Searching for hands

I have thousands of photos on my computer and external hard drives. For years I’ve tried to archive my photos “the right way” but honestly, I could use some guidance. So many RAW and JPEG and TIFF files, so many photos to sort through. I use Lightroom 5 which is a great tool for editing but most importantly for organizing, sorting and searching for photographs. With all of these digital files sometimes I feel like a hoarder of images who doesn’t want to let go and/or delete them.  Perhaps, I should just print all of them and place them in photo albums, remember those? Binders full of photographs, to gaze upon and hold in your hands.

Lately, I have been going through my images searching for themes. I noticed that I seem to have been taking lots of pictures of hands. Hands holding. Hands touching. Reaching out. From the hands of a newborn holding tight to her older sister’s hand to the hands of an old man — my father — petting the feathers on a head of my auntie’s parrot. Each pair of hands unique in the texture of the skin, the way the light reflects off the nails, the gestures captured with my hand held DSLR.

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Hands to hold.

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Hands to prepare food.

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Hands to hold up our young ones.

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Hands of an older sister to hold onto.

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Hands to write notes with.

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Hands to hold bullets.

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Hands for dancing.

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Hands for making music.

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Hands to explore nature.

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Hands for making moccasins.

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Hands to show found treasures.

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Hands to paint on.

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Hands for touching.

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Hands for making snowmen.

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Hands for picking cranberries.

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Hands for drawing.

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Hands to lick.

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Hands for holding birds nests.

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Hands for grasping.

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Hands for typing.

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Hands for cleaning salmon.

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Hands for touching eulachon eyeballs.

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Hands for helping.

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Hands for sewing buttons.

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Hands for letting go.

-Amanda Laliberte

Melissa General: From Six Nay to The Six

I would like to introduce Melissa General, an artist whose work I had the honour to write about from the exhibition Mikwenim (Remember). The exhibition was curated as part of the Asinabka Indigenous Film & Media Arts Festival in Ottawa, Ontario last year and also featured the work of Jo SiMalaya Alcampo. Asinabka is coming up on its 5th year and runs from August 10-14, 2016. 

Melissa’s work is a gentle understanding, a familiar longing for home. Her series Keyahre: I Remember consists of photographs, video installation, and seven white child-size dresses embellished with Mohawk words. I felt a connection with the work even though there are 1000s of kilometers between our communities.

I was thrilled when she agreed to write about her experiences with photography and staying connected to Six Nations while living in the Six. Tea & Bannock, please welcome Melissa General.

-jt arcand


 

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Melissa General, Akhwá-tsire, 2013

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Melissa General, Kehyára’s, 2013

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Melissa General, Tekyatatnón-kwe, 2013

Many years ago I moved from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory to Toronto to study art at the Ontario College of Art and Design. As a shy and awkwardly quiet young Mohawk woman, moving to Toronto was a challenging transition for me. Growing up I visited Toronto frequently with family and friends but, until I moved my entire world was located at the corner of Fourth Line and Tuscarora Road. My best friend lived down the road from me on the other side of Fifth Line. My Uncle Dave lived one road over on Onondaga Road and my high school was a fifteen-minute drive away. It was a big move for me.

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Melissa General, from the series Nitewakénon, 2015

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Melissa General, from the series Nitewakénon, 2015

When I began my studies at OCAD I experimented in several areas, initially focusing on installation until I took my first photography course. I took PHOT-2B03 Introductory Photography: Black and White, and when it was over I cried because I knew I’d have to wait through the summer to have darkroom access again. Photography was a new medium with its own language that I was determined to learn how to speak. I made plenty of mistakes through the process and had my share of difficult critiques but, I worked hard to learn.

In the last two years of my studies at OCAD I was still quite shy and began to use myself as a subject in my work. I enjoyed the solitude of working on my own and quickly realized that much of my work was about learning and understanding who I was and about my Indigenous identity. I possessed a limited amount of knowledge about my culture and history so I began to learn about myself through my process and photography provided me with a voice when I was too timid to have one.

Now, years after graduating from OCAD and completing my MFA at York University, my practice has now evolved to include photography, video, audio and installation work. My Indigenous identity continues to be at the core of my practice and includes concepts involving land, memory and history with the majority of my work being produced on Six Nations Territory.

