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!

TnB7_WEBTnB3_WEBTnB5_WEBTnB4_WEBTnB2_WEB

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.

TnB8_WEB

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: apriljohnson.net // insta: @aprilej

Advertisements

Ink and Stories – Cora DeVos, Guest Blogger

I look back on the past 7 years of being in business and there has been many sessions that have stayed close to my heart and I’m sure they always will be a part of me. Photography has taken me on a journey and I have learned so much about myself, that I don’t think I would have come to realize if it weren’t for my craft.

I love taking photographs of women, it brings me such joy to have someone show up for their session and be so timid and afraid to be in front of the camera and through the session to watch her blossom into a super model and feel so beautiful and KNOW that she’s looking good.

15966787_1522993154396271_759171256_o

I want that feeling for every woman. I want every woman to look in the mirror and see the beauty that their loved ones see, forgetting about the awful words that we often tell ourselves and just letting your true beautiful self, shine through. We really do need to stop being so mean to ourselves and learn to love ourselves as freely as we give our love to our family and friends. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, make the most of today and get in front of the camera with your loved ones and for your loved ones.

16106111_1522992317729688_2121989962_o

One of the most amazing opportunities that I’ve had as a photographer was to be part of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project and be the main photographer for the upcoming “Reawakening Our Ancestors Line” book. This project was spear headed by my best friend, Hovak Johnston. I couldn’t be more proud of Hovak. The strength that this woman holds is amazing and I love that she has blossomed into this strong and determined Inuk woman who wasn’t afraid of being told “no” and was willing to push forward for something that she felt so compelled to do for our people.

Tattooing was a tradition that was almost lost in our culture due to missionaries forbidding it and residential schools, Inuit were no longer continuing this tradition.

The week that we spent in Kugluktuk, Nunavut was a constant wave of emotions. You could feel the excitement coming from the Inuit women that were receiving their traditional tattoos. At times we cried together, laughed together, and when the tattooing was done – it seemed like the lines were meant to be there.

Hovak and I wrapped up the weekend with her tattooing me with the poking method. I chose a design that to me represents my little family. I could not imagine a better way to finish up our time in Kugluktuk than receiving this very special gift, from a very special friend.

15967466_1522991864396400_1678168062_o

Novak Johnston of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project 

These were my thoughts after receiving my tattoo…

My family lived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. My mom is Inuit and my dad is white. Mom used to speak to us in Inuinnaqtun when I was young, until one day an elder asked her why she was teaching us the language, we were “only half.” From then on, Mom never taught us any more of the language.

The words of “only half” have always haunted me in so many ways.

You see, my skin color is dark enough that I’m judged by it when going into stores, or when people meet me. Many assume that I should fit into all the stereotypes that they’ve come to believe before I even open my mouth.

But being that I’m “only half” and I was mostly raised in the south, I’ve never been “Inuk enough” for the north. When I go back to Nunavut, I’m constantly reminded by family and friends that I’m “so kublunak” (white man). Whether it’s how I dress, the fact that I don’t know our language (as if it was by choice) or that I don’t like muqtuq (whale blubber).

It’s hard, because all my life my two “halves” never have seemed to fit into a whole. I’ve always been proud to say that I’m Inuk (hence my photography name) and I’m always excited to talk to people about the amazing parts our culture, when it comes down to it… we are a TOUGH people! Take a look at our games and the climate we’ve survived in, you’ve got to be tough!

Now with my tattoo, I feel like it brings me closer to my culture than I have ever been before. When I look down at my tattoo and see it there, I know that I belong and I am proud to say that I AM INUK.

My whole is not half-Inuk and half-white; my whole is this person that I’ve become – a strong and caring person, someone always there for my husband, children, family and friends.

I am whole.

 – Cora DeVos, Little Inuk Photography


Bio: Little Inuk Photography is owned and operated by Cora DeVos in Fort St John, BC. Little Inuk Photography opened for business seven years ago the in small town of Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan. Cora has found her passion in women’s portraiture.

Little Inuk Photography ~ Capturing beautiful images of beautiful people

Stay in Touch:

Web: Little Inuk Photography FB: Little Inuk Photography  Insta: @littleinukphotography Twitter: @littleinukphoto

 

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.

14434820_1125791647507502_5875721365477404503_o14434922_1125787200841280_7009176845797175625_o14435363_1125787660841234_1370623305781861587_o

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.

14444755_1125784980841502_7701271813169267069_o14444767_1125788450841155_6841696102167083390_o14445034_1125785117508155_786009013066026056_o

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.

14445096_1125784537508213_1851138796197597930_o14468284_1125785320841468_4149598419315458391_o14500698_1125788030841197_3850428539687631755_o

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.

