Just Make Out a Little

Just make out a little. Trust me.

We’re all giggling, and trying not to, as my friends Jack and his partner James, snuggle in. Jack is, by nature, not an overtly PDA kind of guy. It’s only because he trusts me, and knows me, that’s he’s willing to be part of this.

Keep moving those hands. Keep touching. So good!

More laughter. It’s an odd feeling watching people make out. I can’t imagine what they feel like, with my flash and the click of the camera, with my helpful/not so helpful suggestions coming out. It’s the first official studio day for my new art series, #KissingIndigenous. I’m gathering my adventurous friends after a Facebook post asking them to make-out in front of my lens.

I’ve spent the last few years working almost strictly with Indigenous people as I grew my business. I’m Dene, I’m from the North, and it’s those stories and people that I want to photograph. And it’s been amazing. A lot of fun. A lot of laughter, and joy, and happiness.

And as I present these images of real, honest-to-Creator, authentic Indigenous People, I am well aware of how visual stereotypes still run rampant in mainstream culture. I see it every Halloween when the Squaw and Warrior and Indian Princess costumes come out.


Google Search. Sigh. 

I see it every summer when Coachella and other festivals start to emerge and some hipster thinks their headdress is so “on fleek”. I see it when small town communities and huge corporations refuse to accept the fact that their Indian mascots are racist. I see it when Indigenous roles in blockbuster movies only feature Indigenous people as traditional, contact-era Indians.

Where’s my rapping, street-smart Indigenous Queen? Because she’s here.

Where’s my powerhouse Indigenous lawyer? Because he’s here.

Where’s my naturopath Medical Doctor? Because she’s here.

Where’s my world traveller, living in backpacks and instagram shots? Because he’s here.

We have the artists, the actors, the storytellers, the accountants, the café owners, the chefs, the hockey players, the basketball players, the CEO’s, the tech geniuses. We have everyone under the sun, doing the same jobs and cultivating their life experiences, but absolutely next-to-zero current representation in mainstream media.


Pinterest Search. Sigh. 

So it’s frustrating. It’s aggravating. Visual representation, when left to outsiders, means we are being perceived through someone else’s eyes and experience. We are viewed as other. And I am well aware of when I shoot my Cree friends kissing, my Metis bro kissing, my Dene cousin putting on lip gloss and leaning in, that I am taking those outdated visuals and smashing them.

I’m reclaiming our visual identity.


More importantly, I am reclaiming our sexual and sensual identity.

There is so much baggage and shit that comes with being an Indigenous woman. And this isn’t the place to step into that, but I’m aware of that. I’m aware that a woman is supposed to be discreet. To hide her sexuality. Because if you don’t hide it, you’re “asking for it.”

I’m well aware that a man is allowed to be promiscuous, in fact, is expected to sleep around, and he is not shamed for it. But if a woman does, those tongues start talking and those friendly laughter turns turn cruel, because what kind of woman sleeps around.

Well, fuck that.


I want to photograph Indigenous men and women and people who hold their selves to a different standard. Who look and see their partners, and respect and honour them.


What a concept.


And we’re starting. It’s a start. It’s something small, just a touch of sexuality. Just a touch of sensual. And it makes us laugh, and blush, and hopefully smile. It reminds of us of our first kisses and crushes. Of sitting around on old couches and holding hands, waiting for them to make the first move. Of asking Setsune (Grandma) about his family and making sure he wasn’t your cousin. Eeeee.

And it’s a start that inspires others, as seen by this work with Aura (Haudenosaunee and Métis woman), a talented multi-media artist. She contacted me and asked if she could floralize my work, and I was like hellllsss yeah.


by Aura

A celebration of the friendship and romance between Indigenous couples, and a project that creates new friendships between Indigenous artists.

So much yes.


 – tenille campbell


Barb Cranmer, filmmaker – Featured Artist


“I have been involved in film and video for many years.  The inspiration for my work has come from our people’s rich history and stories that are very important.  They are stories that most often go unheard.  I am the messenger of these stories and our communities have entrusted me with these stories to bring to the wider public.”

