From Talking Stick to Microphone: Remembering Poet Zaccheus Jackson

On February 26th I had the amazing honour and privilege of attending the annual “From Talking Stick to Microphone” poetry slam, which was started in 2011 by (one of my heroes) Blackfoot poet Zaccheus Jackson Nyce. He sadly passed away in 2014, and so the event continues in his honour. I will talk more about him in just a bit.

The night featured some of Vancouver’s most talented Slam Poets and musicians.

The night was hosted by the ever incredible and ridiculously hilarious Tahltan/Kaska performing artist Nyla Carpentier, and was DJ’d by Vancouver-based Cree turntablist DJ Kookum.

Nyla Carpentier (photo from FaceBook)
Nyla Carpentier (photo from FaceBook)
DJ Kookum (photo from FaceBook)
DJ Kookum (photo from FaceBook)

The event itself consisted of three sections.

The first part featured youth poets from the Urban Native Youth Association, the second part featured the 2016 Van Slam team as well as Van Slam all-stars. The last section was an open slam.

So many of my dearest friends and heroes performed that night and it was absolutely unreal to have so many rad people under the same roof.

Here are a few examples:

My dear, dear friend Molly Billows from Homalco, a brilliant poet, UBC FNIS graduate, and youth facilitator. Her work touches upon reconciling her father’s whiteness with her Indigeneity and radical anti-colonial love. So we have connections to Nolan’s concepts of poison exposed and Necollet there.

Molly Billows (photo from FaceBook)

My good friend Valeen Jules from Kyuquot (ky-YOO-kit) Sound on the Island: a ferocious writer and activist. She volunteered to be fire-keeper on Burnaby Mountain during the Kinder Morgan protests—where she kept the fire burning for protestors for up to 19 hours a day for 11 days straight. Her poetry is poison exposed in motion. One of her poems, which I don’t know the name of, compares settler-colonialism, as it is experienced in Indigenous communities, with the Hunger Games to shed a light on the extra-judicial violence that the state commits every day on Indigenous bodies. I am so in awe of her work, and she came up to me that night and told me my own writing was “deadly” and I nearly fainted from being so starstruck. She’s incredible.

Valeen Jules (photo from FaceBook)

The incomparable Jillian Christmas from Markham Ontario:

Jillian Christmas (photo from FaceBook)

She’s not Indigenous but was nonetheless honoured as a Van Slam favourite not only because of her amazing poetry, but also because of the solidarity work she has done with Indigenous youth and with land-based resistance. One of the poems she read was for the Unist’ot’en Camp in Wet’suwet’en territory, which she wrote for an Unist’ot’en Camp fundraiser that I helped organize back in September. I love her dearly, she’s a beautiful weaver of words and a breathtaking musician, and I’m glad to call her one of my friends.

Zoey Pricelys Roy:

Métis, Cree, and Dene, Youth activist. Spoken word poet and Community leader. She also co-hosted the night. I don’t know too much about her personally, but her performances were incredibly powerful and moving. According to her bio on the event page, she left home at 13 and was incarcerated before the age of 15. It was through Youth Faciliation and various outlets of creativity (one of them being spoken word poetry) that she began her path toward healing. For Zoey too, spoken word represents Nolan’s concept of medicine.

Mitcholos Touchie, Nuu-Chah-Nulth from Tofino.

Mitcholos Touchie (photo from FaceBook)

He’s a dragon poet with words of fire. His work, like everyone I just mentioned, exposes poison, and does so in the most unforgiving fashion. Whether calling the world he grew up in a ‘swirling pile of shit’, or announcing his bid to start a war party against the state in the next local election—his work ferociously exposes the disconnections that colonization has left in his life. His poetry is thus also medicine, as it allows him to reconnect to himself and his commitment to reviving his indigeneity and maintaining his sobriety. He has a frequent refrain where he rejects his status number and maintains “my name is Mitcholos motherfuc*ing Touchie!”. He’s definitely one of my heroes, and he actually pulled me aside during one of the breaks to perform outside for the people waiting in the rain to get in, which was a huge honour. A short clip of this performance, shot my Mitcholos himself, can be seen here:

But I want to talk more about this guy, Zaccheus Jackson.

photo source
photo source

He started this event in 2011 and sadly passed away in 2014. I did not knew him super well, but my gosh was I a fan. He came in one time as a guest speaker for this youth program I was a part of with Urban Ink, and he told us the story of how spoken word came into his life, and for him, like so many of the poets I’ve discussed, poetry was medicine, and it came by accident.

