Nicole Lapierre – Featured Artist

When I first started tea&bannock, I knew I wanted some East Coast representation happening. My only problem was getting the word out and finding someone who wanted to participate, on some level, with us. So I did what any normal 30-something does when she needs to get in touch with people – I posted it on Facebook. An online friend, Savvy Simon (pictured above), instantly mentioned Nicole Lapierre. Nicole was doing Savvy’s maternity photos, and when they started showing up on my social media feeds, I was charmed. It was refreshing to see cultural practices acknowledged and shot by an insider, by one of our own.

Then I creeped on her instagram and blog, and I was blown away.

Colour. Skylines. Saturated pools of water. Towering mountains. Smouldering eyes. Intimate kisses. And the travel, oh my, the travel. Turns out Nicole is a highly talented and successful photographer that gets to capture the love stories of people all over the world.

Nicole’s work makes me want to try harder, to open my eyes little wider, and to push myself to aim for those dreams that I don’t dare yet speak of.

Come and meet her.

 – tenille campbell

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Lake Minnewanka, Banff, Alberta

Tell us about yourself and where you come from?

I am a fine art portrait and wedding photographer in Nova Scotia, and travel all over the world to practice my craft. I am Mi’kmaq and have recently become more involved in educating myself with the culture and story of the Mi’kmaq people.

My inspiration and intrigue with wanting to know more came to be while leading the exercise of collecting information for my father’s family tree, in preparation for our family’s application to the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nations Band in Newfoundland. My father was born in St. George’s Newfoundland, and like myself, is also a member of the St. George’s Indian Band. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a young man, and left Newfoundland to serve his country. Along the way, he met my mother, and together they created our family.

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My father, on his 60th birthday.

I didn’t know much about my culture, because my father spent much of his childhood in an orphanage with his brothers and sisters following the death of his father when he was very young. My family took a trip to Newfoundland a couple of years ago, and my father walked us around the land where he grew up, and took us to the the Rec-plex that had been named after his late father (read about the story here). It was during that visit that my heart wanted to know more about my family and culture. I started researching and attending Pow Wows in Halifax, and that is where I met my dear friend, Savvy Simon. Savvy is a beautiful soul, and motivational speaker, spreading the importance of maintaining the Mi’kmaq language with her #speakmikmaq videos on social media, and her positivity message. Savvy, is a native of the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, and grew up in a Mi’kmaq-speaking, single-parent home, educated in the language by her mother and grandmother. Her positive outlook on life and passion for her people truly spoke to my heart, and so I have made significant efforts to follow along, joining online groups where the language is being taught and shared, and picking things up along the way.

The fire inside me has been ignited, and it has made me a better photographer by opening my mind, and following my heart in order to create images that feel authentic and project impactful emotion.

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Waseteg and Savvy, Mi’kmaq 

How did your journey to photography come about?

Aa I approached high school graduation, I was still very unsure as to what it was I wanted to do, so I applied to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree. Mid-way through that process at the young age of 21, I had a son, and raised him as a single parent until he was 7, which is when I met my wonderful and supportive husband Teddy. During my university career, I had to take a year off (between year 2 & 3) after having my son. During that time off I was very bored and needed some mental stimulation, so I enrolled in the Cosmetology Program at a Community College very close to my apartment, and received my Hair Design License, thinking that hair design would be a fun and creative career. I was working in a restaurant downtown at the time on weekends, and studying during the week, while being a mother with help from my parents when I worked. After finishing the Hair Design Program a year later, I decided that it wasn’t my passion, and went back to Dalhousie, where I studied part-time, while working full time at the restaurant. It took a little longer than it would have most, but I eventually graduated, and it was an amazing motivator. Still not knowing what I wanted to do with my degree, I applied for an Administrative Assistant position with a local gold mining company that had mines in Mexico. Throughout my years there, I advanced in the company, was provided with wonderful opportunities, travelled to many beautiful places, and met so many amazing people. I think this opened my eyes to photography, because I would take my camera with me to the mine sites, and I would often fly into the sites via Cessna (small plane), and the views were so breathtaking.

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Positano, Italy

In 2009, I married my husband, and throughout our wedding day, I watched our wedding photographer and thought to myself that perhaps this would be a good career for me, not knowing anything about photography or how to run a business. That Christmas, my husband bought me a camera, and I had my first set of weddings in the summer of 2010. I had never studied photography before, but the whole process felt very intuitive, and the internet was a wonderful learning tool for me. I continued to work full time in my corporate position, while capturing weddings on weekend with the help of my husband, and I did both jobs for 5 years.