Barb Cranmer 2016

One year ago, on February 18th 2015, a demolition ceremony took place at the site of St. Michael’s Residential School in the the village of Yalis, next to the settlement of Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island, in the small straight of water that separates Vancouver Island from the mainland of BC. It was a time of mourning, joy and hope, as the community prepared to watch the largest building on the island get torn down. Myself and a few other local photographers were asked by the ‘Namgis First Nation to document the day.

St. Michael's Residential School closed in 1974. The 'Namgis First Nation took ownership of it in 1975.

St. Michael’s Residential School closed in 1974. The ‘Namgis First Nation took ownership of it in 1975.

It was an honour to witness the events that unfolded but I struggled with photographing some of the emotions that were revealed that day. I was caught thinking about my role as the photographer and how I would respectfully photograph the day while trying to maintain my professional objectivity. But as the tears streamed down my face, I watched those in front of me throw rocks at the ruins of the school, trying to smash the bricks before the bulldozers got the chance; I saw the young and old, families and friends, holding on to each other, crying, yelling, hugging and laughing. Sometimes, objectivity needs to be lost. I still have mixed feelings about showing the photographs from that day.

My son, "Mom that boy is sad."

My son, “Mom that boy is sad.”

Another witness there that day was the award-winning filmmaker, Barb Cranmer. As a member of the ‘Namgis First Nation, she was responsible for creating a historical document to help her community remember. The film that came from that day, I’TUSTOGALIS: Rising Up Together Our Voices, Our Stories: Demolition Ceremony of the St. Michael’s Residential School, February 18th, 2015, features the accounts of residential school survivors who attended the St. Michael’s Residential School, and is a powerful depiction of survival and overcoming. Our Voices, Our Stories also recently was recognized as Best Documentary Short at the 40th American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, CA.

I had the chance to catch up with Barb the other day and speak with her about her film:

A: What does your most recent film, Our Voices, Our Stories mean for you as an Indigenous filmmaker? 

B: When I directed Our Voices, Our Stories, it was historic and so meaningful of many levels, it acknowledged the dark period of the Residential School system.  People shared their stories with such courage and willingness and it really is just the beginning of this next new phase filled with hope.

A: What has the response been to your documentary?

B: The response to the film has been very overwhelming, people shared tears as they watched and were thankful that this type of work is now happening with the message of healing for everyone, since we all have been affected in some way by the residential school system.

Demolition crew and Our Voices, Our Stories, Director of Photography, Brent Craven watching the building fall.

Demolition crew and Our Voices, Our Stories, Director of Photography, Brent Craven watching the building fall.

A: On February 18th, 2016 it marked a year since the demolition ceremony at St. Michael’s Residential School. What was it like for you witnessing the school being demolished?

B: I had mixed feelings about the demolition, because for years I worked on a committee in the community that was trying to revitalize the building and turn it into a Kwakwala Language Centre, reversing the strapping of kids speaking their language to all you would hear is our language being spoken.  The other feeling is that we can’t let the government assist in us forgetting what that building stood for.  And now I drive by there and it was like it was never there, very strange feeling.

A: What is the lasting impression you want the audience to take away from this film?

B: The lasting impression is that we have hope, we have resilience and we will carry on as a people as we have already done.  In all my documentary work to date it is about hope.

A: For you what is the next step in the healing process?

B: As the film gets shared in all kinds of communities, cities, universities, I want to be able to offer the opportunity to people that there are a lot of people out there in the healing world.  And that they will be supported and I see this as just the beginning of the next phase, a more hopeful one.

Raven flying over St. Michael's Residential School.

Raven flying over St. Michael’s Residential School.

A year later, things are quiet in the community. The area where the school once stood is now a field of grass. There is still a perimeter of yellow hazard tape that has been left around the space.

