The Place Where My Spirit Breathes

maskéko-sákahikanihk.

This summer, I took a four day intensive néhiyawéwin class. I’m learning my language, slowly. This class was the beginning of a commitment to push myself further towards this goal.

I live in Ottawa now, but I’m a prairie girl through and through. Going back home is a necessity in staying grounded and connected to what calms my soul. The language is in the land, in the vast prairie skies, the water. nipiy. my veins.

Don’t bother writing the words down. Just listen. You’ll remember.

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péyak. níso. nisto.

I’m in kindergarten, my favourite class is Cree class. We learn numbers, greetings, animals. Those words come flooding back in my memory.

I’m grateful to the educators that provided us with the opportunity to be exposed to our language and culture.

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Thirty years later, the class is full of eager students willing to learn néhiyawéwin. The instructors are passionate about passing on the language. It’s a beautiful and safe environment to learn and make mistakes.

Living thousands of kilometers away from my home, I have to make an effort to practice and hear the language, so I don’t forget again.

When discussing the struggles I’m having with this distance, one of my classmates told me that home is “the place where your spirit breathes”. He was right.

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Feature Artist: Tamika Knutson

My favourite thing about Tea & Bannock is sharing the work of artists I come across on my travels. On my recent trip to Dawson City, Yukon I met Tr’ondek Hwech’in artist Tamika Knutson, a summer student at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. She showed me some of her jewellery work inspired by the moss and lichen of the north. I asked her to share a bit about her practices with Tea & Bannock.

-jt arcand

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I’ve always had an interest in art but never thought it would be my career path. Now I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I’ve been studying fine arts for the past 4 years now. My first year of study was at Yukon School of Visual Arts in my hometown Dawson City, Yukon and the last three years I’ve been at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve had the chance to explore a variety of mediums in the past four years.

Initially, I struggled to find one that I wanted to focus on, until I enrolled in “Introduction to Jewellery” in the Fall of 2013. Something about transforming rough metal into precious art objects was exciting to me. I’ve been studying jewellery ever since that introduction class and am now going to graduate as a Jewellery major.

My most recent jewellery is inspired by the natural curiosities of moss and lichen. I feel this inspiration is significant to me because I grew up in Northern Canada where moss and lichen are abundant. I find moss and lichen interesting because it makes me imagine a miniature world unto itself; a whole ecosystem of fantastic colours and shapes. It can only be truly appreciated when you physically get close and acknowledge it. But, is so easily dismissed or overlooked.

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My jewellery creation have allowed me to relive and build on these inspirations that have been a part of my whole life. I feel privileged to make and share beautiful things for a living. I hope my work will encourage people to look a little closer and appreciate the small things.

-Tamika Knutson

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Follow Tamika on Instagram : QURKZ Jewellery

 

Epic Summer Road Trips: #AuntiesDoPortlandia2015

This summer, I travelled to the Yukon, Saskatchewan and Toronto throughout June and July and wrote a bit about it here on Tea & Bannock. Now that I’m home for a bit in Ottawa, I’ve been thinking about past Road Trips and how they are an essential part of my summer experience.

Exactly one year ago, I was on possibly one of the best road trips of life. It’s one of those once in a lifetime trips that I still wonder if it actually happened. Good thing there’s pictures to prove that it did!

Background: My cousin Leah and I were roommates when I lived in Saskatoon, and Portlandia became a big part of our lives. Like, it was always on. Constantly. We became obsessed and started memorizing every episode. We closely identified with the Feminist Bookstore characters, Toni and Candace. So much, that we started dressing up as Portlandia characters for Halloween. Don’t judge.

One night after indulging in some wine health juice, we dared each other to apply to be extras on the show. Nothing much came of it. Fast forward to a year later, I was living in Ottawa, and Leah got an email – she had been accepted as an extra on Portlandia!

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Leah’s actual email

We freaked out, I kept checking my email but never got one. We decided to contact them and see if I could go too. Once they gave us the go ahead, I booked a flight to Calgary where we met up to drive the rest of the way to Portland, a dream come true! We even got some local media coverage! We also ran a gofundme campaign which helped us get to Portland, thanks everyone!

