road to williston

^ The Bakken Boom:
Artists Respond to the North Dakota Oil Rush

Plains Art Museum

January 29, 2015 - August 15, 2015

The road to williston project addresses trafficking and environmental devastation in our region. Throughout the project we have used the word "resistance" to anchor our work. The material exhibited at the Plains Art Museum reflects women's resistance, strength, and resilience.

The conversation around trafficking has increased in volume in recent years as has the strength of resistance to the tangled whole - that intersection of planetary devastation, colonialism, and the rights of women and girls to live free from violence and enslavement. This conversation - this resistance - is in many ways being led by First Nations women. These resistance movements work to protect the bodies of women and girls and they further extend into land policy, tribal sovereignty and so many other issues that have broad implications for everyone. The connections between extractive industries, colonial histories and the ravaging of Indigenous communities (particularly impacting the lives of women and girls) is a global problem. It is at the same time very local and very specific ...

^ video work samples

road to williston monitors : core sound
road to williston wall projection #1 : minimalist sound
road to williston wall projection #2 : minimalist sound

^ facets of the project

Survivors Song

Composed by: Lyz Jaakola and Sara Curtiss

Performed by: Oshkii Giizhik Singers

Sarah and Lyz wrote and performed this song with the Oshkii Giizhik Singers. The song comes as the culmination of the 20-minute sound loop. The version used here is from their 2010 album, "It Is a New Day for Love".

Traffick: sound / moving pictures

by: Kathy McTavish

Footage and sound recordings taken on an Amtrak train from St. Paul to Malta, MT. This train passes through Fargo, Williston and Fort Berthold sharing / yielding the tracks to the endless cargo shipping to and from the fracking zones.

Metamorphosis: poems and voice

by: Sheila Packa

The poems evoke the environmental artist Ana Mendieta, the perpetual movement of trains, the exploitation of resources and metamorphosis of minerals into steel, and the Persephone myth of loss and transformation.

Loom: 3D

by: Erika Mock

Torn sheets, fiber, taut lines ...

^ people

(in alphabetical order)

Sarah Curtiss

Sarah Curtiss has been working for Mending the Sacred Hoop since 2009. In her work with the coalition, Sarah trains tribal and urban programs on the unique issues Native women face around domestic violence and trains programs on how to work with survivors from a holistic cultural perspective. Sarah is on the Circle Keepers/ Board of Directors for the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, and sits on varies committees across the state of Minnesota addressing violence against women. As a member of the Oshkii Giizhik Singers, a women’s traditional hand drum group, Sarah incorporates Ojibwe traditions and encourages Native women to use their voices in their communities in an effort to organize to end violence against Native women and children. But Sarah feels that her most fulfilling role is that of being a mother to her beautifully energetic three year old son Allan.

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Lyz Jaakola

Elizabeth "Lyz" Jaakola is a musician and educator, and an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in Cloquet, MN. She teaches music education and American Indian studies at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

She performs and composes in many styles and genres including traditional Anishinaabe music, jazz, blues and opera.

She has performed as close to home as Duluth, MN and as far as Rome, Italy for the Rome Opera Festival, while her Native-based compositions have also been heard on radio and television. She has arranged many Native pieces for solo and choral performance.

She is directs the Oshkii Giizhik Singers.

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Kathy McTavish

Kathy is a cellist, composer, and multimedia artist. In live performance, installation and online environments, she blends improvisational cello, data, text, abstract, layered moving images, bowed metal, wire, the after-ring of bells, reed, voice, machinery, ghost-like harmonics. Her recent work has focused on creating generative methods for building multichannel video and sound environments.

Kathy has a background in cello performance, mathematics, ecology and software development. The confluence of these disciplines informs her work as a composer and multimedia artist. She creates orchestrations of sound, light, and color. As both a musician and a mathematician, she is fascinated by multi-threaded, dynamical systems and chance-infused, emergent patterns. As a queer artist she is interested in the ways we construct personal stories / myths and the infinite, bendable between.

Erika Mock

Erika Mock is a Swiss-born award winning textile artist, boundary seeker, maker, owner of Textiles for Body and Soul. Her installation weavings express interconnectedness. They use filaments, cords, yarns, and torn discarded clothing to explore identity, boundaries, embodiment (absence and presence), and the invisible stories still present in the cloth. ​They are suspended offerings to place and person.​​

“I see fiber as the basic element that connects us organically and symbolically to each other and our precious planet. The patterns, cycles, emotional patina are a vital plexus of threads that tatter, fray, knit, weave a community. From plant and animal fibers to our very bodies of hair, skin, sinew, bone and heart; we are all raw material immersed in the mystery of life.”