Watch the Our Voices, our Stories film trailer at https://vimeo.com/141833166.

Upcoming screenings of Our Voices, Our Stories:

– Sointula, Malcolm Island on Sat. March 5th

– The Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver on Tues. March 8th @ 1pm & 7pm

– BC Teachers’ Federation AGM in Vancouver on Sun. March 13th @ 12:30pm.

CREDITS: Our Voices, Our Stories (39 minutes)

Director: Barbara Cranmer (T’lakwagilogwa) is an award-winning writer, director and producer whose original productions include ‘Namegan’s Om Dlu’wans Awinagwisex (We Are One With the Land), I’tusto (To Rise Again), T’lina (The Rendering of Wealth), Qatuwas (People Gathering Together), Gwishalaayt (The Spirit Wraps Around You), Laxwesa Wa (Strength of the River), Mungo Martin: A Slender Thread and We Are One With The Land and Potlatch:  To Give Part One & Part Two

See many of her films at https://vimeo.com/user19183754/videos.

Producer/Distribution: ‘Namgis First Nation

Director of Photography/Editor: Brent Craven

Theme Song: Murray Porter (lyrics by Murray Porter and Elaine Bomberry)

DTES Women's Memorial March led by Elders

Their Spirits Live Within Us

This year marked the 26th annual February 14th Downtown Eastside Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver.

What can I say about my relationship to an event that simultaneously breaks and heals my heart year after year?

I found my way to the organizing committee of the DTES Women’s Memorial March over ten years ago while I was interning on Finding Dawn, a National Film Board documentary about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada by Métis Director Christine Welsh. I have had the privilege to be part of the sisterhood of this dynamic committee ever since.

Melanie Mark at Memorial March Feb 14 2016

Melanie Mark – MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant

I believe it’s important to document the activism of our community, to record the courageous leadership of women who confront the obstacles of oppression, and more often oppressors, head on.

And it does feel like a head on collision when faced with just numbers: 1181 (RCMP),  4000+  (everyone else). And so we gather each year on Feb 14 to both name and honour those stolen mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties, grannies, partners and friends in ceremony, prayer and song. Because the individual women are more important than their combined numbers.

Audrey Siegl at the Memorial March Feb 14 2016

χɬemtəna:t (Audrey Siegl) sings the Women’s Warrior Song

Our loss, while immense, does not define us.  Our resilience does.

Histories are said to be written by victors. Cliché I know, but it’s part of why I have continued to document this ceremony for over a decade. So that our histories won’t be focused on who or what oppressed us, or worse, focused on the story of who took our lives. But rather on our resiliency and leadership as a community of women, in the face of immense violence, tragedy and injustice.

– Jessica Wood

Megan Branson marching in solidarity

Megan Branson offering roses in solidarity

Land of Luxury – Salt Spring Island, BC

Today you are getting a sneak peak into my trip to the ever-so-lovely and trendy Salt Spring Island. Originally claimed as Coast Salish territory,  it was a bit odd and unsettling to hear some of the trails we walked on were “owned” by others. Salt Spring Island is now an investment dream town for the creative spirits, and earned it’s reputation for bohemian dwellers that relish organic gluten free goods while meandering under the moonlight amongst pristine old growth forests.

Throughout our stay we were lucky enough to have two amazing friends/tour guides to show us some of the most breathtaking nature trails from which I drew lots of inspiration. The most intense and interesting hike lead us off the beaten path, where we stumbled upon huge fallen rocks and caves filled with shells and bones belonging to First Nations people way before land settlement and ownership existed.

One of our adventures lead us to a farm that had us chasing turkey off the roads and visiting abandoned barns filled with rusty old equipment.

I pictured holding a photoshoot in one of the barns with this spectacular light coming through the wooden slits.

Of course, creepy is the other term that came to mind.

I insisted we get the heck outta dodge once my highly imaginative mind switched to imagining the worst-case CSI and Criminal Minds scenarios instead of creative photoshoots.


