The Haweaters

Giovanni Capriotti

2014 - Ongoing

When Father Joseph Poncet and his fellow Jesuits reached Lake Huron’s northern shore in 1648, they stumbled upon Manitoulin - the largest freshwater island in the world. Weakened by the journey and exposed to adverse elements, oral traditions recount that the settlers embraced Indigenous wisdom, which advised them to consume ‘hawberries,’ an insular low bush fruit, to prevent scurvy. Ever since, non-Indigenous islanders have carried the ‘haweater’ moniker.

“The Haweaters” is a poetic love letter to Manitoulin Island, and a metaphorical representation of the mundane psyche of trauma and neoliberal neglect of a community, still struggling for identity nearly four centuries after the first encounter with Europeans, and 155 years since the birth of the Canadian Confederation – a cautionary tale of a common plight throughout the least urbanized corners of the country.

At different stages, Manitoulin Island provided the ideal ground to test several colonial strategies that eventually shaped Canada and its archetype, while also reinforcing the pioneering epic of “settle and prosper.” A paradigm often whitewashed by modern history, and enforced through the systematic annihilation of Indigenous culture, which still haunts the country’s liberal reputation.

Today, the Island is both a product of colonial policies, defining the historically fraught relationship between local Ojibway communities and non-Indigenous islanders, and rapacious early capitalistic ventures that ransacked Manitoulin’s limited resources, shattered its microcosm, and abandoned it to its bucolic oblivion in a merciless modernity.

For years, mainstream narratives across Canada have celebrated the sublime inevitability of the multicultural compromise. Colonialism has always been tacitly accepted as collateral damage in the process of creating prosperity within a poly-ethnic haven built upon immigrational laborism.

Inspired by Michel Foucault’s notion of historical genealogy, my methodology blends photographs, and collages to allegorize the deep relationship between Manitoulin’s unspoken past, traumatized present, and the questionable origin of Canada. In a recollection of multiple layers of silent assimilation, my goal becomes to piece together the scarcely acknowledged multiplicity of history, while trialing its official accounts – too often selectively picked to accommodate the close-knit connection between power and communication.

Ultimately, while the traditional imagery taps into the vernacular and emotional registry of Canada’s colonial legacy to avoid trite and over simplistic visual cues, the multilayered collages represent the sediments of acculturation that normalized the forceful creation of a Eurocentric contemporaneity.

As a documentary image maker, I am torn by a dilemma though: do we always need a far-reaching crisis to shed light on colonialism and the methodical transmogrification of its chronicles?

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