bead more. worry less.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawna McLeod

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Mentoring with Nabidu Willie

I first met Nabidu Willie while photographing some carvers working on pieces for the Nolie Potlatch. She belongs to the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw Band of Kingcome Inlet, known as Gwa’yi in Kwak’wala, and is a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. She was casually sitting on a couch chatting with the carvers while watching me taking photos, and I could tell by the way that kept her eye on me that she was interested in what I was doing. I know she was also wondering who was the Mamała. I am not too sure who initiated the conversation, but somehow we started talking about gear. She told me about her Pentax, I told her about my Canon. She told me about how much she enjoys photography and I told her how much I enjoy it too. I could tell that she wanted to learn more about the art, and we ended up exchanging contact information.  I told her to check out Tea & Bannock on Facebook and Instagram, and through social media we would message each other on the idea of mentoring but we were limited in what we could actually do because she was living in Kingcome Inlet.

Months later, she graduated from high school and eventually moved from Kingcome to Alert Bay to live with her auntie. This week we finally piled into my vehicle, and drove off for a photo shoot with our friend, Alexis Nolie. We were quite a crew; myself, my four year old pre-school drop-out, Nabidu and Alexis, riding around the island, listening to novelty Christmas carols, trying to figure out where to go for the shoot. We ended up agreeing to go over to the north side of the island, to a place everyone calls Grassy Point. There were a few lessons that day. First,  we forgot to check the tide, as it turns out that there can be no beach photos if the tide is high, which it was.  Second,  Nabidu learned that its a good idea to always make sure your battery is charged before leaving your place. I think she shot four or so images before her camera died. These are the hard lessons of the seasoned photographer. But we adjusted, and while I kept up with taking pictures of Alexis like we had planned, I tried my best to explain to Nabidu what I was doing and why. I had to remember what it had been like for me as a student, following my mentors, doing my best to remember everything they said, everything they did.  I think back to one of my good friends, Ryan MacDonald, that day she first took me out and showed me how she did it. She made it look easy. With mentoring Nabidu, I quickly came to realize that I ain’t no Sweetmoon but that is what makes our collective so wonderful. Its the diversity of images that we have to offer. I still have much to learn about photography and the gift of mentoring.

Here are some outtakes from our mentoring session. Please bear with me on this because this is a first for me. I’ve never written about my shooting process.

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This was the first photo I took of Alexis. I talked about composition, lighting, exposure. I wanted to show Nabidu how different the lighting was on Alexis and the backdrop. Also notice my own reflection in her glasses? It means I need to move or move Alexis, plus try to experiment with the reflection in her glasses. My goal was to show them how many different images we could get with the same backdrop.

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This image I positioned myself and Alexis so we could get the reflection of the ocean in her glasses. To have less blown out background I had her stand in front of a tree with her looking towards the water.

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Here I simply moved to my left, got closer and shot lower. Again different lighting. Just love the colour of Alexis’ red jacket.

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Then I stepped back. 

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I was taught that you should always move around while shooting. I need to remind myself to do this more often. So I turned around and found these two doing their thang. Nabidu just LOVES having her photo taken.

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Back to Alexis I wanted to explain how posing can certainly make an image more interesting and flattering for your model. I attempted to explain the pivot stance, you know more weight on one leg, hand on hip, lean in or is it back?

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Hands by the side and facing the camera.

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And then it was Nabidu’s turn. Oh, she loves the camera!

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In this image I wanted to have a full body and play with some layers, textures and depth of field in the photograph. Here hands by her side and some attitude.

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But I wanted more angles, so I had her put one hand on her hip. It was better but her hair was covering up half of her face.

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Nabidu to the rescue!

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Much better.

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I move further and deeper into the grass to frame her face. I am much happier with this composition. There is even an A for Alexis!

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Another reflection image, this time in colour.

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I moved Alexis behind me to where there is less light on her face so Nabidu can see the difference in lighting. 3/4 frame and then a close up.

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Our second location was the Big House. You can see in this frame with the shadows that we were shooting mid afternoon, it was a clear sunny and freezing cold day.

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We went to the side of the building to see what the texture and colour of the wood would look like as a background. I wasn’t happy with it. Too flat.

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I noticed the direction of the sun which was behind Alexis so I tried to show Nabidu what rim lighting looks like and how to play with lens flare. It isn’t prefect but you get the idea.

