on poetry and photography – Kelsie Marchand, Guest Blogger

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.

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“Too Many Memories” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

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

and 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?”
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“Below the Cement” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

You see,

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”
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“Below the Cement” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

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.

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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.

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“Never Forgotten” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

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. 

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Stickgames and Stories – Starleigh Grass, Guest Blogger

My people, the Tsilhqot’in, were traditionally nomadic people. Because we were nomads most of the things that we owned had practical value. Our art was used to adorn clothing, basketry, and practical items. Prior to contact, art was not something behind a glass case or hanging on the wall. It was something we interacted with on a daily basis. Everyone had the capacity to create art and most people did in some form or another.

During the period of time that our material culture became commodified and our subsistence culture became criminalized, people made items to sell to non-Tsilhqot’ins. I’ve seen some of these items in the Museum of Anthropology, including items made by one of my great grandmothers. I’ve held some of her items.

I know on an intellectual level that if it weren’t for colonialism, I would have learned the art of basketmaking, and to hold a Tsilhqot’in basket wouldn’t be such a rare event. I carry some resentment because I know that if it weren’t for the hardships caused by the criminalization of our way of life combined with the gathering of our material goods on the assumption that we would soon vanish, then these baskets would not have been acquired through colonial capitalism and be housed far from where they came from.

On a soul level, though, when I hold these items I am filled with gratitude for the woman who made them, because to some degree I owe my existence to her basketry expertise and her ability to sell the baskets in this newly imposed system of capitalism.

My grandmother beaded medallions and did applique on handmade purses and other items. Many of my family members had medallions on their rearview mirrors. They were treasured because they were a symbol of her affection. I remember her fondly sitting and beading and talking in Tsilhqot’in for hours at a time and she was very happy while she was making things and visiting.

My mother taught me how to bead on a loom when I was a teenager. I spent many hours with my mother and my sister beading. We beaded delicate chokers and experimented with fringes coming off of the chokers. My aunt showed me how to do applique and she made my son a beautiful medallion.

I stopped beading for several years. When my son was in primary school he attended a public school that required blue, yellow, and white uniforms. I embellished his pockets with yellow and blue beaded trim. Beyond that, I didn’t bead much for over ten years. I had beads, and once and awhile I would gather the beads and then look for a needle or thread or scissors, and abandon projects before they were even started because I just couldn’t focus long enough to get my materials together. Someday, I thought, I should start beading again.

I chose sobriety and started playing stickgames in 2011. I started making beaded stickgame sets less than a year later. Stickgames (known by a variety of names including handgames, bonegames, slahal, lehal, lahal) are a traditional game of chance. The oldest stickgame set in existence are about 12,000 years old, and the set is made out of mastodon bones. There are a number of variations of stickgames. The version of stickgames that I play is played by Indigenous people up and down the west coast, and into the prairies. Stickgames and beading have both played an integral role in maintaining my sobriety.

During the potlatch ban (1885-1951), the singing that accompanies stickgames would have been illegal. Many cultural practices were driven underground, and the suppression led to less participation in cultural practices. Now we are in the process of bringing them back. When I bead sets that people are proud to own and use, I feel like I am contributing to the revitalization of culture in a material way.

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The first few beaded sets that I made were gifted to friends and family. I also used some of my early beaded sets as prizes for our family stickgames at our traditional fishing camp. I’m an teacher, and I donated a set to a fundraising event for an Aboriginal education organization. I travel extensively for stickgames. If a community near me has never had a tournament or is bringing back a tournament that has not happened for awhile then I make it a priority to go there. I also try to go to places that are new to me or places where I know someone who is from there. Sometimes I raffle off a set to help offset my stickgame travel costs.

