My Jijuu

Today is just one day shy of my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie’s birthday. Tomorrow, she will be turning 78 years old. I would just like to share a little bit about my Jijuu because this beautiful woman deserves to shine bright, not only on her birthday, but every damn day of the year.

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My Jijuu is the most respectful and humble woman I know. She carries herself with dignity, grace, and resilience. She’s a hunter, a fisher, a sewer, a teacher, a mother, a Jijuu, and my best friend. She is a strong believer in God, she likes to smoke cigarettes. and she’s crazy as hell. Although my Jijuu is an elder, she’s a little bit of a daredevil. I have some crazy stories of her and I travelling on white caps to get back to our family at fish camp, or crossing the melting ice road too close to it breaking up and her going along with just about any idea that I can conjure up. One of my favorite things about her is that she is always down to come on road trips with me.
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My Jijuu has given birth to eight children, two of whom have unfortunately passed away. She lost a daughter who was only a few months old and then her youngest son who passed away twenty-five years ago at the age of nineteen. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my uncle Geejam and how even though he passed away, he is still close to her heart and binding her and I together.

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My Uncle Geejam was buried on October 19, 1991 and it just so happened that I was the first baby born on October 19, 1992. On the day that I was born, my Jijuu Christie Thompson gave me my Gwich’in name, “Gwikitch’ihkh’eh”, which means “In Return” because, as she said, I was the life given after his life was taken.

When my Jijuu talks about my Uncle Geejam, she speaks so fondly as she describes his love for the game of hockey, for his family – especially his siblings and cousins, and for her. He was a crazy guy who was always happy and everybody loved to tease. As she tells me about my Uncle, I can hear the pain in her voice as if it happened just yesterday.

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This one time, my Jijuu and I were driving the Dempster Highway on the way to our very first Moosehide Gathering in 2014. She was telling me about how my uncle would drive her wherever she wanted to go – all over the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. And then she looked at me with the sweetest look that only a Jijuu can give, and said “and now look at my Gwikich’ihkh’eh driving me around, just like my Geejam did”.

Oh my Jijuu, I hope and pray that I can drive you around for many many years to come.

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Gwiintl’oo Nahtinithan & Nidrin dagoonch’uu gwiinzii srigoojanhch’uu.

 – shayla snowshoe

Bradley; I will always remember…

I am writing this blog post as a special way to remember and acknowledge the life and journey of Bradley Charlie who passed away just a few weeks ago.

Bradley Charlie was a young, Gwich’in man from Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. Bradley was so kind. He was humble. He carried himself with a calm sense of confidence. He was a son and a brother. He was a man of the Lord.

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At the young age of 18, Bradley made the courageous decision to attend the Master Commission in Dallas, Texas where he studied scripture as his eagerness to spread God’s word grew. In August of 2015, upon completion of his program at Master Commission, Bradley was presented with a traditional Gwich’in vest from the Reverends from the St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and his brother Dean. The presentation ceremony took place at the Midway Lake Music Festival where the communities, as well as many of the surrounding communities, his family and many youth were present. As Bradley was presented with the vest, I stood just below him, photographing everything. I can remember taking a moment to observe, and I couldn’t help but notice how big Brad’s smile was and how he beamed with pride. He was already such a powerful man at such a young age.

Another thing that really resonated with me, was when the youth came right up on to the stage just to listen to him talk. As he spoke, his voice was so strong – exactly like how I would have imagined his late Jijii (grandfather) Chief Johnny D. Charlie would have sounded.

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As I was photographing the event, I never thought that he would be taken so soon. It was truly an honor for me to be able to photograph this milestone for Bradley and his family. One major thing that I’ve learned through his passing is that someone up there has a plan for every single one of us. We need to start living life to the fullest and love with all that we’ve got… we can never know when a person will take their last breath.

Through his journey with the Lord, Bradley has inspired so many – young and old – to follow the same path; encouraging others to live a healthy and positive lifestyle. Bradley was an amazing role model and advocate who spread the word of the Lord, not only in the North, but everywhere that he ventured to in his short life.

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I truly believe that Bradley Charlie and his story won’t be forgotten anytime soon…

I will always remember Bradley as the beautiful person that he was. Whenever we bumped into each other, we would chat about university, what was happening in our lives and the word of the Lord. Even though he was younger than me, he was so knowledgeable, respectful and so encouraging. There was a time where I was entered into a contest and I sent him a message asking for help with votes and his response was, “I got you, girl”. I will never forget that. I know in my heart that he’ll always be around, protecting us and living on through his family.

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I would just like to say Mahsi Cho to Bradley’s parents, Alfred Charlie and Marlene Snowshoe, for the permission to write about and share Bradley’s story.

