the ones who raise them

We raise them. We hold them. We raise them high the ones we hold. These are the ones who will be our future. They are our children.

In most of my photo sessions I will ask family members to hug their children, squeeze them tight, give them a kiss and hold them high in the sky. There are two reasons why I do this. Firstly, because its a good maneuver to get the children either smiling or laughing. Secondly, it is because our children deserve to be held, comforted, and raised up. Even when I am behind the camera, I see the hope that we all have in our young ones. I am privileged to be able to capture some images of these precious moments that pass us by. I see in the children their innocence, their open honest emotions, and their need for love, acceptance and safety. We are responsible for holding their little hands and guiding them through life. All the ups and downs, we stand by their side.

Because one day, we all need to let go.

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-Amanda Laliberte

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

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

Sinuosity

A performance by Jeneen Frei Njootli and Tsēma Igharas

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Listener Ship

Site-specific installation, found natural materials, wood debris

Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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


About the artists:

Lindsay Dobbin

http://www.lindsaydobbin.com/

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

Jeneen Frei Njootli

https://freejoots.wordpress.com/

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

Tsēma Igharas

http://www.esln.ca

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


About the writer:

Angela Marie Schenstead

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

 

 

Rez Baby in the Big City

Toronto, why you gotta do this me way?

It was my first “official” visit to Toronto. My first time staying in these urban lands, not just passing through to different reserves and communities. And it had been amazing, so how did I end up here – suffering from that over indulgence of alcohol and greasy foods, sitting on a black suitcase as it rolled down the street in Chinatown, with me on it, too sore to even put my foot down as a brake…?

I got a story for you.

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I fell in love in Toronto, for a quick minute.

I fell in love with being surrounded by people of culture. People whose language and stories swelled around us, and for once, I felt like an outsider but also an insider, safe in the confines of dragon statues and Chinese writings while staying in a hotel in Chinatown. With peddlers selling jade statues on the sidewalk, crowds around them as they hawked their wares. With watching the crowds of high school teens jostling for position on the sidewalk, loudly laughing, fearless and invincible.

I fell in love with latte’s served in tiny, impossibly white cups and homemade muffins next to a record shop that sold Polaroid film. With lazy mornings spent sipping coffee, earphones on with a Tribe Called Red, as I people watched and let the sunshine warm me through the panes of glass.

I fell in love with a restaurant that feasted with me on dim sum after I emerged from the back alleys of Chinatown, photographing dragon graffiti. With drinking Tsingtao out the bottle, convincing myself that I must really like seafood, as I accidently ordered a dish with lobster, muscles, and eel. Another drink, please.

I fell in love with a man who read the lines I had written convincingly and charmingly, as he made me believe that the White Buffalo I had wrote about was, in fact, him. And after the stage lights went down and the applause ended, I had to realize that my love was as false as the story I wrote, and he wasn’t my White Buffalo … but he would be a great short story.

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I was in Toronto for the Weesageechak Begins to Dance 29 Arts Festival, put on by Native Earth Performing Arts. Andrea and I had written an Indigenous musical, throwing humour, song and dancing into one hella-funny play (I may be biased) and we were selected for a stage reading.

The actors selected to work with us were amazing and intimidating. Intimidating as in anyone that gets up and wants to perform in front of a crowd – that’s terrifying. Raw and open, not anything I could ever be. I’m thankful for them, though. Their abilities showed us what our story could be, and where we needed to work. They laughed with us, gently criticized the work when it needed, and I was thankful Andrea was there, the cooler head of us, as I react emotionally. Who knew. But really though, it was a productive learning experience, listening to them speak, seeing how accent affects intent, how indigenous language doesn’t always translate so clearly, and trying to explain Cree emphasis when you’re a Dene and a Metis. Ha.

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I sipped a lot of latte’s. The first night, I met up with my good friend, Roseanne. We sat in a downtown Starbucks, chatting loudly as people pushed by us and jostled for space. There was more people in that little shop then I have ever seen in all of the Starbucks of Saskatoon.

