Laugh with me

Since my family and I moved from Alert Bay to Victoria, all I’ve been thinking about is how much I miss laughing with my friends up island. My first week back in the city I was texting them and telling them that people weren’t laughing at my stories. I was never much of a story teller but something in me changed. I learned a few things about living in a small community during my three years in Alert Bay, and the most important teaching that I picked up is that shit happens and we are all in it together so let’s laugh about it.

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I remember the laughter of my relatives in Saskatchewan. Most of the time we laughed because someone was being teased. I close my eyes and I can see my aunties with their eyes squinted, heads titled up to the sky with big smiles, I hear their cackles and I smell their cigarettes. It didn’t matter who was being teased; we all laughed, especially the one being teased.

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When I was little, my dad was always away working up North and my mom didn’t have very much time to herself, between cleaning other peoples homes and taking care of my sisters and I. She had to bring us along to do everything with her. There were the lawyers and doctors homes that our mom cleaned while we vacuumed or daydreamed about living different lives. We went to the the bank where we were told to behave while all four of us stood and waited in the line, and eventually one of us would start to swing on the stanchions (my husband had to look that one up) and we’d either get a scowl from a back teller or our mother. And now I have the convenience of an ATM or doing my banking from home without distractions. She brought us along to the grocery store (I need to practice deep breathing to avoid loosing my shit when I take the boys to the grocery store) where we would be told that if we behaved we could have a free cookie from the bakery. In the days of no iPads or iPhones my mom would visit her friends at their homes and tell us to sit and behave, there were no electronic distractions. I remember that as I got older, I enjoyed listening to the adults talk and laugh. Their was Milli, who was like a kohkum and we all called her Milli Vanilli. She lived in a small apartment where we would look at the most recent items that she knitted or beaded. There my mother would learn how to make moccasins. I would listen to them talk about their week and notice when their voices became quiet which was when I tried harder to hear what they were talking about and then suddenly they would erupt in laughter. In the evenings we would go visit Leah. She was such a tiny lady with a huge personality, great hair and a big heart. She was always, always laughing; it was infectious. We would go to her place to visit but also to do some shopping. It was her place where my mom bought my very first and only pair of brand new Guess jeans, the pair with the ankle zippers. They were so cool and I wore them with my favourite purple silk blouse. Leah was earning her money on the side while my mom was trying to please her eldest daughter who refused to go shopping at the Sally Anne. Years later I learned that Leah died while being held in a prison cell in Saskatoon.

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In my circles we laugh, sometimes too much and I am told by a three year old that -we are too loud and that it is not funny. My laughter had always been loud but after living in Alert Bay, it is even louder. Not too sure how that is possible but it has happened. I always knew how to laugh but living in Alert Bay awoke something within me – I learned how to laugh like my aunties and grannies used to. We were always laughing. We laughed at everything and anything. If you were hurt, we laughed.  If you were sad, we laughed. If my husband told his “wing wing” joke, we laughed but not always. And its that laughter that allows us to survive even when we are hurting.

-Amanda Laliberte

bead more. worry less.

Life is happening. It’s been crazy but so great. I’ve been shuffling around many hats and I’ve been trying to do it all.  I haven’t been up on the Tea and Bannock blog for weeks because I simply couldn’t keep up. I needed to take a break or learn to let go of some of my workload. Slowly I’ve learned to say no to a few things, loose control a little bit and to RELAX. Chill out. Just to be ok with doing nothing, sometimes.

I’m a photographer, a girlfriend, a full time stepmother of three, a traditional games manager with ASCNWT, a blogger for Tea & Bannock and a Chef de Mission for Team NWT at 2017 North American Indigenous Games. My life has been moving so quickly that I often forget to stop and smell the flowers. 

While trying to do it all and run a photography business on top of it, my computer happened to crash back in January 2017. Boom! Done-zo! This has caused a lot of frustration in my world as a blogger and photographer. However I took it for what it is and decided it wasn’t all chaos.  It was a good excuse to kickback and take a step away from my own art. Give it time and just let it breathe.

Taking a step back has lead to other creative outlets and fresh ideas. I’ve always been a creative person and I have my mom to thank for that. My mind is busy coming up with new projects to execute. Any other artist would know exactly what I mean. It’s a constant process. My hands always have to be busy creating.  So instead of putting all my energy into a computer that crashed (which I tend to do), I decided to shift my focus on to another art of mine – beading and sewing. 

I never really was exposed to beading while I was growing up. I would find my mom on her sewing machine altering clothes and creating costumes. My slavey class with Maragret Vandell and Angie Matto often consists of working on mini culturally focused projects to take home but that was the extent of it.

One day in my teenage years, I decided I needed to learn. I wanted to learn. And I want to be a really good beader. (Dene Goals!)