14468634_1125791674174166_2020643639057606925_o14480640_1125788717507795_6313151595730024209_o14481824_1125785620841438_30363200223287888_o

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.

14500245_1125784600841540_6046574445766533345_o14500771_1125791180840882_2289245928894822173_o14524528_1125785317508135_6937967649921057064_o

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

Find her on Facebook

14542479_1125784700841530_4041382838183566520_o

‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program

I’m beyond thrilled to finally have a piece written up and presented to Tea and Bannock about a very special and hardworking group of Deh Cho Ladies who are involved with the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program.

I hold this program close to my heart because firstly I saw firsthand how they have been working day and often very late nights on reclaiming their language, taking in as many Dene Zhatié words and phrases, reclaiming their space and identity as a dene person– here is a group of fearless women who are dedicated and determined to revive their mother tongue to teach their children, siblings and others who are interested. I can’t help but to feel excited and extremely proud of these ladies.

I reached out to Dahti Tsetso who is from Fort Simpson and asked if she wanted to explain who she is, why it’s important for her to attend the Indigenous Language Revitalization program and what it’s all about. Thankfully she agreed and I managed to get my mother, Joyce McLeod (who is also in the program), to send me photos to add to the blog. Thank you both (as well to the others involved) for being so brave to save such an important part of the Dene culture. I commend you for all being such trailblazers for our Dene communities!

You can find a lot of great information and videos on their facebook page called “Speak to me in Dene Zhatie.”

– shawna mcleod

{cover imageDene Zhatie Mentor Louisa Moreau teaching Joyce McLeod, Dahti Tsetso, Nicole Perron, Terri Sapp, and Leonie Sabourin Dene Zhatié phrases as they fry bannock.}

 

 

img_2702

First presentation on learning Dehcho Dene Zhatie. Everyone was required to come up with phrases and present it to the class; almost everyone was nervously shaking and scared to make mistakes.

Dahti Tsetso súzhe. Sı́ Tłıcho Dene o’tę gots’ęh Łíidlii Kų́ę́ náhnde. My name is Dahti Tsetso. I am Tłicho Dene and I live in Fort Simpson, NT. I was born here and spent my early childhood growing up by the river. I met my husband while attendıng university and am now married into the Dehcho region. The Dehcho is our home and this is where we plan to raise our family.

Practicing our Dene culture and passing the culture on to our children is very important to us. However, like so many others of our generation, neither one of us speak our Dene language. Language loss is an intergenerational impact of residential schools that has had a massive impact. The legacy of residential schools has denied almost a whole generation of Dene the ability to speak their own language. This means many of us could not communıcate with our unilingual grandparents. We could never listen to their stories, or learn our oral histories in our language. A Dene person without their language is missing a very key part of their cultural identity. And personally, it has left me feeling confused and at times disconnected from my own family and culture.

This is why learning to speak the language is such an important endeavour; for me, it has become an act of reconciliation. Learning the language empowers us to connect to our culture and elders in ways that are deeply meaningful, but it is also vital for the well being of our communities as whole. Our language is at a critical point in history. As our parents’ generation ages, the number of fluent language speakers is declining. This means that if we do not reverse this trend, we risk facing a reality that one day there will be no fluent speakers left.

Learning to speak the Dene language has been a long-held and deeply rooted goal of mine. My hope is to become fluent in the language, and to share what I learned with others. My dream is to see my children conversing in the language with their grandparents one day. I want them to learn their oral histories while immersed in the language of this land. This is why I chose to enrol in the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’.

img_0193

Learning nouns, verbs and incorporating into simple phrases while Cooking and sewing in Dene Zhatié- Nicole Perron, Lori Anne Bertrand and Terri Sapp learning to make muffins with Denise, Dene Zhatié Mentor.

The ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’ is a University of Victoria post-secondary program that is being community-delivered in partnership with Dehcho First Nations, the Dehcho Divisional Education Council and the communities of Fort Providence and Fort Simpson. The goal of this language program is to create new language speakers and teachers of Dehcho Dene Zhatié.

All fluency levels was accepted into the program, so there is a wide range of language ability. From new language learners (like myself) to those whom Dene Zhatié is their first language. There are also diverse backgrounds in our program. While the majority are Dehcho Dene, I am Tlicho Dene, there is one Cree student (also married into the Dehcho region), and one very special non-Dene member.

img_2991

The DDEC board visits the Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’ in Fort Providence

The language program has taught each of us how to begin our own language-learning journeys, and perhaps even more importantly, it has taught us how to share what we learn with others. The program has done this by teaching us a language immersion method known as the ‘Mentor-Apprentice-Program’ (or MAP for short), and by learning language writing and literacy from highly trained language specialists from our region. Andy Norwegian and Violet Jumbo have been instrumental in teaching the language in our program. Their wealth of experience and knowledge is humbling, and our cohort is continuously grateful for their teachings.

img_0195

Indigenous Language Mentorship course – Belinda Sabourin, Leonie Sabourin, and Instructor Trish R. – Sewing Demonstration – learning Dene Zhatié words and phrases – needle, thread, embroidery, stroud, etc.