 – Shayla Snowshoe

Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte

Path Breakers

from Caroline Blechert:

Some Path Breaking waves happened this weekend while collaborating on a photoshoot for my Creations for Continuity Neon Jewellery Series.

Through this beautiful collaboration we have all brought an artistic, contemporary lens to the idea of indigenous beauty and identity.

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The concept of Indigenous in these photos really shows how dynamic we are and how we see ourselves, because we are so much more than how we are romantically and traditionally depicted in mainstream.

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We are more than natives wrapped in blankets, or Inuit on the land in fur parkas. Many of us have adapted, much like our ancestors, to their own harsh environments.

Images above by Caroline Blechert

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 from Jaida Grey Eagle:

In collaborating on this series we wanted to play with the light; using light as a statement, using light as a form of pushing the narrative and using the light to break up the stagnation of how we as Indigenous people are viewed in the contemporary world.

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I was not interested in creating images that continue to put us into the stoic, romanticized, and past-tense portrayal. We went in with the thought to create an image that further pushes the narrative of Indigenous beauty.

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Coming together and collaborating together as indigenous women I wanted to create what I’m always looking for.

I’m always in search of images that capture contemporary Indigenous people as how I see us; adaptable, resilient, and thriving people.

I know that others must be searching as well.

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Images above by Jaida Grey Eagle

small town grads, big city dreams

I graduated in 2002. I was surrounded by my best friends, with my sweetie (at the time) by my side, and my parents and huge, extended family there to celebrate me. It was a good time, despite the fact I did not win the English Award (huge side-eye to my teacher, Chuck). I wore a pastel blue a-line dress with silver florals, white knee-length gloves, and a set of pearl earrings and necklace that I still have to this day. Somewhere. I may even have had on a tiara, I’m not sure.

Oh man, I found a picture.

Whyyyyyyyyyy?

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Okay, I’m not gonna lie, my hair was luscious. I miss that. I also did not have a tiara, but I did have “pearl” drops in my hair.

I can’t explain it.

It was 2002.

I am so distracted now, by the amazingness that is our grad picture. Our theme was something to do with springtime and forests, and we made sure the women had outfits that matched the decor, because obviously, and my first love is also in this picture (not naming names) and I can’t believe I ever thought I was fat.

Oh, memories.

Anyways.

For me, grad was a big deal. I had made it, and I had made it with my besties by my side. I remember the joy I felt in that day, and I remember the amazing food my family made, and I remember the crazy stories from the after-party around breakfast the next day.

But I also remember it being my first time in front of a professional camera. I remember being somewhat interested in photography – I still had a point and shoot that I carried arounds school – and I remember how rushed I felt with my 15 minutes to get 12 images of my family, myself, and any friends I may want. I sat on the hard bench, trying to imitate the moves he had made the other grads do, and I felt the awkwardness in my shoulders, and I didn’t want to smile, because this wasn’t good.

When I received my images back, there were no images where I felt beautiful. Where I felt powerful. I didn’t like the way I looked, I didn’t like the way I was posed, I didn’t like the cliché of it all. I didn’t see myself in this set of stock images.

I didn’t order any prints, and I think the pack of sample images is still at my mom’s place, somewhere.

Fast forward to 2010, and I was asked to document some grad images for my hometown. I had moved back from Vancouver earlier that spring, finishing my MFA and deciding what I wanted to do with my life. And somehow, the camera was going to be part of it.

So a few nights before the big event, I took my Grads down to the rivers, the valleys, the fields of grass, and laughed. I made them sit in down, spraying them down with bug spray as we were swarmed. I made them hug trees, stand stoic, grin at me with mischief in their eyes. I made them go down into the dam, go sit on the piles of chopped wood, and stand in the forests.

And it was good.

It was soooo good.

I’ve been photographing my Northern Grads going onto my seventh summer. I have worked in Beauval, Patuanak, Meadow Lake, Birch Narrows, Prince Albert, Rosthern and North Battleford. I have worked with my Métis, Dene and Cree kids while laughing at thick accents and the massive amount of family members that show up for ‘immediate family only’ images. I have eaten dry meat given to me as a gift, and smoked cigarettes with Elders even though I don’t smoke – because you don’t say no to tobacco – while trying not to cough. I have helped Grandma’s across fields of grass, and watched Uncles hop off the skiffs to join in on the family portraits.

I have marvelled at the absolute beauties that our youth are.

I hope they see these images and smile. I hope they look back at their stacks of prints, grin, and remember a good time, a good moment. I hope they feel powerful.