He was living on the streets of East Van and had a drug addiction. And one Monday evening he walked passed Café du Soleis where the Van Slam happens every night. He didn’t even know what a slam was, but he said he did a lot of writing to keep him grounded. And so he went in and tried it out and people absolutely loved him. He described the feeling of being heard and loved that night as the most ‘potent high he had ever experienced’. And he kept doing it, eventually breaking his drug habit

And so this this event, “From Talking Stick to Microphone”, doesn’t just represent the legacy of a beloved poet, but it represents the legacy of survival. Of futurity. Of resistance. Of connection.

What made him special, as noted by many, was his ability to connect with others. He built a community wherever he went, and with whoever he spoke to or with. People loved him.

“Broad shoulders, huge catlike grin, a large man larger than life. He held space in a room and had a laugh that was memorable, these are just some ways those who’ve known Zaccheus described him.” – Lena Recollet, Urban Native Mag

“Nobody could speak faster than him. His voice would just capture a room. It was a beautiful baritone that just shook the walls.” -Jillian Christmas, thestar.com

To see his magic yourself, check out his booming performance of fan-favourite “In Victa” below:

We miss you Zacc.

 

 

 

Decolonize, Indigenize, Rehumanize: Reflections on Jack Charles’ Theatre Work as Decolonial Praxis

Who is Jack Charles?

Jack Charles, “Addict. Homosexual. Cat Burglar. Actor. Aboriginal.” reads the tagline for the movie poster of Bastardy, the documentary about him directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson

photo from here

Charles, 73, a Koori man born in what is colonially known as Australia in 1943, was thrown into the Australian assimilationist project at only 10-months old, when he was taken from his mother and put into the Box Hill Boys’ Home where he was the only Indigenous child. In his play, Jack Charles V The Crown, he describes this period in his life as being a “soldier of the cross”.

Theatre has been without a doubt a significant force in his life, and continues to be. At the age of 28, he was instrumental in establishing Aboriginal theatre in Australia, wherein he produced a show with Indigenous actors living in hostels titled, Jack Charles is Up and Fighting.

Charles later when on to establish a prominent film career, while also becoming an addict to heroin, a burglar, and a convict serving multiple sentences—all while navigating his sexuality and dark past in Box Hill and foster care.

Storytelling as re-humanization and decolonial love: connecting Jack Charles v The Crown with the work of Dana Claxton, Yvette Nolan, and Karyn Recollet. 

As a spokenword artist and actor, I am partial to the idea that stories, whether told by us or about us, encompass a large part of our identities. I bring this idea into my studies within FNIS, which has lead me to being particularly interested in oral tradition, storytelling, and performance art, as well as the role each may play as potential decolonial forces.

For my first paper in this class, I argued that Jack Charles’ play was an act of rehumanization in the face of the dehumanizing forces undergirding the Australian colonial project; namely the Australian legal system and its missionary school history, which both sought to contain Charles throughout his life. For this presentation, I will start by touching upon a few points I make in this paper without giving away too much detail, and I will also draw from some of the literature in this class to support this claim that Charles demonstrates decolonial praxis through his theatre work.

Through my studies in FNIS, it has been made clear that storytelling and oral tradition carry a lot of potential as decolonial forces. This idea that I mentioned, for example, that storytelling comprises our identities is echoed by Cherokee author Thomas King, who is credited for authoring the popular line that stories are “all that we are”. He employs this adage to interrogate the role storytelling has played in the colonialism of Indigenous peoples–namely how ideologies of difference that construct Indigenous peoples as less than human are deployed (even to this day) to justify land dispossession. Thus, Thomas King is arguing that reclaiming the ability to tell one’s story is a decolonial force. Quite literally, For King, to tell one’s own story, under colonialism, is an act of re-humanization.

