A Cree Weightlifter

A year ago today I competed in my first weightlifting competition, the OPF Open in Edmonton, AB. OPF stands for Olympic Power and Fitness and they are the club that I joined in early 2014. Stepping into that club literally changed my entire life, in the best way.

I’ll never forget that first day at the club. My good friend Lori-Lei had texted me and said we should go check out Olympic weightlifting, only a couple blocks from where I lived at the time. I remember almost telling her I couldn’t go, that I was too busy. Honestly, I had nothing planned and I was just terrified, terrified of meeting new people, and of trying something new. Although I had been playing sports since grade 9, I thought I was lanky, uncoordinated (as people constantly feel the need to remind me), and not naturally athletic. I thought I wouldn’t be able to weightlift.

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My first weightlifting meet, with my cheering squad in the top picture.

That first day the coach Kevin Z., who is the kindest, most wonderful coach ever, worked with me and introduced me to the two lifts – snatch and clean and jerk. In a weightlifting competition you get three attempts at each lift, and they take your best snatch and your best clean and jerk to make a total. The best total in each weightclass (generally) wins. Needless to say, learning the technique was (and still is) an intense learning curve.

Four months after joining the club I was done University and moved out of the city and back to the country. It didn’t take me long to invest in a weightlifting bar and some weights, because I was addicted to the sport. Eventually I built my own platform in the garage at home and have been training in there since.

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My garage training gym.

It took me over a year to enter in my first competition, the OPF Open which was on May 30, 2015. I was happy with how I did at the time (55kg snatch, 65kg clean and jerk). Since then I have competed in two more, the Gordon Kay Memorial in October 2015 and Alberta Provincials in December 2015. It has been challenging, both physically and mentally. The most difficult part is training on my own, without my coach and teammates from OPF. Watching my body change, and numbers go up has been so rewarding. I am so in awe sometimes of what my body is capable of and then sometimes I’m daunted my how much farther I have to grow (but also excited by it). I cannot wait to compete at nationals (first step is to qualify). I have so many goals, and I just take it day by day, and step by step, inching my way closer.

The best part of weightlifting has been the people. I have met so many wonderful people in this sport and they both inspire and encourage me. It has been fun to grow with fellow athletes. Although this is an individual sport, the support from my teammates has been tremendously beneficial to my improvement and I am forever grateful for the community that exists in weightlifting.

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So far I haven’t met any other Aboriginal Olympic weightlifters in Canada. I plan on getting certified to coach soon and one of my goals to to get more First Nations kids introduced and into weightlifting. I didn’t even know that weightlifting existed until that January that I stepped into the club. The benefits of it are amazing and it has transformed me into someone who is so much more confident and sure. I sometimes view my life as “before weightlifting” and “after weightlifting”. I just see it as such a bright point in my lift. I have young girls coming up to me and telling me how they’d never be able to be as strong as me or do what I do but how much they want to and I just want to shake them and scream at them that they CAN, that they can do anything they want. I was lucky enough to find a coach who is helping me realize my potential, I hope to one day to that for someone else. Weightlifting is now a part of my identity.

If you want to follow me on my weightlifting journey, you can follow my instagram http://instagram.com/claudine_bull to see updates. I frequently post clips from my training.

 

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WITNESS

I want to acknowledge the Nolie family for inviting me and my children into their homes and places of preparation as a photographer during the weeks leading up to their potlatch. The Memorial P̓a̱sa for Dorothy Rachelle Nolie (A̱bepa, ‘Na̱mnasolag̱a) was held on May 14, 2016, in Yalis by the Nolie family coming out of the Na’waxdaxw (Blunden Harbour). Tsa’xidi is the Chief’s name and the family shared treasures out of the Gixsam clan. Tsa’xidi translates roughly as throw away everything you have.

I was asked by the Nolie family to document the work of preparation. This was a mutual and equitable exchange. The agreement between myself and the family was that the images were for the family and not mine to sell nor share with others. Some photographers, might think I am crazy for such an agreement but I know that those of us who were brought up in our cultures will understand that we need to be protective of our teachings. There are just some things that are meant to be private and not to be gazed upon.

The eurocentric gaze exists and there are no end to colonialists and missionaries making money off of artists’ hard work. I understand why the carvers were hesitant about me coming into their carving sheds to take photographs of them carving. This is just one of the many reasons why photographers are not allowed to photograph the carvings that will be used for the potlatch. Someone even joked about photographers coming around and they referred to them as the kwakwarazzi. I get it. Just look here (http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/kwakwaka’wakw.html) at a few snappers who are making money selling stock photography of the cultural art here.