She and I though, we just get one another. In between chatting about her work and mine, Indian love poems and “moose lips” made for kissing, we laughed and clapped our hands, the loudest ones around. After a 30 minute cuppa that turned into two hours, she drove me to my friends’ house, but not before a mini-impromptu photo session somewhere downtown, in between coffee shops and parking lots.

I watched the skyline of Toronto being bathed in the golden light of sunset and laughed, frustrated. The skyline blocked out all that natural light from hitting us – so how do the Toronto photographers do this?

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I adventured. I walked the streets of Kensington Market and tried to decide if this was my haven, or getting too commercial. Instead, I got distracted by vintage goods, tattoo shops and a little shop called Powwow Café.

Challenge accepted.

We were seated in the tiny diner, and I chose the Original Indian Taco, while chatting up with the waitress. Turns out the cook, his Grandma was Anishnaabe, and he had learned from her. I was ready to judge the bannock – me who had eaten Indian tacos coast-to-coast, powwow-to-powwow. Eeeee boy.

And then I could not shut up, moaning out loud with every bite. Because damn. By the end of the meal, which I couldn’t even finish it was so big, I was ready to propose to him. Because bae could cook. Gotta lock that shit up.

Sidenote: It was also at this cafe that I met a reader of our blog, Angela (Hi, Angela!). She is a friend of Caroline’s from way out on the West Coast, and just so happened to be feasting there with her aunt. We started gabbing and she asked, after she caught my name, “are you tea and bannock?” Yasssssssss. I love the connections and kinships that this blog is making, so if you ever see one of us in real life, out and about, say hello. We wanna meet you!

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Friday night came quickly. We were hustled into the theatre, lights were lowered and when our play was read out loud, I listened to the crowd. Who laughed and when, what jokes fell flat and who gasped at what. I smiled to myself, not even seeing just the stage and actors, but the potential of what this play could do. I made notes to myself – must learn to sing, must learn how not to be tone-deaf, must learn how to write music. Ha. I watched our characters come alive and saw a few women, besides myself, fall in love with our main man, and I saw the power of our lead female as she sang, and the crowd hushed, listening to the lyrics and message that Andrea had wrote for us.

It’s a good moment when you see your work breathe.

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The night ended with drinks and stories. I met Deneh’Cho Thompson and his dramaturge Lindsay Lachance, and noticed my own Dene accent getting thick and strong, like northern tea, the longer we talked. His play, “The Girl who was raised by Wolverine,” wrecked me, and seeing the directorial work of Lindsay made me dream outside my own parameters of creativity, again.

I flirted with my faux-White Buffalo and met storytellers from Australia. I shared a toast with a witty director and shared gossip with the cast from my own play reading. I met strong, powerful and creative women and my heart beat a little faster when they mentioned, “collaboration, we need to do something together.”

Yassssss.

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And then, it was Saturday morning. And there I was. Sick, achy. Both bemoaning Friday night and giggling about the pick up lines heard and used.

“I’ll teach you Dene.. nezuuuu…”

“You make me feel… traditional…” 

“Maybe you can teach me how to make bannock too…” 

Whaaawhaaaa. My next play is just writing itself.

Before I left the city, my Anishnaabe cousins and I stopped at two different art shows, to meet instagram friends and amazing Indigenous artists, Chief Lady Bird and Auralast.

There is nothing so awkward as introducing yourself by your instagram name:

“Hi, I’m Tenille. I’m a fan of your instagram.”

Awkward nod but friendly smile.

“Ummm … I’m sweetmoonphoto, and teaandbannock…”

BIG SMILES AND HUGS HELLO.

We chatted about art and photography, business and inspiration. More hugs and selfies. A few goods were bought (support indigenous artists!) and bannock was feasted upon.

It’s always good meeting those you admire.

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So, Toronto and me, well, it’s like a Tinder hookup, I think. A good time while it’s happening, but full of missteps and awkward moments when you think about it later, giggling with your friends.

Too honest? Ha.

Toronto and me, we were like a bannock made healthy with whole wheat flour. A good idea at the time, but you’ll have regrets later.

Eeeeee.