This idea of re-humanization is central to an artist we have studied already in this class, Lakota artist Dana Claxton, who’s exhibit “Made to be Ready” at the Audain gallery was presented on two weeks ago, which pays attention to Indigenous womanhood and sovereignty in primarily the Plains First Nations. I was really struck by this presentation, so that day I did some research on Dana. As she was promoting “Made to be Ready”, she came out with “6 ways to resist Art’s dehumanization of Indigenous peoples” which was published into a blog post by the same name, by the Canadian Arts Foundation. Much like how Thomas King gives focus to the role of storytelling within de/colonization, Claxton does the same with art and museum culture.

I had Claxton’s six reflections in mind as I watched Jack Charles V The Crown, and for my paper this month I attempt to trace links between the 6 reflections for rehumanization with Jack Charles’ play.

I won’t dive into the parallels here because I did so for my paper. But one argument I elaborate in the assignment is that Jack Charles’ pottery humanizes him, in the face of ongoing colonialism, by connecting him with the earth the clay comes from, and his ancestors who may have also done pottery.

I was particularly struck by Charles’ pottery as a form of storytelling, and thus rehumanizing force, and after reading Yvette Nolan’s 2015 book Medicine Shows , I was able to articulate how.

photo from here
photo from here

Medicine→ which is about reconnecting and being cognizant of the ‘interconnectedness of all things’ (1). I believe Charles did this with his poetry, and his story about how the clay comes from the sediment which travels from mountains–and thus pottery connects one to the land and to their ancestors.

Remembrance→ “Indigenous theatre artists make medicine by reconnecting through ceremony, through the act of remembering” (3)

Ceremony and audience→ “Creating ceremony onstage is powerful medicine. Like all medicine, ceremony is about reconnecting: reconnecting the artist to […] ancestors, the viewer to lost histories, the actor to the audience” (55)

It can be argued that, when seen through the lens of Nolan, that Jack Charles demonstrates rehumanization through creating medicine, through reconnecting with his ancestors and with himself, by centering his voice.

I want to end by saying that Charles demonstration of re-claiming his voice, story, and history, in the way it challenges the dehumanizing forces of colonialism, also demonstrates Cree hip hop scholar Karyn Recollet’s notion of “Radical Decolonial Love”, explored in her chapter “For Sisters” from Drew Hayden Taylor’s seminal collection of essays Me Artsy. 

photo from here
photo from here

She explains, “Radical decolonial love requires a shift in focus away from the heteronormative, settler colonial practices of ownership and control over Indigenous lands and bodies, into a space that produces the vocabulary and language to speak of its impact on our relationships with other sentient beings” (104). Charles demonstrated a radical decolonial love for himself, through his defense testimony at the end of his play, wherein he implicates Australian settler-colonialism and assimilationist projects for fostering his life of crime, drugs, and trauma. He takes focus away from the silencing process of Australian law, and instead foregrounds his own voice and experience, and sheds light on how his life, body, and relationships were affected by colonialism.

Questions for further discussion:

  1. What are other ways that Jack Charles’s play may have reverberated anti-colonial praxis?
  2. Were there advantages to Charles’ use of a live band in his storytelling? Other than aesthetic, why do you think he included one?

TSF: Talking Two-Spirit

Synopsis

When: Thursday, February 25, 2016 from 1:00pm – 4:00pm

Presenter/Moderater: Harlan Pruden

Panelists: Byron Chief-Moon, Quanah Napoleon, Brian Solomon, and Michelle Sylliboy

“Two-Spirit conversations exploring the history of the Two-Spirit traditions and a panel discussion of distinguished Two-Spirit performers sharing how their identity influences their art” (Full Circle, 2016)

The discussion started out with a presentation by Harlan Pruden on two-spirit people. Pruden discussed where the term comes from and colonial documentation of two-spirit people. He then went on to talk about the role two-spirit people have in Indigenous communities, as well as the different Indigenous names for “two-spirited”.

After a short break, there was then a panel discussion with four two-spirit performers on how their art is influenced by their two-spirit identity.

