small town grads, big city dreams

I graduated in 2002. I was surrounded by my best friends, with my sweetie (at the time) by my side, and my parents and huge, extended family there to celebrate me. It was a good time, despite the fact I did not win the English Award (huge side-eye to my teacher, Chuck). I wore a pastel blue a-line dress with silver florals, white knee-length gloves, and a set of pearl earrings and necklace that I still have to this day. Somewhere. I may even have had on a tiara, I’m not sure.

Oh man, I found a picture.

Whyyyyyyyyyy?

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Okay, I’m not gonna lie, my hair was luscious. I miss that. I also did not have a tiara, but I did have “pearl” drops in my hair.

I can’t explain it.

It was 2002.

I am so distracted now, by the amazingness that is our grad picture. Our theme was something to do with springtime and forests, and we made sure the women had outfits that matched the decor, because obviously, and my first love is also in this picture (not naming names) and I can’t believe I ever thought I was fat.

Oh, memories.

Anyways.

For me, grad was a big deal. I had made it, and I had made it with my besties by my side. I remember the joy I felt in that day, and I remember the amazing food my family made, and I remember the crazy stories from the after-party around breakfast the next day.

But I also remember it being my first time in front of a professional camera. I remember being somewhat interested in photography – I still had a point and shoot that I carried arounds school – and I remember how rushed I felt with my 15 minutes to get 12 images of my family, myself, and any friends I may want. I sat on the hard bench, trying to imitate the moves he had made the other grads do, and I felt the awkwardness in my shoulders, and I didn’t want to smile, because this wasn’t good.

When I received my images back, there were no images where I felt beautiful. Where I felt powerful. I didn’t like the way I looked, I didn’t like the way I was posed, I didn’t like the cliché of it all. I didn’t see myself in this set of stock images.

I didn’t order any prints, and I think the pack of sample images is still at my mom’s place, somewhere.

Fast forward to 2010, and I was asked to document some grad images for my hometown. I had moved back from Vancouver earlier that spring, finishing my MFA and deciding what I wanted to do with my life. And somehow, the camera was going to be part of it.

So a few nights before the big event, I took my Grads down to the rivers, the valleys, the fields of grass, and laughed. I made them sit in down, spraying them down with bug spray as we were swarmed. I made them hug trees, stand stoic, grin at me with mischief in their eyes. I made them go down into the dam, go sit on the piles of chopped wood, and stand in the forests.

And it was good.

It was soooo good.

I’ve been photographing my Northern Grads going onto my seventh summer. I have worked in Beauval, Patuanak, Meadow Lake, Birch Narrows, Prince Albert, Rosthern and North Battleford. I have worked with my Métis, Dene and Cree kids while laughing at thick accents and the massive amount of family members that show up for ‘immediate family only’ images. I have eaten dry meat given to me as a gift, and smoked cigarettes with Elders even though I don’t smoke – because you don’t say no to tobacco – while trying not to cough. I have helped Grandma’s across fields of grass, and watched Uncles hop off the skiffs to join in on the family portraits.

I have marvelled at the absolute beauties that our youth are.

I hope they see these images and smile. I hope they look back at their stacks of prints, grin, and remember a good time, a good moment. I hope they feel powerful.

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 – tenille campbell

Journey to Motherhood (with a Birth Story)

Mid-February. We are curled up on the couch with comforters and coffee. By “we,” I mean my daughter and I. She is napping and I am writing. Surreal, I have a daughter. I am a mother.

In June, I did a blog post discussing me being pregnant (and my various thoughts on it), and announced that my husband and I were expecting our first child after Christmas. My baby arrived over a month early. I want to share why she arrived early and my experience with having the healthiest pregnancy turn high-risk (with me getting hospitalized at 35 weeks and having baby a week later), in hopes that others can relate to or just learn something from our story.

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The majority of my pregnancy was “quiet”, or as quiet as a pregnancy can be. I had next to no symptoms. No nausea, Braxton Hicks contractions, heartburn (yup, I have a bald baby!), or much swelling. I had an anterior placenta so kicks were even harder to feel. If I didn’t have a baby bump and get a positive pregnancy test so early I could have been one of those ladies who doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until she was 5 or 6 months. I did feel tired and get occasional headaches and leg cramps but, up until the end, it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy. I was grateful, because I didn’t exactly enjoy being pregnant.

