Routes/Roots: Maps & Resistance

Maps wield a significant amount of power. They construct our very lives, tell us where to go, how to get there, and determine our engagement with our surroundings. Maps construct what you care about as they structure the communities we live in, the people we interact with. There are layers within maps, they are an archive of our past, and we can trace the evolution of our communities like the rings in a tree, as lines were drawn, redrawn, added, altered.

Maps have a power to control, to destroy, but also to liberate.

When we reflect on our colonial history, we recognize the way in which governments drew lines to restrict the rights of Indigenous peoples, to destroy communities. We can also see liberation within our own history, with the creation of Manitoba, a success for Métis activists. Human beings may have mastered the art of mapmaking, but we are not the original designers of it. The earth was the first cartographer, carving lines along the surface with water, our current lakes and rivers the remnants of this original design. It is a dissonance that we almost take for granted, as we think we have control over maps, but in fact, they also have control over us.


People exist within the places they choose to live. We learn to care for our places as we establish connection. Despite all our technology, our most immediate environments are what we have the strongest connections with. And the longer we stay there, the greater those connections grow. Every map tells a story, and it is that theme that we embraced with our artistic vision for Hillside 2017. The festival takes place on an Island, a space so heavily designed by water, that it remains a core element to its identity.

Monica Lalas's arresting artwork is the cental image for our 2017 summer festival. It embodies this idea of maps as power, as Guelph Lake's lineaments suggest that features of land and water can have a powerful spiritual presence for those who call this place home. This imagery also carries over into our logo for the year, which is a compass.

Taking our Guelph Lake as an example, it is taken for granted today that we can do what we want with the land, whether that's carving out a new lake, building a new condo building, or extracting minerals from deep beneath the Earth's surface. 

Many a protest song has been written about the land, what we use it for and whether we even have the right to. There are songs about respect, about the violence done to the land, and, in a Canadian context, how this land was illegally taken from its inhabinants. Environmentalism runs deep within protest music, with songs becoming the voices of the resistance to environmental damage done by individuals, governments, and corporations. 

As you know, our theme this year is Resistance, and we're welcoming a lineup of artists who live the spirit of resistance, and for several of them, their resistance is grounded in environmentalism and respect for the land. It is even more fitting that this discussion happens at Hillside, an organization established on the principles of environmental stewardship. 

Take for instance, Sarah Harmer, who has been an incredibly vocal advocate for environmental justice. She has used her voice to craft songs of resitance, and used her platform to raise awareness for the environment. Her song, "Escarpment Blues" shows this dedication off. 


We can also look to Billy Bragg for examples of how our relationship with the land can be impacted by music and changed through community bonding. 


It can be easy to lament the damage done to the land and spiral downwards as we think about what the maps of the future will reflect. In these moments it is important to remember that there is optimism within resistance, a hope for the future and no one really embodies that more than Las Cafeteras. The video embedded below is their take on "This Land is Your Land," originally written by Woody Guthrie in 1940. Guthrie originally wrote it as a response to "God Bless America" by Irving Berlin, which he found too patriotic and nationalistic, so he rewrote the words to be about inclusiveness. This parallels our story from earlier this week about Kitty Well's response song, "It wasn't God who made Honky Tonk Angels". 

Woody Guthrie would be proud of Las Cafeteras' cover of his song; he notoriously refused to patent the song because he wanted everyone to sing it; it was even rewritten to have Canadian landmarks for audience north of the 49th. Sung now by the children of Mexican immigrants, the song serves as a reminder of the political upheaval in the United States and the discourse surrounding who belongs in America.