My preference is to trade. When people ask “what do you want?” I ask “what are you good at?” I have traded for a traditional Coast Salish weaving, a custom carved staff, a set made out of elk antler, and more. I treasure these items because they remind me that I am part of a community of creative and talented people. Even when people don’t make a trade, the conversations about what could be potential trades are treasured too, because through them I get to know about all of the talents people around me have. One time someone said that they were not good at anything. I told them “I don’t believe you. Everyone is good at something.” I look forward to the day they get back to me with their offer for trade.

My most memorable trade was to an educator from Port Hardy. I met him when I worked for a provincial education organization. In his community traditionally games involved 21 sticks, as opposed to the more common 11 sticks we use today. He requested a set of 21 sticks. He brought his dance group to a conference in Vancouver, and he spoke and led a gifting ceremony. The dance group helped hand out oolichan grease, seaweed, and salmon to myself and my co-workers and I handed the the sticks to the dance group. Then they sang and we went around the room and showed everyone our gifts.

Because I raffle sets, people often recognize me now when I go places and ask whether I have any sets. Sometimes when I am doing a raffle, people tell me how they would do the set differently and sometimes I learn from them. When people say “I could make that,” I respond “yes, you could,” and if they have questions about how to make them, I share what I know.

I draw inspiration for sets from popular colour schemes on the pow wow trail and from colour schemes that appeal to me. I read articles online about analogous, complementary, and neutral colour schemes and this knowledge has enhanced my designs. Sometimes people ask for custom colours and when those are not colours I would normally use, then I grow from the experience of working with their colours.

I do have my own style that has evolved over time. When I am really happy with a set, it usually includes these elements:

  • Solid bands at the top and bottom
  • Continuity between the two sides and the kick
  • The two sides to have an identical pattern, but with the colours switched around
  • The design wraps all the way around the stick
  • The kick is the most complex
  • Bright colours
  • Contrast between the colours used for the two sides

Sometimes I make sets where I try to create an image, such as chipmunks or coastal canoes with canoe pullers. I love seeing people’s faces when they see those designs because I’m 100% certain that the designs are one of a kind. I made a set out of one of my great-grandmother’s basketry patterns and that was a gratifying project. I try to work the designs out in my head as much as possible instead of using a pen and paper. My mind is always going, and when it’s working out the puzzle of a design it doesn’t have time to needlessly worry about the daily stresses of life.

I bead for a lot of reasons. I bead because it puts me in a peaceful state. I bead because I get an inherent joy from creating art. I bead because it connects me to the stickgame community and other artists in a meaningful way. I bead because making useful and aesthetically pleasing items connects me with my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and all of my beautiful ancestors that came before them.

A lot of people I have met want to learn how to bead. My advice is to just start. You can learn from trial and error, from studying others’ work, and from talking with other beaders. You have art and beauty inside of you, and if you feel an urge to share it with the world then just do it!

 – Starleigh Grass


Starleigh Grass is Tsilhqo’tin. She’s a mother, teacher, stickgame player, and beader. Her professional interests include teaching about residential schools in public schools, Indian Control of Indian Education, and the integration of Aboriginal literature in grades K-12. Her personal interests include culture, community, road trips, family, nature, and fitness. Her ideal tea is orange pekoe brewed in a large kettle and prepared with sweetened condensed milk in an enamel cup. She’s trying to be less brand conscious so Tetley, Red Rose, No Name…. anything goes these days. Her ideal bannock is thick, heavy, more salty than sweet, leavened with baking soda, and prepared in a cast iron pan. >> Find her on Instagram, Twitter and on her blog, Twinkle’s Happy Place

Art, Inspiration & Fashion – April Johnson, Guest Blogger

Fall is in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier about it! Summer is great and all, but the older I get I realize I’m more productive in the colder months, and kinda like being a homebody! So yeah, I’m looking forward to getting i*sh done, but will definitely make
time to also step out in Vancouver to take in the beautiful fall colors!

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When I’m getting into ‘the zone,’ I’ve got my routine down – steep the tea, throw on the moccasins and sweats and light my favorite cedar incense. All this usually gets me ready to pour my heart into my photos, scripts and film ideas.