In the last few weeks leading up to the potlatch I’d receive last minute texts inviting me to come take photos of the family meeting to discuss protocols, or hauling wood, or preparing cedar bark, or getting the salmon ready for the smoke house, the same one that their grandmother, Dorothy Rachelle Nolie used for 30+ years. A couple of days prior to the potlatch I drove around the Rez in my family wagon listening to OutKast’s B.O.B on repeat, on the look out for families working for the potlatch. Some even referred to me as the Kwakwarazzi. A few of the people I photographed knew me but many didn’t and there were moments where I felt like I wished I had a t-shirt that said, official photographer a.k.a. soul stealer. My son and I would go to a home where women were gathered preparing the cedar bark. We’d introduce ourselves, take some photos, chat a bit, they’d show my son how he could help while I took more photos and then we’d move on.

Family research had to be done, family gatherings and more meetings to discuss protocol. Fish, crabs, clams were caught, elk was hunted and prepared, fish was smoked, cedar bark was harvested and then made into regalia, woods was chopped, hauled and burned, hemlock was harvested and hung in the Gukwdzi and also danced in, food so much food was ordered and hauled up to the bay then prepared, cooked, shared and eaten, buttons were sewn and worn, family crests were painted, gifts were bought and given, young and old practiced their dances, the floor of the Big House was raked and hosed down, archways were made, grass was cut and the weed whackers were used, and as one of the hereditary chiefs said the carvers brought wood to life.

And everything and everyone and their ancestors came together in the Gukwdzi to honour and remember Dorothy Rachelle Nolie (A̱bepa, ‘Na̱mnasolag̱a). And I was able to witness the potlatch without my camera.

-Amanda Laliberte

Indigenous Summer, YXE Edition

 

While I don’t consider Saskatoon my home – that will always be the North – I am raising my daughter here, and I’m showing her the best that YXE has to offer. It’s been in part inspired by my friend Melody (a talented photographer based on the West Coast) – she makes it a point to bring her children outside, daily, for hours. She entrenches them in their traditions, language, culture and community, and I adore it.

So a few months ago, I started that with Aerie, but our own version. I wanted Aerie to go outside and to explore, to see the city, to see nature, to eat different foods, and to have fun with me.

Raising a Dene daughter on Treaty 6 Territory (Cree/Nehiyawak) is something that’s not far from my mind. I’m often pleased by the amount of brown faces I see in the crowd, I’m extremely happy with how culturally diverse her daycare is, and I love the fact that we can find cultural support within and around Saskatoon, aside from our own families, if we need it. These are things that are important to me, as raising her as an Urban Indigenous is a lot more tricky now that we aren’t on our traditional lands.

So, to share with her, I teach her where we are, within Indigenous context. I feel we should always try to acknowledge whose land we are guests on, and it’s my job to teach my child that as well.

So we begin with walks. We cross the Train Bridge (Saskatoon being called the “City of Bridges” – this is just one of the seven bridges Saskatoon has. And we look upon the river, and I tell her what the river is called in Cree – kisiskāciwani-sīpiy – meaning “swift flowing river.”

She sounds it out slowly. It’s a game to her, matching the longer flowing syllables. She speaks Cree as slowly and clumsily as I do, but we try.

Once she has mastered the word, we move on, and she skips down the bridge, singing “sipiiiyyyy sippiiyyyy sippiiyyyy” off-tune and loudly. I smile.

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A few days later, we drawl down to the sandbars. She runs and plays, emerging muddy but happy. The next day, I show my Dad some of the images, and he shakes his head. He’s not happy with me.

“Your Grandpa, he wouldn’t like this,” Dad starts. He’s talking slow and deep, and the hair on my arms start to rise. My Grandpa has long passed, but if Dad starts dropping Indigenous Knowledge on me, I’m gonna listen. “He wouldn’t like this. He would say the river is like a snake – sand shifts and moves, and it’s fast and quick. You never let your child play on the banks of a river.”

Well then.

We are never going on the riverbanks again.

*laughing cry face*

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Saskatoon has been developing their downtown riverbank sections for some time now, and I finally took Aerie down there. This Victoria Bridge was demolished a year ago, or so, and Aerie was staring at it real hard, confused.

