Let’s talk about Indigenous Erotica.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Plant your feet on the ground. Separate them. Take up space. Straighten your back. Eyes on me. Chin up. Don’t smile. 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.
What’s your story?
– tenille campbell