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

breaking the surface

I remember swimming at the lake by our reserve. My brothers and cousins and me, we would dive deep, after we had swum out far enough that we couldn’t touch the bottom anymore. We would hold our breath, trying to be the last one to rise to the surface. I remember opening my eyes and floating in that space between light and dark, watching the sun shimmer through the water in soft waves. Looking at the light, feeling the burn in my lungs, and finally, finally, breaking through the glass of the water, gasping, sputtering, wiping my eyes and laughing.

This last month felt like I constantly trying to break through the surface.

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And it’s hard for me to admit that. I’m not superwoman, but I do “a lot.” I’m in my PhD. I own my own business. I write and manage this blog. I’m a single parent. In the middle of all this, I also write. I’m doing a play. I’m writing a poetry manuscript. I’m tentatively outlining the plot to a novel I’ve been thinking about for the last year.

All these things though, I love. I love my life. I am happy. So why am I so overwhelmed?

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I would understand if I disliked any aspects of this life, but I didn’t. I don’t. I would study and feel content in following a dream I’ve had since I was a teenager. I would photograph a family and smile at the back of my camera, seeing the captured emotions and realize that I love this job. I would cuddle up with my daughter, kissing the top of her head, and try to remember what it was like before I felt this love, before I became her mother.

But slowly, slowly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel the joy. I couldn’t feel the passion. I felt… grey. Nothing. Absent. I went through the motions and denied that anything was wrong. Or I would sigh and shake my head, because even if something was wrong, there was nothing anyone could do to “fix it.”

In between worrying about money, moving homes, my child starting kindergarten, studying for comps, and writing on demand instead of with passion, I finally sat down and said, enough.

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Fuck this.

Fuck feeling like this.

I cannot, and will not, go through my life like this.

Something had to change.

I had to change.

I work with an amazing thesis advisor, and we had a sit down, as we do every week. She asked me, as she often did, “How are you?”

“I’m burned out,” I admitted quietly. She looked at me, eyes a little wide. In all our time together, where she has warned me to take it easy, to not take on so many projects, to be selfish with my time and energy as a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint, this was the first time I had ever admitted to being burned out. To saying enough.

“OK. … What do we need to do?”

I wanted to cry, with relief. Instead, I took a deep breath.

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Saying “enough” wasn’t quitting. It wasn’t a weakness. It didn’t make me “less smart” then those who had come before me.

So you may, or may not, have noticed I stopped writing here for a minute. I needed to step back, and when I did, the women of this blog stepped up. They said ok. They rallied, texted, messaged, and made up for my absence.

And I could breathe.

I took a look at my business and identified what I love doing, and what I do simply for the business. I developed a new business plan, going into effect in January. I identified key goals, and things I could let go.

And I could breathe.

I looked at my PhD with a critical eye. I drew a very badly designed map with crayons, showing where I was in my academic journey and where I needed to go. I’m a visual learner, it turns out, and I need to speak with my community, as soon as possible. So I did the paperwork that needed doing, and soon, very soon, I can start my interviews.

And I could breathe. And smile.

And while I’m still “too busy,” I feel like me again. I feel ambition. I didn’t realize how absent that was until I could feel it again. I felt desire. I felt joy. I felt silly and sarcastic and smart and sexy and powerful.

I feel.

And it’s good.

 – tenille campbell

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NOTE:

This post was written in October 2016. I let it sit for a while because it felt too raw, too vulnerable to admit any weakness, but I knew eventually I would be okay with it.

It’s okay to show the cracks. 

Shy Natives // featured artists

 

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the Popular Feed of our tea&bannock Instagram, and came across a few shots by Shy Natives. The name snagged my attention, and the polaroid/ lingerie vibe had my Indigenous Feminism senses tingling, in a good way, so I did what any self-respecting woman would do in this day and age: I creeped.

And I’m so glad I did.

