Native Sistah’s Unite

Since moving to the big city, much like Amanda in her last post, I’ve been experiencing some challenging transitions. Having this be my 4th move in one year and as a newcomer to the city, I definitely have my moments of longing to be back in a small community with all its laughter. Luckily, I have my amazing partner who continues to remind me that those things take time to build. One warming sense of community I feel like I always have, however, is our blog. ❤

When one of the Tea&Bannock members first posted that they were coming to Portland to be extras on Portlandia, I became super thrilled. I thought, not only was I going to meet another Tea&Bannock artist, but I was going to have some super rad Indigenous woman to roam the city with!

Already knowing that Joi was part of our blog made it super easy to reach out and offer a place for her and Leah to stay. This was always how my Nanuk treated her friends and friends of friends, even. In her case, it was always more the merrier. Her house was never empty growing up.

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Having Leah and Joi’s company reminded me of why our blog is so comforting. When our ancestors were living off the land, one of the strategies of weakening our cultures were to divide and conquer. When my Nanuk was displaced from her hometown tent life in Aklavik, she mentioned moving into “box houses” and hating the sense of division it created.

As a member of Tea&Bannock, this space has always felt incredibly genuine and supportive. For me, It’s been a major platform to reconnect with my native sisters – and whether we’re Inuit, Navajo, Inuvialuit, Lakota, Dene, etc.., we’re all Indigenous sisters connected through survival of great resistance.

Moments where we can comfortably sit with our tea and bannock (in our case. it was sangria and Mexican food) and chat about being an Indigenous woman in an urban society while giggling at all the follies we’ve experienced and sharing how to deal are incredibly wonderful and healing.

 

 – Caroline Blechert

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it’s in the quiet times…

I did something extreme this summer – something that has caused me a lot of grief, guilt and shame.

I know… what an intro.

My parents are taking care of my kid for the summer.

There, I said it.

I feel wrong just saying it.

There is so much to unpack here.

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It started in the middle of June. I went to Vancouver for two weeks for two academic conferences and my Mom was watching my baby at my place in Saskatoon. And we chatted about it – and she agreed to watch Aerie for the summer up North. I’m still studying for my PhD (one day I will write more about this) and I am working hard on passing a big test that will determine whether or not I continue in academia in two freaking weeks. So much pressure, and on top of all this – blogging, photography, and a new book out to promote. Mom saw all this and was offering to come stay with me in the city, but she hates the city. And Aerie loves the North. It was easy to see that Aerie going North would help me out so much, and that it would be easiest for my parents.

Let me say this right away – I am so blessed to have my parents around to be able to do this, and the only person feeling guilty about this is me. My parents love having Aerie, and she loves being up there. There are no problems there at all.

So this guilt, this shame, and this self-loathing – it’s all internal.

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I like to say that this is an example of a community raising the child, which is an idea that I have taken to ever since my ex and I broke up. Although he and I are still friends, I am the primary parent of our child. And I do need help – and help is here. My brothers and their families, my parents, my best friends, my friends, and so on. If I need help, I just have to ask. Aerie is loved by many, and that is so good. She has a million aunties, just like any rez kid.

So she is doing amazing. She swims, boats, fishes, road trips, eats all the foods, makes all the friends. She is having a dream summer. We talk everyday and I make the trip down to see her very 7-10 days or so, even if it’s just for a night. But this was the longest time we have ever spent apart, and everyone has a comment.

Taking the summer to focus on my academic needs and myself gives me insane guilt, and that’s ok. I know – I KNOW – that this is the best for her and I right now, and that I needed this extra time to focus. But it’s hard.

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It’s hard when my own brothers make “you’re like an auntie to her ha ha ha” comments, while they sit in their two-parent relationships. It takes everything in me to not verbally cut them down because Mama raised me better than that. And I react because I fear what they say is true. Which is insane, I know, but I’m still teary just thinking about it.

It’s hard when I get asked by friends who don’t know the situation – “Where’s Aerie?” I drown in guilt and massive explanations when I don’t need to. I want to justify this to everyone, and I’m the only one who needs that.