Either way, I learned my lesson. Keep to the markets and coffeeshops, and you good, Tenille. Stay away from beautiful men offering you stories and potential lines for future books.

I put on my glasses, and then my sunglasses, threw on my hoodie, and sipped Starbucks as me and my cousins drove out to the rez, back to Walpole Island for a visit.

But that’s another story.

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 – 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

No Wave Feminist

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It’s pride season. As a queer Indigenous woman I find this both exciting (the critical mass of fabulousness in one place) and challenging (pink washing) largely because my own sexual and gender identities cannot be separated from my experience as an Indigenous person. Pride may have its roots as a social justice movement, but that movement has been diluted and can so often ring for one note of equality: marriage. I believe the spectrum of sexuality and gender cannot be separated from the spectrum of privilege of class and race. We exist within each simultaneously, which makes it complicated and that is one of the things I would like to see celebrated during Pride, the complicated multi-faceted, intersectional identities that make us each so amazing.

In order to honour Indigenous LGBTQ & Two-Spirit Pride, I sought to photograph the most fabulous, fierce, two-spirit social justice activist Femme I could find (aka a kindred spirit). Enter Vanity Feral, Two-Spirit Gitxsan Feminist Burlesque performer and activist.  She’s from the Frog/Raven clan in Cedarvale and while we have not yet found any direct relation – I say give it time, I’m sure we’re at least cousins in law twice removed. Lucky me.

Vanity Feral has been performing burlesque for five years now. Having taken a well deserved break, she’s had some time to reflect on her relationship with burlesque and her position as an Indigenous performer within the burlesque community.

The result of this reflection will soon be seen in the creation of an all-native burlesque collective based out of Vancouver BC.

Indigenous women, performing and embracing their sexuality completely on their own terms? #MicDrop

I had to know more. So what started as a fun, spontaneous photo-shoot became an in-depth heart-to-heart about intersectionality, beaded pasties and what reclaiming Indigenous sexual identity can look like in hot, self-actualized and validating action.

JW: What prompted you to consider starting an all-native burlesque troupe? 

VF: There are so many reasons! For instance, when I approach many promoters about equity and inclusion, I’m told that their shows are not diverse because there is a lack of performers of colour, or that they simply don’t know any. They keep choosing who they know in their own circles.

If you think your community (any community) is too white, ask yourself WHY THAT IS. This erasure and lack of self-examination is so common and so problematic.

I started by compiling a list of fifteen performers of colour to share with producers, so there was no excuse, but of course even though I shared it. It was rarely considered.

Ironically this is was what has inspired the creation of the Indigenous Burlesque collective. It’s so needed. The list self-populated and was completely optional to join.

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How many Indigenous performers signed up?

Seven! And we’re just getting started. That was without much effort. Just here in Vancouver, there are 7 Indigenous performers in the Burlesque community. That just goes to show that there are PLENTY available.

Has the collective come up with any goals?

Yes! We want to amplify and reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization. We realized we do that in some part already, by performing burlesque while Indigenous, but this is not always experienced explicitly by the performers or the audience. We’d like to take on the repossession of our sexuality explicitly, deliberately, unmistakably.

We want Indigenous women to know they have options and the right to express and explore their sexuality as much as any other person. Indigenous women should benefit from the privilege that white women enjoy. Joy and pride in our body, in our appearance, joy in sex. We aren’t easily afforded these things and it’s time to change that.

Who is in the collective?

We come from a wide variety and differing experiences as Indigenous people. But the challenges we experience are very much the same. That was our first conversation as a collective.  We didn’t expect it to be. We got together to talk about creating the collective and found ourselves unpacking the very painful truths about how we’ve each been treated as indigenous women by our partners, our professions, our communities and society. We talked about how we each find connection with our roots, the inter-generational residential school trauma, and what solidarity in relationships can look like. We unpacked the lateral violence we’ve experienced by men and women from within and outside our own communities. We didn’t plan for our first conversation to be so raw, but of course, it had to be.

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Is this the first time any of you have had colleagues to unpack your personal and professional experiences?