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In front of the big house, the light was very bright so we played around with shadows.

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Nabidu just loves the camera so much that she had to be in the photo too.

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Her smile here is genuine, the real Alexis. I love it. Afterwards I noticed her hair on the right side. 

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So we moved it out of the way but I lost that smile in her eyes.

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I then had Alexis turn herself the other direction to show difference in light again. She was facing towards the sun and found it really hard to keep her eyes open.

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Then Nabidu asked to use the camera and took some silly shots of Alexis. What I love is seeing how different people are in front of a camera when the shooter is someone they know really well. Since we moved here 2 1/2 years ago, I’ve photographed a few families and events here in the community. Sure I can get them smiling but photographers who are from here are able to get genuine smiles from their family and friends in community.

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Nabidu suggested that we frame Alexis with the big house behind her so we did. Her with my son chatting.

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Here she is relaxed.

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I then ask her to just stand tall with arms by her side when I notice her shadow. 

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I ask her to take a few steps forward and to show her profile.

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And Nabidu and my son have now wandered off….

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And a few more profile shots with her framed by the mouth of the sea monster. I had to position myself so her shadow wasn’t in the frame.

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I really like the composition of this one but it looks like Alexis has something going through her neck. I didn’t notice this until later. Whoops.

I asked Nabidu to share with me a bit about her thoughts on the session.

“I actually enjoyed trying to be a model. I learned a few things. I enjoyed everything.”

-Amanda Laliberte

Elicia and her Ignited Spirit – Mentoring

As previously chatted about, I had put a call-out for mentoring and chose Elicia for this run. I knew her work previously – she’s been involved with SheNative and Helen Oro, as well as some great work with aspiring Indigenous Youth models – and I saw her development throughout the year. Elicia has a good eye – she understands framing and composition without really having to think about it, and that’s a hard talent to teach. So then when I creeped on her social media, I saw some things she needed to work on – a consistent look and brand was something we chatted about – but mainly, I saw her ability to capture a moment, her willingness to work on multiple styles as she develops her look, and her ability to laugh and embrace the moment. During our session, we laughed so much and she was so open to the experience of learning, which was great. I hope some of the stuff we talked about resonated with her, and I’m thankful we had this chance to connect.

Now, meet Elicia:

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My name is Elicia Munro-Sutherland. I’m a Cree/Saulteaux woman from Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nations currently residing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I’ve lived in many towns, reserves and cities throughout my life. I’m a 22-year-old mother, to two beautiful little girls. They are 7 months and 18 months old. Yes, I had them very close together but it happens and I believe that the creator doesn’t give you anything you cannot handle. It’s my job to be that positive role model for them and to teach them the things that I wasn’t taught when I was younger that I wish I did. I wanted to be more than just a mom. I wanted to show my girls that your dreams can come true and that opportunities are endless. That if you can see it you can achieve it.

When I was a little girl, my parents would buy me disposable cameras on special holidays and on family trips to capture anything that caught my eye that I wanted to keep forever. They let my creativity fly all over. They would then take me to Wal-Mart to drop off my film once it was all used. It was the overnight wait that got me excited. Wondering how they did it. Did they go in little dark rooms with the red lights to develop them like I seen on TV or did they do it another way? It was my imagination that made my mind go wild and that sparked my new interest for photography.

I was telling my love about my passion for photography one day and the next day, he comes home with a Nikon camera wrapped up in a cute little bag. He’s very supportive and surprising like that. So in April of 2015 is when it all begun and I started shooting. I wanted my photography to mean and to stand for something.

That’s when I came up with the Ignite Your Spirit Project. I wanted to surround my work with Indigenous culture and people. To show our power. To put down all those ugly stereotypes and show others who we really are – warriors.

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As this year went on though, I was feeling stuck and like I lost my enjoyment for photography. I didn’t want to give up but the thought was crossing my mind. I just wanted my inspiration back. It was then and there that the universe spoke to me. I was scrolling on Facebook and saw sweetmoon’s post about mentoring other Indigenous photographers. Tenille’s a big inspiration to me so I applied, waited and I ended up getting it.

