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



Carla and I go wayyyyy back, okay not that way back but at least eight years back in time. A mutual friend of ours had brought Carla to a prenatal yoga class that I was teaching in Victoria, BC. We were both pregnant with our first babies and due around the same time too.  I think we hung out a couple of times after the boys were born, I have a vague memory of them toddling around and fighting over a Little Tikes ride along car.  I wonder if I have any photos of that day? Did we even talk about photography back then? I doubt it, I think the conversation was around sleep, nursing, and maybe even potty training. Carla and her son are now living in Wet’suwet’en Yintah (Burns Lake, BC). We haven’t seen each other in years but we’ve stayed in touch through social media. In the past few years, I’ve noticed that she has been taking some beautiful photos of where she’s from, the people, the land, the waters, the animals and the sky. You can see in her images that she photographs with respect. I knew that she had to be part of the conversation on Tea and Bannock so I was pleased when she agreed to be interviewed as a featured artist.

Jasper Wild:  Fun photoshoot at Pyramid Lake in Jasper, AB.

Jasper Wild: Fun photoshoot at Pyramid Lake in Jasper, AB

Cree Luvins

Trish Patrick

Abby Michell

Abby Michell

10 Questions: 

1. Where are you from?

Wet’suwet’en/Gitxsan from the House of Spook’w.

2. Tell us about your journey of becoming a professional photographer.

Growing up, my dad had an old Pentax camera.  He didn’t use it much anymore, but always showed off his photos proudly.  I loved the sound of the shutter and would sometimes just sit there flicking the shutter just to hear it fly.  So when I was 16, I saved up money from my summer jobs and bought my first camera, a Nikon F80 SLR and that was my baby until the DSLRs came out and I switched to digital.  I took one Intro to Photography course in university, but otherwise am self-taught and have mostly been a hobbyist. 

So, for as long as I can remember, I had my camera with me and mostly took snapshots of my family, plants and landscapes.  I took my love of photography and travel to many parts of the world.  We didn’t grow up with a silver spoon, or even a copper spoon for that matter, so I found free ways to travel, like volunteering, internships, and working for non-profits oversees while I attended university. 

In the beginning of my paid photography days, it was mostly for family and friends doing weddings and other life events in exchange for a small fee or I’d just ask them to buy me a new flash or something camera related.  But, I think it was when social media became mainstream and I began sharing my photos publicly that I started becoming known as a “professional” photographer.  It was still gradual, but as time went on, more and more people wanted to hire me to do their photos to the point where I had to make my photography a bit more structured and business oriented and has crept it’s way into my consulting business. 

As a teen, I also wanted to be a National Geographic Explorer.  I actually called them for my Career Prep class in high school and asked what I needed to do to become an Explorer.  The lady I spoke to pretty much laughed in my face and said it was near impossible.  I hung up and was like, “Whatever!” and proceeded to research it myself and found that instead of journalism or photography, it was better to have a post-secondary education in an explorer related field.  So, I ended up with a BA in First Nations Studies and Anthropology and a MA in Indigenous Governance and am now totally happy not working for National Geographic, but rather working at a grassroots level towards Indigenous resurgence in my traditional territory.  But if NG ever called, I don’t think I would turn them down!

Kanahus Manuel

Kanahus Manuel

Aspiring Photog Sterling Sampson

Aspiring Photog Sterling Sampson


3. How does your Indigenous culture affect your work? 

Being indigenous makes me not only want, but need, to create images of Indigenous people that aren’t stereotypical and promote the reality and tell the true stories of our communities.  I make sure that my photos can’t be misconstrued in a negative sense or taken out of context in a way that can be damaging for the individual or community.  I also make sure not to romanticize Indigenous cultures like we have been in the past and to show our contemporary lives and our struggle to renew the cultures that were taken from us.  I hope that all of my work, whether it be photography, research, or facilitation inspires our young people to celebrate our culture, learn about our history, and find ways to create a difference for our communities as we work to decolonize our ways of being. 

In a more practical sense, my indigenous knowledge and identity require a high code of ethics when working with Indigenous people, such as not taking photos at ceremonies for instance.  I’ve had some amazing experiences in my life that could have been amazing photo ops, but, I was a participant and proper protocol dictated that I put the camera down.

Grandma Berry Attack

Grandma Berry Attack

4. Which photo, to date, has been the one that you most connected with, and why?

I have always had a hard time picking favourites so as I reflected on this question and looked through some of my work, I have to say that hands down any photo of my son is my favourite.  He has started to get annoyed with me when I am constantly taking photos but he is seriously, the raddest kid ever. 