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However, over the past few weeks, I’ve been looking over in admiration at other artists more than I’ve been looking within, and although I want to get sit, sip and bring my ideas to fruition, I also want to celebrate the success of some kick-ass ladies working hard at that they love. Really, these ladies deserve a shout out!

Two people I’ve looked over to and found inspiration from are Joleen Mitton, Founder of Vancouver International Fashion Week (VIFW) and activist and filmmaker Rose Stiffarm. I met up with both ladies in Vancouver to discuss staying focused on art, inspiring others and indigenous fashion.

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Rose Stiffarm

April: What advise would you give to youth about staying focused and following their artistic interests?

Rose: I know that some of my mentors in the arts have told me to keep practicing; you’re only going to get better… and if one art form doesn’t work our for you, there’s always other art forms out there to help express yourself. I think a lot of what’s wrong out there in society is that we keep a lot of our emotions inside and we don’t have a way to express ourselves, but it’s important.

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April: What about your personal style? How do you feel fashion helps you express yourself?

Rose: I definitely look to trends to see what’s out there for fashion, but I don’t let it dictate what I wear. I add to it with other pieces that reflect more so who I am. It feels like myself isn’t necessarily reflected in mainstream fashion, and so it’s nice to have my own spin on things, and I noticed that because of that, I end up having a lot more interactions with strangers. In a way, it’s more about being seen in a society where we we’re not always seen.

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 Joleen Mitton, portrait by Thosh Collins

April: What inspired you to start Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week?

Joleen: I was a model for a long time, since I was 15 years old. I was working in really shallow industry and then come out of it and worked for the community; I was becoming really drained because I was a frontline worker for a long time. So I really wanted to do something with both my frontline work and my fashion identity from before, because both didn’t really fit my personality, but put together, they did. So, being able to help my community without draining my emotions with intergenerational trauma was something I was trying to do.

April: What fuels your ambition?

Joleen: A combination of things, like me making Canada native again…making it a safe space for First Nations to be in the city is really one of my main focuses. I’m trying to create native spaces all the time and I can’t help it. Making sure that the next generation coming up is comfortable in Canada, because it’s unceded territory is very important. The only way that we’re gonna survive is if we keep on doing stuff like that.

April: If you could describe Indigenous Fashion in a few words, how would you describe it?

Joleen: I might need more than a couple words, but: visibility, resilience, artisanship, reclaiming…

April: Any words of wisdom for youth about staying focused?

Joleen: Yes, I guess ‘don’t give up!’ (Laughs) I’ve noticed this with a lot of youth, some are great right out the gate, but sometimes it takes until you’re 30 to really get all your ducks in a row. And so it’s never too late to go get what you want. But do it slow, don’t do it fast, because once you do it fast, I feel like that’s when people slip up the most. Work on your relationships and work on yourself, and don’t take the fast road, take the slow road. It took 7 years to make VIFW. I feel that if you go at a slow pace and do things in an honorable way, and have the right relationships and nurture those relationships, you can succeed in anything. You don’t appreciate things you get quickly. You millennials out there stop that (laughs).

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— See what I mean? These ladies are great, and it’s awesome they’re sharing their gifts (and their wisdom) with the world. Just re-reading their interviews has me motivated to get crackin’ on the creative ideas buzzing in my head. With that said, I’ll gotta get to work!

 — april johnson


April Johnson is of Metis/Cree (Muskoday First Nation) and Settler ancestry and currently resides in Vancouver. She attended the Indigenous Independent Digital Film Program (IIDF) at Capilano University and has been working in media and independent film since 2015. Her interests include screenwriting, photography and promoting Indigenous women’s health. // stay in touch and connect: web: apriljohnson.net // insta: @aprilej

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

Ink and Stories – Cora DeVos, Guest Blogger

I look back on the past 7 years of being in business and there has been many sessions that have stayed close to my heart and I’m sure they always will be a part of me. Photography has taken me on a journey and I have learned so much about myself, that I don’t think I would have come to realize if it weren’t for my craft.