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For the session itself, we met up at Collective Coffee on 20th Street for our one-hour-turned-into-three mentoring session. Tenille had previously asked me what I would like to focus on at the session, and I asked that we look into Lightroom. Before we even got into that though, we were comparing how our images looked on both our screens and both our phones. I then realized I needed to start investing into a new computer because mine was not fit for photography. First tip: do not go for the cheapest thing you see. Use that money to save and invest into something better. My lighting on my computer is totally off and that was the biggest thing I was having a problem with because I would see my pictures on other devices and was not satisfied (1).

The second tip is to get organized. Her work was put in all the right places and easy to find. She sent me a screen shot to show:

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sweetmoon organization system, with areas blocked for client privacy.

As opposed to this, my photos are all over and a total mess. Being organized helps you save time and that’s a good place to start. Even if you have a shoot booked in for the future, make them a folder right now – it helps. Also, get yourself an external hard drive. This is something else I need to invest in, both for personal and professional reasons. My computer is slow and I’m forever waiting on things to load. By keeping my images on an external hard drive, my computer will process faster and my images will be safe in case my computer ever just freezes or breaks or shuts down.

After that discussion and finishing my first amazing Vanilla Latte from the shop, I was learning the most easiest and quickest ways to edit in Lightroom. I asked Tenille to show me her workflow and would ask questions as we went, and I had a lot of questions. I learned how to properly size my photos for web and print. I learned how to use the adjustment brushes. I learned how to use presets and tweak them to suit my images. Before I used to just go with the flow and hope it all worked out for the best. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. There are so much people out there who are willing to help and push you to be better.

During this discussion, Tenille and I discussed what my brand is. What I will represent. What my style of images is. She told me to start a Pinterest board and pick images that inspire me. Pretty soon, a theme will emerge. She also told me to pick one image from each session that I photograph and keep it in a separate folder.

Pick an image that you love, that makes you gasp, and keep a copy in a personal folder and keep doing that over the year with different sessions, putting all the images into the same folder. Pretty soon, you will see your brand emerge. You will see where your strengths are. – Tenille Campbell, sweetmoon photography

I am now looking for my brand. What I want my work to say about me. I learned so much in those three hours and I am forever grateful. I still have so much to learn but it’s a start and it helped push me into the right direction.

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I hope to someday give back to the community the way Tenille and Tea&Bannock is doing. We were laughing like crazy and she helped me more than she knows. I had such a good day and it was exactly what I needed to raise my own spirit up.

Elicia Munro- Sutherland

 

Social Media:

FB: EliciaMunro Photography  // Insta: eliciamunroe


Notes:
  1. Colour Calibration can be done with this little beast, but the big problem with Elicia’s laptop was that the colour wasn’t just off, it was uneven, making me think the screen itself is damaged. 
  2. Selfie Trio: Elicia is hella tall and was wearing platforms to boot, then she hunkered down real low to try and make me feel better, and I couldn’t stop laughing. We finally got it right. 

Animals Traits and Inspiration

Recently my kind friends Erynne, her sister Emilee, and Yamilla agreed to help me out with a photoshoot for my Creations for Continuity business. Erynne and Emilee became my beautiful models and Yamilla, in exchange for jewellery, became my photography mentor of the day.

Before Yamilla, I was basically just winging my photoshoots doing everything by trial and error with any given lighting. Hard to believe I’ve had this camera for years and not known what half of the buttons do. (I’m really hoping that doesn’t get me kicked off this blog for saying that!) In any case, I’m learning slowly, but surely. By the end of the day I discovered what is now my favourite camera mode – the multiple exposure setting. Like a kid with a $50 budget at the dollar store – I went totally nuts while excitedly taking about a gazillion photos. Once we were done, there was pretty much a play by play of the whole photoshoot. Emilee, Erynne and I being our crazy weird selves, went through all the images, adding a story with silly character voices onto each others awkward in-between poses. My sister knows what i’m talking about – something unseemly only I and maybe a few select others would do/know about.

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Its people and moments like this that become reminders of why I continue to do what I do. Being a full time jewellery artist for over two years has been beyond amazing, with it however, as many full-time artists come to realize, ensues sufferable challenges. And though I could list many, maintaining self motivation and the indispensable desire for connection with others after spending X amount of hours in frantic solitary work confinement are some of the greatest ones. Building strong connections and community through art has become a vital component for not only the growth of my business but for my own personal growth and well being. Ultimately, as products of our environment, if you want to have a certain type of greatness in your life, you have to surround yourself around the types of great people you’d like to see reflected in yourself. Who we choose to invest ourselves with become our role models – shaping our outlook on life, and moulding us in ways that we could have never imagined; Emilee and Erynne are certainly two of those people for me.