Shy Natives is a handmade lingerie brand created by Cheyenne sisters, Madison and Jordan. Featuring delicate florals, sassy straps, and stunning photos that portray a casual sense of intimacy and confidence, this Instagram has quickly become one of my favourites. I’m pleased to introduce you to Shy Natives:

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10 Questions / / /

1. What are you/you’s shooting with, and how did you pick the vintage vibe to portray your lingerie collection?

We mainly shoot with the Instax Mini and Wide cameras for now. We love how immediate and experimental the Instax cameras are. It also gives us this vintage vibe you mentioned. We like how you get one shot, and each image is important and unique. We love the art of film photography, and how it takes one back in time. There is a movement in photography to return to film, and we think this coincides nicely with our lingerie brand, which also reverts back to handmade craft.

2. What inspired you two to start the Shy Natives brand, and where does the name come from?

Madison has a passion for sewing. Not too long ago, she decided to sew her first bralette because she couldn’t find one that fits her frame in the stores. We know other women have this same issue, so we created Shy Natives to make custom-sized bralettes to fit every woman. We like the idea of shyness and lingerie, and how these words conflict. We strive to make beautiful images and stray way from sexual depictions. Shy and Natives came together and felt right for us. We are Northern Cheyenne as well, and we like that Shy and Chey are homophones.

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3. Jordan, you’re also a printmaker, and I love your Instagram feed – those prints speak to me. How does your personal art flow into your collective lingerie art with your sister?

Thank you! I love designing patterns and playing with different marks and colors. In my free time, I work and print in a studio in Berkeley, California. I am incredibly lucky to continue printmaking and making art. One day soon, I want to design fabric to incorporate in the bralettes. In addition, I will silk screen print graphic t-shirts and tote bags to promote Shy Natives. Madison’s sewing experience, and my Studio Art and design experience combine to create a dynamic business.

4. Madison, your Instagram is private, and I can’t creep, ha. But it does say you sew, so was Shy Natives your first lingerie collection, and what have been some of your favourite mistakes while undertaking this new series?

Where do we get started? My biggest challenge has been drafting patterns for cups to accommodate all sizes and shapes. Shy Natives is my first lingerie collection, and I am learning a lot. If I sew when I’m rushed, I’m bound to make silly mistakes like sewing straps on backwards.

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5. What kind of reception is Shy Natives getting from the community?

Shy Natives is very new right now, but reception has been inspiring and encouraging. Many people have reached out to us wanting to purchase our products or collaborate. We are still in the beginning phases of our business, so we hope to launch soon. In the mean time, we continue to develop our apparel and brand.

6. As Indigenous women creating images and lingerie art that indicate a casual and comfortable relationship with intimacy and sensuality, what are you hoping to say with this line?

We hope to empower all women. We are women making lingerie for other women. Lingerie that people want to wear. It’s also fundamental to our label that we are Indigenous women creating art and products. In addition to creating our lingerie, we want to spread awareness about the epidemic of violence against Native women. Soon, we will donate a percentage of our proceeds to support this cause. We strive to unite and empower Indigenous peoples.

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7. What is your favourite design/look so far in this collection, and what is a future design that you are working on?

We both love wearing the black lace strappy bralette. It is very comfortable, sensual, and classic. We are excited to play with different fabric patterns, design our own fabrics, and potentially expand the line to include underwear, sleeping shorts, and body suits.

8. What is something that people would be surprised to know about you two?

We are both high school record holders. Jordan has the pole vault record and Madison has most points in her basketball career.

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9. Dreaming big, what is the ultimate goal for the both of you, as artists?

We dream to empower Indigenous women with our products, passions, and images.

10. Favorite quote/s:

“You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you…”

 –  George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

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Bio //
Shy Natives is a brand created by Northern Cheyenne sisters Jordan and Madison Craig. Shy Natives is custom, handmade lingerie to fit all shapes and sizes.
Get In Touch // 
FB: facebook.com/shynatives (Coming soon!)
Website: www.shynatives.com (coming soon) 

Journey to Motherhood (with a Birth Story)

Mid-February. We are curled up on the couch with comforters and coffee. By “we,” I mean my daughter and I. She is napping and I am writing. Surreal, I have a daughter. I am a mother.

In June, I did a blog post discussing me being pregnant (and my various thoughts on it), and announced that my husband and I were expecting our first child after Christmas. My baby arrived over a month early. I want to share why she arrived early and my experience with having the healthiest pregnancy turn high-risk (with me getting hospitalized at 35 weeks and having baby a week later), in hopes that others can relate to or just learn something from our story.