Do not mistake my lack of loving the experience the wrong way. I was so happy to be pregnant, and that I was having a baby, but I really wanted it to be over already, and to be on the other side of pregnancy. And now that I am on the other side, I have to say I don’t feel any differently. I’m not one of those ladies that misses my bump or can’t wait to be pregnant again. It was an anxious, long eight months for me. Maybe it was the lack of kicks, maybe it’s just my slightly neurotic personality (ha), or maybe it’s just normal and people don’t talk about it often, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of that “something is wrong.” It was such a mental battle throughout my pregnancy. Despite gaining weight right on track, feeling pretty good, and having normal healthy OB appointments, I was so worried all the time that I would miscarry or have a stillbirth. It happens. I felt so guilty for not revelling in my experience, especially since I wanted to be pregnant for so long, and I know so many women who suffer from infertility. I kept thinking, “how dare I not enjoy this experience 100%.”

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Like I said above, I had an anterior placenta. I didn’t feel my baby kick until I was 23-24 weeks pregnant. I remember being at work when I was around 22 weeks pregnant, with my little bump, and a coworker asked “so you must feel her kick all the time.” Um, no. When finding out that I didn’t feel anything, not even a flutter she got this super worried look on her face and notified me that I should feel something by now. Cue panicked call to my OB to notify them that I hadn’t felt a kick yet. The nurse assured me that it could be awhile before I feel any kicks and that my placenta was in the front so it wasn’t anything to worry about until I was 28 weeks.  I even got an ultrasound the next day and sure enough, baby was kicking away and I didn’t feel a thing.

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Pregnancy isn’t a set in stone, must follow “this template” experience. Every pregnancy is different, as I was learning. My anterior placenta acted like a squishy cushion between me and my baby. It made it really hard to feel (and see) movement from her throughout my pregnancy. It caused me to visit the ER in a panic a couple of times in my third trimester because she didn’t kick x amount of times in x hours. I felt like a crazy lady! Was I normal? Everyone talks so much about the physical discomforts of pregnancy. That was what I was expecting (which didn’t really happen for me). The throwing up, the swelling, the waddling (okay, I definitely waddled). Women talk about that. What isn’t talked about is the mental health aspect of it which made me feel so much more isolated and wrong. I felt guilty for my unborn baby that I was worrying so much. Because I didn’t feel normal I didn’t talk about it much with anyone. Even when I was hospitalized with health complications I STILL didn’t talk about how worried sick I was.

On Monday November 7, 2016, (I was 33 weeks pregnant*) I went to my regular OB appointment and my healthy pregnancy started to take another turn. I had borderline high blood pressure which the doctors informed me is a symptom of pre-eclampsia. They ordered for blood tests and urine tests to see how my organs were functioning. They wanted me to know that I was high-risk for developing pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a “pregnancy disease.” The only way to “cure” it is to get the baby out ASAP. It is characterized by high blood pressure which can affect the mom’s organs as well as the baby’s placenta. If left untreated, it can turn into eclampsia which can result in death. My mom had pre-eclampsia with all four of her pregnancies. I was born at 31 weeks gestation, my brother at 33 weeks. She almost died. We weren’t taking this lightly and I went home with a blood pressure monitor and religiously checked my blood pressure. My OB appointments were increased. I was terrified.

*Just a quick aside. My doctors and I went with different due dates. They had my official due date as January 2, 2017, based on my first ultrasound. I went with December 24 as I felt this was more accurate, based on LMP, conception, and my gut mama feeling. That, and baby was always measuring really big at the rest of my (many) ultrasounds. This matters, as it affects induction schedules, and the “premieness” of a baby.*

IMG_9067.JPGI got a call from my OB office on Thursday asking me to come in the next day. They wanted to see how I was progressing, and to check my blood pressure. If everything looked good they would post-pone my next appointment. I was feeling positive that everything must be looking good on my blood tests.

Friday, November 18, 2016. I drove myself to my appointment (50 mins), I thought it would be a quick in and out and then my plans were to head over to my mom’s house to prepare for my baby shower that was the next day. My husband was at work. All I could think about was getting out of my 9:00 am appointment quickly so I could go decorate. I was excited. I was also excited to take my 35 week bump picture the next day, what would I wear?  My bump was getting big and my clothing options were limited. Was baby kicking enough? I wonder who will all come to the shower. I was itchy last night, I should tell my doctor. My mind kept going back and forth between my appointment and the baby shower.

