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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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