Lately I’ve been focusing on doing some shape-shifting. I’ve been an official photography business since October 2017, but my passion for photography and visual arts extends far beyond my English language. The best way I know how to express myself, before I knew any of my Nsyilxcən words, is through the expressions of my work. I envision things all the time. I’ll be driving and see something and it literally just shapes itself as I drive by.
I absolutely love and have the deepest respect for all my fellow Indigenous artists out there but poetry always speaks directly to my spirit, deep down to the roots of my being. My favorite Indigenous poet is Helen Knott of the Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and Euro descent from Prophet River First Nations in Northwestern BC. She is so talented and has been inspiring me for the past few years. I use her poetry along with most of my photos because she has the gift to put life and words to what my photos need to say.
I have too many memories that tell me of your lack of integrity.
Too many stories told to this young body.
It has aged me so.
I hold ancient songs in my bones.
I have absorbed the tears of elders, of young ones, from far off territories.
Our lands split up by mountains and rivers and your invisible borders.
I have seen you offer up apologies and promises.
While simultaneously taking actions that demand that we forget.
Demand that we bow to colonial rule
Over and over
Until we sit like a young spruce sapling under the winters weight of snow.
– Helen Knott; “Canada 150. We are still Here or Have you Forgotten?”
there are stories just beneath the city streets
that your bones are trying to remember
there are trail ways laying just behind those barbed wire fences
that you just can’t reach
there are ancestors bodies in these manicured landscapes
that have mixed and mingled with the earth
knowing this, you try to listen closely in these trafficked spaces
holding breath, keeping silent
knowing that a blood memory might be trying to speak
– Helen Knott; “Indigenous Diaspora: Out of Place in Place”
In the deepest parts of myself, and I’m sure many Indigenous people can relate, I have a yearning to connect with my decolonized self. This is what I hope is my boldest point when I write an “Artist Statement”. I used to be a lost soul and when I found that photography can be an expression of unspeakable words, then I felt as though I found my true self.
During our Syilx Salmon Feast & Ceremony* in Okanagan Falls, BC, I had the honour of being invited to shoot the events. It’s always in my heart to document as much of the Syilx ways as possible so I absolutely jumped at the opportunity not knowing how much it would change me. This was my first Salmon Feast & Ceremony. My kids always went to the ceremonies with their Aunt, Uncle and cousins many times before. My kids knew all of the songs, protocols, and spent the entire time supporting the ceremony leaders and Elders. I was so proud of them.
Without speaking about the actual ceremony too much, I think I can express the meaning of it for me. One Elder spoke over us, “When the Salmon come through here they never come back the same as they were the year before, that is the same for us, what will you leave here today?”
I prayed on that, and I left anything that didn’t serve my life in walking a good path. From that day forward, I have been inspired to only work towards decolonization of my spirit and making sure that my children grow up in the same spirit and teachings of our Grandmothers. My work has become profoundly influenced by this ceremony. When times get tough, all I do is slip back into the memories of hearing my songs on that warm September afternoon where the breeze blew so perfectly carrying the words down the river. That was one of the most peaceful moments in my life and all I want is for our upcoming generations to have moments peace just like that with their own songs, prayers, and ceremonies.
I will be continuing to document what in the past has been so poorly documented, and that is the images of our families sharing love, traditions, ceremonies, and artistic pieces that speak to the memories of our before.
I’ll leave you with a photo I call “Never Forgotten,” in memory of my daughter Kolet (pictured below) and my grandparents and family members that attended residential school.
I cannot be undone
My prayer songs will forever be sung
And out of this land I have come
Into the Earth I shall return
My stories and knowledge
Will not be unlearned
I come from strength, pride, and resiliency.
I will not be forgotten willingly.
Hakatah Wuujo Asonalah.
– Helen Knott; “Fractured Identity; I Come from Something”
– kelsie marchand
* The Salmon Feast honours the sacredness of the river at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls), which is a culturally significant site for the Syilx (Okanagan) People, and an important traditional fishing camp, gathering place and trading site. (www.syilx.org)
** All poetry by Helen Knott shared with permission by author
Kelsie is a Syilx woman from the Okanagan Territory in BC, where she was raised. She and her husband, Mario, share 5 children together and are raising their family on the on the Unceded territory of the Kwantlen people. The work Kelsie does is deep rooted in the responsibility to reclaim the culture that was so carefully preserved by her Ancestors. Like so many other Indigenous people her ability to express that responsibility is best said through art, it is a way that her true self recognizes. Find her at FB, on her insta: @SyilxImages or her website.