My blood pressure was higher than ever at this appointment. We also did a test because of my itchiness for another pregnancy disease called cholestasis (which has itchiness as one of the only symptom). I was disappointed. The doctor ordered more blood tests, and an ultrasound for that day at 2:00 pm to do a biophysical profile  and NST (non-stress test) on the baby and make sure she was doing good in there. Okay, I guess I’ll have to decorate in the evening. I did my blood tests and waited around for my ultrasound. The ultrasound was neat, baby looked great, and we got a 3D look. Baby was measuring at about 6lbs.

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The nurse informed me that the doctor would come talk to be about my results and that I could wait in the hospital room that my non-stress test was in. The doctor didn’t make it in until after 6 pm. She came in, informed me that my urine and blood pressure indicate that I do indeed have pre-eclampsia. I may need to be induced that night and they were transferring me to the Royal Alexandra Hospital 3 hours away via ambulance to be admitted there, as they did not have the proper NICU facilities to handle a 33 week premie (as they thought I wasn’t as far along as I thought I was). We got steroid shots to get the baby’s lungs to develop more. I was shocked, scared, nervous, unprepared. I guess we were postponing the baby shower! All my “plans” for the birth were thrown out the window. I wouldn’t know what it would be like to have contractions start at home, or have my water break and rush to the hospital.  I was terrified but also excited to meet my baby.

New doctors, another ultrasound, and a new hospital. My new doctors agreed with me that my original due date was wrong and instead I was given a due date of December 21, 2016. This is almost 2 weeks further along than my previous doctors thought! They also decided that because my blood pressure went down and baby was doing great that I would just stay there to be monitored until it was time to have baby. That was good news. The bad news was that my tests came back for cholestasis and I did indeed have it. Another reason to monitor me and baby throughout each day.

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I had a team of liver specialists visit me daily. The goal was to keep baby in as long as possible until it became too hostile for baby. They informed me that because I had cholestasis there was a chance that my baby could be stillborn. I was heartbroken. Terrified. All my greatest fears. Stillborn. Every day I had multiple blood tests, and urine tests to check my bile acid levels (the liver does not function properly because of the cholestasis). Multiple medications (which increased a tri-fold in the time I was there) to keep my bile acids down and keep the baby in me as long as possible. My arms were bruised from so many needles. Non-stress tests every morning and before bed to make sure the baby was doing well. Non-stress tests if she doesn’t kick enough. During a non-stress test they strap on monitors to my belly that show if there are contractions and also record the baby’s heart rate. It tells us how much she’s moving. They have expectations for what a baby should be doing in utero. Too high of a heart rate, too low of a heart rate, or not enough movement (heart rate accelerations) and they may make the decision that the baby is too “stressed” and would preform an emergency C-section. Some non-stress tests would take a bit longer because the baby would be sleeping and I would have to drink some really ice cold water to get her to wake up. Mostly they were all good and reassuring. I wished that I could be strapped to the monitor the entire time, to ease my anxiety.

Despite it being a fairly quiet stay, and grateful that I was so far along, I couldn’t shake my fear. Every night I cried. I wanted my baby out now. I know inside is good but I didn’t want her to die in me. Every morning when my OB would visit me I’d hope that it would be induction day. My sister Nicole visited me every day and kept me sane. We watched Grey’s Anatomy and she brought me junk food. She is amazing.

November 23, 2016. My 27th birthday. Still in the hospital. I did get a pass to go out for supper with my family. It was exhausting. I bought some tiny newborn clothes for my little baby that I would be meeting soon. I felt so unprepared! I had nothing that would fit a 6 pound baby. I was expecting a 10 pounder (like my husband was). The next day before bed my nurse informed me that my acid levels were really high. I may get induced really soon! My doctor would decide in the morning. I was so excited (but also scared of what the high acid levels meant).

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November 25, 2016. Possibly induction day! I woke up feeling so positive. Usually my doctor visits at 9:00 am, after breakfast. I waited, and waited. Finally at noon another doctor visited me. I didn’t recognize her. She informed me that my doctor was sick but that I would be getting induced that day anyway. We just had to wait for some space to clear up. I was elated! I messaged my husband that it was almost baby time and to get to Edmonton after work. The doctor said induction can take days so I told him to finish his shift and to not rush.

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Right after finding out I was being induced I took a shower and took my last mirror bump selfie.