Over a cup of tea, soaking in the sounds and sights of nature surrounding us, we delved into the discussion of animal traits mirrored within ourselves. And It was at that moment, when the idea for this photoshoot and the creation of the hummingbird necklace emerged.

Below features an image of Emilee wearing a newly CforC neck piece titled “Ookpik” meaning Owl in Inuvialuktun. As rulers of the night, owls uphold deep meaning for they  are seen as a powerful majestic creatures linked with wisdom and foresight – needless to say, all qualities held deeply within Emilee.

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Featured below is Erynne wearing a piece inspired entirely by her nature and its title – the “hummingbird”necklace . The hummingbird symbolizes beauty, intelligence, and love. These tiny and quick creatures are viewed as messengers of joy – as most people would agree, this statement is very much Erynne. She is as energetic and radiant as a hummingbird, gracing all those around her with a bold, energizing, and luminous presence.

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Thank you Erynne, Emilee and Yamilla for your deep support, guidance, and participation in this photoshoot! Its truly an honour to have such memorable beauties representing my line; symbolizing and embodying our indigenous and cultural identities with tremendous strength and prestige.

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Finding Power through Friendship & Mentorship

When Tenille approached me with the idea for tea&bannock and told me about the commitment to mentoring, I panicked. I’m living in a brand new city and wasn’t sure who I could connect with. Besides that, I’m a solitary worker and since I don’t shoot very often my technical knowledge is rusty at best, so I wasn’t sure I’d have much to “teach”. Maybe I got some of that Imposter Syndrome as well.

The first person I thought of “mentoring” is my friend Tanis Worme, a natural artist and fun person to work with. When I began working on SuperMaidens in 2014, I was still living in Saskatoon and sharing a small studio on Avenue D. I put the call-out to 13 friends and acquaintances that I thought would be great at embodying a new Indigenous super hero: the SuperMaiden.

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Outtake of Joi as “The Lone Wolf” shot by Tanis, 2014.

After a gruelling shoot, I didn’t have the time or energy to photograph myself and so I asked my fellow SuperMaiden, Tanis, if she wouldn’t mind directing and shooting me as the 14th Maiden. She enthusiastically agreed and did a great job; I thought she was a natural! Tanis is a talented artist and works in many different media; she’s also a dope tattoo artist!

For the second major shoot, I returned to Saskatoon and the previous experience taught me that I should probably have an assistant to help things go smoothly and so I asked Tanis to help out. I asked her to share a bit about her experience as a SuperMaiden both in front of and behind the camera, here’s Tanis:

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Tanis. Photo by Sweetmoon, 2016.

It is terrific to join tea&bannock and share with you a bit of my journey with Joi’s series “The Beautiful NDN Supermaidens TM ”. I joined Joi for two group photoshoots, one of each instalment. The first shoot took place in October of 2014, which is when I discovered my SuperMaiden identity “Mimicree” by succumbing to my goofier side in front of the camera. The second shoot this past February, I was the helpful protégé; initially goading, but eventually motivating.

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Outtake of Tanis as “Mimicree”, 2014.

Some time had passed between photoshoots and though I thought periodically about my cheeky alter ego, I did not consider how she might have changed since her conception. She was an adaptable jokester; she didn’t make much fuss over anything, and maintained a light mood through laughter. And although I call upon that strength when the thunderous weight of reality creeps into my porous meatsuit, I see those around me drawn to the healing potential of it all. I need to poke fun and laugh, a lot, even if it gets me into trouble at times. This “power” gained from humour can be sinister in that surrender to its potential as a tool of manipulation can cause serious harm; as with any resource, it is our responsibility to utilize it sustainably, and cause the least amount of disturbance to the environment and beings around us.   

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The Beautiful NDN SuperMaidens, 2014

The NDN SuperMaiden refreshes the connotation of the comic-book hero and their power. The comics I was subjected to as a kid, featured the individual hero-type. He imposes his wispy white way, and “humbly” hides among the masses. Hero and humanity collaborate to secure a natural order; the dichotomy of good and evil is reinforced. 