I am still based in Toronto, working and teaching at OCAD University with the Indigenous Visual Culture (INVC) program. As a young student at OCAD I hoped to return to the university to teach, so I’m very excited to be faculty for Indigenous Visual Culture. I feel fortunate and very proud to support the talented Indigenous artists who call the INVC Student Centre their on-campus home. I have shared my experiences with them as a young OCAD student navigating their way through university and I offer them my support in successfully completing their studies.

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Melissa General, The Place Where I Come From, 2015

Melissa General is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design and completed a Masters of Fine Arts degree at York University. Her work has been exhibited at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, Art Gallery of Peterborough, Gallery 101, Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography and has been included in the 2016 Contemporary Native Art Biennial in Montreal.

Forever Sunsets

When I jumped on board with the Tea & Bannock team, my initial thought was that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to use this space to share the unique life North of 60. Share stories and images of the pristine land, the beautiful people and the rich culture that many don’t get to experience.

I’ll be honest when I was thinking up my next blog post (this one right here), I was stumped – not sure what to share and just so happened to be on my way to my partner’s yearly family reunion in Jean Marie River (JMR).

It wasn’t until I was camping in Jean Marie River that it hit me, why not share the beauty of this community? The land, water and sky.

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Jean Marie River is a very tiny community in the Northwest Territories with a population of roughly 60 people. It is located in the Deh Cho region, right on the shore of the Mackenzie River. The traditional way of living is still very strong in the community of JMR. Most people still live off the land; using it for harvesting and traveling. The closest grocery store is an hour away; the water is delivered house to house by truck and the people are very friendly.

During our stay in Jean Marie River, we would spend most of the day trying to escape the heat by jumping in the creeks near by, boating and seadooing on the river or playing on a large makeshift slip N’ slide with the kids. The heat would finally calm down around nine in the evening and that’s when I would notice the sky… OH MY!

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Don’t get me wrong; I’ve lived in the North my whole life. I’ve noticed the 24-hour summer time sunlight and the beautiful colored sky before but never took the time to capture it. I’ve never been one to capture landscape images, I’m not exactly sure why. I honestly couldn’t tell you. All I know is that I like to photograph people.

So while spending my nights camping under the Midnight Sun in Jean Marie River, I decided to challenge myself and keep my camera hanging around my neck… just shoot the sky I thought to myself.

So I did.

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…And then I fell in love with photography and life in the North all over again.

 – shawna mcleod 

Dreamcatchers and Sweetgrass

Let’s talk about Indigenous Erotica.

Whaa whaa.

As I start to giggle to myself, I just wanna let you know that I still get intimated when I think about Indigenous Erotica as a whole – it’s a big scary term for the most basic of wants and needs. Author Kateri  Akiwenzie-Damm describes it best: “It’s about loving, sexual, ‘dirty’, outrageous, ribald, intimacies of humanity and sexuality that we all crave.” (Without Reservation: Indigenous Erotica). But I also just think of Indigenous Erotica as this – those kinda-dirty, kinda-naughty, Saturday night adventures you tell your crew Sunday morning, sitting around the kitchen table, feasting on stories and food.

I first started thinking – or not thinking – about Indigenous Erotica when I was living in Vancouver, studying at UBC. Richard Van Camp was our professor, and we were doing an evening class that focused on Indigenous Literature. It was a healthy place – full of food, laughter and stories. Richard was always open to discussion, and would, without fail, tell us when the full moon was happening each month.

Towards the end of term, he gave us one final assignment – a challenge, of sorts. “I want you to write about the sacred orgasm.”

Dead silence.

Me, being small town Saskatchewan girl, blushed and avoided his eyes, grinning. I was 23. I was young. I was in a long-term relationship since I was 17, and while I could gossip about sex with the best of them, I wasn’t comfortable sharing my stories with people who I didn’t grow up with.

I could feel the shifting of bodies and the quiet bursts of laughter as we all took a minute to process this. Richard explained a bit more, sharing a short story he wrote, and assured us that we didn’t have to do it, but we were welcome to try.

I did not write about the sacred orgasm.