So I dug out all of my mother’s beads that have been stashed away for some time. I claimed them for myself and she was happy to share any knowledge and tricks she had.

My mother is also a very creative person; she could take anything and make it into something bigger and better. Anyone that has been close to our family over the years knows that Joyce can take an idea and make it happen. From when I was a preteen she encouraged me to sew, bead, embroider, create, be good and do good.  But it wasn’t until this year that I really picked it up consistently.

In her teenage years, my mom would use a loom to bead and would create beaded belts, guitar straps, headbands, wallets, etc. If it wasn’t for her encouragement, I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at today (in all aspects of life). She would often travel to other communities and pick up patterns, material, beads, looms, fur, etc. for me to use to practice and keep me intrigued.

I figured if I wanted to pass that tradition down to my children and be good at it then it’s best that I start beading when I had the time. The beginning was a frustrating process, the lines weren’t completely straight and the control freak in me had a hard time accepting that I wasn’t good at it right away… but I persevered anyway.

I developed a huge bin of beading supplies and it quickly became the bin of unfinished projects. They just kept piling up. I had unfinished key chains, change purses, and many uppers. (Projects that didn’t make the cut.) I’m sure many of you would agree that it’s hard to work on a project you don’t completely love. 

 

So the moment that I decided I wanted to take on a large beaded project – dedicate time, put some effort into it and make sure that I finish it – was the moment my lifelong best friend told me she was pregnant. I knew I wanted to create something special for her and my soon to be niece. Right off the bat I knew what I was going to do. I was going to make her a baby belt. I didn’t tell her what I was doing, it was going to be a surprise. 

I got a friend to cut out and draw up a baby belt. (Thank you Tanya!) I started on this baby belt in December 2016 and gave it to my best friend soon after her sweet baby girl arrived in February 2017. I worked many late nights on it; lay the beads down, tac it down with two needles… and then take it all apart in frustration. The hardest thing about it was choosing the colour combinations… and having all the pink and purple bead colours rub off. I would often sigh out loud because I would become so mad. This went on for weeks but I absolutely loved that my mind and hands were kept busy during the very cold Yellowknife winter nights. As I progressed on this project, it all started to come to life. I couldn’t believe that I could bead a large project like a baby belt!

During this time I turned out to be that girl who would pick up everyone’s bead work and examine it. If you beadwork on your table, I would sit there and watch you sew or better yet, join you. If you were wearing moccasins, I would kneel down to look at your feet. I would look at the knots. I would touch the beads. I would even pick it up to smell it if it was sewn on moose hide. I was determined.

I finished the baby belt in record time and delivered it to my best friend. She was shocked. I was shocked that I actually finished it. There was no words just pure excitement between both of us. Then I was hooked! I couldn’t stop nor did I want to stop.

I knew if I wanted to be an amazing beader then I would have to practice, practice and practice some more. I convinced my sister (who has gone to school for fashion design) shortly after I was done the baby belt to figure out a way to make graduation stole for my mother. Like I’ve said, my mother is driven and can do anything she puts her mind to. Two years ago, she decided to take a Language Revitalization Diploma program to learn Dene Zhatie, to revive the dene language of the Deh Cho. We are all so proud of her for  sticking through the tough times and finishing this program. Next week she’ll be walking the stage in an honour ceremony in our hometown surrounded by people who love her. I knew she needed something special to wear to this ceremony, it was a no brainer – she needed a traditional garment sewn with love to proudly wear when she receives her diploma. 

It took me about 4 weeks to bead her graduation stole. Every bead tacked down with positive thoughts and well wishes. I took it everywhere I went in a small tupperware bin with many tubes of delica beads and bended beading needles. It came with me on work trips From Yellowknife to Toronto and everywhere in between; it has seen many airports, hotel rooms, ferry rides, road trips and campsites. I guess you can say I take after my mom – if I want to accomplish anything, you bet I’ll get it done.

Last week my sister and I surprised her with the graduation stole. It took my sister about 2 hours to sew it together; she whipped it up like nobodies business. My mom opened it up and gasped for air – again almost no words, just pure excitement. 

I will forever consider myself a beginner when it comes to beading, embroidery or any traditional art. There is still so much to learn! This art has taught me to be patient, especially when you’re blue in the face from frustration, and to be supportive, by teaching others what you know and to encourage them to pick up their unfinished projects or to begin new ones. These projects have given me so much pride, I feel connected to my ancestors and grounded as an indigenous person.

I’ve learned to see the good in my computer failing on me. I would have never picked up the needle and thread otherwise. I’m back to capturing moments with my family and shooting photography for myself. Always choose to see the good in every bad situation. Hopefully one day I’ll be back to creating scenes with models and capturing families but in the meantime, you can find me beading!