During our last stay, we were dropped off at a campsite where we scouted the perfect spot – right off a cliff under a large tree overlooking the water. We built a small campfire which slowly turned into an epic bon-fire on the rocks. It was incredibly therapeutic. Stress and anxieties from the big city began to melt away as I adjusted to the silence of the night. The crackling of the fire as the waves slowly drew closer was enough to remind me of how much I appreciate the land and the amount of healing its presence brings.

Before heading to bed, we spent a good chunk of time deeply fascinated by the marine life in the tidal pools with our flashlights. It reminded me of when I was a kid and used to bring plastic bags and buckets to closely examine snails and other insects at the swamps. Even more silly and childlike was my intense fright after noticing several glowing eyes peeking through the bushes.

After some close investigation, we realized that the spooky eyes were actually deer eating a late night snack, hidden behind some bushes nearby.

Man, did I ever feel super silly for thinking grass feeding deer would lead to my imminent death. Surely I will be reminded of it every time I go camping now.


 – caroline blechert

Where The Rivers Meet – Tulita, NT

Last week I went to visit the Hamlet of Tulita. I was there to do Inuit and Dene games demonstrations at the Chief Albert Wright School. I had traveled to the community once before, by boat up the Mackenzie River from my hometown community of Fort Providence. It was a memorable and adventurist trip with my family.

Most recently, I visited the community of roughly 500 people twice by plane. I instantly fell in love with the land and community. Tulita is culturally rich, with many of the Dene traditions being practiced to this day and the people are so lovely. I felt welcomed and at home.

Tulita in the Dene language means “where the rivers or waters meet,” and is located in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. The community is the junction for two rivers; the Mackenzie River and the Great Bear River. Beautiful mountains surround the Hamlet. One mountain that is especially significant to the Dene people is called Bear Rock.

The land of Denendeh (The Land of the People) holds many urban legends of how the North and its landscape came to be. There is a well-known story about Yamoria, a Dene medicine man and the giant beavers that once roamed the earth. I vaguely remember these stories being told by my Slavey teacher back when I was in sharing circle in Grade 2. As children, we were all so attentive and impressed by these stories. I am sharing this story as I remember it, and please note that other storytellers will have their versions as well – that is the joy of stories – they are living, breathing beings.

It is believed that there was a family of giant beavers who were terrorizing the land and killing the Dene people. Yamoria, began chasing the beavers through Great Slave Lake, down the Mackenzie River, and caught up with them at the Great Bear Lake, near Tulita.   Yamoria killed the three giant beavers with a bow and arrow, skinned them and stretched their hides on the Great Bear Rock in Tulita.

To this day, you can still see the oval outline of the beaver pelts on Bear Rock. The two arrows that Yamoria shot are still seen each spring where the Great Bar River and The Mackenzie River Meet – the poles are still sticking out of the river.

There is another story about Yamoria cooking some of the beaver meat by the river and the beaver’s grease dripped into the fire. It is said that the fire continues to burn near Tulita.

People believe that he left Denendeh, paddled up to the Arctic Ocean.

Others believe he is still out there traveling, or he has disappeared completely.

Ask me in person one day, and I will share with you what I believe. But in Tulita, I love the culture, the traditions and the history. It is a community to go and visit any time of the year. I cannot wait until my next visit.



Elders of Tulita


Traditional Mooseskin Boat at Chief Albert Wright School


Bear Rock, in the distance

 –  shawna mcleod 

snapshots, side by side

I have a four-year-old daughter. She has her grandmother’s pale Metis skin and wavy hair. She has her dad’s ears and my lips. She has her grandmother’s eyes – sometimes incredibly sad, often mischievous, and naturally watchful. She looks like her ancestors, all mixed up in a package of dimples and a strong, powerful voice.

On the West Coast, she would fit in with the Longhouse Speakers, I think.