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It was only years later that my work began exploring sexuality and sensuality in my chosen genres of photography and writing. I broke up with my long-term partner, and spent some time doing research, listening to people’s stories about their sweeties, and having my own experiences.

I would end up at random house parties in the West Side, sipping a cold beer as a woman I never met before told me how she used to date the Chief’s son. I would be eating cold pizza, grinning at the boy with braids who whispered drum songs in my ear as his sweetie glared at him from across the room. I would moan words in Dene to the boy with blue eyes as he fantasized about dreamcatchers and sweetgrass. Nezu. Be’chuze ne cha. I nodded sympathetically as a man with tribal tattoos told me how his girl left him because he wanted to spank her in bed and she wasn’t into that domestic abuse.

And I started to write.

To write down these stories, exploring form and function. Transcribing experiences and laughter into poetry, trying to find my own narrative that reflected the oral training of my past. Trying to write in a way that would make a person burst out laughing, blushing, giggling.

As I worked on this, I also experimented with photography in both my normal sessions as well as my personal art sessions. I wrote about #KissingIndigenous before, and I’m proud of where that is going, but I was also exploring the power of sexuality in regular sessions. Too often, we don’t feel sexy, we don’t feel powerful. We don’t see ourselves in the images plastered on tv and social media, in the pouty lips, the casual smiles. Yet, I was photographing people where I saw this in them, all the time.

Trying to convince someone to be sexy when his or her instinct is to hide from the camera is hilarious, and a gift.

I’ve started explaining the “pow-wow grin”.

That smile when you’re checking someone out, and they catch you. You look down, smile, and look up again.

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That smile.

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And I’ve taken to letting the silences stand between us. To let them know that when they are strong – when they are what is often called ‘arrogant’ – that looks amazing. That looks powerful.

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Plant your feet on the ground. Separate them. Take up space. Straighten your back. Eyes on me. Chin up. Don’t smile. Perfect.

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Perfect.

So now, I’m in this world where I flirt, I laugh, I kiss, I avoid hickies, and I write about it. And people know I’m writing. This isn’t something that stops. And people find me, tell me their stories. Give me permission to share. They laugh when I blush – and I have blushed – and they grin when I ask for more details.

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So…

What’s your story?

 – tenille campbell

 

 

Family Road Trip

My family and I are on our first road trip out of province.

I’ve been busy documenting our experiences on my Canon 5d Mark III with a 35mm lens and my iPhone 6 while editing along the way with the Snapseed app.

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Skies near Horseshoe Canyon, AB.

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The boys in the lobby at the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino, AB.

We started with the intention to visit family near Lumby, see old friends in Banff, look at old dinosaur bones in Drumheller, meet family in Brosseau and Edmonton and attend the Lac St Anne Pilgrimage.

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Railway and Mountain, BC.

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The world’s largest dinosaur in Drumheller, AB.

Being the anxious person that I am, I prefer to have a planned itinerary. You know, a solid schedule of what is to be seen and done. Very little change.

However, I’ve had to set that way of thinking aside and just go with the flow, which hasn’t been the easiest thing for me to do.

Our plans have been changing every day.

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Bison at the Banff Park Museum, AB.

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Cave and Basin is the birth place of Canadian National Parks, AB.

We made it all the way to Drumheller, but as soon as we finished with the Royal Tyrell Museum it was time to turn around and head back to BC.

I am learning to let go and just have fun with my boys.

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Wildlife crossing structure in Banff National Park, AB.

Blasted mountain near Golden, BC.

Blasted mountain near Golden, BC.

While this road trip has been full of ups and downs, my heart is full of love as I catch a glimpse of awe in the faces of my children when they experience the changing landscape around us.

amanda laliberte 

 

Film-lover, Kind of

Many years ago I was exposed to a photographer who loved to capture his family using film (Nate Kaiser). Since then I have had a deep love for film cameras (especially medium format) and photographs. Maybe it was nostalgia, or maybe they’re just straight up beautiful images.

Fast forward a few years and I definitely fell hard for the Pentax 6×7 camera. I needed it. I got lucky and someone was selling one on kijiji. Somehow, I managed to cough up some extra money and purchase it (tough when you’re a student). My joy was uncontainable. It was my new baby.