Shawna McLeod

the love of photography

There are several reasons as to why I love photography, the main ones are that my camera allows me to capture and showcase everything that is of value to me, as well as special moments for my clients and for the many amazing opportunities that it has brought into my life.

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The first and foremost reason that I love photography is because it is a creative outlet that allows me to capture my family and everything that I love, while preserving my culture and my memories with my Jijuu. It is so incredible to be able to preserve my Gwich’in culture through my photography. I have made it a personal goal of mine to always carry my camera with me when I spend time with my Jijuu, because she’s always teaching me something new – from tanning a moose hide to setting a net under the ice in -40.

The second reason that I love photography is because I have the honor of being able to capture special, once in a life time moments for my clients and their families. It is a really great feeling to see a bride relive her wedding day while sifting through photographs that I took, or to look back on photographs of elders who have passed away.

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Last but not least, I love photography for the many opportunities that it has brought into my life. I have travelled throughout Canada – photographing the people, the scenery and my experiences. I’ve photographed the Moosehide Gathering in the Yukon, been showcased at the Adaka Festival and the Arctic Image Festival, as well as photographed several weddings all over Canada. On each of my adventures, I have had the opportunity to meet so many talented, kind and respectful individuals while creating memories that I will hold in my heart forever.

Photography isn’t just a hobby for me… it’s my lifestyle.

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 – shayla snowshoe

Beginnings

I’ve always loved taking pictures for as long as I can remember. I remember being fairly young and getting my mom to buy me disposable film cameras. In high school I took tons of snapshots my myself and my friends, trying to document it all. While I was in my first year of University, I splurged on my first dslr. 2011 is the year I started taking more serious portraits of other people and putting myself out there more, by showing my work to online communities. Since then, I’ve been getting requests to be hired as a photographer. Despite that, I do limited work. I work hard to find the balance between my love for photography and it becoming a “chore,” or just a job. It’s been one of the hugest challenges of being a photographer for me.

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I think one of the reasons I’ve had a fascination with documenting with photographs is because I have no photographs from my childhood. I have seen less than a handful of baby pictures of myself. We moved a lot when I was young so I think that made it harder for my mom to get pictures of my siblings and me. I want people to have photos of and for themselves, of their families and loved ones. Time passes quickly and I find pictures help with remembering special moments.

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I believe another reason for my love of photography (especially photography of First Nations people in Canada) is the lack of representation of Aboriginal people in mainstream media. Growing up, I found it so bizarre and disheartening that we “didn’t exist” in movies, magazines, and even books. I could never find anyone who looked like me, that looked like a Cree woman on t.v. The only place I saw people like myself was on the news, and it was often negative. One of my goals is to get images of us (First Nations/Inuit/Metis peoples) “out there,” for people to see that yes we do exist, we are beautiful, we have stories, lives, aspirations, and accomplishments.

Photography and social media have provided the most beautiful gift, a platform for us to share stories, and to network with other like-minded individuals. The amount of talented Aboriginal people I have been exposed to thanks to social media has made me so grateful and proud of who I am. The world is changing, our presence is becoming louder, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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 – claudine bull

MY FAMILY CONNECTIONS ARE THERE

As I rummage through old boxes looking for negative and prints, I find myself asking the question: Who am I? How does my identity affect my work?

I find piles of forgotten negatives, polaroids, burnt CDs, prints; photos of friends that I haven’t heard from in years mixed up with snapshots of old boyfriends. What am I supposed to do with these? Boxes and boxes of these tangled objects that I can see and touch, forming a web of tangible memory. Now most of my work has become immaterial, saved on a hard-drive or floating around somewhere in a  shared cloud. 

I follow a trail of notes, scrawled in the margins of books and papers.

Kindergarten photo of me in my curls and frills.

Kindergarten photo of me in my curls and frills.

I open a dusty banker’s box and I find a photo of myself as a child. I remember having to put up with my mother putting those pink foam curlers in my hair the night before. But I sure loved that dress with the frills.

Another photo I look at is of my father.

After my mother left my father, she went through the family albums and removed all of the photos of him. I am grateful that she held onto those images and gave them to me as an adult. Something for me to hold onto, something to remember, something to make sense of who I am.

Photograph my mother took of Elenor, Norman Sylvester and my Dad at Turnor Lake in July, 1985.

Photograph my mother took of Elenor, Norman Sylvester and my Dad at Turnor Lake in July, 1985.

I continue to document my life with images. I was born and raised in Saskatchewan with an unconscious mixed sense of pride and shame. As an adolescent my mother and my sisters and I were uprooted and relocated to Vancouver Island. That story includes heartache, struggle, violence, disconnection, and redemption.

The move was so long ago but I still call Saskatchewan my home. My family connections are there: in the people, in the water, in the sky, and in that land. My mother’s family were early settlers; they homesteaded the territory, cleared the land, planted roots and stayed, raising generations of farmers and ranchers, some of whom still call those wide open spaces their home.