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The majority of my pregnancy was “quiet”, or as quiet as a pregnancy can be. I had next to no symptoms. No nausea, Braxton Hicks contractions, heartburn (yup, I have a bald baby!), or much swelling. I had an anterior placenta so kicks were even harder to feel. If I didn’t have a baby bump and get a positive pregnancy test so early I could have been one of those ladies who doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until she was 5 or 6 months. I did feel tired and get occasional headaches and leg cramps but, up until the end, it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy. I was grateful, because I didn’t exactly enjoy being pregnant.

Do not mistake my lack of loving the experience the wrong way. I was so happy to be pregnant, and that I was having a baby, but I really wanted it to be over already, and to be on the other side of pregnancy. And now that I am on the other side, I have to say I don’t feel any differently. I’m not one of those ladies that misses my bump or can’t wait to be pregnant again. It was an anxious, long eight months for me. Maybe it was the lack of kicks, maybe it’s just my slightly neurotic personality (ha), or maybe it’s just normal and people don’t talk about it often, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of that “something is wrong.” It was such a mental battle throughout my pregnancy. Despite gaining weight right on track, feeling pretty good, and having normal healthy OB appointments, I was so worried all the time that I would miscarry or have a stillbirth. It happens. I felt so guilty for not revelling in my experience, especially since I wanted to be pregnant for so long, and I know so many women who suffer from infertility. I kept thinking, “how dare I not enjoy this experience 100%.”

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Like I said above, I had an anterior placenta. I didn’t feel my baby kick until I was 23-24 weeks pregnant. I remember being at work when I was around 22 weeks pregnant, with my little bump, and a coworker asked “so you must feel her kick all the time.” Um, no. When finding out that I didn’t feel anything, not even a flutter she got this super worried look on her face and notified me that I should feel something by now. Cue panicked call to my OB to notify them that I hadn’t felt a kick yet. The nurse assured me that it could be awhile before I feel any kicks and that my placenta was in the front so it wasn’t anything to worry about until I was 28 weeks.  I even got an ultrasound the next day and sure enough, baby was kicking away and I didn’t feel a thing.

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Pregnancy isn’t a set in stone, must follow “this template” experience. Every pregnancy is different, as I was learning. My anterior placenta acted like a squishy cushion between me and my baby. It made it really hard to feel (and see) movement from her throughout my pregnancy. It caused me to visit the ER in a panic a couple of times in my third trimester because she didn’t kick x amount of times in x hours. I felt like a crazy lady! Was I normal? Everyone talks so much about the physical discomforts of pregnancy. That was what I was expecting (which didn’t really happen for me). The throwing up, the swelling, the waddling (okay, I definitely waddled). Women talk about that. What isn’t talked about is the mental health aspect of it which made me feel so much more isolated and wrong. I felt guilty for my unborn baby that I was worrying so much. Because I didn’t feel normal I didn’t talk about it much with anyone. Even when I was hospitalized with health complications I STILL didn’t talk about how worried sick I was.

On Monday November 7, 2016, (I was 33 weeks pregnant*) I went to my regular OB appointment and my healthy pregnancy started to take another turn. I had borderline high blood pressure which the doctors informed me is a symptom of pre-eclampsia. They ordered for blood tests and urine tests to see how my organs were functioning. They wanted me to know that I was high-risk for developing pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a “pregnancy disease.” The only way to “cure” it is to get the baby out ASAP. It is characterized by high blood pressure which can affect the mom’s organs as well as the baby’s placenta. If left untreated, it can turn into eclampsia which can result in death. My mom had pre-eclampsia with all four of her pregnancies. I was born at 31 weeks gestation, my brother at 33 weeks. She almost died. We weren’t taking this lightly and I went home with a blood pressure monitor and religiously checked my blood pressure. My OB appointments were increased. I was terrified.