Personally, I have experienced exciting and empowering language growth since the start of this language program. Before this program I had difficulty even counting from 1-10, or greeting someone properly in the language. Like most children I knew some basic colours, a few animal names, and a few basic commands (like “calm down” or “eat” – the common phrases often expressed to children). And while I took evening classes whenever the opportunity arose, I did not retain meaningful language from those lessons for the long-term.

After almost two years in this program and 400 MAP hours, I can now have short and simple conversations in the language. I can pick out bits of fluent conversation between fluent speakers and can work to understand the gist of their conversations. Without regular practice I risk losing my language gains. Time invested in immersion is the key to achieving language progress. I am still not near fluent yet, but I’ve taken steps towards my goal and that is an amazing feeling!

15034062_10154658845364318_706715641_o

Group photo at Telemia Camp – Nicole Perron, Terry Sapp, Cecile Deneyoua, Patricia Bouiver, Gracyn Tanche, Dahti Tsetso, Trish R, Evelyn Sabourin, Kim Hardisty, Joyce McLeod, Nimisha Bastesdo, Beverly Hope, Leonie Sabourin & Jonas Landry (who has completed the program already) Missing from photo: Cheryl Cli, Belinda Constant

A major factor in my language journey so far, and one of the program’s biggest strengths is the group identity that has been fostered by the program. I have not done this as an individual, but as a member of a cohort.

Collectively, we are thirteen strong-minded women. We learn alongside each other; supporting and encouraging each other as we go. We have experienced this program and the empowerment it has brought to our lives together. We have borne witness to each other’s growth.

13559044_10154259216999318_5525595186596649018_o

Students of the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program spent a week learning at The Telemia Camp outside of Fort Providence.

There are just six months left in this language program: some of us will choose to continue on and pursue a Bachelors degree in order to become fully certified elementary and secondary school teachers. Some of us will be satisfied to finish in April 2016 with a Diploma in this program. Whatever each one us decides to pursue, the end of this program is just over the horizon, and we will each hold our own responsibility to continue on in our language journeys. I am both thankful and hopeful for the road ahead.

Sedzée t’áh máhsi enéhthę. Łı́e dzęne, nezų Dene K’ę́ę́ gohndeh gha. Azhíi dúyé enéhthę! Mahsi dúyé!

[With my heart I am thankful. One day I will speak well in the language. Anything is possible for me! I am very thankful!].

13533088_10154256725104318_7943255668202291433_n

While at the Telemia Camp, the students learned how to traditionally tan a hide while only using Dene Zhatié words and phrase – scrapping, holes, hard surface, scrapper, etc.

In closing, I will leave you with an oath to learning Dene Zhatié. As a cohort we chose to adopt this oath and I hope that in reading this some of you might be inspired to do that same…

Untitled.jpg

The Process of Beadwork – Catherine Blackburn

I pour the beads out of the small plastic bags into separate piles on an old tea towel. Bright bags in every colour litter the dining room table as the odd bead rolls off the edge, bouncing on the floor as it finally comes to a stop somewhere by my feet. This has become all very common the last few months as I work to complete projects, while new ones percolate in my mind. The process can be both therapeutic and overwhelming, yet when I make the last stitch…my oh my…oh so gratifying.

I sit here and try to gather my thoughts, telling myself to relax and just speak truthfully, as I answer some of those questions about why it is I do what I do, and also how to find the perfect words that someone may hold dear in their journey. The over-analyzing sometimes unbearable. My anxiety can often get the best of me.

Catherine2016_40_WEB

I was born in Ile a la Crosse, Saskatchewan, where the closest hospital exists in proximity to Patuanak, Saskatchewan, the place that holds the key to much of my work. I am a member of the English River First Nation. I am mixed blood, having Dene and European roots. I grew up in Choiceland, a predominantly white community in rural Saskatchewan. After attending university, I immediately travelled. I spent an incredible 4 months in Morley Alberta working with Aboriginal youth, alongside my dear friend Kirsten. The beautiful soul that taught me the art of applied bead work. I spent a year in Seoul, South Korea, and later 2 years in Taiwan. These are just some of the experiences that influence my work. These and all the moments in between.