I love taking photographs of women, it brings me such joy to have someone show up for their session and be so timid and afraid to be in front of the camera and through the session to watch her blossom into a super model and feel so beautiful and KNOW that she’s looking good.

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I want that feeling for every woman. I want every woman to look in the mirror and see the beauty that their loved ones see, forgetting about the awful words that we often tell ourselves and just letting your true beautiful self, shine through. We really do need to stop being so mean to ourselves and learn to love ourselves as freely as we give our love to our family and friends. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, make the most of today and get in front of the camera with your loved ones and for your loved ones.

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One of the most amazing opportunities that I’ve had as a photographer was to be part of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project and be the main photographer for the upcoming “Reawakening Our Ancestors Line” book. This project was spear headed by my best friend, Hovak Johnston. I couldn’t be more proud of Hovak. The strength that this woman holds is amazing and I love that she has blossomed into this strong and determined Inuk woman who wasn’t afraid of being told “no” and was willing to push forward for something that she felt so compelled to do for our people.

Tattooing was a tradition that was almost lost in our culture due to missionaries forbidding it and residential schools, Inuit were no longer continuing this tradition.

The week that we spent in Kugluktuk, Nunavut was a constant wave of emotions. You could feel the excitement coming from the Inuit women that were receiving their traditional tattoos. At times we cried together, laughed together, and when the tattooing was done – it seemed like the lines were meant to be there.

Hovak and I wrapped up the weekend with her tattooing me with the poking method. I chose a design that to me represents my little family. I could not imagine a better way to finish up our time in Kugluktuk than receiving this very special gift, from a very special friend.

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Novak Johnston of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project 

These were my thoughts after receiving my tattoo…

My family lived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. My mom is Inuit and my dad is white. Mom used to speak to us in Inuinnaqtun when I was young, until one day an elder asked her why she was teaching us the language, we were “only half.” From then on, Mom never taught us any more of the language.

The words of “only half” have always haunted me in so many ways.

You see, my skin color is dark enough that I’m judged by it when going into stores, or when people meet me. Many assume that I should fit into all the stereotypes that they’ve come to believe before I even open my mouth.

But being that I’m “only half” and I was mostly raised in the south, I’ve never been “Inuk enough” for the north. When I go back to Nunavut, I’m constantly reminded by family and friends that I’m “so kublunak” (white man). Whether it’s how I dress, the fact that I don’t know our language (as if it was by choice) or that I don’t like muqtuq (whale blubber).

It’s hard, because all my life my two “halves” never have seemed to fit into a whole. I’ve always been proud to say that I’m Inuk (hence my photography name) and I’m always excited to talk to people about the amazing parts our culture, when it comes down to it… we are a TOUGH people! Take a look at our games and the climate we’ve survived in, you’ve got to be tough!

Now with my tattoo, I feel like it brings me closer to my culture than I have ever been before. When I look down at my tattoo and see it there, I know that I belong and I am proud to say that I AM INUK.

My whole is not half-Inuk and half-white; my whole is this person that I’ve become – a strong and caring person, someone always there for my husband, children, family and friends.

I am whole.

 – Cora DeVos, Little Inuk Photography


Bio: Little Inuk Photography is owned and operated by Cora DeVos in Fort St John, BC. Little Inuk Photography opened for business seven years ago the in small town of Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan. Cora has found her passion in women’s portraiture.