In 2014, after a 10 year career in the gold mining industry, I decided to resign from my position and practice photography full time. I now have a beautiful photography studio, and travel all over the world capturing weddings and portraits.

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Devon & Hailee, Elk, California 

Describe your style of photography?

I have such a love for people, natural light and incredible scenery. I use an approach that combines documentary and fine art styles to capture beautiful, authentic, and timeless moments that perfectly reflect the personalities of the people I photograph. I strive to visually tell compelling stories that express emotion, and capture genuine moments as they unfold.

Capturing every beautiful detail is what I live for. I truly love what I do, and put my heart and soul into every single image I capture.

People can often get lost in the chaos of the day to day, so I like to use my portrait sessions as a personal branding opportunity for individuals to get to know themselves again, and give them a little a boost.

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Amanda, baby sister. A birthday portrait. 

Where and how do you find inspiration?

I love how light hits things, and I am always looking to colours, textures and scents to inspire me. Movement in my images is so important to me, because I want the people looking at them to feel like they are present in each moment. The way the wind blows is always top of mind for me because I love the natural movement and realness that the it gives to things.  I love eyes, they tell so much about a person or animal, and if you take the time to look into someone or somethings eyes, you can feel their soul and see a little bit of their story, perhaps it is my indigenous heart that seeks this connection. I love to travel, and I make a point to visit a different place, or a favourite place at least twice a year in order to fuel my creativity. I am also forever creating mood boards to help guide the visual path of my images, and to learn new things.

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Anthony & Hannah, Elk, California 

How do you want to be remembered?

My hope is that I will be remembered for my love of all people, and for having been a bridge for some, having helped them move through to their next chapter of life with confidence. As humans, we all have bad days, months, years in life, and I try my best to see the good, and to see that low times will not be forever, and that we are often presented with them as a way to push ourselves a little harder. I hope that people will remember me for that, and take comfort from the message. I would also like to use my craft to somehow help Indigenous People, and I am still trying to figure out the best way to make that happen, but it will come to me.

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Sailboats on the water. Positano, Italy. 

If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

One of my favourite photographers of all time is Erich McVey. He is a fine art photographer from Portland, Oregon, and I had the beautiful opportunity to attend one of his photography workshops last year, it changed my entire view and path of my business, and helped me to refine my aesthetic. I love to learn, and I will continue to learn until I am laid to rest. Erich’s captures have such a presence, and I would love to work with him again one day, and suspect that with my tenacious personality I will make it so.

What was your proudest moment as a photographer?

There are many uplifting moments that have fuelled my passion, but when I see the faces of, or receiving heartfelt emails from couples or individuals who I have photographed, it that truly makes my heart sing, and affirms that I am doing what I am destined to do.

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Devon & Hailee, Elk, California. 

Do you have any advice for up and coming photographers?

Be true to yourself, know what you are worth, and value your craft, time and ability. You will attract what you project, so always try and be positive. Run your business with certainty and conviction, know that you will have bad days, but they will be outweighed by the good days.

Never doubt yourself, and leave lots of room in your mind and heart to learn and grow, personally and professionally; one can never know too much.

Collaborate with other photographers and creatives whenever you have the opportunity, sharing is the key to growing because we all rise best together. Never compare yourself to others, social media can weigh heavy on us as creatives because everyones’ lives and businesses are often perceived to be so perfect, but remember its all how things are projected to be. It is okay to follow other creatives, but seek inspiration from them, never compare yourself, because we all have our own gift to share with the world.

// Social Media //

FB: Nicole Lapierre Photography // Instagram: @lapierrenicole // Twitter: @lapierrephoto

Animals Traits and Inspiration

Recently my kind friends Erynne, her sister Emilee, and Yamilla agreed to help me out with a photoshoot for my Creations for Continuity business. Erynne and Emilee became my beautiful models and Yamilla, in exchange for jewellery, became my photography mentor of the day.

Before Yamilla, I was basically just winging my photoshoots doing everything by trial and error with any given lighting. Hard to believe I’ve had this camera for years and not known what half of the buttons do. (I’m really hoping that doesn’t get me kicked off this blog for saying that!) In any case, I’m learning slowly, but surely. By the end of the day I discovered what is now my favourite camera mode – the multiple exposure setting. Like a kid with a $50 budget at the dollar store – I went totally nuts while excitedly taking about a gazillion photos. Once we were done, there was pretty much a play by play of the whole photoshoot. Emilee, Erynne and I being our crazy weird selves, went through all the images, adding a story with silly character voices onto each others awkward in-between poses. My sister knows what i’m talking about – something unseemly only I and maybe a few select others would do/know about.