Catherine2016_65_WEB

This new place of comfort includes both memories and moments alike. The smell of smoke from a wood burning stove will always transport me to the few memories I hold of my late grandpa Eugene. The sound of my mom’s laugh as she speaks Dene with her siblings on the phone brings me joy. Honouring my late aunty Tiny through learned jewellery techniques links me in ways I otherwise feel lost. Speaking to my grandma, as our conversation gets skewed and distorted with our language barriers, now makes me smile. Like the other day when we were somehow talking about my struggle with shingles (I don’t have shingles). I’ve grown to not be ashamed of how I don’t speak or understand the Dene language. I’ve welcomed myself, this strong woman with mixed blood and mixed experience. I don’t have the perfect explanations in response to heated conversations on socio-economic problems plaguing our people. I’ve also learned to accept that I don’t need to explain at all….educate yourself.

With this liberation, my work processes have become more freeing. Using traditional materials and techniques I’ve twisted the rules just enough to allow me to play. My bead work is photo-based, incorporating transfers, sometimes as a tool and others as a base for my design. No matter the final outcome my goal remains constant. The direct relationship to my European and Dene heritage challenges me to create innovative work that encourages dialogue between traditional art forms and new interpretations of them. These are the tools I use to create, and with those in mind that I hold near and dear to my heart, I am inspired to create messages of kinship and resiliency.

Catherine2016_29_WEB

And with that last stitch I take a deep breath. Ahhhhh, relief and satisfaction. A big smile and a much needed stretch of the back. I stand back and admire my work from all directions. At different angles the beads sparkle in shades of red, purple, blue and green. This beaded galaxy of colour forms a bruise. It’s colour and shape made apparent against the cream coloured deer hide of which it is applied to, the hide light in colour having never been kissed by smoke. The direction of beads twist and turn in application with every third bead being tacked down, reinforced.

I think about the story my mom once told me; how my grandmother once collected someone’s lost beads from the floorboard cracks of an old log cabin to start her first beading project. Now her table sits scattered with every colour of the rainbow while others sit stored away in cookie and tea tins.

I reflect on the reason for creating this beaded bruise, an expression of pain and continuous healing from the trauma of the residential school system. I think about the different voices created through my work; some speaking to raise awareness, and others reminding us all to tread compassionately. I reflect on the enormous task of our people to hunt, skin, stretch, and smoke hide, in all it’s knowledge and strength. I look down at my bead holder, the old tea towel, and notice that the beads so precisely poured onto it at the beginning of this project now lay scattered and mixed.

I pick up my project and realize its weight.

Catherine2016_75_WEB


Catherine’s work embraces two inspirations in her life-family and culture. Through the subject of family, she is inspired to express her own feelings and experiences which speak to the complexities of memory, history and cultural identity. Her art merges contemporary concepts with elements of traditional Dene culture, simultaneously exploring the significance and history of certain materials and their role in the fur trade. This direct relationship to her European and Dene heritage challenges her to create innovative work that encourages dialogue between traditional art forms and new interpretations of them. Through these overlapping themes of relationships, history, and identity, she hopes to weave a strong message of connection, kinship, and resiliency. Catherine encourages the viewer to reflect on their own experiences and to explore and question how we all define and appreciate the Aboriginal experience in Canada. – website 

Current Gallery Work: Bead Works, Slate Fine Art Gallery, Regina

emergence

There’s something more that my art/work can do to empower us as Indigenous people. For quite some time it felt as if my creativity had slowed, even though I was constantly on the go crisscrossing the country. It was as if an autopilot switch was flipped. Equipped? Check. Booked? Check. Bags? Packed. Push the shutter button and travel to the next city, shutter button, next city, and the next. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining—I love photography, the experience of it all was beautiful and has taught me so much along the way—I was simply tired after 7 years of travelling which left me feeling slightly uninspired. There’s something more that my art/work can do to empower us as Indigenous people. There’s something more to it, something deeper. I waited for an idea as these contemplations ran laps in my mind for almost a year until, finally, a thoughtful breakthrough during the quiet winter months at home on my rez in northwestern Ontario.

Photo1.jpg

I should let you know that my first series, Concrete Indians, launched in 2008 and is premised on the concept of Indigenous identity. It’s about self-awareness and the affects of urbanization on cultural identity. That idea came suddenly and within hours the series was launched. It’s based upon an open-call platform and I invite people to submit portrait session ideas concerning urban Indigenous identity. Something beautiful happens when the power of self-expression is allowed the creative freedom to empower not only oneself but, in the process, others as well. The black and white portraits photographed during the span of 7 years have resonated with many Indigenous people across Canada and the U.S. And interest continues to grow. I knew I wanted to continue basing my art/work on that open-call platform but also wanted the next series to somehow broaden the space that Concrete Indians had created.