When I daydream as a new and improved ass-kicking SuperMaiden, I consider her actions in situations where I’d been less than heroic. It’s satisfying to replay these scenarios while considering possible outcomes; but this way of thinking falsely suggests that the variables in our lives exist independently from each other and can be controlled by deterministic laws of the universe. I am adhering to the dichotomous construct: one path will result in heroism, the other, ultimate demise.  However, being that our power is manifested through ancestral bloodlines and spiritual consciousness, it would be counterintuitive to express my abilities through a construct that is inherently different.  Instead of accepting a path that ultimately conceptualizes our limits by defining the glass ceiling, we as SuperMaidens create a community that cultivates the creativity necessary to subdue such limitations. 

Wearing my assistant hat during the photoshoot, I found power. Through a successful shoot, followed by silly bonding, we shared stories of our intuition, stories of our courage; we accepted our power and, even for mere moments, quashed our doubt. As Indigenous women we have a connection that cannot be confined by western conceptualization. We are connected to each other and that connection is our power: it is a gift we are bestowed from the Creator; it’s inherited from the moon and all stars in the multiverse; it’s established through respect of Mother Earth; and, it is nourished with the kindness we share with one another.        

-Tanis Worme

Kitchen Table Talks

All of us at Tea & Bannock have agreed to prioritize mentorship as part of our collective work. In considering this, I sat down with my mentor, Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh. She has made several documentary films including: Women in the Shadows, Keepers of the Fire, Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle, The Story of the Coast Salish Knitters and Finding Dawn.

I met Christine at the University of Victoria. Her class was the place I felt most challenged, seen, and heard. She hired me as her to intern on the documentary Finding Dawn. Over the past dozen years, she’s been my professor, my boss, my mentor, my friend, and I’m proud to say she is now my Mother-in-law, and the best Kookum in the world.

Who better to ask about my new role, than from my own mentor?

Christine Welsh Metis Filmmaker

Christine at her Kitchen Table

[JW] You’re been an active mentor, I can attest to that. You’ve spoken to me before about the importance of mentorship, and how it’s not common. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about why you think that is.

[CW] I don’t know why it isn’t more common than it is.

I had some really important mentors in my life. When I think back on the directions that my life has gone in. Those people stand at the head of those forks in the road, they really do.

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Jean Oser

The first one was John Oser who was my film teacher. A very unconventional film teacher, but that was his role. He was the person that made me want to be a filmmaker. He was this completely unconventional teacher. You showed films, and then you stood at the front, and then you just talked passionately about them.

On campus at the time, there was this buzz that went around, about this old man (OLD MAN! He was as old as I am now!) in the Fine Arts department that was teaching these film courses on Wednesday mornings. and anybody could go, because it was in ‘Dark Hall’, and it was dark, and nobody knew who was there. So you would just go, and find a dark seat in this auditorium, and watch movies, and listen to this guy talk. And I just was in love and I never went back to English class. I mean that was IT.

[JW] Is that what you were doing, an English degree?

[CW] Yes, I was in school to do an English degree and I just never went back. I just sat there and listened to him.

[JW] What was he like?

[CW] He was an amazing man. He was one of these people who saw good things everywhere. He would look at a students’ really clichéd, deeply flawed little film effort and always find something wonderful in it. Of course they are going to have things wrong with them, but that’s not what you focus on. You focus on the wonderful, and you make them think they are capable of wonderful. He taught me that.

He had worked on the first sound films in Germany in the early 1930s. He had been prescient enough to leave Germany when he saw what Nazism was bringing. He and his wife were both Jewish, and had moved to the safety of New York.

There he worked on a lot of war propaganda films for the Office of War Information in the United States. He was a film editor. He brought this bigger world to me. He wasn’t an academic. He came to the University of Regina because one of his radical students in New York, also Jewish, also a Marxist, had come to the University of Regina as a radical sociology professor. They all ended up in this little prairie city that didn’t know what hit it! Even though Saskatchewan had this pretty radical history of it’s own.

He encouraged me to come just spend time with him and learn from him. He had this ratty little office in the basement of Dark hall. We all just hung out down there, a group of us, 5 or 6 young men, and me. I was the only woman. There was film making equipment and we could just do anything we wanted with it.

John Oser Editing

John Oser editing

He taught me editing on an old Moviola. [laughs] That was one of those stand up double system things that you see in the movies that has been around since the thirties. He taught me how to edit on this thing just because he wanted to. Because he thought I had a talent for editing, which I ended up doing, once I left there.

[JW] Was there anyone else?