Witnessing

“Two-Spirited” is a relatively new term for me. I had first heard to term to refer to Indigenous trans-gendered people, but I have also heard non-Indigenous transgender people calling themselves two-spirited. It always felt little bit like some sort of appropriation was going on when I would hear a non-Indigenous person call themselves “two-spirited”, but being not being trans or Indigenous, I have never felt it was my place to have an opinion on it. My brother is a trans-man, I can remember asking him about the term. He said that he does not know too much about it, but he has definitely heard a lot of white people in the trans community referring to themselves as two-spirited.

I found this presentation and discussion to very helpful in understanding the term. Pruden was able to clarify that two-spirited does not just mean trans, but it is a role and identity that has been highly respected throughout many Indigenous communities. Therefore, for a non-Indigenous, trans person to call themselves “two-spirited” is not only incorrect, but disrespectful by failing to acknowledge this Indigenous identity that colonialism has tried so hard to destroy.

I also really enjoyed listening to the four different artists and what it means for them to be two-spirited as performers. I felt very honoured at how honest they were with what they discussed with us and their journeys as two-spirited artists.

Git Hoan – Coastal First Nations Dance Festival

 

Git Hoan is a dance group out of Washington State that consists of dancer from the Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit nations of Southeast Alaska. This group is lead by David Boxley who is a carver and culture bearer of the Tsimshian nation. The name Git Hoan means people of the Salmon.

 

The opening song consisted of dancers appearing from the back of the audience. These dancers made their way to the middle of the crowd within the performance space, dancing on the way. Here they formed a circle, dancing together off of the stage. After this initial song was over the dancers exited the stage and David Boxley entered to give the opening remarks. He acknowledged the territory the event was taking place on in both Sm’elgit and English. After this acknowledgement he went on to introduce the first piece that had already been performed and also talking about the second piece to be performed. The second piece also involved dancers forming circles, this time the dancers were both off and on the stage. Men and woman were playing drums and shakers on the stage as the dance took place.

 

The third piece was an honour song. The dance accompanying this song was done by 4 young men who represented 4 different clans. Three of the men were older while one young boy joined them on stage. The young boy kept up with the dance moves that were performed and synchronized by all four dancers. Occasionally the other dancers would smile down at the younger boy who wore a smile on his face throughout the performance. The facial expressions of the older men were serious for the most part. The dance was full of emotion, including passion, trust, and pride. I really enjoyed how they incorporated different ages into the performance of this piece. The importance of the dance was evident and the inclusion of the younger dancer showed the diversity of ages that hold the honour of different clans.

 

Although I have yet to experience different dance groups and diversity within the Indigenous dance community, I find aspects of these performances extremely unique and engaging. I have attended two Coastal First Nations Dance groups performances that were both spectacular in their own ways, and I am excited to witness more performances from a variety of areas. One aspect of Git Hoans performance that I found myself drawn to was the element of mystery they held in many of their pieces. The fourth piece they performed started with three dancers that were guided to the stage backwards. You couldn’t properly see their regalia or masks that they were wearing. After the guidance to the front of the stage they were covered with a blanket and turned around. This held the mystery and the anticipation of what was going to be revealed from under the blanket. Each blanket showed a picture of a different animal. As the music began, the dance started. People held the blankets in front of the dancers as they moved around the stage, not revealing the dancer behind the blanket yet. As the piece progressed, the blankets were finally removed from each of the three dancers. The animal represented on the blanket matched the mask that the dancer wore. At the end of the dance, the dancers stayed in their places and allowed fellow dance group members to guide them off the stage in a similar manner to the way they were guided onto the stage. The connection between the initial depiction on the blankets and the performers underneath was engaging. The mystery that was eventually revealed to show this connection was an aspect of the performance I truly enjoyed.

Another piece that displayed this level of mystery was the beaver song. This piece involved a huge centerpiece that was located in the middle of the stage. Dancers took the stage and danced around the centerpiece that consisted of a tapestry that looked like a beaver damn draped over a 4ft tall 3-walled box. The dancers danced around the beaver damn and as the piece progressed a giant beaver mask appeared from behind the ‘beaver damn’. This startled me, as the appearance of the beaver was paired with a sudden change in music. The music became loud and was intended to cause fear. The connection of fear with the appearance of the beaver never ceased throughout the performance. Different aspects of dance including motion, music and visual art can cause various emotions in the audience. Even though the space where the performance took place had a lot of people moving in and out between various pieces, each piece held the viewers full and undivided attention until the very end. I think this is why Indigenous dance doesn’t need to be performed in a formal setting, the informal settings hold viewers attention fully and completely.

