Art, Inspiration & Fashion – April Johnson, Guest Blogger

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


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


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

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

Rose Stiffarm

Rose Stiffarm

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

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

Rose Stiffarm

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

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


joleen 2

 Joleen Mitton, portrait by Thosh Collins

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

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

April: What fuels your ambition?

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

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

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

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

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


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

 — april johnson

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


Barb Cranmer, filmmaker – Featured Artist


“I have been involved in film and video for many years.  The inspiration for my work has come from our people’s rich history and stories that are very important.  They are stories that most often go unheard.  I am the messenger of these stories and our communities have entrusted me with these stories to bring to the wider public.”

Barb Cranmer 2016

One year ago, on February 18th 2015, a demolition ceremony took place at the site of St. Michael’s Residential School in the the village of Yalis, next to the settlement of Alert Bay, on Cormorant Island, in the small straight of water that separates Vancouver Island from the mainland of BC. It was a time of mourning, joy and hope, as the community prepared to watch the largest building on the island get torn down. Myself and a few other local photographers were asked by the ‘Namgis First Nation to document the day.

St. Michael's Residential School closed in 1974. The 'Namgis First Nation took ownership of it in 1975.

St. Michael’s Residential School closed in 1974. The ‘Namgis First Nation took ownership of it in 1975.

It was an honour to witness the events that unfolded but I struggled with photographing some of the emotions that were revealed that day. I was caught thinking about my role as the photographer and how I would respectfully photograph the day while trying to maintain my professional objectivity. But as the tears streamed down my face, I watched those in front of me throw rocks at the ruins of the school, trying to smash the bricks before the bulldozers got the chance; I saw the young and old, families and friends, holding on to each other, crying, yelling, hugging and laughing. Sometimes, objectivity needs to be lost. I still have mixed feelings about showing the photographs from that day.

My son, "Mom that boy is sad."

My son, “Mom that boy is sad.”

Another witness there that day was the award-winning filmmaker, Barb Cranmer. As a member of the ‘Namgis First Nation, she was responsible for creating a historical document to help her community remember. The film that came from that day, I’TUSTOGALIS: Rising Up Together Our Voices, Our Stories: Demolition Ceremony of the St. Michael’s Residential School, February 18th, 2015, features the accounts of residential school survivors who attended the St. Michael’s Residential School, and is a powerful depiction of survival and overcoming. Our Voices, Our Stories also recently was recognized as Best Documentary Short at the 40th American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, CA.

I had the chance to catch up with Barb the other day and speak with her about her film:

A: What does your most recent film, Our Voices, Our Stories mean for you as an Indigenous filmmaker? 

B: When I directed Our Voices, Our Stories, it was historic and so meaningful of many levels, it acknowledged the dark period of the Residential School system.  People shared their stories with such courage and willingness and it really is just the beginning of this next new phase filled with hope.

A: What has the response been to your documentary?

B: The response to the film has been very overwhelming, people shared tears as they watched and were thankful that this type of work is now happening with the message of healing for everyone, since we all have been affected in some way by the residential school system.

Demolition crew and Our Voices, Our Stories, Director of Photography, Brent Craven watching the building fall.

Demolition crew and Our Voices, Our Stories, Director of Photography, Brent Craven watching the building fall.

A: On February 18th, 2016 it marked a year since the demolition ceremony at St. Michael’s Residential School. What was it like for you witnessing the school being demolished?

B: I had mixed feelings about the demolition, because for years I worked on a committee in the community that was trying to revitalize the building and turn it into a Kwakwala Language Centre, reversing the strapping of kids speaking their language to all you would hear is our language being spoken.  The other feeling is that we can’t let the government assist in us forgetting what that building stood for.  And now I drive by there and it was like it was never there, very strange feeling.

A: What is the lasting impression you want the audience to take away from this film?

B: The lasting impression is that we have hope, we have resilience and we will carry on as a people as we have already done.  In all my documentary work to date it is about hope.

A: For you what is the next step in the healing process?

B: As the film gets shared in all kinds of communities, cities, universities, I want to be able to offer the opportunity to people that there are a lot of people out there in the healing world.  And that they will be supported and I see this as just the beginning of the next phase, a more hopeful one.

Raven flying over St. Michael's Residential School.

Raven flying over St. Michael’s Residential School.

A year later, things are quiet in the community. The area where the school once stood is now a field of grass. There is still a perimeter of yellow hazard tape that has been left around the space.

Watch the Our Voices, our Stories film trailer at

Upcoming screenings of Our Voices, Our Stories:

– Sointula, Malcolm Island on Sat. March 5th

– The Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver on Tues. March 8th @ 1pm & 7pm

– BC Teachers’ Federation AGM in Vancouver on Sun. March 13th @ 12:30pm.

CREDITS: Our Voices, Our Stories (39 minutes)

Director: Barbara Cranmer (T’lakwagilogwa) is an award-winning writer, director and producer whose original productions include ‘Namegan’s Om Dlu’wans Awinagwisex (We Are One With the Land), I’tusto (To Rise Again), T’lina (The Rendering of Wealth), Qatuwas (People Gathering Together), Gwishalaayt (The Spirit Wraps Around You), Laxwesa Wa (Strength of the River), Mungo Martin: A Slender Thread and We Are One With The Land and Potlatch:  To Give Part One & Part Two

See many of her films at

Producer/Distribution: ‘Namgis First Nation

Director of Photography/Editor: Brent Craven

Theme Song: Murray Porter (lyrics by Murray Porter and Elaine Bomberry)