Little Inuk Photography ~ Capturing beautiful images of beautiful people

Stay in Touch:

Web: Little Inuk Photography FB: Little Inuk Photography  Insta: @littleinukphotography Twitter: @littleinukphoto

 

The risks of building forts and jumping ropes… by Angela Marie Schenstead

For the past several years, I’ve been fortunate enough to organize, support, and witness artists of all kinds fulfill their visions within the walls of Glyde Hall (the building that houses the Walter Phillips Gallery and visual arts studios and facilities) and across campus at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. This includes coordinating details of the annual Indigenous Visual + Digital Arts Residency–a program that holds a special place in my heart. This program gathers Indigenous artists and cultural practitioners from all over the world who are connected by a love of creating, investigating, and sharing ideas pertinent to contemporary Indigenous concerns. The most recent iteration of this program ran from November 7-December 9, 2016, and ended only ten days ago. Though there are many moments worth mentioning that happened over the course of the five-week program, I would like to share the following two happenings that I found exceptionally affecting:

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A performance by Jeneen Frei Njootli and Tsēma Igharas

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

photos courtesy of the artists: Jeneen Frei Njootli and Tsēma Igharas

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People are crowding into the Lighting Studio in Glyde Hall to watch the performance. Jeneen and Tsēma stand back to back, dressed in all black except for their moccasin clad feet, and wrapped in one long braid made of their own hair, rope, and colourful flagging tape. A hush falls over the crowd as we eagerly await the performance to begin. Slowly, they turn to face one another, unwinding the rope that is their hair connecting them to each other, something like an umbilical cord. Silently they begin to make a second braid, each starting from their own scalps and bodies, to eventually join in the middle, making one more long braid of hair, rope, and colourful flagging tape.

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As I watch this action, I think of my sister and how we have braided each other’s hair many times, and how as children our mother washed and combed and braided our hair for many years, and how my father even combed and braided my hair when my mother was not around. Hair is sacred. Hair is an extension of our nervous system and an important part of our sensory perception. Hair is an important part of our identity. Hair has personal, spiritual, and cultural significance. The gesture of braiding ones hair suggests tender loving care and attention, cleanliness and wellness. The way we care for ourselves, reflects how we care for each other, and our environment.

But intertwined within their black braids is neon coloured flagging tape–the kind of you see marking forests for clear cutting–and rope made of fabricated materials. The contrast of colours and materials makes me think of Bruno Canadien’s Freedom Fighter paintings. His colourful assemblage art works assert Indigenous presence, resistance and sovereignty, and protest the encroachment of industry on First Nations lands. Jeneen and Tsēma’s performance share a similar tenet, while acknowledging the complex relationships that exist between industrial resource extraction enterprises and affected communities, First Nations and Canada.

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Jeneen and Tsēma demonstrate the tension that exists between opposing interests by swinging their long braids around and around, inviting the audience to play double dutch. No one wants to jump in for fear of landing on one of the braids and ripping out their hair. Eventually, the game’s risk is reduced to only one jump rope. After watching a few brave participants jump in and out of the swinging hair rope, I summon my courage to jump in and out, somehow managing not to land on their hair. I feel awkward and heavy and nothing like a child. The use of their hair and materials for what seems to be an innocent game becomes distorted, the audience becomes implicated, and anxiety and fear are created.

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This performance questions our relationships to each other, to place, to our sense of self. It questions our relationships and responsibilities to the land and to our respective communities. What is an acceptable level of risk when allowing industrial development to happen on pristine lands–on Indigenous lands? What are the implications of our choices, our resistance, our compliance? What are the consequences of our choices? How do we listen? In what ways are we entangled and implicated into decisions outside of our control? How do we deceive each other, our selves? What do we truly know to be true? What does the future hold? Is it possible to restore and repair the damage already done? The performance ends by them cutting the braids with a knife, leaving the audience with conflicted emotions. There is no resolution.

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Listener Ship

Site-specific installation, found natural materials, wood debris

Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

Lindsay Dobbin’s work is often site-specific and furtive. They collaborate with nature, creating with found materials, and playing with sound. Over the five-week residency, I heard murmurs about Lindsay’s “other studio” in the woods, but it wasn’t until the second last day of the program that they led a guided walk to the Listener Ship. A small group of us quietly walked with Lindsay through the snow covered forest, following their tracks from previous outings–the mark making revealing something like a map to our destination.