We walked in the waterpark area, which hasn’t been turned on yet, and I showed Aerie the Batoche section, and showed her where Mama (Grandma) had grown up, not far down the river. We sat in the sun as I told her stories of hay bales, riding bareback on ponies, and running after the truck when my Grandpa would drive off in the fields. She laughed, nodded, and asked, real serious – “is this where I go jigging?”

Yes, baby. yes.

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We generally end our days at the park. Aerie has learned the hard way not to chase geese, she knows which parks are her favourites, and she knows the Cree and Dene words for “come here!”

We sit beside each other on the bench, watching the sunset. “How do you say that in Dene?” she asks.

“I don’t know how to say sunset in Dene, but the sun is sa,” I tell her. She says it loudly, pointing the sun. I laugh at how her voice makes the other kids turn to look at us.

“And in Cree?” she asks.

I quickly check my Cree Online Dictionary App (you know it!) and show her – “pahkisimon.” 

She sounds it out again, slowly.

Then she looks at me. “I know how to say sun in Spanish – sol.” Then off she runs.

Damn Dora.

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 – tenille campbell

Memories Photographed

I’ve always been a documentary type photographer. I just like to take pictures. Plus, I’ve had this obsession with preservation since I was a kid. I literally kept everything. Over the years I’ve managed to keep the smallest pieces of paper with my dad’s handwriting on it, a peso coin I found outside of the Valley View School in Beauval when I was a kid, and even plastic spoons and straws from the places I have eaten at. Yet, surprisingly, my house is not really all that cluttered. I just keep a metal container filled with the forever things. So, the photos I tend to take and keep to print out and put in books are the moments I care to remember.

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These photographs taken are extensions of my life, from the perspective not many people know. Aside from a handful of good friends growing up, no one has ever made the trip to English River First Nation with me.

I grew up for a short while in the ERFN reservation in Beauval and always continued to visit after we had made the move to the city. We had our home tucked away in the woods for the times the city was too much, only until I was 13. Then, as our home was replaced to a permanent one in the city, the tendency for me to go up north was left only for odd weekends, funerals, weddings, and holidays.

Many indigenous people know what it feels to be displaced, and I never really realized that I also felt that way until I was about 24. Over ten years later.

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Now, I find myself returning back to my roots, learning my language, and pursuing a degree at the University of Saskatchewan. I’ve found that after making the time to return to my homeland, it has not only connected me back to the place I had always called home, but connected my back to my people, my ancestors, and the land. I always told myself I wanted to take photographs of the north and of things that mattered to me, but as my visits have been sporadic it seems to become difficult to make the time in this city life. I knew it was important to me to photograph this.

Why?

I guess my need for preservation.

I hated that the landscape was changing without me becoming a part of it. I hated that my family and elders were dying without me being able to sit with them and hear their stories.

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It’s been difficult to me to attach myself to anywhere away from where I grew up, but it’s not easy to live back in the north when there is so much less to offer then the city, and the vast natural offerings of the land seem locked up from my loss of traditional knowledge and language. So, it’s been hard for me to find my way these last few years.

These photographs are now memories for me to keep positive, that I will return to my land one day, that I can achieve my schooling in the city, and keep my family’s knowledge and traditions of the land.

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I photographed this trip partially because I needed to complete an assignment for my photography class, but more largely for myself. I wanted to find a way to express my identity loss and my journey of finding it again. This was my husband’s first trip to the far north. Not just the reservation land, but the land my parents grew up trapping and berry picking. The place the was untainted by residential schools and reservation lands.

There’s still the feeling there, the massive amounts of freedom and innocence that lies in the land. It’s undeniable to me.

It was so incredible to have my parents, my brother, and husband all there with me by happenstance, since we all live in different places now and we have those conflicting schedules that city life brings. It worked out one weekend that we could all go to the cabin and have some time there to set a net. Many of the photographs are of the handmade cabins, fishing nets, the landscape, the picnic, and portraits of my family.

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The black and white photographs were for the assignment, and the color ones are from our Nikon. I took 6 rolls of film, spare batteries, and hoped for the best.

Luckily, they all turned out.

Film is fun that way.

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 – alexandra george


Alexandra George is Dene from English River First Nation, located win Northern Saskatchewan. She and her husband live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Alex is currently going to school at the University of Saskatchewan. This is her first foray into film photography, but she is also known for repurposing local goods, and can be found on her Instagram: @repurposedgeorge 

“Come geese hunting with us.”