 

The performance as a whole was beautiful. It contained a diverse age group of performers that engaged in many different dances as a whole. The regalia, masks and headpieces were absolutely breathtaking and helped the dancers to depict their story, message or meaning behind their dance to a greater extent.

 

Reviews:

http://ubyssey.ca/culture/review-coastal-first-nations-dance-at-moa-357/

 

Parts of this review show that the reviewer displayed clear knowledge of the dance group and also of first nations practices. I’m aware it is not first hand knowledge, but research was conducted in the area that depicts her interest in the area. An overall positive review, but some assumptions were made that should have been researched further. A higher knowledge on the subject from dance group members themselves should have been pursued before making statements such as “Such innovative masks indicate how cultural heritage of the Indigenous are not being merely passed on to younger generations, but how they are being actively transformed and integrated into their new perspectives their cultural traditions.” First hand knowledge should have been perused on the subject matter at hand.

No other reviews were found on this dance group at this festival; only various sites advertising the happening of the festival itself were present.

 

Some questions I had at the end of this performance were more reflective questions. What are aspects of Indigenous dance performance that you personally enjoy the most? If they vary between different types of dance, what is your favourite aspect of these various dances? When viewing performances what is the venue and environment that makes witnessing most enjoyable for you?

Presentation Slides:

Git Hayetsk and Git Hoan

Clouds of Autumn

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 6.39.04 PM

Synopsis

Set in the 1970s, the film starts out with two children happily playing in fields. The older girl is wearing a dress and braids in her hair. The younger boy is wearing pants and a shirt. The opening scenes are bright, fast and colourful.

There is hardly any dialogue in the film and when there is, it is mostly in a First Nation language with English subtitles. One of the first lines said is that the girl has to go to school. One of the next scenes shows the two children playing in the forest. The little boy is playfully looking for the little girl as if they are playing hide-and-seek. He eventually finds her at a view-point crying. When he walks up to her, she ignores him and walks away.

The boy then goes to his mother and tells her how this girl is ignoring him. The mother says, “Your sister loves you”. The girl continues to ignore the little boy. There is a scene of the a father, mother and the little boy all waiting in a row on the road while a truck pulls up and the girl jumps out in a school uniform. The little boy talks to his sister in their language and she responds in English. He tells her something along the lines of  “speak normally”, and she responds in English saying that she is.

One of the last scenes shows the little boy playing by himself by the road and seeing his mother crumble to the ground crying. The very last scene shows the little boy getting into the same truck as the girl had been dropped off in, and drive away.

Witnessing

My first impression of Clouds of Autumn was just how beautiful the scenery and the filming was. Every image looked as if it should be framed on wall. I also enjoyed that there was not a lot of dialogue. It left room for interpretation and forced the audience to actively engage and critically watch the piece in order to understand.

I found it interesting that this story was being told from the perspective of the little boy. I feel that most stories that are told about residential schools are usually from the point of view of the person who attended the school. It was interesting to see the “poison” (Nolan, 2015) being exposed of residential schools, but from the perspective of family members who had their child forced away from them and the violence that it caused them. It is a reminder how the “weight of colonialism” (Recollect) has ripple effects on families and communities. A scene that captures this for me is the little boy watching his mother crying in the road.

When doing research on the film, I discovered that when asked about his inspiration for this the film, Mack states:

“My inspiration for the story of Clouds of Autumn came from my mother and her seven siblings being taken to residential school from the 1960s to 1970s. Growing up, I had first-hand experience of how brothers and sisters who attended and didn’t attend interacted with each other. I lost an uncle after he was deeply scarred from his experience at a residential school. And I have witnessed different forms of lateral violence. So I wanted to explore where this pain and trauma started, and focus on how those relationships began.” http://reelwest.com/Clouds_of_Autumn

Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow: responding to protocol

On March 29, 2016 I attended the 2nd Annual Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow Celebration at UBC, hosted by the First Nations Studies Student Association (FNSSA). The Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow began as a small conversation between Salia Joseph and myself. We both understood the value in pow-wows and recognized a need for an inclusive cultural event on campus. Not thinking too much about it or knowing the amount of work involved, we decided to go forward and begin the planning process. Two years later, FNSSA and the Indigenous Students’ Association hosted the first annual pow-wow in 2015.