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Its people and moments like this that become reminders of why I continue to do what I do. Being a full time jewellery artist for over two years has been beyond amazing, with it however, as many full-time artists come to realize, ensues sufferable challenges. And though I could list many, maintaining self motivation and the indispensable desire for connection with others after spending X amount of hours in frantic solitary work confinement are some of the greatest ones. Building strong connections and community through art has become a vital component for not only the growth of my business but for my own personal growth and well being. Ultimately, as products of our environment, if you want to have a certain type of greatness in your life, you have to surround yourself around the types of great people you’d like to see reflected in yourself. Who we choose to invest ourselves with become our role models – shaping our outlook on life, and moulding us in ways that we could have never imagined; Emilee and Erynne are certainly two of those people for me.

Over a cup of tea, soaking in the sounds and sights of nature surrounding us, we delved into the discussion of animal traits mirrored within ourselves. And It was at that moment, when the idea for this photoshoot and the creation of the hummingbird necklace emerged.

Below features an image of Emilee wearing a newly CforC neck piece titled “Ookpik” meaning Owl in Inuvialuktun. As rulers of the night, owls uphold deep meaning for they  are seen as a powerful majestic creatures linked with wisdom and foresight – needless to say, all qualities held deeply within Emilee.

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Featured below is Erynne wearing a piece inspired entirely by her nature and its title – the “hummingbird”necklace . The hummingbird symbolizes beauty, intelligence, and love. These tiny and quick creatures are viewed as messengers of joy – as most people would agree, this statement is very much Erynne. She is as energetic and radiant as a hummingbird, gracing all those around her with a bold, energizing, and luminous presence.

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Thank you Erynne, Emilee and Yamilla for your deep support, guidance, and participation in this photoshoot! Its truly an honour to have such memorable beauties representing my line; symbolizing and embodying our indigenous and cultural identities with tremendous strength and prestige.

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Finding Power through Friendship & Mentorship

When Tenille approached me with the idea for tea&bannock and told me about the commitment to mentoring, I panicked. I’m living in a brand new city and wasn’t sure who I could connect with. Besides that, I’m a solitary worker and since I don’t shoot very often my technical knowledge is rusty at best, so I wasn’t sure I’d have much to “teach”. Maybe I got some of that Imposter Syndrome as well.

The first person I thought of “mentoring” is my friend Tanis Worme, a natural artist and fun person to work with. When I began working on SuperMaidens in 2014, I was still living in Saskatoon and sharing a small studio on Avenue D. I put the call-out to 13 friends and acquaintances that I thought would be great at embodying a new Indigenous super hero: the SuperMaiden.

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Outtake of Joi as “The Lone Wolf” shot by Tanis, 2014.

After a gruelling shoot, I didn’t have the time or energy to photograph myself and so I asked my fellow SuperMaiden, Tanis, if she wouldn’t mind directing and shooting me as the 14th Maiden. She enthusiastically agreed and did a great job; I thought she was a natural! Tanis is a talented artist and works in many different media; she’s also a dope tattoo artist!

For the second major shoot, I returned to Saskatoon and the previous experience taught me that I should probably have an assistant to help things go smoothly and so I asked Tanis to help out. I asked her to share a bit about her experience as a SuperMaiden both in front of and behind the camera, here’s Tanis:

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Tanis. Photo by Sweetmoon, 2016.

It is terrific to join tea&bannock and share with you a bit of my journey with Joi’s series “The Beautiful NDN Supermaidens TM ”. I joined Joi for two group photoshoots, one of each instalment. The first shoot took place in October of 2014, which is when I discovered my SuperMaiden identity “Mimicree” by succumbing to my goofier side in front of the camera. The second shoot this past February, I was the helpful protégé; initially goading, but eventually motivating.

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Outtake of Tanis as “Mimicree”, 2014.

Some time had passed between photoshoots and though I thought periodically about my cheeky alter ego, I did not consider how she might have changed since her conception. She was an adaptable jokester; she didn’t make much fuss over anything, and maintained a light mood through laughter. And although I call upon that strength when the thunderous weight of reality creeps into my porous meatsuit, I see those around me drawn to the healing potential of it all. I need to poke fun and laugh, a lot, even if it gets me into trouble at times. This “power” gained from humour can be sinister in that surrender to its potential as a tool of manipulation can cause serious harm; as with any resource, it is our responsibility to utilize it sustainably, and cause the least amount of disturbance to the environment and beings around us.   

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The Beautiful NDN SuperMaidens, 2014

The NDN SuperMaiden refreshes the connotation of the comic-book hero and their power. The comics I was subjected to as a kid, featured the individual hero-type. He imposes his wispy white way, and “humbly” hides among the masses. Hero and humanity collaborate to secure a natural order; the dichotomy of good and evil is reinforced. 