*Just a quick aside. My doctors and I went with different due dates. They had my official due date as January 2, 2017, based on my first ultrasound. I went with December 24 as I felt this was more accurate, based on LMP, conception, and my gut mama feeling. That, and baby was always measuring really big at the rest of my (many) ultrasounds. This matters, as it affects induction schedules, and the “premieness” of a baby.*

IMG_9067.JPGI got a call from my OB office on Thursday asking me to come in the next day. They wanted to see how I was progressing, and to check my blood pressure. If everything looked good they would post-pone my next appointment. I was feeling positive that everything must be looking good on my blood tests.

Friday, November 18, 2016. I drove myself to my appointment (50 mins), I thought it would be a quick in and out and then my plans were to head over to my mom’s house to prepare for my baby shower that was the next day. My husband was at work. All I could think about was getting out of my 9:00 am appointment quickly so I could go decorate. I was excited. I was also excited to take my 35 week bump picture the next day, what would I wear?  My bump was getting big and my clothing options were limited. Was baby kicking enough? I wonder who will all come to the shower. I was itchy last night, I should tell my doctor. My mind kept going back and forth between my appointment and the baby shower.

My blood pressure was higher than ever at this appointment. We also did a test because of my itchiness for another pregnancy disease called cholestasis (which has itchiness as one of the only symptom). I was disappointed. The doctor ordered more blood tests, and an ultrasound for that day at 2:00 pm to do a biophysical profile  and NST (non-stress test) on the baby and make sure she was doing good in there. Okay, I guess I’ll have to decorate in the evening. I did my blood tests and waited around for my ultrasound. The ultrasound was neat, baby looked great, and we got a 3D look. Baby was measuring at about 6lbs.

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The nurse informed me that the doctor would come talk to be about my results and that I could wait in the hospital room that my non-stress test was in. The doctor didn’t make it in until after 6 pm. She came in, informed me that my urine and blood pressure indicate that I do indeed have pre-eclampsia. I may need to be induced that night and they were transferring me to the Royal Alexandra Hospital 3 hours away via ambulance to be admitted there, as they did not have the proper NICU facilities to handle a 33 week premie (as they thought I wasn’t as far along as I thought I was). We got steroid shots to get the baby’s lungs to develop more. I was shocked, scared, nervous, unprepared. I guess we were postponing the baby shower! All my “plans” for the birth were thrown out the window. I wouldn’t know what it would be like to have contractions start at home, or have my water break and rush to the hospital.  I was terrified but also excited to meet my baby.

New doctors, another ultrasound, and a new hospital. My new doctors agreed with me that my original due date was wrong and instead I was given a due date of December 21, 2016. This is almost 2 weeks further along than my previous doctors thought! They also decided that because my blood pressure went down and baby was doing great that I would just stay there to be monitored until it was time to have baby. That was good news. The bad news was that my tests came back for cholestasis and I did indeed have it. Another reason to monitor me and baby throughout each day.

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I had a team of liver specialists visit me daily. The goal was to keep baby in as long as possible until it became too hostile for baby. They informed me that because I had cholestasis there was a chance that my baby could be stillborn. I was heartbroken. Terrified. All my greatest fears. Stillborn. Every day I had multiple blood tests, and urine tests to check my bile acid levels (the liver does not function properly because of the cholestasis). Multiple medications (which increased a tri-fold in the time I was there) to keep my bile acids down and keep the baby in me as long as possible. My arms were bruised from so many needles. Non-stress tests every morning and before bed to make sure the baby was doing well. Non-stress tests if she doesn’t kick enough. During a non-stress test they strap on monitors to my belly that show if there are contractions and also record the baby’s heart rate. It tells us how much she’s moving. They have expectations for what a baby should be doing in utero. Too high of a heart rate, too low of a heart rate, or not enough movement (heart rate accelerations) and they may make the decision that the baby is too “stressed” and would preform an emergency C-section. Some non-stress tests would take a bit longer because the baby would be sleeping and I would have to drink some really ice cold water to get her to wake up. Mostly they were all good and reassuring. I wished that I could be strapped to the monitor the entire time, to ease my anxiety.

Despite it being a fairly quiet stay, and grateful that I was so far along, I couldn’t shake my fear. Every night I cried. I wanted my baby out now. I know inside is good but I didn’t want her to die in me. Every morning when my OB would visit me I’d hope that it would be induction day. My sister Nicole visited me every day and kept me sane. We watched Grey’s Anatomy and she brought me junk food. She is amazing.