I brought my mom and daughter to Vancouver with me, as I photographed the Indspire Awards. I had brought them with me previously to Winnipeg for the same award show, and mom always helps me make family a natural part of my business life. We left early Monday morning from Saskatoon, and took three days to arrive in a city of rain, mist and fog.

My first stop, once I had a free moment, was to visit Beau Photo, a compact but effective shop dedicated to photography, printing and all things good. I had visited them back in May of 2015 and purchased a Land Polaroid 210, as well as a bunch of film.


They remembered me, which is great. I lovingly picked out four new 600 packs one SX-70 pack, two more packs of FP-100c, and then had Aerie pick two packs of film for her Fujifilm Instax Mini.

Santa had given her a purple camera for Christmas.

We walked out, hand in hand, and picked a side street to practice on. Some people will hoard their film until the right moment – that perfect swirl in a latte, the searing colours of sunset, the moody lighting on a brick wall – whereas me, I aim to make art of the now. I am into the instant gratification of instant film, the not knowing, the mystery and the huge chance that yes, you can really fuck up a Polaroid.

I posed Aerie, laughing as she took my directions of “look up a little” to stare straight up into the sky, hands on hip, waiting for me to take the picture. The Polaroid snaps. Out comes magic. I feel uber-Hipster, and briefly reflect on the idea of what would be an Indigenous Hipster, and what is a Hipster, and would I be a Hipster. Then I snap out of it. Live in the moment.

My turn,” Aerie says, running towards me to change spots. “Stand here. Look sideways. Hand on hip. Don’t smile.” She rattles off instructions that prove she has been listening to me direct for a long time. I burst out laughing, still posing, and she snaps the picture.

We wait for them to develop, side by side. Her mini-instax takes a few minutes, as we drive around Vancouver as we wait to see what I had captured on her image. We drive through Hastings, visit a Friendship Centre, peruse the latest goods at the Value Village, and finally, head back to the hotel so I could prep for work the next day.

At the end of the night, in the safety of a warm room and filled with good food, we lay the images side by side. Aerie’s image of me is saturated, full of shadows and light. There is clarity in the goodness. You see me, outlined and defined.

My image of Aerie is too brightly exposed, desaturated, and blurry. It’s her – you can see her grin, her purple camera hanging by her side. But it’s not definite. It’s a memory, a moment.


 – tenille campbell


Last week, Bear and I were in the Bay Area visiting family and decided to make the trip to Alcatraz Island. It became clear that we were on a different tour of the island than many of the folks on the ferry. The prison history tour is a highlight for most people, but we were there searching for remnants of the 1969-1971 Indian Occupation. We quickly ditched the crowds that gathered for an audio tour of the cell blocks and went around looking for signs.

The signs are there. Sometimes the signs are repainted graffiti and gift shop souvenirs, sometimes they are in the rubble of burnt down buildings.1

The energy on the island was surprisingly calm considering its turbulent histories. I thought about the significance of the occupation and the impact it continues to have. Tomorrow, Feb. 13th, 2016, the National Parks Service will celebrate the first Indians of All Tribes Day to honour the occupation.


The water tower graffiti was restored in 2012 by the National Parks Service


“Modern Militant Indian” by “Indian Joe” Morris (Blackfeet). Donated in honour of Richard Oakes and his daughter Yvonne.


The Warden’s House


The word FREE is barely visible in the stripes of the American flag crest

1  “In late May 1970, the water barge that had supplied the island had been removed by the Coast Guard with the ostensible intent of refilling it and returning it to the island. On June 1, seventy-five occupiers …were left without water or power. …At about 11 pm, the Coast Guard dispatched a boat to investigate a glow through the fog from Alcatraz and found that the whole east end of the island appeared to be burning. …No fire-fighting equipment was known to be on the island. Government officials blamed the fire on the occupiers, and the occupiers charged that a group of whites who slipped past their security had started it….After the fires, government officials began to quietly consider removal options.” (1997). Months of Turmoil: May 1970 to June 1971. In T. R. Johnson (Ed.), (41-42). San Francisco, California: Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.