I first saw the collective Indigenous Goddess Gang on Instagram with a black and white image and the words “Sisterhood is medicine” boldly highlighted. And it made me pause – look again – and smile. These women, they looked like the old pictures of my aunties.
I saw my culture reflected within, and my curiosity about this image has lead me to one of my favourite online Indigenous spaces currently. The IGG is a space filled with amazing creative beings who delve into all aspects of womanhood – culture, community, land, traditions, beauty, music, representations, power, education and so forth. There is no limit in what they will write about, and how they will support one another.
It’s all about community and positive collaboration right now, and we’re so proud to be sharing that kind of space with IGG right now. Joi and I were so excited that the IGG founder Kim Smith (Diné, Navajo Nation) also knew about tea&bannock and was willing to share her time and story with us.
Settle in, get that tea nice and strong, and meet Kim.
– tenille k campbell & joi t arcand
Tenille K Campbell (TKC): Edlanet’e – first off, I’m such a fan of your work as a digital space for Indigenous people women. Your monthly issue cover a wide range of topics – from political movements to women’s medicine – so I really appreciate the diversity within. If I can start with such a cliché question, what inspired this online magazine and how did you connect with other like-minded individuals to help you cultivate your vision?
Kim Smith (KS): About ten years ago I wanted to create an online magazine called “Miss Indigenous.” This is when myspace was big and I think it was an idea that was more reactionary to social media. It was the start of social media.
I am thankful that I didn’t act on it then. A lot of the relatives we are working with now I have met within the past 10 years and we have all been working to perfect our craft. Now we all have all learned so much and have a lot to share. We have put in work over the years and are building a strong movement. If I did do this magazine 10 years ago, it would not be what it is now. The magic in all of the topics is that they are all connected, each element of the magazine is connected to the next. “Grown folks’ business,” what I mean by that is there is a lot of responsibility in being a seed keeper, midwife, writer, musician, all the different elements of our magazine and the relatives involved uphold those responsibilities, fiercely. There’s a lot of inspiration in that. The sacredness of the stewardship.
This work has to be done collectively. One person could not do it all. That collective mentally is deeply embedded in indigenous teachings as is upholding our sacred responsibility from our ancestors.
Joi T Arcand (JTA): What are some personal highlights since you started IGG?
KS: That this idea of an Indigenous femme magazine actually happened?! Is happening! The idea becoming a reality and that it is empowering our communities. The feedback that we are getting is positive and uplifting.
TKC: What has been one of your biggest stumbling blocks as a collective and how have you overcome it?
KS: One of the biggest stumbling blocks is living apart from each other. We have about seven contributors and we all live across the so-called U.S. & Canada. A lot of the communication is done digitally. Each of us are so busy doing work in our communities besides the magazine. I try to remember that and not put so much pressure on the contributors. If they can’t contribute this month, there’s always the next month. We have to be patient with each other and communicate. Which could be tough for busy bees.
The other stumbling block is trying to cater to a intergenerational audience. The “millennials” are responding to the content visually on social media but I don’t think they are reading the content on the site. Whereas folks in their 30’s and above are LOVING and reading the content. So we are trying to navigate how to capture both audiences.
The other part we are trying to bring to the forefront is holding space for our queer, trans, two-spirit and non-binary communities. As a project which centers Indigenous women, we also recognize the crucial work of our queer, trans, two-spirit and non-binary communities, and we acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do; to walk together, to reclaim our knowledge together and to move forward together. We want to be inclusive.
JTA: Who are your style/fashion icons?
KS: The aunties and grannies. I draw inspiration from them. Whether in ceremony or out on the town, you are sure to see them styled gracefully in a mix of traditional and modern. My favorite are pictures from the 70’s.
My family’s collection of old photos is my “Vogue”.
On our IG, you can see a lot of the old pictures we collect and remix. I draw a lot of inspiration from them. Being a Diné woman, a lot of my “regalia” and jewelry have been passed down from the matriarchs in my family. When I wear them I represent the women before me and I tell myself, “Slay like the matriarchs before you!”
I love the vision of designers/artists: Bethany Yellowtail, Jamie Okuma, Maya Stewart, Rose B. Simpson, Nanibaa Beck, Nani Chacon, Shane Watson, Razelle Benally, Earle Couture, Shondina Lee, Virgil Ortiz, Doug Miles, Monique Aura, Nena Soul Fly, Chief Lady Bird, Jackie Fawn – I could go on and on!
TKC: If you could sit down and have tea with any artist, who would it be and why?
KS: Buffy Sainte Marie! Oh, the stories she could tell! She has really created a space for indigenous women in western society. Her work was banned by the Federal government but that didn’t stop her. Shoot, she’s even schooled Big Bird on breastfeeding on Sesame Street! She has broken down so many barriers that allow us to do the work we are doing. She is fierce and diverse in her work. A true gem.
JTA: What are your artistic processes like, from idea to final product? What keeps you motivated?
KS: I see or think of something then act on it. I trust my gut and it kind of all falls into place. My sisters definitely help take it to the next level. It’s a collective effort for sure. I am just glad they trust my vision.
What keeps me motivated is my family & my partner. They are always supporting my crazy ideas and work. That encouragement motivates me.
Ceremony is also a huge component to my work. The work is all prayers manifested.
TKC: Your instagram page – @indigenousgoddessgang – is a positive space for Indigenous women with 14k followers (at time of publication). My favourite images from IGG tend to be the black and whites with text overlays – I like how they bring our matriarchs and patriarchs into the present, reclaiming this digital space for us. What has been your favourite Insta-post and why?
KS: Thank you! Oh gosh, I can’t pick a favorite! They all speak to something we are all going through. The beauty and resilience of each of them are just as powerful as the next. As they are motivating! They are reminders of how far we have come.
If I were to pick a favourite image, it would have to be the cover of our latest issue, “Sisterhood is Sacred.” This collaboration with photographer Cara Romero is a dream come true! The beauty, resilience and sisterhood in that image is so empowering to me. The generations of intertribal women represented in the picture is so beautifully captured.
JTA: The Future Is Indigenous! What do you envision for future Indigenous Goddesses?
KS: To heal and love fiercely. I feel like this generation is acknowledging the 500+ years of trauma and want to heal. This generation is holding space for accountability and growth. It takes a lot of courage but these are the prayers of the ancestors being answered.
TKC: Finish this sentence: I hope my ancestors know…
KS: … that we carry them in our hearts & we will pass that resilience to the next generations.
About Indigenous Goddess Gang: Each month Indigenous Goddess Gang will create a space for sharing medicine through poetry, food & seed knowledge, herbalism, music and more. This is a space for reclaiming knowledge from an indigenous femme lens. Each month we honor a different tribe of matriarchs in our fashion shoots. Each month we continue to grow and share the knowledge of our matriarchs and share that medicine. Indigenous Goddess Gang is a space intended for INDIGENOUS people. We’ve had our land taken from us, we’ve had our cultures taken from us, we’ve had our languages taken from us. This is a step towards reclaiming our knowledge, identity and medicine. This site is not intended for exploiting or appropriating. Tread lightly and respectfully.
“As a project which centers indigenous women, we also recognize the crucial work of our queer, trans, two-spirit and non-binary communities, and we acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do; to walk together, to reclaim our knowledge together and to move forward together.”
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Photographer: Hannah Manuelito // Models: Shondina Lee, Taneesha & Tiffany Maxx