The way I was taught, is that pow-wows are a celebration of life through song and dance. It is the intention of the pow-wow to celebrate the resiliency, diversity, and vibrancy or Indigenous people. The name ‘Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan’ is cree, “nehiyo” meaning Cree, “paskwa” refers to the plains area east of the Rocky Mountains, and “simowan” means the way she/ he dances. This name recognizes that the pow-wow celebration and the dances originate from the plains people and acknowledges the relationship and responsibilities we have to the Musqueam people and territory by highlighting that it is not a Musqueam celebration or ceremony.

One of the goals of the pow-wow is to revitalize the teachings and practices that were seen at pow-wows between 1950-1970. Many Nehiyaw pow-wow teachings have become dormant. It is not my place or that of the committee to bring back these teachings as we are all still young and learning, rather it is our goal to create a space for teachings to be shared, learned, and practiced. To do so, we invited several Nehiyaw elders to be the head staff, including the whipman, the emcee, the head male dancer and the lead singer of the host drum. Together and in consultation with others, they decided how the pow-wow would be run regarding protocol.

I would like to briefly discuss how protocol was negotiated at the pow-wow and how people responded to certain protocol. It is not for me to discuss in depth the role of the whipman or for me to write about it so it will be a basic overview. The whipman has a complex role within the pow-wow and has a lot of teachings and training that he must go through to have the right to fulfill that role. One of his roles is to invite dancers onto the dance floor and ensure they are dancing when they are supposed. It was shared at the pow-wow that if a dancer refused to respond to this protocol and did not dance when the whipman told them, they would be fined. This is something that I have never witnessed at other pow-wows but have heard stories about happening in the past. At the Nehiyo-paskwa-itsimowan Pow-wow, dancers were only fined $5.00, whereas in the past they would’ve been fined a horse, a tipi, a buffalo robe, etc. This fine demonstrates the seriousness of the role of the whipman, the importance of following protocol, and dancers’ responsibilities and roles within when they make the choice to participate as dancers.

What I witnessed was a range of responses and reactions to this protocol. There were some people who appreciated that the whipman ensured dancers were dancing and said things like “otherwise, I usually just sit there.” Some people appreciated that these teachings were being brought back and being acted upon rather than remaining a memory held by a few of the older ones. Some people were grateful for what was shared and donated $5.00 out of appreciation for what was happening. Even some dancers who were fined took it in a good way and respected and upheld the teaching. However, other people were not so happy with it. A dancer who was fined got upset with the whipman (details of the situation will be left out).

The situation with the dancer being upset brought up questions about the role of witnesses and participants to learn, listen, and respond to protocol. I understand that protocol and practice is something that is always changing and needs to be reflective of who we are today. However, there are many events, ceremonies, and gatherings that have strict protocol. My mother, grandma, and aunties always explained to me that I need to have respect when I attend an event as a witness or a participant. This respect comes first and foremost. Part of this involves respecting the laws that are in place in that space. It is not up to me to decide what parts of an event I take part in or what protocols to follow. When I am invited and choose to participate, I take on the role of respecting what teachings and practices are to be followed in that time and place.

Ultimately, it isn’t about who is right or wrong but rather about how we as guests and participants listen, learn, and respond to protocol when we are invited into a space that is led by teachings and practices that may be unfamiliar.

Bihttoš: A Tale of Radical Decolonial Love

In late March, I attended the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, to watch a small selection of female-produced short films under the heading “Compelling Characters”. Within this selection, I saw Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ beautiful piece, Bihttoš. Worth noting, Tailfeathers was the only Indigenous filmmaker featured in this selection, and one of few performers/directors of colour.

