on poetry and photography – Kelsie Marchand, Guest Blogger

Lately I’ve been focusing on doing some shape-shifting. I’ve been an official photography business since October 2017, but my passion for photography and visual arts extends far beyond my English language. The best way I know how to express myself, before I knew any of my Nsyilxcən words, is through the expressions of my work. I envision things all the time. I’ll be driving and see something and it literally just shapes itself as I drive by.

I absolutely love and have the deepest respect for all my fellow Indigenous artists out there but poetry always speaks directly to my spirit, deep down to the roots of my being. My favorite Indigenous poet is Helen Knott of the Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and Euro descent from Prophet River First Nations in Northwestern BC. She is so talented and has been inspiring me for the past few years. I use her poetry along with most of my photos because she has the gift to put life and words to what my photos need to say.

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“Too Many Memories” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

I have too many memories that tell me of your lack of integrity.

Too many stories told to this young body.

It has aged me so.

I hold ancient songs in my bones.

I have absorbed the tears of elders, of young ones, from far off territories.

Our lands split up by mountains and rivers and your invisible borders.

I have seen you offer up apologies and promises.

While simultaneously taking actions that demand that we forget.

Demand that we bow to colonial rule

Over and over

and over

and over

Until we sit like a young spruce sapling under the winters weight of snow.

Helen Knott; “Canada 150. We are still Here or Have you Forgotten?”
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“Below the Cement” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

You see,

there are stories just beneath the city streets

that your bones are trying to remember

there are trail ways laying just behind those barbed wire fences

that you just can’t reach

there are ancestors bodies in these manicured landscapes

that have mixed and mingled with the earth

knowing this, you try to listen closely in these trafficked spaces

holding breath, keeping silent

knowing that a blood memory might be trying to speak

Helen Knott; “Indigenous Diaspora: Out of Place in Place”
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“Below the Cement” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

In the deepest parts of myself, and I’m sure many Indigenous people can relate, I have a yearning to connect with my decolonized self. This is what I hope is my boldest point when I write an “Artist Statement”. I used to be a lost soul and when I found that photography can be an expression of unspeakable words, then I felt as though I found my true self.

During our Syilx Salmon Feast & Ceremony* in Okanagan Falls, BC, I had the honour of being invited to shoot the events. It’s always in my heart to document as much of the Syilx ways as possible so I absolutely jumped at the opportunity not knowing how much it would change me. This was my first Salmon Feast & Ceremony. My kids always went to the ceremonies with their Aunt, Uncle and cousins many times before. My kids knew all of the songs, protocols, and spent the entire time supporting the ceremony leaders and Elders. I was so proud of them. 

Without speaking about the actual ceremony too much, I think I can express the meaning of it for me. One Elder spoke over us, “When the Salmon come through here they never come back the same as they were the year before, that is the same for us, what will you leave here today?”

I prayed on that, and I left anything that didn’t serve my life in walking a good path. From that day forward, I have been inspired to only work towards decolonization of my spirit and making sure that my children grow up in the same spirit and teachings of our Grandmothers. My work has become profoundly influenced by this ceremony. When times get tough, all I do is slip back into the memories of hearing my songs on that warm September afternoon where the breeze blew so perfectly carrying the words down the river. That was one of the most peaceful moments in my life and all I want is for our upcoming generations to have moments peace just like that with their own songs, prayers, and ceremonies.

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I will be continuing to document what in the past has been so poorly documented, and that is the images of our families sharing love, traditions, ceremonies, and artistic pieces that speak to the memories of our before.

I’ll leave you with a photo I call “Never Forgotten,” in memory of my daughter Kolet (pictured below) and my grandparents and family members that attended residential school.

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“Never Forgotten” – Kelsie Marchand, Syilx Images

I cannot be undone

My prayer songs will forever be sung

And out of this land I have come

Into the Earth I shall return

My stories and knowledge

Will not be unlearned

I come from strength, pride, and resiliency.