[CW] I also had a dance teacher – in my late teens and early twenties. Her name was Marianne Livant and she has since passed. She was a really important mentor in my life. She was this really smart aleck, loud mouthed, super intense, super creative, Jewish woman from New York.

She was a modern dancer and she set up this modern dance workshop studio in Regina, of a sort Regina had never seen . I had been taking ballet lessons and started going to her workshop. It wasn’t so much the dance that changed my life. It was her and hanging around with her family. I mean they just like swore up and down! I can remember her two kids getting kicked out the swimming pool, the public swimming pool in the Wascana Park in Regina because they were so fowl mouthed! Up until then, I didn’t swear all that much, but I learned!

[JW] I can attest to that!

 

[CW] I learned! I had had this very sort of conservative catholic upbringing, going to a high school run by nuns, all girls, wearing the uniforms – the whole business. And here was this woman who just showed me this other way to be in the world and I wanted that.

We became very close. We would travel and do these little dance performances in small towns in Saskatchewan. Both her and her late husband Bill, were very important people in my life because they kind of busted open my very conservative upbringing and showed me a different way.

Marianne Livant's Dance Troupe 1973/74

It was a tremendously exciting time to be in Regina, at the University. These people just blew open my world! I saw that not only were there other ways to be in the world. But I learned a lot about European history, about American history, about radical politics. That was my radical politics initiation because at that point I was still not “out” as a native person. I was not part of this world as a native person. I was just part of this world as one of Marianne’s dancers and as a student. They were tremendously important people in my life.

So, I had some really wonderful mentors in my life, I really did. And I consider myself so fortunate that they were there. And of course there were people on the films. On every film there was somebody who was a mentor. On Women in the Shadows it was Emma LaRocque. On Keepers of the Fire it was Shirley Bear. On the Kuper Island film it was Delmar Johnnie Seletze. And of course on Finding Dawn there was Janice Acoose and Fay Blaney and everyone on Finding Dawn – you! You were my teacher. There were so many teachers on Finding Dawn. Each film there were just so many people who taught me so much.

[JW] So you came to teaching through a non-traditional route?

[CW] And I had seen many non-traditional teachers! Non-traditional teachers had been my mentors.

[JW] So what made you decide to teach?

[CW] I didn’t go seeking it out. It’s not something I saw myself doing. I was a single mom, in filmmaking. I was living in Toronto and I was editing. I knew that once my son was born, that I wasn’t going to be able to continue to do that because it was a 24/7 job. It wasn’t going to work.So, I went back and finished that degree, fifteen years later. And that was where I met my next mentor. I took a class that was taught by Sylvia Van Kirk and that’s how I met her. That’s how I learned how that little piece of history clicked together that became Women in the Shadows. It was through her, again, mentors!

Students often ask you for career advice, and my career advice is really simple; Pay attention to the things that get put in your path, especially the people that are put in your path. You might think you’re getting this degree that’s going to put you on this path to be XY or Z but other things are always put in your path and it’s up to you do something with that. Those are going to be the things that are ultimately most important in your life. They were in my life.

So mentoring is a really interesting topic, because I think about the people who were put on my journey and I think it’s our responsibility to the future. I actually take it really seriously and I always have. We’re responsible for handing over whatever this piece is that we’ve learned. You know? From our mistakes, from our efforts, we are responsible to pass that on, and then eventually step aside.

Christine Welsh being honoured at UVic.

Honouring Ceremony and retirement party for Christine Welsh at UVic.

I feel that really intensely now. It’s time for me to be leaving my job at UVic, it’s been really good. Even though it’s not anything I ever would have imagined for myself – to be a university teacher. It taught me a huge amount. I met amazing students who are still part of my life. It’s all been about the relationships that I formed there. But I don’t need to keep doing it indefinitely.

I’m really delighted that another young Indigenous woman scholar is now going to take that place. It’s her time to do that. I had my time there. Just like you’re supposed to lead now. I can provide whatever wisdom I’ve managed to accumulate and opinions (of which you know I will be only too happy to share.) But it is for you to decide where that goes now, because that’s your future. It’s your turn and I’ll be there with you, but you decide where we go next.

[JW] So these careers, these positions in the world don’t need to go on forever… you’re wrapping this one up, you’ve decided to let it go and put down teaching.

[CW] “Put down teaching” I really like that expression!