My father’s family were from further north, where the land was less arable. They came from places with names like Île-à-la-Crosse, Buffalo Narrows, Meadow Lake, Green Lake, Big River. Names that tell of the importance of water.

I look at photos of my great grandparents in front of their mud brick shack in Green Lake. More photos of them with other family members who I do not recognize, faces smiling at the camera. I find a photo of my kookum. I notice that her profile is similar to my youngest sister’s. And to mine.

I miss this place, Saskatchewan.

I miss this place, Saskatchewan.

Another question comes to mind.

What do photographs of Indigenous women, taken by Indigenous women, look like? 

We have all been colonized by the white man’s gaze. We need to  change the visual narrative and create an Indigenous woman’s gaze. We live in a time where we can represent ourselves with a variety of tools. Smart phones, point and shoot disposables, DSLRs, film cameras, anything that can record the light.

We need to see the world from as many perspectives as possible and share them with others because as @runawaygtrain shared on Instagram: Our ancestors would have wanted us to give a shit.

Outtake from recent photo session with Victoria Pruden.

Outtake from recent photo session with Victoria Pruden.

Having fun with Pewi Alfred.

Having fun with Pewi Alfred.

First paid photo session with Sarah Hunt.

First paid photo session with Sarah Hunt.

 – Amanda Laliberte

Wild Horse, Moberly, BC

Darkroom, bright light

I’ve always taken pictures.

My earliest memory holding a camera I was five. I remember the feel of the cold chrome and smooth black leather and the hefty weight of it in my hands. It felt like a fragile brick.

I remember my eye looking through the view finder and the satisfactory “click” I heard made when I pushed the trigger.

I remember how the viewfinder would go black for a quick moment when the shutter opened and closed. When I captured that first frame, something captured me.

By high school I knew my way around a roll of film pretty well – but entering the darkroom was a new freedom. I could spend hours dodging and burning. Hanging film. Finding the perfect contrast. Reprinting the same image until I had it just right.

My story at the time was of the only indigenous student in a predominantly white school. The darkroom was my refuge.

And even though I produced far more work than my classmates, it never once occurred to me to do the assignments. As a result I failed high school photography – consistently and somewhat deliberately for years.

Thankfully my photography teacher seamed silently proud of my rebellion. Regardless of my lack of interest in their class – they gave me keys to the darkroom and taught me to load and process my own film. They encouraged me to develop my skills. They asked me thoughtful questions and they were the first to really hear the stories I was telling with my images.

As a result, the work I produced at that time was, and remains, my clearest voice.

I believe I inherited both the instinct for storytelling and a camera for a reason.

Perhaps it’s to help shift the narrative told about indigenous people, from the third to the first person. Perhaps it’s to make sure the images of our elders have names. Perhaps it’s to capture the history of the February 14th Memorial March and tell that in a way that is centered on resilience, not violence.

I just know that it’s part of how I speak in the world, that it brings me joy and challenge, and that with a camera in my hand – I’m always home.

 – Jessica Wood

Art, Photography, & Culture

Art, photography, and culture are three of my greatest passions. Photography being a more recent passion. I’m no means a ‘professional’ or have any formal training in photography, however, as a beginner with a curious heart, I’m drawn and open to learning from everyone and everything that’s available to me.

Lately, my greatest inspiration has been focused on photographing my art on people. Since a young age I’ve always been very observant, and so by the time I was given a camera I wanted to capture it all. I would try to notice small bits of beauty in every person and place I visited.

In many ways, photography has also been a creative extension to my current full time job – jewellery artist. It has given me the opportunity to have a voice and a vision. Similar to my experience with jewellery, It has been somewhat of a guide for me to further explore and understand my culture while inspiring and stimulating curiosity and wonder for others. For example, caribou upholds strong value and importance to my culture as it is one of the animals that provides food and material for clothing and accessories. I use this material in a lot of my artwork in addition to porcupine quills which is the most common and traditional form of adornment before beads were introduced. In a similar way, photography became another form of outlet in which I could understand and appreciate the beauty of culture and the people around me. My trips to northern communities such as Inuvik during GNAF and bush life in Norman Wells, NT with my auntie Ida and uncle David were all adventures and discoveries i’ve captured on camera for myself, and for others to visually experience some of its unique beauty.

People are probably my favourite thing to photograph because I love the idea of instilling confidence and bringing forth each individuals beauty. I also love the idea of capturing people and art that show a connection to a part of ancestry intertwined in a modern setting or style. I’ve always believed our roots are an important part of our identity, and being able to incorporate both worlds – the traditional and modern- is something that keeps me grounded yet continually growing.

 

 – caroline blechert