When I daydream as a new and improved ass-kicking SuperMaiden, I consider her actions in situations where I’d been less than heroic. It’s satisfying to replay these scenarios while considering possible outcomes; but this way of thinking falsely suggests that the variables in our lives exist independently from each other and can be controlled by deterministic laws of the universe. I am adhering to the dichotomous construct: one path will result in heroism, the other, ultimate demise.  However, being that our power is manifested through ancestral bloodlines and spiritual consciousness, it would be counterintuitive to express my abilities through a construct that is inherently different.  Instead of accepting a path that ultimately conceptualizes our limits by defining the glass ceiling, we as SuperMaidens create a community that cultivates the creativity necessary to subdue such limitations. 

Wearing my assistant hat during the photoshoot, I found power. Through a successful shoot, followed by silly bonding, we shared stories of our intuition, stories of our courage; we accepted our power and, even for mere moments, quashed our doubt. As Indigenous women we have a connection that cannot be confined by western conceptualization. We are connected to each other and that connection is our power: it is a gift we are bestowed from the Creator; it’s inherited from the moon and all stars in the multiverse; it’s established through respect of Mother Earth; and, it is nourished with the kindness we share with one another.        

-Tanis Worme

Kitchen Table Talks

All of us at Tea & Bannock have agreed to prioritize mentorship as part of our collective work. In considering this, I sat down with my mentor, Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh. She has made several documentary films including: Women in the Shadows, Keepers of the Fire, Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle, The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters and Finding Dawn.

I met Christine at the University of Victoria. Her class was the place I felt most challenged, seen, and heard. She hired me as her to intern on the documentary Finding Dawn. Over the past dozen years, she’s been my professor, my boss, my mentor, my friend, and I’m proud to say she is now my Mother-in-law, and the best Kookum in the world.

Who better to ask about my new role, than from my own mentor?

Christine Welsh Metis Filmmaker

Christine at her Kitchen Table

[JW] You’re been an active mentor, I can attest to that. You’ve spoken to me before about the importance of mentorship, and how it’s not common. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about why you think that is.

[CW] I don’t know why it isn’t more common than it is.

I had some really important mentors in my life. When I think back on the directions that my life has gone in. Those people stand at the head of those forks in the road, they really do.

Jean Oser

Jean Oser

The first one was John Oser who was my film teacher. A very unconventional film teacher, but that was his role. He was the person that made me want to be a filmmaker. He was this completely unconventional teacher. You showed films, and then you stood at the front, and then you just talked passionately about them.

On campus at the time, there was this buzz that went around, about this old man (OLD MAN! He was as old as I am now!) in the Fine Arts department that was teaching these film courses on Wednesday mornings. and anybody could go, because it was in ‘Dark Hall’, and it was dark, and nobody knew who was there. So you would just go, and find a dark seat in this auditorium, and watch movies, and listen to this guy talk. And I just was in love and I never went back to English class. I mean that was IT.

[JW] Is that what you were doing, an English degree?

[CW] Yes, I was in school to do an English degree and I just never went back. I just sat there and listened to him.

[JW] What was he like?

[CW] He was an amazing man. He was one of these people who saw good things everywhere. He would look at a students’ really clichéd, deeply flawed little film effort and always find something wonderful in it. Of course they are going to have things wrong with them, but that’s not what you focus on. You focus on the wonderful, and you make them think they are capable of wonderful. He taught me that.

He had worked on the first sound films in Germany in the early 1930s. He had been prescient enough to leave Germany when he saw what Nazism was bringing. He and his wife were both Jewish, and had moved to the safety of New York.

There he worked on a lot of war propaganda films for the Office of War Information in the United States. He was a film editor. He brought this bigger world to me. He wasn’t an academic. He came to the University of Regina because one of his radical students in New York, also Jewish, also a Marxist, had come to the University of Regina as a radical sociology professor. They all ended up in this little prairie city that didn’t know what hit it! Even though Saskatchewan had this pretty radical history of it’s own.

He encouraged me to come just spend time with him and learn from him. He had this ratty little office in the basement of Dark hall. We all just hung out down there, a group of us, 5 or 6 young men, and me. I was the only woman. There was film making equipment and we could just do anything we wanted with it.

John Oser Editing

John Oser editing

He taught me editing on an old Moviola. [laughs] That was one of those stand up double system things that you see in the movies that has been around since the thirties. He taught me how to edit on this thing just because he wanted to. Because he thought I had a talent for editing, which I ended up doing, once I left there.

[JW] Was there anyone else?