November 23, 2016. My 27th birthday. Still in the hospital. I did get a pass to go out for supper with my family. It was exhausting. I bought some tiny newborn clothes for my little baby that I would be meeting soon. I felt so unprepared! I had nothing that would fit a 6 pound baby. I was expecting a 10 pounder (like my husband was). The next day before bed my nurse informed me that my acid levels were really high. I may get induced really soon! My doctor would decide in the morning. I was so excited (but also scared of what the high acid levels meant).

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November 25, 2016. Possibly induction day! I woke up feeling so positive. Usually my doctor visits at 9:00 am, after breakfast. I waited, and waited. Finally at noon another doctor visited me. I didn’t recognize her. She informed me that my doctor was sick but that I would be getting induced that day anyway. We just had to wait for some space to clear up. I was elated! I messaged my husband that it was almost baby time and to get to Edmonton after work. The doctor said induction can take days so I told him to finish his shift and to not rush.

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Right after finding out I was being induced I took a shower and took my last mirror bump selfie.

Finally at 5:00pm I was induced (using foley bulb and cervidil). My mom was with me. She brought me food and we waited. Still so excited. The nurses informed me (again) that it could be days, and it could take 36 hours for the cervidil to get me to start dilating and contractions started. Husband arrived. It got late and I tried to convince him to go sleep at the hotel. Nothing would be happening that night. He insisted on staying with me.

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November 26, 2016.

1:00 am. I woke up. I had a back ache. Annoying. I wanted to try get rest before my contractions started. Back ache kept coming (and going). I decided to go walk, maybe that would help. I noticed a rhythm to my back ache and started timing it. The nurse noticed me walking around and asked me what was wrong. I told her I had a back ache and that it kept coming every two minutes. She informed me that I very well might be contracting and they hooked me up to the machine and sure enough the contractions were lasting about 30 seconds every two minutes. 2:30 am, they checked and I was 3 cm dilated. The pain started to really be (what I thought was) painful. I cried. They gave me a little morphine and that took the edge off and I slept until the pain woke me up again at 5:00 am. I texted family member and gave them updates.

6:00 am I felt a huge POP. I knew my water broke, but there was no water. I sat up, called for my nurse. Shifted a bit, and then there was water flowing out. A LOT of water. How exciting! This show was finally moving! They checked me again and I was still only 3 cm. How disappointing. But still, water! I thought it would take days! Lucky my husband stayed with me.

This is when things really started to get painful. Right after my water broke the contractions were faster, lasting longer, and more painful. I moaned and groaned and cried through them. No more texting or looking at my phone. I asked for the epidural almost immediately. They moved me upstairs to wait for a delivery room.

7:30 am. The pain was unbelievable. Breathe. Where is my epidural? The anesthesiologist was in surgery so it would be awhile before he could get to me. They checked me and I was 5cm dilated.

8:00 am. I finally arrived in my delivery room. The pain is making me crazy. I shake the bed, I cry. I don’t want to be talked to or touched. Where is my epidural? I want relief. I screamed. I’m sure the entire floor could hear me. I was one of those ladies from the movies. My nurse informed me that it could take hours to get to 10 cm. I tried to mentally prepare myself for a marathon, but the pain was very overwhelming. All in my back. Wasn’t my uterus in the front? I kept thinking.

8:30am. 2 hours after my water broke they finally checked me again. 9 cm. I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t this supposed to take hours? The nurse then informed me it was too late for an epidural. My heart sunk. The pain was so unbearable. She gave me fentonyl to take the edge off. It helped a little, but made me feel so loopy.

9:00 am. Epidural man came! The relief was almost immediate. I could breathe. I could talk to my mom and husband without snapping at them.

10:00 am. I was 10 cm! But, the epidural was too strong. I couldn’t feel anything and they wanted it to wear off a little so I could push.