Yes! Who else can you talk to about the connections between shaming Indigenous sexuality and bodies and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Where else can you talk about the racism that is endemic in so many performances and/ or the opportunities to perform. Where else can you celebrate and talk about beaded pasties and bringing larger parts of your Indigenous identity into your performance? So many of us have to leave those parts that come naturally out of our performances.We can change that, together.

Does this mean beaded pasties? YES. There are plans. Big plans, and opportunities are coming our way fast! One of our performers has pitched travelling to facilitate empowerment workshops primarily for Indigenous women. We recognize we have a certain amount of privilege to be performers.

I know it’s complicated. There’s no easy path to community for us. I know some other Indigenous women whose gender identity is non-binary. I know we can be criticized for performing burlesque by the Indigenous community – there is alot of shame around Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality that we need to undo. It is not without it’s challenges or critiques. But this makes sense for us.

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May I ask how you identify?

I guess you could say I’m trying on “two-spirit”. I find it to be a great escape from the colonial baggage of “bi-sexual.” At least this way, when I identify my sexuality as part of my Indigenous identity no one assumes I’m available for a threesome as they do when I said I was bi. It’s gives me some safety to relate my sexuality as something that is part of my Indigenous identity. I appreciate that. White people don’t understand enough about being two-spirit to bring their colonial preconceptions into it.  Truthfully, for me, it’s not about the bits. It’s about the person!

Does your collective have a name?

Not yet! Perhaps the readers at Tea & Bannock can make some suggestions!

And with that T&B readers, we invite you to make suggestions for an empowered, political, fierce, Indigenous burlesque troupe!

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Vanity Feral Gitxsan Two-Spirit Burlesque Performer/ Producer

 

Dreamcatchers and Sweetgrass

Let’s talk about Indigenous Erotica.

Whaa whaa.

As I start to giggle to myself, I just wanna let you know that I still get intimated when I think about Indigenous Erotica as a whole – it’s a big scary term for the most basic of wants and needs. Author Kateri  Akiwenzie-Damm describes it best: “It’s about loving, sexual, ‘dirty’, outrageous, ribald, intimacies of humanity and sexuality that we all crave.” (Without Reservation: Indigenous Erotica). But I also just think of Indigenous Erotica as this – those kinda-dirty, kinda-naughty, Saturday night adventures you tell your crew Sunday morning, sitting around the kitchen table, feasting on stories and food.

I first started thinking – or not thinking – about Indigenous Erotica when I was living in Vancouver, studying at UBC. Richard Van Camp was our professor, and we were doing an evening class that focused on Indigenous Literature. It was a healthy place – full of food, laughter and stories. Richard was always open to discussion, and would, without fail, tell us when the full moon was happening each month.

Towards the end of term, he gave us one final assignment – a challenge, of sorts. “I want you to write about the sacred orgasm.”

Dead silence.

Me, being small town Saskatchewan girl, blushed and avoided his eyes, grinning. I was 23. I was young. I was in a long-term relationship since I was 17, and while I could gossip about sex with the best of them, I wasn’t comfortable sharing my stories with people who I didn’t grow up with.

I could feel the shifting of bodies and the quiet bursts of laughter as we all took a minute to process this. Richard explained a bit more, sharing a short story he wrote, and assured us that we didn’t have to do it, but we were welcome to try.

I did not write about the sacred orgasm.

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It was only years later that my work began exploring sexuality and sensuality in my chosen genres of photography and writing. I broke up with my long-term partner, and spent some time doing research, listening to people’s stories about their sweeties, and having my own experiences.

I would end up at random house parties in the West Side, sipping a cold beer as a woman I never met before told me how she used to date the Chief’s son. I would be eating cold pizza, grinning at the boy with braids who whispered drum songs in my ear as his sweetie glared at him from across the room. I would moan words in Dene to the boy with blue eyes as he fantasized about dreamcatchers and sweetgrass. Nezu. Be’chuze ne cha. I nodded sympathetically as a man with tribal tattoos told me how his girl left him because he wanted to spank her in bed and she wasn’t into that domestic abuse.

