth (1987) with Polly Sargent. With Cheryl Brooks, an activist of Sto:lo ancestry, she co-edited In Celebration of our Survival: The First Nations of British Columbia (1991), a multi-faceted collection of writings and art by B.C. aboriginals that appeared as a special issue (#89) of BC Studies. A 1995 interview with Doreen Jensen by Lynne Bell and Carol Williams appears in a double issue of BC Studies (#115-116) and Jensen is one of four Aboriginal artists featured in Loretta Todd's 1994 National Film Board documentary Hands of History. She co-curated Topographies: Aspects of Recent BC Art for the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1996 and contributed to Through My Eyes: Northwest Coast Artifacts at the Vancouver Museum in 1998. Her cousin Lonnie Hindle developed the phonetic system for the Gitxsan language with Bruce Rigsby, an American linguist.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Roles of Power: Totem Poles on Cloth

BOOKS:

Robes of Power: Totem Poles on Cloth, co-author (UBC Press, 1987)
In Celebration of our Survival: The First Nations of British Columbia (UBC Press, 1991)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005]