​Erika's studio is housed in Superior's Artspace, the Trade and Commerce Marketplace​​ and she lives in a renovated caboose in the Woodlands of NW WI.​

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Tina Olson (On Owa Zitgdna Wiya)

Tina has worked on issues surrounding domestic violence for over 25 years. As Director for Mending the Sacred Hoop Inc. she has organized such domestic violence trainings as Law Enforcement, Building A Coordinated Response and Creating a Process of Change for Men Who Batter. She has taken various roles in the work to end violence in the Duluth community, working as a women’s advocate and men’s group facilitator, group facilitator for women who are arrested, as well as one of the original founding mothers of Mending the Sacred Hoop’s coordinated response in Carlton and St. Louis Counties. Tina is the proud mother of four daughters who are all working in helping field careers, law, social work, nursing and a college student studying to become a teacher. She is also grandmother of nine grandchildren and lives with her partner in Duluth.

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Sheila Packa

Sheila Packa’s recent book Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range was described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as "part poetry and part documentary."" Her books explore migration, immigration, change and metamorphosis in northern wilderness and industrial landscapes. She grew up south of Biwabik, once the location of eleven underground iron mines, and has worked in a taconite plant. She spent several years as a mental health social worker specializing in women’s issues. She was Duluth’s Poet Laureate 2010-2012.

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Jessica Tillman

Jessica Tillman grew up in the small rural town of Barnum, MN. She moved to Duluth right after high school, attending Lake Superior College and the University of Wisconsin Superior. Jessica worked in the hospitality industry and college radio at KUWS before becoming Duluth Mayor Don Ness's administrative assistant in 2010. She currently serves as a board member of the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) and facilitates the Duluth Public Arts Commission.

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^ references

Mending the Sacred Hoop
Trafficked: The Exploitation Of Women And Girls In The Bakken And Beyond
An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States
Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial That Forged a Nation
Idle No More
Indian Country Today Media Network : Posts about the Bakken Oil Fields
Indian Country Today Media Network : Brave Heart Women Fight to Ban Man-Camps, Which Bring Rape and Abuse
Indian Country Today Media Network : Unspeakable Poverty of Loss: Intergenerational Trauma and the Bakken Oil Fields
Honor the Earth : Resources
Honor the Earth : Impacts of Fracking on MHA Territories
This is Mandaree : A page documenting the effects of oil and gas development on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation
Red Power Media : Oil & Gas Posts
Indigenous Environmental Movement
NY Times : Where Oil and Politics Mix
NY Times : The Downside of the Boom
NY Times : Bakken Crude, Rolling Through Albany (good map)
NY Times : In North Dakota, a Tale of Oil, Corruption and Death
Washington Post : Dark side of the boom
Truth Out : Hazardous Cargo: Shipping Highly Flammable Bakken Crude Oil by Rail
National Geographic : Bakken Shale Oil
Environment America : Fracking by the Numbers Key Impacts of Dirty Drilling at the State and National Level
Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation website
Fort Berthold
National Indigenous Women's Resource Center
Indigenous Nationhood Movement : Not Murdered And Not Missing
Last Real Indians : Posts by Melissa Merrick
Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence
First Nations Women’s Alliance
Amnesty International : United States Of America: Maze Of Injustice: The Failure To Protect Indigenous Women From Violence
The Searchlight : Drug And Sex Trafficking Downside Of Bakken
NPR : Booming Oil Fields May Be Giving Sex Trafficking A Boost
Bakken Today : Bill backed by Klobuchar, Heitkamp would boost efforts to fight child sex trafficking
Bakken Today : Health care workers find their role in combating human trafficking
Bakken Today : Heitkamp says North Dakota faces challenge in dealing with human trafficking
Wagner Review : Oil and Women: Could Keystone XL Impact More Than Just the Economy?
The Women’s International Perspective (The WIP) : Recourse for Trafficked Native Women in the Duluth Harbor
Native News Online : Tillie Black Bear Walks On

^ text

by Sheila Packa

Metamorphosis (from Night Train Red Dust)

I woke as if on a dark
platform, everything departed.
Raining in the windows
into my sleep
stars or moon or mist,
I’ve travelled far,
the train erases its tracks.
It is not as if I did not know this —
is a drifting continent
stone of an iron mountain.
I turn toward it
as if my body were all voices
silenced and listening to the dark.
In the beginning
day from night and water from sky
now me
the way of all things.
The hands are feathers
they can not grasp or hold
anything but wind.