So, we hit the road …

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Driving Dolores, photo credit: Leah Arcand

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When we got stopped at the border for having a banana in the car. Declare all fruit, kids!  Photo credit: Leah Arcand

We got to see some Portland landmarks and places they have filmed in the show,

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Keep Portland Weird! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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Weirdos

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Voodoo Doughnuts!

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This place!

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Where they shoot Women and Women First!

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The famous chalkboard

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Still from the show

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Inside the bookstore

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Exterior shot, photo credit: Leah Arcand

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City Hall, where many scenes were shot, photo credit: Leah Arcand

We waited patiently for our call time on Saturday Aug. 9, 2015. Everyone was so nice to us, we were known as the cousins from Canada who drove 13 hrs (+ 5 hr flight for me) to be on our favourite show!

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Here we are on set with Adam Rosko, the guy who made it all happen, the coordinator that cast us as extras! Thanks Adam! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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Taking selfies while waiting for our big moment! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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Cast and Crew! If you look closely you can see producer Lorne Michaels! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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We got to meet Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen! The highlight of the trip! photo credit: Leah Arcand

I wanted to write about this trip on Tea & Bannock to mark the 1 year anniversary, but also because I wanted to share a lighthearted story about dreams coming true, as cheesy as that sounds. Celebrating silly moments and celebrating friendships is sometimes all we have. I look back on this trip and it gives me life! So often media portrays negative stories about Indigenous people, the fact that this story was picked up by media makes us giggle, but we also see the importance of it. It is my hope that this story lifts others up too! Be yourself! Do what you love and accept who you are, even if it’s being Portlandia fan girls, no shame in that game!

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Writing thank you postcards in VooDoo Doughnuts! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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#deeplysilly #auntiesdoportlandia photo credit: Leah Arcand

 

-jt arcand

 

 

Melissa General: From Six Nay to The Six

I would like to introduce Melissa General, an artist whose work I had the honour to write about from the exhibition Mikwenim (Remember). The exhibition was curated as part of the Asinabka Indigenous Film & Media Arts Festival in Ottawa, Ontario last year and also featured the work of Jo SiMalaya Alcampo. Asinabka is coming up on its 5th year and runs from August 10-14, 2016. 

Melissa’s work is a gentle understanding, a familiar longing for home. Her series Keyahre: I Remember consists of photographs, video installation, and seven white child-size dresses embellished with Mohawk words. I felt a connection with the work even though there are 1000s of kilometers between our communities.

I was thrilled when she agreed to write about her experiences with photography and staying connected to Six Nations while living in the Six. Tea & Bannock, please welcome Melissa General.

-jt arcand


 

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Melissa General, Akhwá-tsire, 2013

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Melissa General, Kehyára’s, 2013

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Melissa General, Tekyatatnón-kwe, 2013

Many years ago I moved from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory to Toronto to study art at the Ontario College of Art and Design. As a shy and awkwardly quiet young Mohawk woman, moving to Toronto was a challenging transition for me. Growing up I visited Toronto frequently with family and friends but, until I moved my entire world was located at the corner of Fourth Line and Tuscarora Road. My best friend lived down the road from me on the other side of Fifth Line. My Uncle Dave lived one road over on Onondaga Road and my high school was a fifteen-minute drive away. It was a big move for me.

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Melissa General, from the series Nitewakénon, 2015

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Melissa General, from the series Nitewakénon, 2015

When I began my studies at OCAD I experimented in several areas, initially focusing on installation until I took my first photography course. I took PHOT-2B03 Introductory Photography: Black and White, and when it was over I cried because I knew I’d have to wait through the summer to have darkroom access again. Photography was a new medium with its own language that I was determined to learn how to speak. I made plenty of mistakes through the process and had my share of difficult critiques but, I worked hard to learn.

In the last two years of my studies at OCAD I was still quite shy and began to use myself as a subject in my work. I enjoyed the solitude of working on my own and quickly realized that much of my work was about learning and understanding who I was and about my Indigenous identity. I possessed a limited amount of knowledge about my culture and history so I began to learn about myself through my process and photography provided me with a voice when I was too timid to have one.