I will not be forgotten willingly.

Hakatah Wuujo Asonalah.

Helen Knott; “Fractured Identity; I Come from Something”

 – kelsie marchand 


* The Salmon Feast honours the sacredness of the river at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls), which is a culturally significant site for the Syilx (Okanagan) People, and an important traditional fishing camp, gathering place and trading site. (www.syilx.org)
** All poetry by Helen Knott shared with permission by author

Kelsie is a Syilx woman from the Okanagan Territory in BC, where she was raised. She and her husband, Mario, share 5 children together and are raising their family on the on the Unceded territory of the Kwantlen people. The work Kelsie does is deep rooted in the responsibility to reclaim the culture that was so carefully preserved by her Ancestors. Like so many other Indigenous people her ability to express that responsibility is best said through art, it is a way that her true self recognizes. Find her at FB, on her insta: @SyilxImages or her website. 

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Sisters

My two little sisters are a blessing and a curse. I have memories of their births, though some of the details get a little confused. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night and getting carried out to our old chevy pick up truck but I don’t know if my other sister was there. We never went for rides in the middle of the night, only for Christmas Eve Mass, so an outing such as this was not forgotten. The other memory I have is driving to the hospital with my dad and our cat Dax, again I don’t know if my other sister was there. This memory I think is the most important because it shows how unimportant the birth of a sister was to my child mind. We had arrived at the hospital and my mom was lying in bed. She might have been holding my new-born baby sister, or perhaps it was my dad. Then my mom had opened up a drawer, took out a box of smarties and gave me the box of treats. I was so happy about those smarties, nothing else mattered, and that is all I can remember. As a mother I can reflect on my mom’s choices during that night in the hospital so long ago, and I now understand  that I was most certainly being bribed.

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They were so cute back in the ’80s.

Our birth order certainly shaped our personalities; we were your typical trio. As the first born I always had to set an example for my little sisters, and consequently am a little tightly wound up. The middle child, Lynette, had to negotiate within the complicated power relations of our family, and is always wheeling and dealing. The youngest, Bernette, watched her older sisters make mistakes, and now has the “I’ll show them all” attitude. (I still don’t know why my parents went with the “ette”s. I could have been a really good Annette)

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Lynette preparing for our youngest sister’s wedding.

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Bernette giving me the “WTF Amanda?” look.

My sons love hearing me tell stories about my sisters and I growing up, especially the ones where there is fighting involved. I try telling them about how we played with my-little-ponies or pretended to be mermaids in the ditches near the railway tracks, but they prefer to hear about the sister fights. They like to know that we were bad kids too. Like, what kind of young girl in a fit of anger would decide to throw an empty porcelain sheep-shaped Avon perfume bottle at her sister’s head? And what kind of girls would tie up their youngest sister to a chair and then shut off the lights and leave her in the basement? Yeah, my sons love hearing about that one.

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Me and my sisters.

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I see a resemblance between my boys and my sisters when they were kids.

Being the eldest I still feel responsible for my sisters. Sometimes I wonder if my eldest son feels this for his younger brother or not? He is growing up in a very different kind of family than the one that my sisters and I had to deal with. I am providing my boys with a safe and loving environment where they don’t need to protect each other in the home. Growing up I had to watch out for my sisters all the time – the drinking brought out the worst in the adults. My mom did her best to protect us but she wasn’t always there.

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Thanksgive’r tableau.

As adults, we still act like those little girls when we get together. We love to laugh at each other. We break off into pairs, and whisper about the other sister behind her back. We talk about ex boyfriends and poke at old wounds that only we know are there. No one can hurt us like we can. My middle sister recently found out that her partner of 10 years was cheating on her. Her grief is heartbreaking but soon enough she will be back out there wheeling and dealing. Her pain is short term and nothing like the scars that us sisters have inflicted on each other. Those scars are there for us to pick at and to remind us that we are always sisters. This year my youngest sister married her partner with whom she’s been with forever, and now they are finally talking about starting a family, just for me, so I can be an aunty. Hahaha. Perhaps they will start another generation of sisters.