Finally at 5:00pm I was induced (using foley bulb and cervidil). My mom was with me. She brought me food and we waited. Still so excited. The nurses informed me (again) that it could be days, and it could take 36 hours for the cervidil to get me to start dilating and contractions started. Husband arrived. It got late and I tried to convince him to go sleep at the hotel. Nothing would be happening that night. He insisted on staying with me.

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November 26, 2016.

1:00 am. I woke up. I had a back ache. Annoying. I wanted to try get rest before my contractions started. Back ache kept coming (and going). I decided to go walk, maybe that would help. I noticed a rhythm to my back ache and started timing it. The nurse noticed me walking around and asked me what was wrong. I told her I had a back ache and that it kept coming every two minutes. She informed me that I very well might be contracting and they hooked me up to the machine and sure enough the contractions were lasting about 30 seconds every two minutes. 2:30 am, they checked and I was 3 cm dilated. The pain started to really be (what I thought was) painful. I cried. They gave me a little morphine and that took the edge off and I slept until the pain woke me up again at 5:00 am. I texted family member and gave them updates.

6:00 am I felt a huge POP. I knew my water broke, but there was no water. I sat up, called for my nurse. Shifted a bit, and then there was water flowing out. A LOT of water. How exciting! This show was finally moving! They checked me again and I was still only 3 cm. How disappointing. But still, water! I thought it would take days! Lucky my husband stayed with me.

This is when things really started to get painful. Right after my water broke the contractions were faster, lasting longer, and more painful. I moaned and groaned and cried through them. No more texting or looking at my phone. I asked for the epidural almost immediately. They moved me upstairs to wait for a delivery room.

7:30 am. The pain was unbelievable. Breathe. Where is my epidural? The anesthesiologist was in surgery so it would be awhile before he could get to me. They checked me and I was 5cm dilated.

8:00 am. I finally arrived in my delivery room. The pain is making me crazy. I shake the bed, I cry. I don’t want to be talked to or touched. Where is my epidural? I want relief. I screamed. I’m sure the entire floor could hear me. I was one of those ladies from the movies. My nurse informed me that it could take hours to get to 10 cm. I tried to mentally prepare myself for a marathon, but the pain was very overwhelming. All in my back. Wasn’t my uterus in the front? I kept thinking.

8:30am. 2 hours after my water broke they finally checked me again. 9 cm. I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t this supposed to take hours? The nurse then informed me it was too late for an epidural. My heart sunk. The pain was so unbearable. She gave me fentonyl to take the edge off. It helped a little, but made me feel so loopy.

9:00 am. Epidural man came! The relief was almost immediate. I could breathe. I could talk to my mom and husband without snapping at them.

10:00 am. I was 10 cm! But, the epidural was too strong. I couldn’t feel anything and they wanted it to wear off a little so I could push.

10:53 am. Finally, time to start pushing. My nurse again informed me that it could be a few hours of pushing. Every contraction I had to attempt to push for 10 seconds, 3 times. My husband and mom were the counters. They didn’t count in sync. At the time it wasn’t very funny but looking back I can’t help but giggle. Pushing was exhausting in its own way. Branden would wipe my brow and leave a cool cloth on it (which would fall and cover my eyes while I pushed, again, not funny at the time, hilarious now). My sister arrived to help coach me to push. “I can see her head, Claudine! She has black hair,” Nicole told me excitedly. Doctors flooded in because she was almost here. NICU came in on standby because she was a 36 week premature baby.

11:23 am. With the loudest, most indignant cry – my daughter was born. NICU left immediately because her lungs were so strong. Her papa cut the cord and up she came to my chest. What a gift. Surreal.

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Alba Mae Bull weighed 6lb 3oz and was 19.5 inches long. Perfect. Healthy. She is mine and I am hers. I am a Mother.

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Alba is now 3 months old. I am so excited to share my experiences as a mother in my future posts. It’s wonderful, messy, terrifying, and the best role I’ve ever had.

 – claudine bull

The ones who raise them

We raise them. We hold them. We raise them high the ones we hold. These are the ones who will be our future. They are our children.