As a child I have many memories of my father preparing for hunting trips, specifically for geese hunting trips. Our whole dining room area would be filled with hunting and camping gear for his hunting adventure. When he was gone, my mother would anxiously wait for his return with plenty of geese, ready to be plucked, gutted and made into tasty soup… my mother’s specialty!

As children, my siblings and I would often spend our weekends at our spring cabin along the “winter crossing” highway (a highway that led to the Mackenzie River Ice Road which houses several cabins accessible by vehicle) playing in the ditches filled of water, the giant culvert waterfall and the huge dirt mountain. We would spend hours out there letting our imagination run wild. So many special memories created here, as my parents prepared geese for supper.

It wasn’t until I was older and met my partner Darren that I got to experience geese hunting – my first ever hunting experience. He made sure I was fully equipped with rubber boots, extra socks, insulated camo gear and that I was mentally prepared to sit in a blind for several hours. He would shoot the geese, fetch them and we would both start plucking away.

A few weeks ago my family and I traveled back to my hometown of Fort Providence to try our luck at geese hunting. We spent the day at the winter crossing cabin with my parents; cooking, eating and our kids creating memories of their own. I couldn’t help but to feel relaxed and at ease that everyone there was in his or her absolute element.

When all of bellies were full from food and laughter, we ventured out for a walk from the Cabin to the frozen Mackenzie River banks. The snow began to melt which led to several boot soakers but the geese were flying and our hearts were happy.

Darren got eight geese that weekend – enough to feed eight different families. We plucked them, gutted them so they wouldn’t rot during transport and singe them over the fire to get the remaining of the feathers off. We headed home later that evening, where my mom prepared my favorite soup – geese soup. I ate four bowls that night. I loved it.

It was a beautiful day and I’m excited to share our little hunting experience with you.

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geese soup

 

 – shawna mcleod

PHOTO ESSAY: BEHIND THE SCENES OF A MOM PHOTOGRAPHER

Sometime I have to bring one or both of my children to work with me. I sure hope they are learning something.

 

Last Spring I asked my friend Art if I could come over and take photos of him preparing eulachon for the smoke house. Of course, my youngest son tagged along and eventually got in there to help hang some fish, with Art's guidance.

Last Spring, I asked my friend Art if I could come over and take photos of him preparing eulachon for the smoke house. Of course, my youngest son tagged along and Art taught us how to hang the fish for smoking in his families smokehouse.

 

I was hired by an organization to take photos of Pewi Alfred. Because of timing and busy schedules, I had to bring Luc with me. In this photo, Pewi and her niece Nora are dancing and Luc is sitting on the bench watching with his arms and legs stretched out.

I was hired by an organization to take photos of Pewi Alfred. Because of timing and busy schedules, I had to bring Luc with me. In this photo, Pewi and her niece Nora are dancing and Luc is sitting on the bench watching with his arms and legs stretched out, making himself comfortable.

 

I've been asked to document the preparation of the Memorial PA'SA for Dorothy Rachelle Nolie. Both of my children have been tagging along with me to photograph all the work leading up to the potlatch. Here Luc was invited to help with soften the cedar bark.

I’ve been asked to document the preparation of the Memorial PA’SA for Dorothy Rachelle Nolie. Both of my children have been tagging along with me to photograph all of the work leading up to the potlatch. Here Luc was invited to help with softening the cedar bark.

 

Alexis is hanging the salmon which are carefully balanced on the chair and the large container. A few seconds later, my boys knock over one the sticks on to the ground.

Alexis is hanging  salmon which were carefully balanced on the chair and the large container. My boys are seen in the left corner. Moments later, my boys knocked over one of the sticks of salmon on to the ground. Yep.

 

I was busy taking photos of the family preparing fish for the smokehouse and the boys decided to take a break outside of the Nolie smokehouse. This smokehouse has been smoking fish for over 30 years.

I was busy taking photos of Trish’s family preparing fish for the smokehouse and the boys decided to take a break (Lus has told me that is his castle chair) outside of the Nolie’s smokehouse. This smokehouse has been smoking fish for over 30 years. 

 

Pewi is part of a photo series that I've been working on. She is a culture and language teacher at the T’lisalagilakw School. Elijah, who is in grade 1, loves to joke around with Pewi so it took me quite awhile to get him out of the photos I was trying to take of her at the beach.