[CW] I also had a dance teacher – in my late teens and early twenties. Her name was Marianne Livant and she has since passed. She was a really important mentor in my life. She was this really smart aleck, loud mouthed, super intense, super creative, Jewish woman from New York.

She was a modern dancer and she set up this modern dance workshop studio in Regina, of a sort Regina had never seen . I had been taking ballet lessons and started going to her workshop. It wasn’t so much the dance that changed my life. It was her and hanging around with her family. I mean they just like swore up and down! I can remember her two kids getting kicked out the swimming pool, the public swimming pool in the Wascana Park in Regina because they were so fowl mouthed! Up until then, I didn’t swear all that much, but I learned!

[JW] I can attest to that!

 

[CW] I learned! I had had this very sort of conservative catholic upbringing, going to a high school run by nuns, all girls, wearing the uniforms – the whole business. And here was this woman who just showed me this other way to be in the world and I wanted that.

We became very close. We would travel and do these little dance performances in small towns in Saskatchewan. Both her and her late husband Bill, were very important people in my life because they kind of busted open my very conservative upbringing and showed me a different way.

Marianne Livant's Dance Troupe 1973/74

It was a tremendously exciting time to be in Regina, at the University. These people just blew open my world! I saw that not only were there other ways to be in the world. But I learned a lot about European history, about American history, about radical politics. That was my radical politics initiation because at that point I was still not “out” as a native person. I was not part of this world as a native person. I was just part of this world as one of Marianne’s dancers and as a student. They were tremendously important people in my life.

So, I had some really wonderful mentors in my life, I really did. And I consider myself so fortunate that they were there. And of course there were people on the films. On every film there was somebody who was a mentor. On Women in the Shadows it was Emma LaRocque. On Keepers of the Fire it was Shirley Bear. On the Kuper Island film it was Delmar Johnnie Seletze. And of course on Finding Dawn there was Janice Acoose and Fay Blaney and everyone on Finding Dawn – you! You were my teacher. There were so many teachers on Finding Dawn. Each film there were just so many people who taught me so much.

[JW] So you came to teaching through a non-traditional route?

[CW] And I had seen many non-traditional teachers! Non-traditional teachers had been my mentors.

[JW] So what made you decide to teach?

[CW] I didn’t go seeking it out. It’s not something I saw myself doing. I was a single mom, in filmmaking. I was living in Toronto and I was editing. I knew that once my son was born, that I wasn’t going to be able to continue to do that because it was a 24/7 job. It wasn’t going to work.So, I went back and finished that degree, fifteen years later. And that was where I met my next mentor. I took a class that was taught by Sylvia Van Kirk and that’s how I met her. That’s how I learned how that little piece of history clicked together that became Women in the Shadows. It was through her, again, mentors!

Students often ask you for career advice, and my career advice is really simple; Pay attention to the things that get put in your path, especially the people that are put in your path. You might think you’re getting this degree that’s going to put you on this path to be XY or Z but other things are always put in your path and it’s up to you do something with that. Those are going to be the things that are ultimately most important in your life. They were in my life.

So mentoring is a really interesting topic, because I think about the people who were put on my journey and I think it’s our responsibility to the future. I actually take it really seriously and I always have. We’re responsible for handing over whatever this piece is that we’ve learned. You know? From our mistakes, from our efforts, we are responsible to pass that on, and then eventually step aside.

Christine Welsh being honoured at UVic.

Honouring Ceremony and retirement party for Christine Welsh at UVic.

I feel that really intensely now. It’s time for me to be leaving my job at UVic, it’s been really good. Even though it’s not anything I ever would have imagined for myself – to be a university teacher. It taught me a huge amount. I met amazing students who are still part of my life. It’s all been about the relationships that I formed there. But I don’t need to keep doing it indefinitely.

I’m really delighted that another young Indigenous woman scholar is now going to take that place. It’s her time to do that. I had my time there. Just like you’re supposed to lead now. I can provide whatever wisdom I’ve managed to accumulate and opinions (of which you know I will be only too happy to share.) But it is for you to decide where that goes now, because that’s your future. It’s your turn and I’ll be there with you, but you decide where we go next.

[JW] So these careers, these positions in the world don’t need to go on forever… you’re wrapping this one up, you’ve decided to let it go and put down teaching.

[CW] “Put down teaching” I really like that expression!

[JW] What other things are you working on now that aren’t teaching?

[CW] I’m finishing a short documentary called The Thinking Garden about a group of elderly women who have been operating a community garden in Jopi village in Limpopo Province, South Africa since Apartheid. It’s an amazing story of women’s resilience, which is one of the reasons I became involved with it.