Levi Dzin

Levi in Unistoten Pithouse

Good thing he's waterproof

Good thing he’s waterproof

5. Who are your role models?

I have a lot of role models from the elders who show the utmost commitment and integrity to revitalizing our culture to the youth who are surviving the heavy hands they have been dealt.  In terms of photography though, again I can’t pick just a few.  I am always admiring other people’s work and there are so many ridiculously talented people out there that I look everywhere for inspiration.   

6. Favourite quote: 

“The truth about stories, is that is all we are” (Thomas King). 

Viola Turner - Gitdumden Baby

Viola Turner – Gitdumden Baby

Jen Wickham

Jen Wickham

7.  What is one of your greatest achievements in your career, thus far? 

A couple years ago, I was asked to volunteer my time doing portraits of Indigenous women from my hometown after they got a free makeover.  I did, because I thought it would be a fun way to give back over the holidays and I was inspired by my friend Shannon Alec who coordinated the event as a “pay it forward” type of thing.  It was a ridiculously fun day and I managed to get some really unique shots just by stepping outside the hall on the rez into the -20 below, bright, and sunny day.  I ran home and did some edits and posted the photos online so the girls could see their photos and somehow the media right across the country got all fired up and wanted to share the story and the photos.  Many times, since then I’ve been asked if I was the one that did the makeover photos. 

8. What do you do to find inspiration? Where do you find inspiration?  

I am constantly looking at other people’s photography, not necessarily for inspiration but for admiration so naturally I get ideas and am challenged to take better photos.  I also find inspiration in nature, my favourite thing is to take my camera and go take close ups of plants, scraggly trees, or amazing sunsets.  I love that when you look to nature for inspiration you can find beauty in everything. 

Freezing Francois

Freezing Francois


Rubina Waterhouse

9. How do you want your work to be remembered?

I hope my work creates a positive change in some way whether it is just in an individual’s self-esteem or being proud of being indigenous.  But, I would also love to be able to take one of those images that just shake the world into action for social or environmental justice. 

10. What words of advice do you have for other aspiring photographers?

Take tons of photos, practice in manual mode, and share your photos and your skills with the world!  I’ve met a lot of people who don’t like sharing their photos or doing work for free, but in the beginning this seems like a great way to build your portfolio. 

Wilf Plasway at Donald's Landing

Wilf Plasway at Donald’s Landing

Latoya Charlie

Latoya Charlie

Selfie with Helpie

Selfie with Levi

Now go and check out more of Carla’s work at:

Website: // Facebook: // Instagram:  // Flickr:

Aura: The Healing Journey – Featured Artist

I first “met” Aura (Monique Bedard) when I noticed her work – she had created a portrait of Sarah Ortegon, done in her signature “floralized” style. I found her instagram and have been a fan and supporter since then. She is an Indigenous artist that uses various mediums to create, and as a photographer, I love how she uses photographs as a starting base in this series of her work. She is currently based in Tkaronto, and please feel free to check out her site where you can find her most current work, but for tea & bannock, I wanted to get to know her a little bit more. I asked her ten questions, but first, I asked her to introduce herself, as she is Haudenosaunee Oneida Nation of the Thames (Onyota’a:ka), French-Canadian, and Métis.

From Aura:

Whenever we begin speaking, we always introduce ourselves with where we come from, our Nation, our Clan and Traditional name. I am still in the process of learning how to introduce myself in Oneida language. My identity is quite complex since I grew up away from my community, I haven’t received my Traditional name in Longhouse yet. Since being in Toronto, I have received a Spirit name from Traditional Healer, Pete Keshane, at Anishnawbe Health Toronto, which is Blue Thunderbird Woman. Even though this isn’t the Haudenosaunee way, I respect this name as part of my identity which I am continually exploring.

Haudenosaunee follow matrilineal lineage, so in that regard, I am Haudenosaunee Onyota’a:ka (Oneida Nation of the Thames) through my mom’s side. My mom and grandma are both women who have status, registered with Oneida Nation of the Thames. However, it wasn’t always that way as my maternal grandma lost her status when she and her parents ‘voluntarily’ enfranchised with the government in 1944. They lost their status and received land and money in return. My mom was scooped in the 60’s when she was around 4 and adopted into a non-Indigenous home. My maternal grandpa passed on when my mother was young, so I am still learning about him. As a result, I am not recognized by the government as Indigenous.