In most of my photo sessions I will ask family members to hug their children, squeeze them tight, give them a kiss and hold them high in the sky. There are two reasons why I do this. Firstly, because its a good maneuver to get the children either smiling or laughing. Secondly, it is because our children deserve to be held, comforted, and raised up. Even when I am behind the camera, I see the hope that we all have in our young ones. I am privileged to be able to capture some images of these precious moments that pass us by. I see in the children their innocence, their open honest emotions, and their need for love, acceptance and safety. We are responsible for holding their little hands and guiding them through life. All the ups and downs, we stand by their side.

Because one day, we all need to let go.

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-Amanda Laliberte

making the cover

“So…. can I tape your nipples?”

My cousin Tara and I have had some weird conversations in our creative journeys. From video shooting to making her be the cover of my first poetry book, we’ve had some amazing times together.

In late October, I was working with Signature Editions on my book cover (to be released in April).

I needed a very specific shot of an Indigenous woman, standing proud, playful, and sensual.

No biggie.

Just decolonizing images, one Indigenous at a time.

I’ve chatted before about how our body and image are often portrayed by outside eyes, which fetishize our skin colour, our culture, and our beauty. I wanted to avoid that, obvs.

So I called Tara up and asked her to be my model. And while I was totally chill, for the most part, with writing and promoting this book, it’s always something to have your face be ‘the face’ of a book cover and have it forever be identified as part of this project. And when you’re chatting about casual sex and intimacy, I wanted to make sure Tara knew what she was getting into.

“Hell yes.”

No wooing needed, she was in.

I set up my RezStudio in my living room. Backdrop. Lights. Music playing. Kids playing in the bedroom. We laughed, as our kids played together the way we still play together – loud, dominant, yet so kind to one another.

And we shot. And shot. And we laughed even more. We chatted about position, lighting, sexuality, and the power of images. I kept making sure that Tara felt comfortable the more she undressed, and we laughed again – “I haven’t seen you this nekked since we took baths together.”

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Finally, after the hair teasing, the secret grins, the lip-gloss, and the taping of nipples, we were done. We sat and had tea, and listened to our kids play some more.

I didn’t know how to say thank you. I still don’t. This is powerful medicine for me, being able to take these stories and images and present them in a positive way.

Tara also shared some thoughts with me:

This is experience for me was so empowering. I’ve had the honour of working with Tenille on several occasions, and the thing I love the most is she’s always willing to go out of her comfort zone in order to share my ideas and visions. I appreciated this experience even more because she allowed me to go out of my own comfort zone while still feel completely at peace with it all.

In our culture, it’s almost seen as taboo to be open about sexuality. I know there is a long history of our stories and experiences being exploited, so this is a way for us to take back what is ours. Our bodies and spirits intertwined with healthy sexuality and openness.

When she first showed me the images from this shoot, I was completely amazed with how flawless she captured her ideas, what felt funny, awkward and cheesy to me in mid-pose came out strong, bold and effortless in photograph.

I feel its so important for women to feel comfortable within their own bodies and thoughts because we live in a time where images are hyper-sexualized beyond our control. We live in a time where we are shunned if we are openly sexual and on the other side of the spectrum, are considered to be of higher honour and respect if we are humble and modest.

I think it’s absolutely vital that women be accepted as we are, whether we are fully clothed or willingly exposed. This book is what needs to happen for us to begin this dialogue. We are able to giggle and tell stories amongst ourselves, so why not enable us to openly share our thoughts and innermost feelings with humour, beauty and confidence? Feminism doesn’t have to be seen as angry and aggressive, feminism needs to be seen as empowerment with acceptance and knowledge of self.

With that being said, I am so honoured to be a part of this experience. I see this book as a huge leap for the feminine peace of mind. Thank you, Tenille, for taking this step forward for us all.

Ekosi and Maci Cho.

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As a reader, I know the power of a book cover. As an artist, I think about tone, texture, shape, white space, font choice, meaning, and layers. As an Indigenous woman, I know the stereotypes that are often portrayed about us. I am leery and weary of feathers, tribal designs, buckskin, and the hyper-sexualisation of our bodies. So how was this going to work, consulting and deciding on a final image for a book about Indigenous erotica?

I am incredibly lucky that the team at Signature Editions listened to my concerns, and wanted to work with my own photographs. I am pleased to show you a draft of the final cover:

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 – tenille campbell

Featured Artist: Chief Lady Bird

I have nothing but mad respect for Chief Lady Bird as an artist and friend. During my travels in Toronto earlier this winter, I made it a point to go see her at an art & craft fair, and she was amazingly open to me being all “I like your work, be my friend.” I had first noticed her work last year, and was hoping to have her on as a featured artist, so I’m extremely happy this all worked out.