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

It was a blue bird day, the sun shining bright despite the frigid cold. After weaving through the trees for a while, we eventually arrived at the Listener Ship–a small hut made of gathered and arranged deadfall from the forest behind Glyde Hall. The structure sits upon a bluff that overlooks the Bow River–looking west, the Bourgeau mountain range can be seen upstream–looking south one sees Bow Falls tumbling directly below, while the Banff Springs Fairmont Hotel sits across the river reminding visitors of Banff’s colonial history. The view is breath taking–sublime. My breath is visible as it leaves my body. The forest is quiet, yet the roar of the falls is relentless.

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

Before entering the fort, Lindsay talked about their process of making with the materials “offered by the forest” and the quality of “embodied listening” as they determined the placement of each piece of wood–they talked about their return to childhood and their desire to connect more deeply with the land, and how the marks of their footsteps in the snow became a record of the process. They then invited us inside the fort where we huddled close, shoulder to shoulder, sitting on the ground, filling the ship with our puffy parkas, toques and scarves, rosy cheeks and smiles, breathing each other’s cloud breaths. For a moment, I felt like a child, recalling a sense of imagination, wonder, and play. Listener Ship is an ephemeral sanctuary for listening and communing with the land.

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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These two happenings are thematically tied. Childhood experiences and perceptions contrast adult realities and responsibilities. Both happenings have a touch of nostalgia and bittersweetness. During Sinuosity I felt a mix of excitement remembering the joy of jump rope as a child, but also fear as I was aware of the consequences if I landed on their hair and the metaphor their performance conjured… and as I approached Listener Ship, an idyllic setting for a fortress for little (and big) people, I was still very aware of the colonial history of this place and the unresolved contested territories across these lands. Despite these conflicting internal experiences, I do believe it is important to nurture our innate wonderment of creation, and to cultivate a sense of gratitude towards that which is sacred. It is these qualities that help us to love and build healthy relationships–to care for where we come from and our families, the water and land–to pay attention, and tread mindfully as we move forward.


About the artists:

Lindsay Dobbin

http://www.lindsaydobbin.com/

Lindsay Dobbin is a multi/interdisciplinary Métis artist, musician, curator and educator who lives and works on the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Their ecocentric, place-responsive practice includes media art, performance, sculpture, installation, social practices and writing, and is invested in and influenced by Indigenous epistemologies and cultural practices, such as drumming. Beyond their solo creative practice, Dobbin is also an active artistic collaborator, and have worked on projects with musicians, sound artists, dancers, visual artists and filmmakers. Their work has been presented and reviewed nationally and internationally, and they have received both provincial and federal grants. In addition to their art practice, they are also a passionate educator–employing music, sound, play, improvisation and engagement with the environment as tools for self-awareness and building community.

Jeneen Frei Njootli

https://freejoots.wordpress.com/

Jeneen Frei Njootli is a Gwich’in artist and a co-creator of the ReMatriate collective. She has worked as a fashion designer, performance artist, workshop facilitator, crime prevention youth coordinator and has both lived and exhibited across Canada. Frei Njootli’s practice concerns itself with Indigeneity-in-politics, community engagement and productive disruptions. She is currently a grateful, uninvited guest on unceded Musqueam territory, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts Degree at the University of British Columbia.

Tsēma Igharas

http://www.esln.ca

Tsēma Igharas (formally Tamara Skubovius) is an interdisciplinary artist and member of the Tahltan First Nation. She studied Northwest Coast Formline Design at K’saan (2005/06), has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University for Art + Design, Vancouver (2011), and Masters of Fine Art from Ontario College of Art + Design University (2016). Tsēma has shown in notable group shows, Interweavings (RAG 2014/15), Culture Shift, Contemporary Indigenous Art Biennale in Montreal and Luminato festival in Toronto (2016). She is currently showing her solo exhibition, Ore Body, in the vitrines at Gallery 44 for Imaginative Film Festival in Toronto. Tsēma graduated from the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design program at OCADu showing her thesis work, LAND|MINE that connects materials to mine sites and bodies to the land.