It was proposed to me by a colleague at UVic, Elizabeth Vibert. She has been working with these women recording their life stories. You can find more information at Womensfarm.org.

[JW] You’re definitely not retired, just moving onto other things.  Now, let me catch up long enough to take your picture! Thank you!

Portrait of Christine Welsh

Christine

 

* Disclaimer: Some of the statements have been edited for clarity and continuity.

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There’s something more that my art/work can do to empower us as Indigenous people. For quite some time it felt as if my creativity had slowed, even though I was constantly on the go crisscrossing the country. It was as if an autopilot switch was flipped. Equipped? Check. Booked? Check. Bags? Packed. Push the shutter button and travel to the next city, shutter button, next city, and the next. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining—I love photography, the experience of it all was beautiful and has taught me so much along the way—I was simply tired after 7 years of travelling which left me feeling slightly uninspired. There’s something more that my art/work can do to empower us as Indigenous people. There’s something more to it, something deeper. I waited for an idea as these contemplations ran laps in my mind for almost a year until, finally, a thoughtful breakthrough during the quiet winter months at home on my rez in northwestern Ontario.

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I should let you know that my first series, Concrete Indians, launched in 2008 and is premised on the concept of Indigenous identity. It’s about self-awareness and the affects of urbanization on cultural identity. That idea came suddenly and within hours the series was launched. It’s based upon an open-call platform and I invite people to submit portrait session ideas concerning urban Indigenous identity. Something beautiful happens when the power of self-expression is allowed the creative freedom to empower not only oneself but, in the process, others as well. The black and white portraits photographed during the span of 7 years have resonated with many Indigenous people across Canada and the U.S. And interest continues to grow. I knew I wanted to continue basing my art/work on that open-call platform but also wanted the next series to somehow broaden the space that Concrete Indians had created.

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I must also let you know that I have discussed politics and Indigenous knowledge, philosophies and worldviews with my dad for years. Years. It’s been nearly 17 years actually and as I became a photographer the conversations we had were always present in my thoughts as an artist. No matter where I was coming from, after another year of travelling, I would return home and we picked up where we left off, those long conversations, as if I had never left. Once I decided to stop touring, that creative pull to work on something new positioned itself foremost in my mind.

It wasn’t until January that all my thoughts about Indigenous knowledge started pooling together. The main concepts I wanted this new series to be about, concerned: relationships and Indigenous knowledge. Initially, the series was specifically about reconciliation which has become of such importance since the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the release of the TRC Final Report including the 94 Calls-To-Action outlined therein, but after discussions with my dad and correspondence with a friend, I understood that the essence of what I was getting at rested solely on the need to focus our attention on our relationships with each other as Indigenous people rather than the historical relationship with the Canadian state. It became clear to me that reconciliation is a(nother) name and a(nother) way for the Canadian government to throw (more) money at the “Indian problem.” What kind of long-term solutions can come from an approach like that? And I don’t want to name all the reports and studies that have been done, nor do I want to say the research isn’t important. The research and findings are important. There are many Indigenous academics and activists who point out the reports and studies on a daily basis, raising awareness about the history of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. Who is this research for? We already know the problems that exist, our people live with it every day. I also don’t mean to lessen the importance of vocalizing pain, grief and anger. I think it’s good to be angry and frustrated—that anger and frustration is born out of a need for change to occur. Lasting and meaningful change isn’t going to come from Ottawa, nor it is going to come from talking and talking about it. All in all, I want to be hopeful, but at the end of the day I remain critical of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. I am definitely not aboard the reconciliatory ship.

Then I remembered a quote I read years ago by Metis academic and activist Dr. Howard Adams in his book “Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View”:

“The racism and colonialism of capitalism will always hold us captive in misery, violence and exploitation. It is time that we recognized our own power and faced the fact that our solutions lie within ourselves.”

The step away from reconciliation allowed the series the freedom to shed light on all the pathways that Indigenous intelligence can create, pathways to a pool, a source, of information that we need to remember and reflect on in our search for the solutions to our current struggles. This is knowledge that already exists within our Nations. The shift from reconciliation also allowed the series to be about the goodness within us and our communities, our present and our future. There are so many already drawing from this pool of intelligence and building solutions within their communities.