Now, years after graduating from OCAD and completing my MFA at York University, my practice has now evolved to include photography, video, audio and installation work. My Indigenous identity continues to be at the core of my practice and includes concepts involving land, memory and history with the majority of my work being produced on Six Nations Territory.

I am still based in Toronto, working and teaching at OCAD University with the Indigenous Visual Culture (INVC) program. As a young student at OCAD I hoped to return to the university to teach, so I’m very excited to be faculty for Indigenous Visual Culture. I feel fortunate and very proud to support the talented Indigenous artists who call the INVC Student Centre their on-campus home. I have shared my experiences with them as a young OCAD student navigating their way through university and I offer them my support in successfully completing their studies.

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Melissa General, The Place Where I Come From, 2015

Melissa General is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design and completed a Masters of Fine Arts degree at York University. Her work has been exhibited at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, Art Gallery of Peterborough, Gallery 101, Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography and has been included in the 2016 Contemporary Native Art Biennial in Montreal.

Grain Elevators & The Midnight Sun

On June 30, I opened my solo exhibition Through That Which Is Scene at ODD Gallery in Dawson City. I left Ottawa on June 22 and had a stop-over in Whitehorse. It was my first time experiencing the “Land of the Midnight Sun” so close to the solstice and it was truly amazing! The next morning I arrived in Dawson with 4 suitcases containing my entire exhibition.

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Front Street – Dawson City taken June 24, 2016 11:00pm

I spent most of my days installing the exhibition with the help of the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) Staff. We had a lot of fun playing with train sets. Tamika is a summer student at KIAC and an art student at NSCAD University and now experienced at building miniature grain elevators! She’s an amazing jewellery artist and a future feature on Tea & Bannock.

When I wasn’t busy with the installation, I was able to explore some trails around Dawson:

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Hike to Moosehide Slide

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Rainbow over the Yukon River

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View from the Dome on a rainy night

Travelling solo can be challenging and get a little lonely, but I met so many amazing people on my journey that it was difficult to leave. The beauty of the land and the generosity of the people is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.

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My show is up until July 30th, so check it out if you find yourself in Dawson City at one of the many summer festivals like the Moosehide Gathering which takes place July 28-31 this year.

Many thanks to the KIAC Staff, Meg Walker, Tamika Knutson, my roommates Debbie and Bella, and everyone who came out to my talk and opening! And thanks to Canada Council for the Arts for the Travel Grant for Visual Artists.

-jt. arcand

#ThrowbackThursday

I’m calling this #ThrowbackThursday because it’s Thursday and this is a throwback to 5 years ago when I got to go to Dawson City, Yukon for a 5 week residency at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture.

Next week, I’m heading back for a solo exhibition at ODD Gallery showing some work I created during that residency and I find myself reflecting on the time I spent there. It was September/October 2011, the tourists had left and the darkness of winter was creeping in. Since then, it has been a dream of mine to experience the summer months, when it’s just as beautiful and a lot busier, I’m sure.

Here are some snapshots of the beautiful territory of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in from 2011:

 

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One of the highlights of that trip was finding myself at a dinner with Thomas King and Sharon Shorty aka Gramma Susie. I remember texting my cousin Mika saying “I’m going to dinner with Thomas King! What should I ask him?!” …only in Dawson.

 

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-JT Arcand

Reconstructing Memories

Right now, I’m preparing for an exhibition and all I can see around me are pieces of a collection that’s been steadily growing over my whole life. Toys, cameras, toy cameras, ViewMasters, postcards and other ephemera that I feel is important to hang onto. This particular collection of vintage toys and miniatures make up a diorama installation I’ve been adding to over the past 6 years. It’s part of a larger narrative about memories, authenticity, and family photos constructed as complete fictions or staged half-truths.

One of my favourite things to do is visit flea markets and antique shops to look for that certain something. I love the slow pace of scouring through markets but sometimes deadlines force me to go to eBay if I need a specific item sémak. My latest addition is the Mamiya C220 that I am excited to start shooting with! It’s built like a tank and works beautifully. I will be shooting with her this summer and I’ll be sure to post the results!

What do you like to collect?

-JT Arcand