 

Over these years we’ve pushed and pulled each other but we know that we are sisters. We are family and we will always stand by each others sides, no matter what.

-xox your big sis, Amanda Laliberte

 

How do you say “dating” in Dene?

When I was younger, around eleven or so, I told my mom I was in love with Brian. He was a boy in my class, we had been good friends since Kindergarten, and he and I were now in love.

She was cool. “Ok.”

So began those first awkward steps into dating. I had a Friday the 13th Slumber Party (I know, I was a weird kid, but it was awesome) and we held hands as we watched scary movies. My cousin had a birthday party and invited him, and we shared our first kiss on the trampoline as our friends watched. I remember thinking “don’t blush, don’t blush, be cool.” We went to the same Bible Camp in the summer (sigh, I know, but all the kids did it) and he would meet me at the lake when our groups went swimming, and we would splash water at each other, laugh, and then run away.

It was all incredibly innocent and fun, and I am so thankful he was my first boyfriend because we were friends throughout, and stayed friends to this day. I don’t even remember how we broke up – I’ll have to read my old diaries, ha – but my entire youth has memories of him – bike riding, climbing trees, late night phone calls, slow dances, stolen kisses, and walks around town. And it’s all so idyllic.

Dating nowadays, not so much.

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Last year, I decided to try dating. I had been in a long-term relationship, and when that ended, I took some time to heal. To be alone and to work on my own goals and I succeeded. Wrote some words. Published some images. Took some trips. Had a great time.

I then decided to try this dating thing.

And I was so badddddd at it.

Like, awful.

Let’s not confuse dating and sex, mmmkay. Sex is easy. Sex is effortless. I could sleep with a new person each week, no problem, if that’s what I wanted. There is no shortage to people who want to have sex – easy, casual, emotional free sex.

But that’s not what I wanted.

I wanted to try the butterflies again. The nervousness. I wanted to get the secret grins, and the anticipation. I wanted to look forward to seeing and thinking about someone else again.

One of the first dates I went on was with a white guy. Which was new for me. Being from a small Northern Indigenous community, I usually dated Dene’s, Cree’s and sometimes, when I was feeling exotic, Métis. But “dating” in the North – it’s not like in the city.

Dating in the city seems to be ‘lets go out and do something together, come home, and plan another date, if the first one went well.’

Dating in the North is more akin to “let’s go for a drive/to a party/to the lake/etc” and all sudden, you’re “going out” and in a long-term relationship for the next three to six years.

There is no in between.

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But me and this white guy, I call him Dreamcatcher, I met him online, of course, and we chatted, exchanged numbers, and set a date. He was an amateur photographer and knew the difference between f-stop and ISO, so he had me at “Canon.” He sent me some of his images to check out and while I cringed, I also kept silent.

Art is subjective, I said to myself.

On date night, Dreamcatcher picks me up at my place, and hops out of the truck and opens the door for me. Me, in typical Tenille-fashion, am rocking bright red lips and massive Savage Rose feather earrings. And people always have a comment on my earrings.

“Hey. Nice earrings. Did you hunt for the feathers yourself?”

Ummmm, no.

“So I knew an Indian in high school … do you know him?”

“So I knew a girl who made dreamcatchers… do you make them?”

“So you get cheap smokes, hey?”

“So, you’re a Pocahottie, hey? You don’t look supperrrr Indian, but I can tell.”

By the time we got to the coffee shop, I was wide eyed in amazement – how did he not get how rude and racist these questions were? But as the barista made my caramel macchiato, I decided to go all in. If this was gonna be my first date with a white guy, so be it. Let’s get all the ignorant questions out there.

“So, the guy who pumped my gas this morning, he was white. Blond and blue eyes. You know him?”

“So, ever date your cousin? I know how limited the small towns are…”

“So, like living on my land?”