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Me and my baby, taken not on film.

Well, let’s just say it was short-lived. I still have that baby, but our relationship is in tatters and I am so ready to renew it. Film is patience, and work, and did I mention patience? The first time I developed my film, the place didn’t have a scanner for it, so I did it the poor mans way and backlit it, took a picture with my 50mm (yikes) and put it onto my computer. Not ideal, and the images were terrible. To develop my 2nd roll of film it took THREE buses to get to the one place that I could find that would develop and scan it. Two hours. Then I had to wait a day or two to get my roll back. My third option was to mail it away and wait for it to come back and on top of that it costs a lot of money.

So, again, short lived relationship. I’m posting this as a public promise to myself that I will pull out that beautiful camera again and start using it more. It really forced me to THINK about each precious shot, and then in turn treasure them.

Here are some of the images from that 2nd roll of film. I still love all of the pictures so much.

Film is beautiful.

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#BlackLivesMatter

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This is an open letter to my Indigenous Community,

I’m asking for solidarity for #BlackLivesMatter. To stop appropriating this hashtag to announce that Indigenous lives are just as important, because we feel the parallel systemic violence on top of colonial land violence.

This is not a time to try and prove who has been hurt worse or more often or for how long. This will not stop the pain and will not bring you comfort. This is a time for #IndigenousSolidarity.

I work on issues related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and have for over a decade. At a time when NOONE was taking us seriously, when our numbers were denied as not “real” statistics. When we called for allyship and solidarity…. We heard many of the same derailment tactics: That white women face domestic violence too, that if we handled ourselves differently, dressed differently, did not struggle with addiction, moved from the res, moved from the city, moved from the neighbourhood, didn’t antagonize the police, the social worker, the border guard, the transit police, the RCMP, then we would be ok. This is a falsehood intended to implicate us in our own oppression.

These are tactics used to take us away from the truth that violence is being done to us in genocidal numbers and we must not use these tactics now to contribute to the derailment of #BlackLivesMatter.

Because #BlackLivesMatter. Period.

We are not just an Indigenous community, but a community that is mixed blood…. Our history, oppression and future and that of the black community are not isolated from one another, nor is our potential for emancipation.

Our communities share ancestors and babies…. We are family. Think of your mixed race brothers and sisters, nieces and nephew, aunties and uncles, our parents and partners. We are community. How many of our youth and artists have found meaning and empowerment through black culture? Through black leaders, through black music?

It’s time we as Indigenous communities support black lives, and not simply take meaning from black culture. We know what it feels like to have our culture appropriated, while the oppression and injustice is omitted. We know what it is to constantly demand to have our lives recognized as human and our deaths to be taken seriously and treated with the gravity they deserve. We need to acknowledge that we know what this is, and to consciously choose to stand in solidarity against this kind of oppression.

Take this moment to examine racism within our own Indigenous communities. How are we complicit? It’s time to decide if we want to have more in common with those that share our oppression, or with our shared oppressors. Racism is not our tradition.

I understand that we are hurting, for so many same reasons: systemic violence resulting in injury, death, public execution, child apprehension and incarceration. But we did not see the hashtag #BlackIdleNoMore did we? No, that would not be ok. That would negate our struggle, that would silence our point, our position, our movement in a weird oppression competition.

So it’s time to stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.

Right now, in North America, Black lives are being taken in public executions by police and this must stop. It’s insane. Why would we want to derail that?

Here’s what I’m asking you to do:

  1. Hold space for #BlackLivesMatter: to mourn, hurt, be quiet, be angry for all the feelings, for all the words, for all the silences.
  2. Stop the appropriation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This includes speaking up and against the hashtag alllivesmat@#… #NativeLivesMatt@#… Etc.
  3. Interrupt and engage those in your own circles/ workplaces/ social media who dismiss the real pain and resistance efforts of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This is not a time to be silent.
  1. Understand that the violence you may be aware of now, is not new and is symptomatic of colonialism, racism and white privilege and what is new is the collective international resistance to the violence against and public execution of people of color by police.
  2. #SayTheirNames
  3. Say #BlackLivesMatter

Believe it.

~Jessica Wood.