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 – tenille campbell

27th Annual Feb 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March

A pilgrimage is described as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for spiritual purpose, to pay homage. It’s a spiritual votive… a sacred promise put to action.

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Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.

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For me, it’s a long ongoing journey, a ceremony, a search for meaning, and an opportunity for gathering strength and healing. It’s also a stark reminder that while the profile of the issue, now captured in hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, #AmINext, #NoMoreStolenSisters etc… has been raised to International attention, the violence continues.

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Before the march, there is a gathering for family members hosted inside Carnegie Center. Here families of those stolen sisters are able to share, testify and find comfort with each other. During this time the community gathers outside in solidarity and takes the intersection. It is no small feat and after 27 years, now involves thousands of people, taking one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver; Main and Hastings.

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There are no organizational banners. No advertising. No sponsors. This is all community driven. This is the one day a year where women of the community are centered as leaders, guardians, speakers, singers, protectors. It’s the one day a year we can try and gather safely and name the violence. It’s the one day of a year we can mourn our lost ones together. It is a day when we get to dismiss the burden of stigma, and celebrate the beauty of the lives we honour.

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The RCMP have referenced 1,181 Missing or murdered Indigenous women (not including girls). They are still looking at this the wrong way. They only count us when we are gone, they don’t count those of us that have survived the exact same circumstances. If you counted those of us that have survived poverty, violence and misogyny, what would the numbers look like then? How big of an epidemic of violence would you be trying to quantify if you counted survivors? We are all survivors.

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The March is led by our matriarchs, our eldest warriors with whom the wisdom of survival and resilience resides. They lead us through the DTES singing the Women’s Warrior Song. We leave medicine and tobacco at the sites in which women were last seen, or were found murdered. This year we carried the ashes and prayers of one of our elders Bea, who although gone, is by no means forgotten.

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This march first started after the brutal loss of Cheryl Anne Joe in 1992. The tragedy of her young life was one too many for the community and the first march took place in response.

The women who started this march, did so at a time when there was no public awareness, or support from any level of government. This was not the cause célèbre it is often seen as now.  Women had things thrown at them while marching. There have been years when vehicles have tried to plow through the marchers, and still women were going missing.  They have never stopped marching, or organizing.

Now,  27 years since the senseless loss of her life, Cheryl Anne Joe’s legacy is now an international movement to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

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There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.

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There was a public Inquiry in BC and there is currently a National Inquiry being undertaking on the issue, both largely as a result the Memorial March and the relentless efforts by the Memorial March committee advocating to end the conditions that result in women’s vulnerability.

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The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.

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And that is never more evident than in our  collective love for our next generation.

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

*For more images of this years march, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram & facebook.
Galleries will be posted on her website shortly.

We share the breath

Life and death have been on my mind a lot recently. This community has gone through too much heartache the past few months and to be honest, I have lost count of how many people have died here. I am not immune to this. I am constantly reminded of this shared sadness though social media, seeing people hugging and holding each other, or driving around the island and noticing that other drivers or pedestrians are not waving at me. Everyone’s spirits are low and it effects all of us in one way or another, especially when it’s the young people who are the ones passing into the spirit world.

What do I know about death? How can I understand this? The church taught me that if I behaved like a good little girl, when I die, I would go to heaven to be with the angels and hop around on the fluffy white clouds in my halo. My dad taught me about the stars and their connections with our ancestors when he took me on night drives to the outskirts of Saskatoon, where the lights of the city faded away. My kookum taught us ghost stories about relatives who had died, and how they had come back to visit her bedside. She would tell us to watch out for her when she died because she was going pay us a visit before going to heaven. We would all erupt into laughter; to be honest, I believed that she would pay me a visit just so she could tease me one last time. Whenever my cousins, sisters or I found dead animals or butterflies, we always had a funeral procession and buried them.  I’ve been told that the first funeral  I attended was of a family friend of my mother’s side of the family, but I remember very little from that day.

I am raising my children with a very different understanding of death than what I was taught. My boys are being taught other ways of knowing that don’t include halos and fluffy clouds. Since we’ve moved to Alert Bay, we speak about death quite often with our children. We have to. Either because someone close to us has lost someone, or a child that they know in school has lost a parent, or we have found another dead animal on the beach. This is for real.

My boys found a dead crow yesterday while out walking on the beach. My four year old tried to pick it up and bring it home to me. Instead, I went down with my camera and took some photos and video of the dead bird. I then started filming my surrounds the ocean, trees, a tree swing, tension of a rope holding on tight to the land and a fire.  I wanted to move away from the still image and work with moving images and decided to piece this brief moment in my life into a short video.

-Amanda Laliberte