And I started to write.

To write down these stories, exploring form and function. Transcribing experiences and laughter into poetry, trying to find my own narrative that reflected the oral training of my past. Trying to write in a way that would make a person burst out laughing, blushing, giggling.

As I worked on this, I also experimented with photography in both my normal sessions as well as my personal art sessions. I wrote about #KissingIndigenous before, and I’m proud of where that is going, but I was also exploring the power of sexuality in regular sessions. Too often, we don’t feel sexy, we don’t feel powerful. We don’t see ourselves in the images plastered on tv and social media, in the pouty lips, the casual smiles. Yet, I was photographing people where I saw this in them, all the time.

Trying to convince someone to be sexy when his or her instinct is to hide from the camera is hilarious, and a gift.

I’ve started explaining the “pow-wow grin”.

That smile when you’re checking someone out, and they catch you. You look down, smile, and look up again.

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That smile.

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And I’ve taken to letting the silences stand between us. To let them know that when they are strong – when they are what is often called ‘arrogant’ – that looks amazing. That looks powerful.

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Plant your feet on the ground. Separate them. Take up space. Straighten your back. Eyes on me. Chin up. Don’t smile. Perfect.

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Perfect.

So now, I’m in this world where I flirt, I laugh, I kiss, I avoid hickies, and I write about it. And people know I’m writing. This isn’t something that stops. And people find me, tell me their stories. Give me permission to share. They laugh when I blush – and I have blushed – and they grin when I ask for more details.

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So…

What’s your story?

 – tenille campbell

 

 

someday you’ll shine, and make them all blind…

“Let’s make a music video.”

“No.”

“Esjih. It’ll be fun.”

That was basically a conversation my cousin Tara and I had early last year. Tara is a seasoned rap artist, currently based out of Saskatoon. She was working on the final songs for her first EP release, Diary of a Mad Red Woman. I had previously filmed scenes for her first video, Tha Truth,  and she edited it. I didn’t know enough about film editing to even try.

So when she asked me to try again, I was nervous. Insecure. Give me a person to photograph, and I can rock it. Ask me to make a video, and I want to quickly yet quietly walk away. I was a photographer, not a videographer.

But it’s not like photographers don’t cross that chasm. I remember when Lightning Cloud’s “Walk Alone” came out, and I was struck by the visual imagery presented. When I looked it up and saw that the talented Tyson Anderson had directed and co-edited, I was all “yasssssssss.”

Doing some mini-research, it appears that this is a trend that goes beyond our rez-borders: even in mainstream media, there is an emergence of having photographers take over as visual directors for music videos. As photographers, we look for final visuals, memorable visuals…

“And that’s the trick: A key photographer will always help an artist put their best face forward. With no pesky dialogue or linear plot structure to get in the way, it becomes all about the image—and who better to create those?” – Janelle Okwodu, Voque

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We spent the day together, working with local make-up artist, Kacey Beaudry, for two specific looks. In between latte’s and travelling throughout the city for shooting locations, we managed to walk away with some magic.

I then spent hours in front of the computer, playing, learning through mistakes and laughter. I worked with Final Cut Pro, after reading a few reviews of what programs work best for amateur videography. I stayed up late while my daughter slept, drawn in by a new creative expression. Tara came over  few nights to fine-tune the final looks. While I know some prefer to have final control over their finished video, this was a serious collaboration between her vision and song and my interpretation of it.

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Finally, we were done, and I felt ridiculously attached to the final outcome. It’s not perfect. A year later, and I’m looking at it again with new, critical eyes, picking apart what I would do if I had the chance, yet I’m still proud. I’m still happy with what remains.

And while I still gravitate towards my camera rather then video, it opened my eyes. I used to think that I could only be One Thing – a Photographer. And now, working with the talented artists on tea&bannock, working with the many powerful Indigenous individuals with my photography business, I see how creativity isn’t defined by strict borders. My mentors aren’t just one thing – they are professors, film directors, writers, poets, dancers, musicians, moms, and activists.

They create with many mediums, and now, I see the appeal.

 

–  tenille campbell