My paternal grandfather is French-Canadian and my paternal grandmother is of Métis ancestry from Gaspé Peninsula (Mi’kmaq ancestry from Gesgapegiag/Gespe’gewa’gi First Nation which traces back a couple generations).

I know where I come from, but I am still dissecting my identity and learning more each day as I reconnect with family and community. A lot of people believe that knowing where you come from is part of your identity. This can be challenging, especially when your family has been removed and disconnected from their identity for multiple generations.

I should be able to identify myself however I choose. I am me and I know where I come from and I know how I was raised to see the world. I am Haudenosaunee Onyota’a:ka (Oneida Nation of the Thames) with Métis and French-Canadian ancestry.


Sarah Ortegon_WEB

Portrait of Sarah Ortegon, Miss Native American USA (Instagram: @nonookeiht_bee3eisei, Facebook: Sarah Ortegon) 8” x 10” Mixed media on Aquaboard “I am Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho and I was Miss Native American USA 2013-2014. I graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a concentration in drawing.”

10 Questions: 

1. How would you describe your art in all its various forms, as you work with charcoal, mixed media, video and photography?

Currently I work in mixed media layering different materials (acrylic paint, collage, photo transfers, and beadwork). In the past, I focused on photography, video, drawing, and silkscreen printing. I am always exploring the same themes in all of my work regardless of the medium: connection/disconnection, inside/outside, self/other, identity, storytelling, intergenerational trauma, and healing.

If I am talking specifically about the floral portraits, I always start off with a laser printed photograph of someone and then cut it out with a precision knife. I apply gel medium to the surface I am working on, usually wood, canvas or watercolour paper. I apply the image face down and rub the back of the image smooth to release the air bubbles. I let it dry over night and then apply water to the back of the image with a sponge and rub the pulp off with my hands (this is my favourite part). I save the pulp because I have plans to try and make handmade paper when I have enough pulp saved up. Once the image is fully transferred, I paint the background with acrylic paint and then add my florals with paint markers. Then apply an acrylic varnish to seal and protect the painting. This work is extremely process oriented for me. The repetitive, hands on process reminds me to slow down, listen and respond. I often don’t have a plan, I trust the flow of each line and before I know it, my image is done. The silence and stillness are my teachers.


Ah-Weh-Eyu (Pretty Flower) | Goldie Jamison Conklin, Seneca
 i·wát | inside 
the love we give to ourselves is important for all generations. atste | outside 
 the love we give to others is important for all generations.

2. How does your Indigenous culture affect your work? 

I believe that being Indigenous positively impacts my artistic voice because there is so much to connect to such as stories, teachings, and community. These things strengthen my artistic voice; they empower me to tell my own story.

There are so many stories to be shared and having art as a tool to express these stories as an Indigenous woman is a very powerful and important process. It serves as a platform to communicate my experiences in a way that other things cannot. The art is there to speak for itself, to tell my story and to tell our stories.

I just want people to connect to my art, it is my hope that my art and stories can be a source of strength for others. In the same sense, some people misunderstand my work. It is hard enough to be an artist but being an Indigenous artist adds another layer of complexity for my artistic voice. Sometimes the context isn’t always there for people so it can be frustrating at times when people don’t get it, but I guess it is a starting point for dialogue so it can become a powerful tool for change.

3. As I first came across your work through the “floralized” images, let’s chat about that for a minute. How did the mixing of photography and floral images/digital media come into being and what does this represent to you?

The very first image of florals I drew was on a wooden crate at my last part-time job, on one of my breaks. It was a quick sketch I created to cope with the stress and negativity of the workplace. I was working a job that was draining and no longer contributing to my life in a good way. It served it’s purpose in my life but I quickly realized that I needed to follow my heart and move forward. This is where my first floral design came to be. I starting bringing my sketchbook to work and sketching on my breaks more frequently and from there the creations came flowing. I sketch to feel better, I sketch to get the ‘stuff’ out. I was also really inspired by Haudenosaunee beadwork and my best friend Chief Lady Bird’s Ojibwe florals. This is what encouraged me to come up with my own floral designs. The first floral portrait I ever created was a self portrait titled “U•kwé Otsi’tsya’shúha (Woman and Flowers).” My florals keep evolving just as I do. The root/vein like lines extending from my eyes resemble connection, vulnerability, and strength. The red dots represent blood memory as they remind me of blood cells and how our ancestors, stories and memory are rooted in our blood. In addition, the exploration and expansion of the florals represent parts of my identity.