“So, where are you really from? Like, where did you people come from?”

Needless to say, that date did not end well.

Nor did the date with a new guy after that. No, I do not want to use my treaty card to pay for your gas. Nor did the date after that. No, I’m not interested in a debate about what “equal rights” means and how we should abolish treaties. Nor did the date after that. No, I’m not a fake Indian, and yes, I have lived on reserve.

It was absolutely crazy to me how often my Indigenous identity would come into play.

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Finally, I contacted one of my old, old boyfriends. A Cree guy who used to play baseball. I creeped on FB, and I knew was still single and still cute. He was the same old guy – incredibly friendly, sweet, and charming. He came to the city, and we hung out the entire day. Lunch, a walk along the river, chatting, a coffee chop, supper, a movie. Not gonna lie, there was a lot of kissing in-between conversations. And a lot of laughter, joking and grins.

And not once did our Indigenous identities come up in a negative way.

It was a breath of fresh air. I was able to relax and remember how to do this. How to let my guard down and let someone in. How to trust that the conversation coming my way would not be a verbal assault of some sort.

Dating in the city is still weird. I miss the days of knowing everyone in the room, knowing who likes who, knowing who likes you. I miss knowing the community I could get involved in, and the backstories of who already messed around with who. I’m still dating outside my community though, and even meet a non-Indigenous guy who did make me grin and give me butterflies… but that’s another story.

And at least I know to avoid the guys who start the conversation with “wanna play Cowboys and Indians?”

 – tenille campbell

Dreamcatchers and Sweetgrass

Let’s talk about Indigenous Erotica.

Whaa whaa.

As I start to giggle to myself, I just wanna let you know that I still get intimated when I think about Indigenous Erotica as a whole – it’s a big scary term for the most basic of wants and needs. Author Kateri  Akiwenzie-Damm describes it best: “It’s about loving, sexual, ‘dirty’, outrageous, ribald, intimacies of humanity and sexuality that we all crave.” (Without Reservation: Indigenous Erotica). But I also just think of Indigenous Erotica as this – those kinda-dirty, kinda-naughty, Saturday night adventures you tell your crew Sunday morning, sitting around the kitchen table, feasting on stories and food.

I first started thinking – or not thinking – about Indigenous Erotica when I was living in Vancouver, studying at UBC. Richard Van Camp was our professor, and we were doing an evening class that focused on Indigenous Literature. It was a healthy place – full of food, laughter and stories. Richard was always open to discussion, and would, without fail, tell us when the full moon was happening each month.

Towards the end of term, he gave us one final assignment – a challenge, of sorts. “I want you to write about the sacred orgasm.”

Dead silence.

Me, being small town Saskatchewan girl, blushed and avoided his eyes, grinning. I was 23. I was young. I was in a long-term relationship since I was 17, and while I could gossip about sex with the best of them, I wasn’t comfortable sharing my stories with people who I didn’t grow up with.

I could feel the shifting of bodies and the quiet bursts of laughter as we all took a minute to process this. Richard explained a bit more, sharing a short story he wrote, and assured us that we didn’t have to do it, but we were welcome to try.

I did not write about the sacred orgasm.

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It was only years later that my work began exploring sexuality and sensuality in my chosen genres of photography and writing. I broke up with my long-term partner, and spent some time doing research, listening to people’s stories about their sweeties, and having my own experiences.

I would end up at random house parties in the West Side, sipping a cold beer as a woman I never met before told me how she used to date the Chief’s son. I would be eating cold pizza, grinning at the boy with braids who whispered drum songs in my ear as his sweetie glared at him from across the room. I would moan words in Dene to the boy with blue eyes as he fantasized about dreamcatchers and sweetgrass. Nezu. Be’chuze ne cha. I nodded sympathetically as a man with tribal tattoos told me how his girl left him because he wanted to spank her in bed and she wasn’t into that domestic abuse.

And I started to write.