10:53 am. Finally, time to start pushing. My nurse again informed me that it could be a few hours of pushing. Every contraction I had to attempt to push for 10 seconds, 3 times. My husband and mom were the counters. They didn’t count in sync. At the time it wasn’t very funny but looking back I can’t help but giggle. Pushing was exhausting in its own way. Branden would wipe my brow and leave a cool cloth on it (which would fall and cover my eyes while I pushed, again, not funny at the time, hilarious now). My sister arrived to help coach me to push. “I can see her head, Claudine! She has black hair,” Nicole told me excitedly. Doctors flooded in because she was almost here. NICU came in on standby because she was a 36 week premature baby.

11:23 am. With the loudest, most indignant cry – my daughter was born. NICU left immediately because her lungs were so strong. Her papa cut the cord and up she came to my chest. What a gift. Surreal.

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Alba Mae Bull weighed 6lb 3oz and was 19.5 inches long. Perfect. Healthy. She is mine and I am hers. I am a Mother.

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Alba is now 3 months old. I am so excited to share my experiences as a mother in my future posts. It’s wonderful, messy, terrifying, and the best role I’ve ever had.

 – claudine bull

making the cover

“So…. can I tape your nipples?”

My cousin Tara and I have had some weird conversations in our creative journeys. From video shooting to making her be the cover of my first poetry book, we’ve had some amazing times together.

In late October, I was working with Signature Editions on my book cover (to be released in April).

I needed a very specific shot of an Indigenous woman, standing proud, playful, and sensual.

No biggie.

Just decolonizing images, one Indigenous at a time.

I’ve chatted before about how our body and image are often portrayed by outside eyes, which fetishize our skin colour, our culture, and our beauty. I wanted to avoid that, obvs.

So I called Tara up and asked her to be my model. And while I was totally chill, for the most part, with writing and promoting this book, it’s always something to have your face be ‘the face’ of a book cover and have it forever be identified as part of this project. And when you’re chatting about casual sex and intimacy, I wanted to make sure Tara knew what she was getting into.

“Hell yes.”

No wooing needed, she was in.

I set up my RezStudio in my living room. Backdrop. Lights. Music playing. Kids playing in the bedroom. We laughed, as our kids played together the way we still play together – loud, dominant, yet so kind to one another.

And we shot. And shot. And we laughed even more. We chatted about position, lighting, sexuality, and the power of images. I kept making sure that Tara felt comfortable the more she undressed, and we laughed again – “I haven’t seen you this nekked since we took baths together.”

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Finally, after the hair teasing, the secret grins, the lip-gloss, and the taping of nipples, we were done. We sat and had tea, and listened to our kids play some more.

I didn’t know how to say thank you. I still don’t. This is powerful medicine for me, being able to take these stories and images and present them in a positive way.

Tara also shared some thoughts with me:

This is experience for me was so empowering. I’ve had the honour of working with Tenille on several occasions, and the thing I love the most is she’s always willing to go out of her comfort zone in order to share my ideas and visions. I appreciated this experience even more because she allowed me to go out of my own comfort zone while still feel completely at peace with it all.

In our culture, it’s almost seen as taboo to be open about sexuality. I know there is a long history of our stories and experiences being exploited, so this is a way for us to take back what is ours. Our bodies and spirits intertwined with healthy sexuality and openness.

When she first showed me the images from this shoot, I was completely amazed with how flawless she captured her ideas, what felt funny, awkward and cheesy to me in mid-pose came out strong, bold and effortless in photograph.

I feel its so important for women to feel comfortable within their own bodies and thoughts because we live in a time where images are hyper-sexualized beyond our control. We live in a time where we are shunned if we are openly sexual and on the other side of the spectrum, are considered to be of higher honour and respect if we are humble and modest.

I think it’s absolutely vital that women be accepted as we are, whether we are fully clothed or willingly exposed. This book is what needs to happen for us to begin this dialogue. We are able to giggle and tell stories amongst ourselves, so why not enable us to openly share our thoughts and innermost feelings with humour, beauty and confidence? Feminism doesn’t have to be seen as angry and aggressive, feminism needs to be seen as empowerment with acceptance and knowledge of self.

With that being said, I am so honoured to be a part of this experience. I see this book as a huge leap for the feminine peace of mind. Thank you, Tenille, for taking this step forward for us all.

Ekosi and Maci Cho.