Pewi is part of a photo series that I’ve been working on. She is a culture and kwakwala language teacher at the T’lisalagilakw School. Elijah, who is in grade 1, loves to joke around with Pewi so it took me quite awhile to get him out of the photos. Way too much fun goofing around with those two.

 

Kyra's mom asked me to photograph her 7th birthday party. Both Kyra and Elijah are born on the same day. I like to joke around and call them twindians. In this photo, both of my kids are on the right side, Elijah has a lollipop in his mouth and Luc's hand is pointing a water gun at Kyra.

Kyra’s mom asked me to photograph her 7th birthday party. Both Kyra and Elijah are born on the same day. I like to joke around and call them twindians. In this photo, both of my kids are on the right side, Elijah has a lollipop in his mouth and Luc’s hand is pointing a water gun at Kyra. The boys really do love Kyra’s company.

 

My kids after Jeremy and Sarah's wedding ceremony. Luc saw this photo today and asked if we could go back to that wedding.

My kids after Jeremy and Sarah’s wedding ceremony. While I was writing this blog post, Luc saw this photo and asked if we could go back to that wedding.

 

The boys are busy eating sweets and drinking angel pee with their friend Bex. I was hired to photograph Suri and Simon's wedding here in Alert Bay, last summer.

I was hired to photograph Suri and Simon’s wedding here in Alert Bay. The boys had to come. Here they are busy eating sweets and drinking angel pee (raspberry ginger-ale) with their friend Bex.

 

-Amanda Laliberte

 

The Reluctant Hunter

When I started dating my husband, over 9 years ago, he gifted me with something that took me awhile to appreciate, hunting. Although my dad was an avid hunter, fisher, and outdoorsman, I was never exposed to that growing up. Insert future-husband Branden. His family loved hunting, and they took an annual trip each fall to hunt in western Alberta. I’ll admit, although I loved the camping trips, getting outdoors, swimming, and cool nights by the fire, I would often get bored with hunting itself.

4Hunting requires patience, a lot of patience, often with no reward. Even when we did get something, it was followed by a lot of back breaking work, skinning, hauling, hanging, cutting the meat up. Most often it is just my husband and I who do the cutting the meat up. It is W-O-R-K. Hard work. Branden loved the entire experience but I was not as infatuated with it. It took me awhile to understand why. Why do you love this crazy lifestyle?

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It wasn’t until my dad gifted me a gun in 2014 that I realized how much I could love hunting. It opened up a new aspect to hunting trips that didn’t really exist before, that I could actually be a hunter, instead of just am observer. As macabre as it sounds, the idea of getting meat for our family, of being a provider was so indescribable. I wanted so badly to be able to get us meat that we needed. I finally started understanding my husbands love a little bit more.

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It took me months, 8 months to be exact, before I would kill my first moose. I’ll never forget the feeling. Adrenaline, fear, humbleness in the act itself. Truly indescribable. Now when I hunt, I enjoy it. Even though most of the time I know Branden will be taking the shot, and that even more often no shot will be taken, it is just so much more enjoyable because I am much more immersed in it. I listen, I hold my breath, was that a moose walking through the bush? Hunting is now experience that nothing can compare to, enriched by my senses being so much more aware of the land surrounding me. What a gift. Hunting is still the same amount of work as before, more in fact because now that I am one of the hunters, is is expected that I’ll contribute more to every other aspect. It takes hours to cut up a moose, I can do it. I’ve also hauled my share of legs. This past season I was trying to surprise my husband by getting two legs cut up while he was at work. I ended up cutting my finger and going to the hospital (just to be safe), but I promise I am most often more competent and careful. It was also a great lesson in keeping our knives sharp. Unfortunately I didn’t get to finish cutting the meat up for him before he got home.

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Our favorite meat is moose. We won’t hunt deer because we don’t like to the taste of deer. We snare rabbits and hunt ducks, they make amazing soups. In the summer months we love to fish, walleye is our favorite.  It’s so rewarding to know that we get this food from the land, we know exactly where it comes from. We don’t like spending our money on the insanely priced meat at the supermarkets, so it is also rewarding in that aspect. We don’t over hunt, but we try get enough to last our small family until the following season. We have so many stories to tell that are so much more richer when I look back on them, experiences that I am much more grateful to have, because of my newfound appreciation of hunting.

I am so excited to raise our future children with the gift of hunting, that not long ago I took for granted.

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