Q3 First Floral Sketch_WEB

Pen on Wooden Crate.

I always loved portraiture as well as layering different mediums so I decided to try transferring photos and surrounding my portraits with florals. So I created the piece titled “It does not require many words to speak the truth.”-Chief Joseph, Nez Perce. From here, I just kept creating. This process is very healing for me but I am finding that it is connecting to other’s healing journeys as well.

I have titled the series Akwelyá•ne | Kayá•tale’ (My Heart | Portraits). There are so many times people in our communities are misrepresented or seen in a negative light. It is my goal with this series is to create portraits of people in a good way. Chief Lady Bird said that I put “emphasis on individual truths, reclamation of our identity, sovereignty over our bodies and emotions, and the importance of love,” which is my intention. I also give people the option to share a story or quote that ultimately becomes the caption. Too often, other people decide what the caption should say. The piece titled “_________, Ojibwa wife of Oneida Chief John Danford 1907” is an example of this. A lot of photographs of Indigenous people, especially women, are captioned without the woman’s name. Who is she? Help identify her. It is my hope to help reclaim her identity by giving her portrait a caption/title that is more aligned and connected to who she is. This series is really a collaborative process because these portraits wouldn’t be possible without the people/photographers involved. I am grateful for all of the collaboration, interest and support.

Q3 Ojibwa wife of Oneida Chief John Danford 1907_WEB

“_______________, Ojibwa wife of Oneida Chief John Danford, 1907 “
11″ x 15” 
 Mixed media on 140lb watercolour paper. “Here’s to good women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.” 

The florals represent protection, growth, identity, voice, strength of women, truth, and love. The florals spread out from different areas of the body: mouth, heart, head, feet, hands, back etc. Where they grow from, usually means something different for everyone. These are all important themes that connect with the healing journey, personally and collectively.

4. Which portrait, to date, has been the one that you most connected with, and why?

“Honour and Protect the Sacred” is a diptych features Sarain Carson-Fox during her work entitled “The Missing” which features music by Cris Derksen. It is an excerpt of a larger work entitled; “The Red Road Block” which is dedicated to the thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and their families. The photo was taken by Brian Medina.

Flowers coming out of the mouth represents our voice, personally and collectively. Being able to project it out into the world, across the land and into the universe. Expressing ourselves and giving voice to ourselves and our ancestors.

Flowers coming from the hands represent protection, creation, power, never ending growth, and cyclicality; all important aspects of womanhood. Firstly, being sacred life carriers and nurturing our children and everyone around us. Secondly, to speak our truths as loudly as we can over the heads of anyone who tries to bring us down.

Q4 Honour and Protect the Sacred_WEB

“Honour and Protect the Sacred”

To me this image connects so strongly to my own healing journey. Seven years ago, I consistently drew images of mouths screaming, and I equate this to expression of emotion in connection to trauma. Along my own healing journey, there are so many times when I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, loud enough to rattle the stars. Because maybe then, someone would hear me. The healing journey is not an easy one. It fucking hurts and most of the time it feels like your trudging up a steep muddy hill where you keep slipping and seem to be going nowhere. I call it a journey because that’s exactly what it is, there is no start and end, it’s a never ending circle. Sounds exhausting right? It is. But there is beauty in that because we are always discovering new ways to heal. Through all that I’ve been through, I survived. What about those who don’t? We have to help each other, support and encourage one another, be there, listen, protect, respect and share our own stories. There’s still so much I still need to do but I know I am on a good path because I am starting to feel better. I want to inspire others to walk alongside me on this healing journey.

5. Who are your role models?

So many people! I want to start by acknowledging my grandmother, Meme, she is so strong. She was piling firewood and was determined to take one last Harley ride during her last few days. She survived cancer not once but twice and survived domestic violence and alcoholism. Her strength and unconditional love is something that I carry close to my heart. Savvy Simon inspires me though her positivity, love, language, strength, and The Red Road. Rosary Spence inspires me through her facilitation style, strength, and determination. Chief Lady Bird is my best friend and makes me laugh until no tomorrow. She inspires me every day to be the best version of myself. Both Rosary and Chief Lady Bird were an inspiration for me choosing to focus on my career as an artist. My partner Mitch is so passionate about Protecting the Sacred; the land and the women in his life. I have never known anyone to have more respect and unconditional love. And last but not least, my Dad, Brian. He has been a single dad half my life and he does a damn good job at it! I admire his strength and love. I have so much love for all of these people.