It’s hard when it’s quiet at night, and I turn on a cartoon, just so I can feel like she’s around. It’s hard when I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking she called for me, and I remember she’s not there. When I go grocery shopping, and she’s not there, trying to sneak in her favourite snacks. So many moments where I miss the every day feeling of having her by my side.

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But there is a light – we are coming down to the end of summer. Her days at the beach are getting shorter. Her hair is getting longer. Her tan is incredibly dark, and she is thinking about her Grade 1 class and who will all be in there. My exams are coming up, and soon after that, she will be home with me. Those early morning cuddles where I have to convince her to get up – I can’t wait. Our Friday afternoon Starbucks dates – I can’t wait.

I really didn’t even wanna share this – I hate sharing my struggle – but I do know that the academic world is not women-friendly, it’s not Indigenous-friendly, it’s not mother-friendly. And that to succeed, sometimes we have to make sacrifices. This was mine. I gave up my summer with my kid.

But it’s only my sacrifice – as this was Aerie’s gain.

These were the moments where her relationship with her grandparents, her community, her land, and her culture – it only got stronger.

And come the Fall, I can’t wait to hear her stories.

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 – tenille k campbell

fish camp

From the moment I jumped into the boat to head my Jijuu’s fish camp, I could literally feel my mind ease and my body begin to let go of tension and stress. I can honestly say that our fish camp is my happiest place on Earth. It is where I can think my straightest and find my balance all while learning about my Gwich’in heritage and spending time with my Jijuu.

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While at fish camp, there is always work to be done. The nets have to be checked all day long, the fish need to be scaled, gutted, cleaned and cut to be dried, we need to gather the right type of wood to be burned for the fish to dry properly, fetch water from the creek, cook meals, keep the place clean and we always end our nights with a game of soccer. Some would say that the best part of fish camp is the nightly soccer game – it can get pretty crazy sometimes, especially when everyone is out on the field. It isn’t so much about the score or who’s winning, but the laughter and teasing that we all share together, especially my Jijuu who stands on the side lines coaching and laughing like it’s going out of style.

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It is a really great feeling to be up there with my family and seeing everyone working together as a team to get all of the work done. And it really fills me with so much pride to watch my Jijuu pulling fish out of the net, cutting it up and hanging it in the fish house that her father had built when she was just a child.

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I can never stress enough, how much I admire and appreciate this little woman who I call my Jijuu. She is the epitome of strength and resilience. She is the hardest worker I know. Although she is in her late 70’s, she is always working, always moving, always doing something – right from the moment she rises right until she lays her head back down to sleep. In the time it takes me to cut one fish to dry, she’s finishing off her fourth. While I’m struggling to get up the hill, she’s already pouring herself a cup of tea and lighting her cigarette. She amazes me beyond words with what she is capable of. I can only hope and pray to one day be half of the women that she is. She is my truest friend.

 – shayla snowshoe

Grad 2017

I would like to introduce to you all… the Fort McPherson graduation class of 2017.

This class consists of eleven graduates, all from our little community of 900 people. To me, this class represents hard work, persistence and intelligence. I hope that they understand what they represent to our community; they are positive role models and scholarly characters. They are succeeding in a colonial world that they were never meant to, and that really means something. Education is the foundation of which we are expected to build our lives.

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I just wanted to take a moment to recognize their 12 years of attending school each and every day, right until they got that diploma. Congratulations, you guys… you made it. This is just the beginning. You have opened up a whole new world of opportunities for yourselves. Do not let your education stop here. Get out there and see the world, volunteer, attend university, be a part of something bigger… make your mommas proud.

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And to end off, I would like to say a huge huge huge congratulations to my little sissy, Dannika Florence.

My girl, it’s hard for me to put into words how proud you made me as I watched you walk down that aisle for your diploma. I’ve seen you grow from a little sassy girl in clothes that you’re now embarrassed of, to a sarcastic, hilarious, fire cracker of a woman. You have a fire inside you that burns strong, your love is pure and your mind is intelligent. I am honored to call you my sister and to have you by my side through this crazy life. I can’t wait to see what’s next for us. Gwiintl’oo nahtinithan shijuu.

 – shayla snowshoe

 

Bradley; I will always remember…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Shayla Snowshoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

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

The Moosehide Gathering – Shayla Snowshoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Shayla Snowshoe, Northwest Territories

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