It was time to put a name to it all. The title needed to be uplifting and empowering. A few days of text-message correspondence with a friend and the word “emergence” surfaced in my explanation of the shift the series had taken. Then after another week of consulting the thesaurus, text-messaging back and forth with a few more friends, not to mention breaks during which I sat by the fire and did a lot more thinking, a sub-title began forming. The words just beyond my reach. I continued mixing and playing with punctuation and words (I’m certain I’ve read the entire thesaurus) and then finally:

emergence
re:collecting indigenous intelligence

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Whereas Concrete Indians is about the relationships that we have with our individual selves, emergence is about remembering the complex relations and the intelligence of our ancestors that is honoured and strengthened when we fully understand our place within all of creation. I’m interested in the intelligence of our ancestors, which is intelligence that encompasses every aspect of life. There’s a reason why we say, “all my relations.” In Anishinaabemowin you’d say, “danawemaagaanidook.” Indigenous intelligence is in our languages and philosophies. Indigenous intelligence is rooted in the land and in our ceremonies. It’s everywhere. It always has been. We only need to (continue to) foster its reemergence.

I want to thank the following family and friends for the dialogue and insights shared, for their support, intellect, creativity, and feedback during the several phases this series went through from the idea to the launch: ndede/ my dad, Niigaanipinens for all the discussions (during all phases), Jarrett Martineau (conceptualization, titling and design feedback), Sage Paul and Jason Baerg (titling and design feedback), Ryan Redcorn (branding, graphic, and watermark design), and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (writing feedback/ editing). Chimiigwetch!

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The series was launched April 13 and in keeping with the open-call platform, I invite those interested to email ideas to be photographed. Photo sessions can involve portraiture, event coverage, and other session types. I will be photographing my own thoughts on Indigenous intelligence involving astronomy and that vast beautiful night sky spread out above us all as we dream.

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 – nadya kwandibens

Never Too Old to Learn Your Language

I remember being in University and my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I were talking about how we wanted to learn our Cree language. About how cool it would be if we could speak fluent in in. At the time we had felt like our language was dying. I was scared that it would be lost and that it was important for us to know it if we want our children to learn it it. Thus began our (long) journey to becoming Cree speaking people.

It’s easy to say “I want to speak *insert language*!” So easy. The hard part is actually doing it (which goes for many things in life, funnily enough). Because we weren’t near any fluent speakers while in University, we needed to get creative with how we were going to force ourselves to learn it. One word a day. That was our goal, learning one new word a day and using the new word. Easy enough. We used our resources. I would call or text my mom (a fluent Cree speaker), and we would search up words on creedictionary.com. Because we were going from English to Cree, it was difficult to get pronunciation right from just reading from the website, which is where my mom would come in and pronounce for us. This system went really well and were we’re happily saying simple things to each other like tanispe” (“when”), awîna (“who”), kîkwây (“what”). Suddenly it was midterm season, we were busy studying and our learning Cree project got put on the back burner. It was so easy to make an excuse like “life happened.”

Fast forward five years, neither of us is much better at Cree speaking. We let the whole “life happens” excuse really happen. Despite my parents being fluent, and my husband’s dad being fluent, we still barely know the basics. I’ve asked my mom, “why didn’t you teach us Cree,” as kindly as possibly. I could see the sadness in her eyes. She explained to me that she had a lot of trouble in school because English wasn’t her first language and that she didn’t want that for her children. “Oh,” was pretty much all that I could say to her, which felt really inadequate. It was a cold reminder of how we are people of two worlds.

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I have been given a new opportunity to become a better Cree speaker at my new job. Maybe it’s because it’s spring and the new season is inspiring me, maybe I’m just taking advantage of all the Cree speakers in my workplace, either way I am feeling motivated to get back on the road to learning Cree.

Recently I have been given, by a few of my co-workers, a Cree word or phrase nearly daily and I write it in my notebook or onto a sticky note so I can have it in front of me. Often when I’m not prepared, they will approach me and say something to me and Cree, forcing me to practice from memory, forcing me to learn. It is daunting, terrifying, humbling, fun, and an honour. These people have become my mentors, my anchor to learning my language. For that I am so grateful.

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I remember when I first started at this job I was scared to speak any Cree and ashamed of my pronunciations (and lack of Cree knowledge). Now I am bit more explorative in practicing Cree and I am challenging others when I see them (including my husband) to speak Cree with me. Sometimes I think I am too old to learn, but then I remind myself that it’s never too late to learn my language.

 – claudine bull

 

Shayla of Snowshoe Studios – Featured Artist

Shayla and I grew up on opposite ends of the Northwest Territories, like many youth in the North, we met at Arctic Winter Games tryouts for Dene Games. We competed, we laughed and we shared many stories.

Our friendship was instant; Shayla’s personality is humorous – absolutely hilarious, outgoing and could make me laugh like nobodies business. It felt like we had known each other for years. We share a lot in common; it’s actually quite weird. We both have a true passion for the Dene Games sport, we both love to travel, we love the North and we both attended photography school the same year – different schools.