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As a reader, I know the power of a book cover. As an artist, I think about tone, texture, shape, white space, font choice, meaning, and layers. As an Indigenous woman, I know the stereotypes that are often portrayed about us. I am leery and weary of feathers, tribal designs, buckskin, and the hyper-sexualisation of our bodies. So how was this going to work, consulting and deciding on a final image for a book about Indigenous erotica?

I am incredibly lucky that the team at Signature Editions listened to my concerns, and wanted to work with my own photographs. I am pleased to show you a draft of the final cover:

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 – tenille campbell

How do you say “dating” in Dene?

When I was younger, around eleven or so, I told my mom I was in love with Brian. He was a boy in my class, we had been good friends since Kindergarten, and he and I were now in love.

She was cool. “Ok.”

So began those first awkward steps into dating. I had a Friday the 13th Slumber Party (I know, I was a weird kid, but it was awesome) and we held hands as we watched scary movies. My cousin had a birthday party and invited him, and we shared our first kiss on the trampoline as our friends watched. I remember thinking “don’t blush, don’t blush, be cool.” We went to the same Bible Camp in the summer (sigh, I know, but all the kids did it) and he would meet me at the lake when our groups went swimming, and we would splash water at each other, laugh, and then run away.

It was all incredibly innocent and fun, and I am so thankful he was my first boyfriend because we were friends throughout, and stayed friends to this day. I don’t even remember how we broke up – I’ll have to read my old diaries, ha – but my entire youth has memories of him – bike riding, climbing trees, late night phone calls, slow dances, stolen kisses, and walks around town. And it’s all so idyllic.

Dating nowadays, not so much.

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Last year, I decided to try dating. I had been in a long-term relationship, and when that ended, I took some time to heal. To be alone and to work on my own goals and I succeeded. Wrote some words. Published some images. Took some trips. Had a great time.

I then decided to try this dating thing.

And I was so badddddd at it.

Like, awful.

Let’s not confuse dating and sex, mmmkay. Sex is easy. Sex is effortless. I could sleep with a new person each week, no problem, if that’s what I wanted. There is no shortage to people who want to have sex – easy, casual, emotional free sex.

But that’s not what I wanted.

I wanted to try the butterflies again. The nervousness. I wanted to get the secret grins, and the anticipation. I wanted to look forward to seeing and thinking about someone else again.

One of the first dates I went on was with a white guy. Which was new for me. Being from a small Northern Indigenous community, I usually dated Dene’s, Cree’s and sometimes, when I was feeling exotic, Métis. But “dating” in the North – it’s not like in the city.

Dating in the city seems to be ‘lets go out and do something together, come home, and plan another date, if the first one went well.’

Dating in the North is more akin to “let’s go for a drive/to a party/to the lake/etc” and all sudden, you’re “going out” and in a long-term relationship for the next three to six years.

There is no in between.

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But me and this white guy, I call him Dreamcatcher, I met him online, of course, and we chatted, exchanged numbers, and set a date. He was an amateur photographer and knew the difference between f-stop and ISO, so he had me at “Canon.” He sent me some of his images to check out and while I cringed, I also kept silent.

Art is subjective, I said to myself.

On date night, Dreamcatcher picks me up at my place, and hops out of the truck and opens the door for me. Me, in typical Tenille-fashion, am rocking bright red lips and massive Savage Rose feather earrings. And people always have a comment on my earrings.

“Hey. Nice earrings. Did you hunt for the feathers yourself?”

Ummmm, no.

“So I knew an Indian in high school … do you know him?”

“So I knew a girl who made dreamcatchers… do you make them?”

“So you get cheap smokes, hey?”

“So, you’re a Pocahottie, hey? You don’t look supperrrr Indian, but I can tell.”

By the time we got to the coffee shop, I was wide eyed in amazement – how did he not get how rude and racist these questions were? But as the barista made my caramel macchiato, I decided to go all in. If this was gonna be my first date with a white guy, so be it. Let’s get all the ignorant questions out there.

“So, the guy who pumped my gas this morning, he was white. Blond and blue eyes. You know him?”

“So, ever date your cousin? I know how limited the small towns are…”

“So, like living on my land?”