About the writer:

Angela Marie Schenstead

Angela Marie Schenstead is an artist and writer, originally from Saskatchewan, and a member of One Arrow First Nation. She earned a Fine Art Diploma from Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton (2003), and a Bachelor of Fine Art in Ceramics from Alberta College of Art + Design, Calgary (2007). She has been a resident artist at Medalta, Medicine Hat (2007); Bruno Arts Bank, Bruno (2011); and Common Opulence, Demmitt (2015). Her art work can be found between the pages of kimiwan ‘zine (issues one and seven), and the online exhibition Attesting Resistance curated by Logan MacDonald (2013). Her work was included in the group exhibition Indigeneity, The Works Festival (Main Tent), Edmonton (2012); and she independently curated FIRE which featured works by Brenda Draney and Jewel Shaw, Stride Gallery, Calgary (2012). She has written texts for Contemporary Calgary, Art Gallery of Alberta, and Studio Magazine. She is currently based in Banff, where she has been a team member of Visual + Digital Arts at The Banff Centre since 2007. She is also an avid hiker, yoga practitioner and instructor, and is happiest walking in the bush or swimming in fresh water.

 

 

The Moosehide Gathering – Shayla Snowshoe

Over the summer, I had the wonderful privilege and honor of being the head photographer at the Moosehide Gathering (MHG) in Moosehide, Yukon. Before I start, I would just like to say that I hope that I can do the gathering justice through my writing and by sharing some of my favorite photographs from the amazing weekend. The MHG is such an amazing, eye opening and life changing experience and should be added onto your bucket list.

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The MHG is 4 days long and consists of an extensive array of different, unique and cultural aspects. From the early morning hours right until midnight, there is always something going on. The stage is a constant showcase of all of the different artists and cultural performers; from singers, to drum dancers, to comedy, to fiddle music. Aside from the performances, you can also find several workshops that offered – the beading workshop always has a great turn out! There is also an artist’s tent where you can find beautiful art work from different artists throughout Canada and even from Alaska.

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There are many other beautiful aspects of the MHG that I have never seen anywhere else. There is a sacred fire that is lit at the opening ceremonies and is maintained day and night over the entire weekend. The fire is sacred because it hears and carries everyone’s prayers up to our ancestors and the Creator. I literally felt so much power and enlightenment just by sitting around the fire. There was also a Dene hand games demonstration, I got to play a few rounds, which was so fun! It was awesome to see the different styles of playing within the Yukon. One more thing that has got to be mentioned is the feast that is held every night… the cooks work all day, cooking up an amazing meal consisting of traditional delicacies, and they feed every single person that is at the gathering. AMAZING.

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My absolute favorite part of the gathering was the prayer circle that takes place during the closing ceremony. This year, there had to have been hundreds of people in the largest prayer circle that I have ever seen – the circle basically encompassed the entire village of Moosehide. It wasn’t only the size of the circle that amazed me, but the power… I could literally feel the power that radiated from every individual while in the very middle of the circle, taking photographs from every angle. It was one of the most incredible and humbling moments of my life, I even took a moment to just stand there and take it all in.

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The MHG is one of the most powerfully healing events that I’ve had the pleasure of attending for the past two years. My life literally changed within those 4 days and I leave there with a different, clear mindset and a happy heart.

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To end off this post, I would just like to say Mahsi Cho to the people and the community of Moosehide for not only hiring me, but for welcoming me so warmly to your homelands and for allowing me the opportunity to capture your absolutely beautiful culture and people. Mahsi Cho for treating me as one of your own, it means the world to me. It has truly been an honor.

 – Shayla Snowshoe, Northwest Territories

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