While I was in photography school, I turned to Shayla for help, advice and ofcourse a good laugh. We often compared schools, photographers, photography work and assignments. That was almost 5 years ago!

I’ve always admired Shayla’s work straight from the get-go, her ability to capture her culture, the pristine land, the elders; her people never seize to amaze me. She inspires me every time she shares an image – she is always willing to push the envelope a little farther every time.

It was only natural to ask Shayla to apart of the Tea & Bannock blog as a featured artist, she was the first person I thought of, one of my favorite Northern photographers and I knew she would never disappoint.

I’m proud to call her my friend and so proud of her as the photographer of Snowshoe Studios!

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Tell us about yourself and where you come from?

Drin gwiinzi shilakat, jii juudin Shayla “Gwikitch’ihkheh” Snowshoe vilzhih. My name is Shayla Snowshoe; I am a Tetlit Gwich’in woman born and raised in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a friend, a fighter, a photographer and a laugher. I come from a long line of strong, beautiful and intelligent mothers and grandmothers that I would like to acknowledge, because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for every single one of them.

The most important thing in life, to me, is my family; they are my source of strength, unconditional love and inspiration. One of the people that I cherish the most in my life is my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie and her knowledge. She has helped me to appreciate my culture, while teaching me the traditions that were passed down to her from her father as well as respect and humility. I love spending time with my Jijuu, learning to hunt, fish, cook, sew and provide for our home.

How did your journey to photography come about?

My journey to photography started at a very young age, my mom literally has photographs of myself as a baby holding a camera with the biggest grin on my face. I was always running around family dinners and events with a little digital camera in my hand, bugging everyone to let me snap their photos. But I really truly fell in love with photography when I was in high school taking a film photography class in Vancouver, BC. I had never had that type of exposure to photography before, so it was all so new and intriguing to me. During that year, my dad gave me my first film camera, and that’s where it all started.

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Describe your style of photography?

I would say that my style of photography is a combination of, but definitely not limited to, portrait and wedding photography. I love being able to capture and showcase the many different faces of the North while incorporating the diverse cultures that each client has intertwined into their lives.

 Where and how do you find inspiration?

I find my inspiration mainly through the encouragement and gratitude that is expressed towards myself and my photographs, especially from my family. I also find a lot of inspiration from other portrait photographers, especially aboriginal photographers who also incorporate the unique cultures of the different clans around the world into their work.

How do you want to be remembered?

I have never really thought about how I would like to be remembered, but the very first thing that comes to mind is that I want to be remembered as kind. I want to be remembered as a person who was kind and respectful to all that I crossed paths with, as well as passionate about my work and creative.

If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

Without a doubt in my mind – ANNIE LEIBOVITZ. Annie is my all time favorite photographer, she is amazing on so many levels. This woman has experienced it all and she continues to thrive within her photographic career… It would be an absolute privilege to work along side one of the world’s most legendary photographers.

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Explain how is it to be a photographer in the North of 60?

Cold. Dark. Quiet. Amazing. Culturally rich. Beautiful scenery. I feel as though there are definitely some hard cons to deal with, but the pros are far greater than any of those setbacks. It can be so cold and dark in the winters that it’s hard to book sessions or find the inspiration to go out shooting… but there are days when the sun is shining all night and the geese are flying around or the northern lights will be dancing and I have a moment where I realize that this is exactly where I am meant to be. This is my home, these are my people and this is my culture… this is exactly what I want to be photographing and showcasing to the world.

How does your culture tie into your photography work?

My culture is a huge part of my photography work because I spend a lot of time working to incorporate any types of cultural representations into my photos; beaded slippers, baby belts, hand sewn mitts, etc. I also love going out on the land with my Jijuu and being able document her in her element; harvesting caribou, carefully cutting dryfish, chopping wood, making bannock, all of the things that she loves to do out on the land.

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What was your proudest moment as a photographer?

My proudest moment as a photographer was when I won a photo contest with the Gwich’in Tribal Council with a photograph of my Jijuu chopping wood. Although winning the photo contest was pretty amazing in itself, nothing could ever beat the look of pride and appreciation on my Jijuu and Jijii’s faces when I hung the winning photograph on the wall in their home. Those are the moments that make my career worth while.

Do you have any advice for up and coming photographers in the North?

Enjoy the learning process. It’s okay to make a mistake… that’s how I learned most lessons since beginning my photography journey. Experiment with your camera’s settings, different subjects and new locations. Interact with other photographers; it’ll be good for your knowledge base as well as your inspiration. Never stop creating. Never stop believing in yourself. And like my mom always says, #1 rule: always be kind.

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