Introducing the eva-talented, Chief Lady Bird…


1. If you could collaborate with one other artist, who would it be and why?

Outside of the collective of artists that I currently collaborate with (Aura, Chippewar, Mitch Holmes, Reagan Kennedy, Nyle Johnston), it’s been my dream to create a mural with Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch (Onaman collective). The murals and street art that I do with Spirit Arts Collective is very aligned with Onaman Collective’s art initiatives that connect youth to the land and the language. We all have very strong voices and I can see a collaboration being very powerful, unifying, and full of meaningful dialogue.

2. What is your favourite piece to date, and why?

My favourite piece is Medicine Man. It was the last piece I created during my thesis at OCAD University and features my dad. On the day I took the photo, we took the boat out on Georgian Bay to Tadenac where our ancestors are buried. We did ceremony and I was able to capture the essence of the smudge through silhouette and digital manipulation. I love that this piece combines storytelling with painting and bead work to discuss connection/disconnection to the land and our languages, and the importance of ancestral connection… concepts that we can all relate to as Indigenous people. It’s a very special piece. It’s one of those pieces that accesses one of my personal experiences to talk about ideas and issues that affect us all. And I think all of our individual narratives are essential to the greater narrative of who we are.

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3. What does working in schools with the Youth mean to you, and how is that reflected in the murals?

Creating murals in schools is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career as an artist. It’s hard as hell because we open wounds when we speak hard truths and address the internalized and systemic racism that continues to exist within formal educational institutions. We address all of this while also teaching technical painting skills and painting on the mural ourselves. It can be exhausting but I love it. I love working closely with the students and hearing their stories. I love being able to find new ways to engage the students (which usually means using my tattoos as a teaching tool) and decolonize their education. I love watching the students enter the project rather timidly and then gain confidence throughout the project. There’s a lot of growth that happens when we create murals in schools. We ensure that our students receive an honest education about Indigenous peoples; we include traditional teachings, historical facts, contemporary issues, and personal narratives to create strong, trusting bonds with the kids we work with. One of my most favourite parts of mural creation is when an Indigenous student comes forward and opens up about their identity because they feel safe. There were a few students that Aura and I worked with recently who had never talked about it with their teachers. Because they felt safe enough to tell us, we were able to provide that information to the school and establish a smudging area at the school so these students could connect to their heritage. We are able to reach kids on a creative, collaborative level and this type of immersive learning is most effective because it shakes up the normalcy of Western pedagogy. The murals that we create with students bring our worldviews to life and invite them in, creating a safe space where we can all learn together and have fun.

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4. What has been your favourite mistake, in terms of your art?

My favourite mistake was assuming I was in this alone. It has been such a pleasant surprise to realize that we, as Indigenous artists, have such a strong community to work with. There was a certain level of fear when I thought about taking on a career as an artist because I thought it would be very cut-throat and I’d be working alone. But I am fortunate to be working with so many amazing collaborators who are strong, unwavering, loving and hardworking. Teamwork makes the dream work!

5. Who inspires you, outside of art?

My mom inspires me everyday. She is the glue that holds our family together. She is the strength that runs through my veins. She carries the spirit of all the women who came before us. She is strong, hardworking, compassionate, independent, honest and loving. She is one of the few people I know who truly lives by the seven grandfather teachings and she is the reason that I am an independent Anishinaabe kwe.

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6. Growing up on-reserve with a parent who practiced traditional medicine, and then moving to the city to study art: can you share how you relate, or don’t relate to, the concept of “we walk two worlds?”

It’s so interesting to be asked this question because I just included this concept in a recent piece I created for Life As Ceremony magazine. Here is an excerpt:

“There’s a concept that says Indigenous people walk in two different worlds. For most of my life i’ve had each foot in a different place. It can be difficult to balance because we are often faced with questions about blood quantum, language proficiency and “authentic Indian experiences.” Sometimes, because we have our feet planted in two different worlds, we feel “not Indian enough.” I have one foot on the rez where I can smell the sage burning. My dad cuts medicines on the front step and my mom prepares a beautiful home cooked meal for when we all convene in the dining room together. Here, the walls are lined with hand drums and Nan’s birch bark placemats. As the steam rises up from our meal and curls around our faces, I prepare a spirit plate to take into the bush for our ancestors. My mukluks crunch through the fresh snow and I think about Toronto, where my other foot is planted. I pass underneath naked birch trees and imagine they are the skyscrapers of Bay Street. The peeling bark hangs solemnly like a man in a suit, hunched over and gazing out his window at the rest of the city below him. There is a dignified sadness to the way the bark slouches and I can’t help but stare. As I lower the plate to the rock where we make our offering, I am struck by how different my worlds are. I think about how when I am home up North, I feel grounded in my traditions. I think about how I can pick cedar from a nearby tree and boil it up. I think about how my dad brings his turtle shaker into my room at night, as a form of comfort and protection. I think about how my brother rides his snow mobile down to the lake and drills holes in the ice to catch bass. And then I think about how practicing our traditions in an urban space can create tension. I think about when I smudged at a friend’s house on Pape Avenue and her neighbour texted to ask about the smell, which they described as a chemical burning. I think about how people on the subway reach out and grab my medicine pouch, because to them, it is a tactile piece of history, something that doesn’t quite belong. I think about the holes that form in the bottoms of my moccasins from walking on pavement, and the ache in my feet from being so disconnected from the land. And I think about a lady in Guelph who approached me while I painted a mural. She said: “Oh, when I heard they were doing an Aboriginal mural I assumed they would have hired an Aboriginal artist!” “I am,” I said. “How much?” she replied. Arguments about blood quantum, language proficiency and “authentic Indian experiences” aside, all I can say is, I am. No matter where my feet are, or what is above me, I AM.”

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7. Dreaming big, what is the ultimate goal for you, as an artist?

The ultimate goal for me as an artist is to have a gallery where we can showcase youth artists, emerging artists, and established artists. It will be a place to show and sell a diverse selection of Indigenous art, with no limitations. It will also have a studio space in the back for our collective to work, and a workshop space upstairs where we can host our own workshops or bring in third parties. It will be a social space where everyone can learn and have fun. I think that’s all I ever want is to spread the love, uplift our youth, create safe spaces and collaborate!

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8. One of your latest art features Evan Adams as his character Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Which is hella awesome. Can you share how this piece came to be?

I had so much fun making this piece! And Evan Adams even retweeted it! As if! This piece was created to accompany another illustration I did, which features Kawenn áhere Devery Jacobs’ character Aila from Rhymes For Young Ghouls. Both pieces represent Indigenous film and the ways in which these characters empower our communities. I wanted to create a diptych of these characters because they represent two different eras of Indigenous film. Thomas Builds-The-Fire has been essential to Indigenous film because his character has always emphasized the importance of storytelling and oral tradition, from a humorous position. And Smoke Signals as a whole is iconic because it responds to the misrepresentation of Indigenous identity in the media and allows us to sit at the same table as “everyone else” while also acknowledging our fundamental cultural and political differences. And then we have Aila in Rhymes For Young Ghouls, who represents our youth who have to fight for their lives. Her character speaks to the crisis our youth are constantly undergoing and this film, in my opinion, is a story of survivance, which Gerald Vizenor describes as a “renunciation of dominance, tragedy and victimry.” Aila fights back, and I love that about her. Aila and Thomas are different, but both are essential to the diverse and accurate representation of Indigenous people and our experiences within the media.

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9. What is something people don’t generally know about you?

People don’t generally know that I have a deep appreciation and fascination for Lady Gaga. I don’t know what it is, but ever since her first album Fame I’ve been attracted to her image and music. And the weirdest thing is that each album is released during crucial transitional phases of my life, and each of them speaks to what I’m experiencing and becomes the soundtrack for each phase. Its weird. But I’m okay with it.

10. Favorite quote:

“Yes, Pete, it is. Actually, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for ‘the good land’” – Alice Cooper, Wayne’s World Social Media:

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Keep in Touch:

FB: Chief Lady Bird Art // Insta: @chiefladybird

Twitter: @chiefladybird // Tumblr: Chief Lady Bird Art Tumblr


Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King) is a Potawatomi and Chippewa artist from Rama First Nation with paternal ties to Moosedeer Point First Nation. Her Anishinaabe name is Ogimaa Kwe Bnes, which means Chief Lady Bird. She completed her BFA in 2015 in Drawing and Painting with a minor in Indigenous Visual Culture at OCAD University and has been exhibiting her work since she was fourteen years old. Her current series of work uses “beaded glyphs” as fragments of made-up visual language that reference both wampum belts, syllabics and petroglyphs as a way of understanding the loss of language through Canada’s genocidal legacy and continued assimilation tactics. These beaded glyphs convince the viewer that they mean something and create tension and frustration between the work and viewer, to emulate the frustration that many Indigenous nations feel who aren’t fluent in their traditional languages.