To write down these stories, exploring form and function. Transcribing experiences and laughter into poetry, trying to find my own narrative that reflected the oral training of my past. Trying to write in a way that would make a person burst out laughing, blushing, giggling.

As I worked on this, I also experimented with photography in both my normal sessions as well as my personal art sessions. I wrote about #KissingIndigenous before, and I’m proud of where that is going, but I was also exploring the power of sexuality in regular sessions. Too often, we don’t feel sexy, we don’t feel powerful. We don’t see ourselves in the images plastered on tv and social media, in the pouty lips, the casual smiles. Yet, I was photographing people where I saw this in them, all the time.

Trying to convince someone to be sexy when his or her instinct is to hide from the camera is hilarious, and a gift.

I’ve started explaining the “pow-wow grin”.

That smile when you’re checking someone out, and they catch you. You look down, smile, and look up again.

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That smile.

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And I’ve taken to letting the silences stand between us. To let them know that when they are strong – when they are what is often called ‘arrogant’ – that looks amazing. That looks powerful.

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Plant your feet on the ground. Separate them. Take up space. Straighten your back. Eyes on me. Chin up. Don’t smile. Perfect.

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Perfect.

So now, I’m in this world where I flirt, I laugh, I kiss, I avoid hickies, and I write about it. And people know I’m writing. This isn’t something that stops. And people find me, tell me their stories. Give me permission to share. They laugh when I blush – and I have blushed – and they grin when I ask for more details.

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So…

What’s your story?

 – tenille campbell

 

 

Where The Rivers Meet – Tulita, NT

Last week I went to visit the Hamlet of Tulita. I was there to do Inuit and Dene games demonstrations at the Chief Albert Wright School. I had traveled to the community once before, by boat up the Mackenzie River from my hometown community of Fort Providence. It was a memorable and adventurist trip with my family.

Most recently, I visited the community of roughly 500 people twice by plane. I instantly fell in love with the land and community. Tulita is culturally rich, with many of the Dene traditions being practiced to this day and the people are so lovely. I felt welcomed and at home.

Tulita in the Dene language means “where the rivers or waters meet,” and is located in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. The community is the junction for two rivers; the Mackenzie River and the Great Bear River. Beautiful mountains surround the Hamlet. One mountain that is especially significant to the Dene people is called Bear Rock.

The land of Denendeh (The Land of the People) holds many urban legends of how the North and its landscape came to be. There is a well-known story about Yamoria, a Dene medicine man and the giant beavers that once roamed the earth. I vaguely remember these stories being told by my Slavey teacher back when I was in sharing circle in Grade 2. As children, we were all so attentive and impressed by these stories. I am sharing this story as I remember it, and please note that other storytellers will have their versions as well – that is the joy of stories – they are living, breathing beings.

It is believed that there was a family of giant beavers who were terrorizing the land and killing the Dene people. Yamoria, began chasing the beavers through Great Slave Lake, down the Mackenzie River, and caught up with them at the Great Bear Lake, near Tulita.   Yamoria killed the three giant beavers with a bow and arrow, skinned them and stretched their hides on the Great Bear Rock in Tulita.

To this day, you can still see the oval outline of the beaver pelts on Bear Rock. The two arrows that Yamoria shot are still seen each spring where the Great Bar River and The Mackenzie River Meet – the poles are still sticking out of the river.

There is another story about Yamoria cooking some of the beaver meat by the river and the beaver’s grease dripped into the fire. It is said that the fire continues to burn near Tulita.

People believe that he left Denendeh, paddled up to the Arctic Ocean.

Others believe he is still out there traveling, or he has disappeared completely.

Ask me in person one day, and I will share with you what I believe. But in Tulita, I love the culture, the traditions and the history. It is a community to go and visit any time of the year. I cannot wait until my next visit.

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Elders of Tulita

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Traditional Mooseskin Boat at Chief Albert Wright School

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Bear Rock, in the distance

 –  shawna mcleod