[JW] What other things are you working on now that aren’t teaching?

[CW] I’m finishing a short documentary called The Thinking Garden about a group of elderly women who have been operating a community garden in Jopi village in Limpopo Province, South Africa since Apartheid. It’s an amazing story of women’s resilience, which is one of the reasons I became involved with it.

It was proposed to me by a colleague at UVic, Elizabeth Vibert. She has been working with these women recording their life stories. You can find more information at Womensfarm.org.

[JW] You’re definitely not retired, just moving onto other things.  Now, let me catch up long enough to take your picture! Thank you!

Portrait of Christine Welsh

Christine

 

* Disclaimer: Some of the statements have been edited for clarity and continuity.

Imposter Syndrome

In Academia World, there’s this thing called “Imposter Syndrome.” It’s when you doubt you’re smart enough or worthy enough to be where you are – teaching, educating others. I heard a lot about it as I went through my courses, and I heard about it when I read my books, wrote my essays, and nodded my way through class discussions. The higher up I got in my education, the more prevalent this feeling seemed to be.

I had heard about it, but I never felt it, until I realized that I was a representation of my people.

I was speaking with my academic friends on a panel about Community Research, in Ontario, and I was talking very briefly about my struggles of balancing storytelling protocol, academia rules, and being a member of the community I was doing research in. And I looked around and the teachers, the professors, and Six Nations community members – they were taking notes.

The hell?

I didn’t understand what I was saying that was so important that it had to be written down. I wanted to tell them to stop, to put down the pens. I wanted to quickly review what I had said and see if anything could be taken out of context.

I wanted to hide.

Imposter Syndrome, you devil.

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Instead, I smiled, took a deep breath, and got through it. I spoke of personal experiences, of being asked to sit down at the kitchen table and an Elder wanting to share stories specifically on the topic I wanted to cover in my thesis – and the damage that asking them to sign a consent form does. How consent forms implies something may be taken and used the wrong way, instead of being seen as a protection of their words. How my upbringing would demand that I listen and learn, as I was there to gain understanding, not to take over and make them a participant. I spoke my truth, and tried not to let my voice shake as pens glided along white loose-leaf paper.

I am told everyone feels like an imposter at one point or another, in Academia. Everyone doubts his or her words.

I hate that feeling.

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Tea and Bannock has one basic requirement that all our main bloggers must adhere to. We must mentor another artist who works in visuals. We must give back to our communities; we must share our experience, our education and our passion.

I recently put a call out for a mentoring application for other artists in the Saskatoon area. I received ten applications within 12 hours.

I was shifting through them, and was amazed at the stories they were sharing. Indigenous women, who look to the camera and see a way to express their story, their passion, their relationships with their Indigenous heritages. It was humbling.

And I had a terrifying thought.

I don’t know what I can teach them.

I wanted to delete my post. I wanted to cry a little. I wanted to call a friend and make them tell me I was Good Enough to do this. I wanted to sit in a dark corner, eat all the Easter Mini-Eggs in the house, and pretend I wasn’t a photographer and that no body knew me.

Because you know, I’m not dramatic or anything.

Sigh. I hate that feeling.

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So instead of embracing the drama, I took a walk. I grabbed my point and shoot – a Fujifilm x100s – and just played with my daughter outside. We walked around the neighbourhood, played on the swing, and danced through mud puddles. In the midst of all that, I took images of her, of the nature around us, of our life. I felt the cool wind on my cheeks. I saw her curly hair flying in a ponytail as she went down the slide. I heard the crunch of dry grass underneath our feet.

I let the weight drift away from my shoulders and I laughed loudly, tossing my head back.

I love that feeling.

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My mentoring session will be coming up soon, and I thought it safe to say that while we offer this, and I wanted to offer this, it’s still scary. I still remember the raw terror of doing my first session, of my first wedding, of my first commercial gig. And while the terror of those first few sessions still linger in my mind, I am so grateful for the fact that now, when I head out to a ten-hour wedding or a commercial gig where I only have one shot to get it right, that my experience and my past mistakes enable me to bring my best. My mistakes have always made me a better photographer – some of us learn through achieving new heights, some of us learn by falling incredibly low.

At the end of the day, I’m thankful to be in position where I can hopefully help others a little bit, the way some photographers stepped up and helped me on my journey.

And so, I breathe deep, laugh a little, and continue on.

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–  tenille campbell