“So, where are you really from? Like, where did you people come from?”

Needless to say, that date did not end well.

Nor did the date with a new guy after that. No, I do not want to use my treaty card to pay for your gas. Nor did the date after that. No, I’m not interested in a debate about what “equal rights” means and how we should abolish treaties. Nor did the date after that. No, I’m not a fake Indian, and yes, I have lived on reserve.

It was absolutely crazy to me how often my Indigenous identity would come into play.

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Finally, I contacted one of my old, old boyfriends. A Cree guy who used to play baseball. I creeped on FB, and I knew was still single and still cute. He was the same old guy – incredibly friendly, sweet, and charming. He came to the city, and we hung out the entire day. Lunch, a walk along the river, chatting, a coffee chop, supper, a movie. Not gonna lie, there was a lot of kissing in-between conversations. And a lot of laughter, joking and grins.

And not once did our Indigenous identities come up in a negative way.

It was a breath of fresh air. I was able to relax and remember how to do this. How to let my guard down and let someone in. How to trust that the conversation coming my way would not be a verbal assault of some sort.

Dating in the city is still weird. I miss the days of knowing everyone in the room, knowing who likes who, knowing who likes you. I miss knowing the community I could get involved in, and the backstories of who already messed around with who. I’m still dating outside my community though, and even meet a non-Indigenous guy who did make me grin and give me butterflies… but that’s another story.

And at least I know to avoid the guys who start the conversation with “wanna play Cowboys and Indians?”

 – tenille campbell

the ocean gives and the ocean takes away

A couple of years ago I received an artist grant from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Initially I was going to do a documentary photo series on Indigenous women who have overcome trauma and abuse. I had to think some more about this series. About how I could show to others how strong, amazing and inspiring these women are. I had to avoid labelling these women as victims because that they are not. We are survivors. And trauma and abuse can come in many forms, so how was I going to photograph that?

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I decided not to do a documentary photo series because I didn’t want the images to feel like outsiders gazing into the private lives of these women. It wasn’t going to be something you’d see in a National Geographic magazine. There is enough voyeurism in the media, so I went with formal portraits, which I have to admit isn’t my strongest way to shoot. My photo classmates (such as Shawna McLeod) will remember me in not providing much direction nor guidance to the models provided for our practice. I was too quiet. Someone would tell me, you gotta tell them what to do! Ugh, the only people I am good at telling what to do is my husband, my boys and my younger sisters.

I learned that there are many similarities between formal portraiture and being a big sister.

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After many talks with friends and family, I decide to go in another direction with the images. I wanted to include a backdrop, a theme of sorts, that all these women share. Even though some are from the West Coast, most of us have moved away from where we are from. We have left the environment where we suffered our trauma and abuse, and have ended up on the west coast, within reach of the ocean. And so, we are all connected to these waters that heal. The tides are connected to the cycle of the moon and so are we. The ocean swells and alters the landscape and so do we. The ocean can have moments of stillness as do we. The ocean carries life and so do we. As they say in Alert Bay, the ocean gives and the ocean takes away.

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I started by photographing one of my mentors. She has a story to share but it wasn’t my place to share it, so I just did what I could do with my camera. I would photograph and then wait. We would cackle a bit. Then I would look at the light, her body, the ocean and continue shooting while reminding myself to give her guidance. I shot like this for most of the sessions. And in between each session I’d second guess myself and what I was doing. And wait. I do a lot of waiting and sitting on the images. I share with others my thoughts on the direction I want to take. And wait some more. I think and think and think and second guess myself again and almost give up. Pick myself back up and arrange another photo session. And just keep on shooting, talking, reading and thinking.

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Over the years I have had many conversation with these women, my friends, who have shared bits and pieces of their life stories with me. I am forever grateful for their willingness to be part of this series and their friendships. I have a feeling that this series will be an ongoing project. And I am very thankful to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council for supporting me and believing in me. As for the ocean, I will end with the following quote:

“Some people love the ocean. Some people fear it. I love it, hate it, fear it, respect it, resent it, cherish it, loathe it, and frequently curse it. It brings out the best in me and sometimes the worst.”

 Roz Savage

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-Amanda Laliberte