 

27th Annual Feb 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March

A pilgrimage is described as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for spiritual purpose, to pay homage. It’s a spiritual votive… a sacred promise put to action.

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Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.

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For me, it’s a long ongoing journey, a ceremony, a search for meaning, and an opportunity for gathering strength and healing. It’s also a stark reminder that while the profile of the issue, now captured in hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, #AmINext, #NoMoreStolenSisters etc… has been raised to International attention, the violence continues.

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Before the march, there is a gathering for family members hosted inside Carnegie Center. Here families of those stolen sisters are able to share, testify and find comfort with each other. During this time the community gathers outside in solidarity and takes the intersection. It is no small feat and after 27 years, now involves thousands of people, taking one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver; Main and Hastings.

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There are no organizational banners. No advertising. No sponsors. This is all community driven. This is the one day a year where women of the community are centered as leaders, guardians, speakers, singers, protectors. It’s the one day a year we can try and gather safely and name the violence. It’s the one day of a year we can mourn our lost ones together. It is a day when we get to dismiss the burden of stigma, and celebrate the beauty of the lives we honour.

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The RCMP have referenced 1,181 Missing or murdered Indigenous women (not including girls). They are still looking at this the wrong way. They only count us when we are gone, they don’t count those of us that have survived the exact same circumstances. If you counted those of us that have survived poverty, violence and misogyny, what would the numbers look like then? How big of an epidemic of violence would you be trying to quantify if you counted survivors? We are all survivors.

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The March is led by our matriarchs, our eldest warriors with whom the wisdom of survival and resilience resides. They lead us through the DTES singing the Women’s Warrior Song. We leave medicine and tobacco at the sites in which women were last seen, or were found murdered. This year we carried the ashes and prayers of one of our elders Bea, who although gone, is by no means forgotten.

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This march first started after the brutal loss of Cheryl Anne Joe in 1992. The tragedy of her young life was one too many for the community and the first march took place in response.

The women who started this march, did so at a time when there was no public awareness, or support from any level of government. This was not the cause célèbre it is often seen as now.  Women had things thrown at them while marching. There have been years when vehicles have tried to plow through the marchers, and still women were going missing.  They have never stopped marching, or organizing.

Now,  27 years since the senseless loss of her life, Cheryl Anne Joe’s legacy is now an international movement to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

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There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.

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There was a public Inquiry in BC and there is currently a National Inquiry being undertaking on the issue, both largely as a result the Memorial March and the relentless efforts by the Memorial March committee advocating to end the conditions that result in women’s vulnerability.

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The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.

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And that is never more evident than in our  collective love for our next generation.

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

*For more images of this years march, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram & facebook.
Galleries will be posted on her website shortly.

the love of photography

There are several reasons as to why I love photography, the main ones are that my camera allows me to capture and showcase everything that is of value to me, as well as special moments for my clients and for the many amazing opportunities that it has brought into my life.

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The first and foremost reason that I love photography is because it is a creative outlet that allows me to capture my family and everything that I love, while preserving my culture and my memories with my Jijuu. It is so incredible to be able to preserve my Gwich’in culture through my photography. I have made it a personal goal of mine to always carry my camera with me when I spend time with my Jijuu, because she’s always teaching me something new – from tanning a moose hide to setting a net under the ice in -40.

The second reason that I love photography is because I have the honor of being able to capture special, once in a life time moments for my clients and their families. It is a really great feeling to see a bride relive her wedding day while sifting through photographs that I took, or to look back on photographs of elders who have passed away.

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Last but not least, I love photography for the many opportunities that it has brought into my life. I have travelled throughout Canada – photographing the people, the scenery and my experiences. I’ve photographed the Moosehide Gathering in the Yukon, been showcased at the Adaka Festival and the Arctic Image Festival, as well as photographed several weddings all over Canada. On each of my adventures, I have had the opportunity to meet so many talented, kind and respectful individuals while creating memories that I will hold in my heart forever.

Photography isn’t just a hobby for me… it’s my lifestyle.

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 – shayla snowshoe