Photo2.jpg

I must also let you know that I have discussed politics and Indigenous knowledge, philosophies and worldviews with my dad for years. Years. It’s been nearly 17 years actually and as I became a photographer the conversations we had were always present in my thoughts as an artist. No matter where I was coming from, after another year of travelling, I would return home and we picked up where we left off, those long conversations, as if I had never left. Once I decided to stop touring, that creative pull to work on something new positioned itself foremost in my mind.

It wasn’t until January that all my thoughts about Indigenous knowledge started pooling together. The main concepts I wanted this new series to be about, concerned: relationships and Indigenous knowledge. Initially, the series was specifically about reconciliation which has become of such importance since the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the release of the TRC Final Report including the 94 Calls-To-Action outlined therein, but after discussions with my dad and correspondence with a friend, I understood that the essence of what I was getting at rested solely on the need to focus our attention on our relationships with each other as Indigenous people rather than the historical relationship with the Canadian state. It became clear to me that reconciliation is a(nother) name and a(nother) way for the Canadian government to throw (more) money at the “Indian problem.” What kind of long-term solutions can come from an approach like that? And I don’t want to name all the reports and studies that have been done, nor do I want to say the research isn’t important. The research and findings are important. There are many Indigenous academics and activists who point out the reports and studies on a daily basis, raising awareness about the history of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. Who is this research for? We already know the problems that exist, our people live with it every day. I also don’t mean to lessen the importance of vocalizing pain, grief and anger. I think it’s good to be angry and frustrated—that anger and frustration is born out of a need for change to occur. Lasting and meaningful change isn’t going to come from Ottawa, nor it is going to come from talking and talking about it. All in all, I want to be hopeful, but at the end of the day I remain critical of the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada. I am definitely not aboard the reconciliatory ship.

Then I remembered a quote I read years ago by Metis academic and activist Dr. Howard Adams in his book “Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View”:

“The racism and colonialism of capitalism will always hold us captive in misery, violence and exploitation. It is time that we recognized our own power and faced the fact that our solutions lie within ourselves.”

The step away from reconciliation allowed the series the freedom to shed light on all the pathways that Indigenous intelligence can create, pathways to a pool, a source, of information that we need to remember and reflect on in our search for the solutions to our current struggles. This is knowledge that already exists within our Nations. The shift from reconciliation also allowed the series to be about the goodness within us and our communities, our present and our future. There are so many already drawing from this pool of intelligence and building solutions within their communities.

It was time to put a name to it all. The title needed to be uplifting and empowering. A few days of text-message correspondence with a friend and the word “emergence” surfaced in my explanation of the shift the series had taken. Then after another week of consulting the thesaurus, text-messaging back and forth with a few more friends, not to mention breaks during which I sat by the fire and did a lot more thinking, a sub-title began forming. The words just beyond my reach. I continued mixing and playing with punctuation and words (I’m certain I’ve read the entire thesaurus) and then finally:

emergence
re:collecting indigenous intelligence

Photo3.jpg

Photo4.jpg

Photo5.png

Whereas Concrete Indians is about the relationships that we have with our individual selves, emergence is about remembering the complex relations and the intelligence of our ancestors that is honoured and strengthened when we fully understand our place within all of creation. I’m interested in the intelligence of our ancestors, which is intelligence that encompasses every aspect of life. There’s a reason why we say, “all my relations.” In Anishinaabemowin you’d say, “danawemaagaanidook.” Indigenous intelligence is in our languages and philosophies. Indigenous intelligence is rooted in the land and in our ceremonies. It’s everywhere. It always has been. We only need to (continue to) foster its reemergence.

I want to thank the following family and friends for the dialogue and insights shared, for their support, intellect, creativity, and feedback during the several phases this series went through from the idea to the launch: ndede/ my dad, Niigaanipinens for all the discussions (during all phases), Jarrett Martineau (conceptualization, titling and design feedback), Sage Paul and Jason Baerg (titling and design feedback), Ryan Redcorn (branding, graphic, and watermark design), and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (writing feedback/ editing). Chimiigwetch!

Photo6.jpg

The series was launched April 13 and in keeping with the open-call platform, I invite those interested to email ideas to be photographed. Photo sessions can involve portraiture, event coverage, and other session types. I will be photographing my own thoughts on Indigenous intelligence involving astronomy and that vast beautiful night sky spread out above us all as we dream.

emergence

 – nadya kwandibens