Spilled (from Cloud Birds)
for Ana Mendieta

so light
the trembling of leaves
in the water’s mirror
shadow of your contour
shoulder on shore
line of tree your spine
so dark
the stones depth cold hip
I trace the root
in the earth’s script
where you’ve cast runes
written yourself in blood
or feathers spilled and mud
taken up with gunpowder
returned what never returns
to the continent or your hands
memory of fire
that cast its spark
into the vast body giving birth
and reaching
the branch that breaks
beneath the feet
drew yourself upon a leaf
from a tree or upper story
lost with certainty
the perfect execution—
self was never the answer
only earth Road (from Cloud Birds) I was a road
traveling destinations
not my own
an escape, an exit, a promise
bringer of bridges
a story with no clear beginning
or end increased by telling
I was the merging
and lulled plenitude
with semaphore and symbol
amid miles
leading and following
opening and opening
a route of oncoming lights
rain and brakes and radio waves
way of anonymous occupants
lost in reality
crossed by the wild and invisible
not home but alternate
not vision
but place of daydream and collision

Immersion (from Echo & Lightning)

break without breaking
flow along invisible scores
course between continuous
ends, begin
touch, touch, turn
over the same skin
body around body
body of sky
body of iron
body of toss and turn
of shallow and deep
body of broken things
mud and weeds
cold and heat
body of minerals and salts
cells and sleep
body of shadows
of work and play
fall, go over
of birds in flight


heat without body
left in the breath
light without bone
shadow without night
given for deep exchange
ache by ache
birds fly through her
hands and feet
now on her knees
cold without stars
anchored adrift
deep without sides
rain without reach
rivers that either
hold or sweep
fall through her ribcage
fall from the sky
drift into sleep


snow reaches
into my body
exhales into wing
crosses rivers that split
and divide
night and its dreams
falls into dark rings
black veins
roots taut strings
in the half light
descends stairs without end
every day rises
from night's edge
comes through the gate
given to season or wind or age
disappears from the hand
in the next world received

(mary magdalene)

I poured the oil
to empty the vessel
(so much has been said)
and myself poured
until I was empty
like anyone
who needed an opening
to have a door, a solitude, a place
where I was alone
silence had a voice
that could be spoken for
would only give if I could give
would not speak
unless I sheltered it
the empty place
gave all I could
came and was not turned away
death the stone poured out
in the middle passage
where weight turned into light
and I was taken into language

Pour (from Cloud Birds)

I dance on the Divide
run against gravity
and translate the dead.
Tuesday carried me off
and sky came looking with birds.
The world reversed
and the river went the other way.
On the rapids
words flow forward —
words go back.
One deep winter in the north
it rained all day
until the ice broke free.
Maybe the star
that fell into me
the red coal
unknowingly sent the waves
away from shore,
upside down
to the old forces
that churn the molten sea.
I was iron and under siege.
Tuesday poured me out
in clouds of smoke and steam
cast me into steel beams.

^ thank you

The Road to Williston was conceived as part of the Creative Community Leadership Institute (CCLI) run by Intermedia Arts and funded by the Bush Foundation. Karis Thompson, Community Engagement Liaison at the Plains Art Museum was a CCLI mentor for this early phase of the project. Tina Olson, Jessica Tillman, Kathy McTavish, Sheila Packa, Erika Mock and Sarah Curtiss were all part of the CCLI cohort in the Twin Ports.

Gimaajii Mino-Bimaadiziyaan (Together we are beginning a good life) is run by the American Indian Community Housing Organization. Situated in a historic building in downtown Duluth, Gimaajii provides 29 housing units for individuals and families who are homeless or who are precariously housed. The Gimaajii Gathering Place includes 13 office and community meeting spaces, an art gallery, a gymnasium, and the HOPE clinic staffed by the students from the University of Minnesota, Duluth School of Medicine. Tina moved the offices of Mending the Sacred Hoop there last year. Gimaajii has been very important for our project in that they generously house our meetings, Tina's offices are located there and the rest of us are involved often in creative projects that happen in the community space. They warmly supported our work.

Travel support was generously provided by Luke Chiropractic of Superior Wisconsin.

Equipment funding was provided in part by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council through the arts and cultural heritage fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008. Thank you Minnesota!