Here's to good women_WEB

“I am a teacher at NACA and do girls work school wide. The crew comes in and does youth work with a student body of 400 Native children representing over 60 different tribes.” Diné Youth Collective, Nihígaal bee liná, Honour Earth (, Native American Community Academy ( Kim Smith (Instagram: @msIndigenous) Photo by (Instagram: @makailewis

) 10.5″ x 15″ 
 Mixed media on 140lb watercolour paper

6. Who is one artist you would love to work with and why?

I would love to work with Christi Belcourt, not only is she an inspiring and talented artist, she is doing a lot of great work with community, especially though the Onaman Collective she formed with other talented artists Isaac Murdoch and Erin Konsmo. I think my photo transfers mixed with both of our floral work could be a pretty cool collaboration.

7. Favorite quote:

“Follow your heart.” This is something my dad has told me my entire life and it’s exactly what I have always done. It hasn’t been easy but I feel like it has always been the best path for my journey.

8. What is one of your greatest achievements in your career, thus far? 

In 2015 I joined a collective of other talented artists where we were known as the 7th Generation Image Makers. We did art workshops with youth and painted murals together. We also wrote a book titled Colour of Our Spirit where we share our individual journeys of self-discovery through our art practice. Since then, we have grown from there and we are now Spirit Arts Collective which consists of Nyle Johnston (Migizi), Nancy King (Chief Lady Bird), Lindsey Lickers, Jay Soule (Chippewar) and myself. Working alongside these amazing talented artists has encouraged and supported my journey in such a positive way. All I have ever wanted to do was create art and support other people in doing what they love to. I have had the dream of going to art therapy school since grade ten and I am currently completing my thesis/major project at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute which is titled “Our Stories, Our Truths: A Truth and Reconciliation Arts-Based Storytelling Project.” I did my placements at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, Anishnawbe Health Toronto, Youthdale Treatment Centre and Toronto District School Board.

9. What do you do to find inspiration? Where do you find inspiration?

I am strongly inspired by the healing journey. I have the passion for community engagement, and collaboration where stories are shared through the art making process. I am inspired by people’s personal strengths and stories. I find inspiration through listening to people and their stories, talking to people, going for walks and being with nature.


“Memory.” 11″ x 14″ – 
Mixed media on canvas. 

“Memories float within empty spaces of my mind. There and not there. Memories float with a strong connection to where I came from . Before this age , memories are little fragments of dust floating in and out of time. The pain is blocked by unknowing. Healing. This moment suspended in time is one of the most beautiful memories strung from the crevices of my mind. Jumping through the hoop to new memories. My Auntie cheering me on as I skip with my favourite dress, bare feet, scars and messy hair. I am smiling and can’t see but I place trust in Creator for the path I am about to lead.” -Aura

10: How do you want your work to be remembered?

I want my work to be remembered for making a difference. If what I create connects with one person, that is what is important to me. I want my creations to be remembered as connecting people, being uplifting, full of love, encouraging, inspirational, empowering and healing.

Bonus Question: What words of advice to you have for other aspiring artists? 

When I officially decided I wanted to be an artist, I was 15-years-old. I was often laughed at for wanting to be an artist, some people even told me that I would never make it because art is not a successful career path. As a young artist I sometimes felt discouraged but questioned their definition of success. It seemed as though their definition of success had a dollar amount attached to it where I defined success way differently. I determine success by doing what I love and supporting other people do what they love to. I am really glad I didn’t listen to them and chose to follow my heart anyway because I am in the process of accomplishing my dreams. I don’t want to answer this question with advice because I believe that you are the expert in your own life but I can share my story and share with you a few words that helped me along my journey. Even today, I find these words are needed as a solid reminder of where I have come from and where I am going.

Follow your heart. Trust yourself and Creation. Do what you love doing and believe in yourself. Just keep going. If you have a vision for something, keep it within your sight. There might be someone or something that will try to tear you down telling you that you can’t do it, you aren’t good enough, it’s not worth it. This simply is not true. You are good enough, you can do anything you want. Don’t give up and rise above it.

Q3 U•kwé Otsi’tsya’shúha (Woman and Flowers)_WEB

“U•kwé Otsi’tsya’shúha | Woman, Flowers.” 12″ x 12″ – mixed media on 140lb watercolour paper


Keep In Touch:

Website: // Instagram: @auralast // Twitter: @auralast // Facebook: Aura  // Tumblr: // YouTube: Kweukwe 


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)