Tailfeathers is Sami (on her father’s side) from Norway, and Blackfoot (on her mother’s side) from the Kainai/Blood Nation in Alberta. She attended VFS for acting and later UBC to pursue a dual degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and First Nations Studies. She uses her films as a form of activism to shed light on topics such as land abuse (in Bloodland), violence against Indigenous women (in Red Girl’s Reasoning) and here, in Bihttoš as a means of addressing intergenerational trauma left behind by residential schools (and their equivalents) and the resiliency/survival of Indigenous peoples

Tailfeathers embarked on this film as a result of her involvement in the Embargo project which challenged her to write a story about her family. Bihttoš is the result of a years’ worth of conscious effort, and a lifetime of lived experience and growth.

Bihttoš, which examined in particular, Tailfeathers’ relationship with her troubled and formidable father Bjarne Store-Jakobsen, was divided visually and narratively into thirds.

The first, appearing in animation and narrated by a young Elle-Máijá, depicted her parents’ fairytale-esque love story. They met in a bar in Australia, both attending an Indigenous Rights conference as Sami and Blackfoot activists. Her father fell in love with her mother, Esther Tailfeathers, at first sight, and would travel across an ocean to profess his love for her.

The second, appearing in archival photographs and dramatic reenactments detailed Elle-Máijá and her family’s move from Sapmi when she was 5, to North Dakota to support her mother in pursuing her MD. This segment also detailed Tailfeathers’ and her brother’s means of adapting and struggling with the shift in their lives and in their parents, notably in her father, who fell into a deep depression and began to abuse alcohol. Tailfeathers noted that she often felt obliged to support her father as his confidante and felt the need to keep her family together.

This was unsuccessful, and following her mother’s decision to leave her father, Store-Jakobsen attempted suicide. Tailfeathers at this time was 16. Following this, Tailfeathers and her father went without contact for 9 years.

After this period, they reconnected via an 8000 km cross country road trip. This final third of the movie is comprised of Elle-Máijá’s own personal footage of the trip. A few years after this reconnection, Store-Jakobsen opened up to Elle-Máijá about his experience at Sami boarding school; until this point he had been unable to confess his experiences to anyone, and had coped by fighting valiantly for Sami rights.

In response to this admission, Tailfeathers found relief from much of the emotional struggle she had been both consciously aware of and things she hadn’t realized were weighing on her until that moment. She was able to find incredible compassion for both of her parents’ experiences, and chose to forgive them for not being able to love one another, and for not being the shining, perfect gods that we all tend to imagine our parents as being.

I would like to tie into this film Karyn Recollet’s notion of radical decolonial love; which encompasses all types of love romantic and otherwise between all peoples. Tailfeathers’ parents demonstrate tremendous RDL; her mother became an MD to finish the work of her older brother who had died not long before, in the midst of pursuing his own MD, her father fought for and secured government recognition of the Sami as Indigenous peoples in Sweden and Norway, Elle-Máijá herself creates films out of love for her own people, the land she belongs to, and Indigenous women across Turtle Island, she was able to find forgiveness (a deeply difficult and powerful act of love) for her father and understand her parents as imperfect people and not just as her caregivers.

I would also like to mention Ric Knowles’ concept of remembering as a tool for healing along with Recollet’s notion of colonial weight, as connected to intergenerational trauma incurred from the residential school system and its genocidal equivalents. Store-Jakobsen’s act of remembering his painful, and traumatic experience to Elle-Máijá lifted a portion of the colonial weight from his body that he had been carrying since he was a child. By virtue of her connection to him, and the traumas she herself carries in her body as a result of his experiences, Store-Jaksobsen’s remembering also lifted this colonial weight from Tailfeathers.

This concept blurs nicely into Monique Mojica’s concept of mining the body for organic texts as well. Elle-Máijá’s acts of remembering, delving deeply into her childhood memories and also the experiences of her parents, and examining the physical and emotional sensations that arose of these processes resulted not only in the beautiful story she has shared, but also in the furthering of her own healing process.

More widely, her opening this vulnerability to a broader audience allows for others in similar positions to examine their own connections to land, family, and themselves, perhaps catalyzing the healing processes of many more people to come.

I would like to leave you all with the following:

A link to the first portion of the film: https://vimeo.com/111828006

A brief and problematic review of Bihttoš by Addison Wylie, a non-Indigenous professional film critic trained in television broadcasting and film production: http://wyliewrites.com/canadas-top-ten-film-festival-14-shorts/

(Wylie seems to completely miss the point of the film, focusing mostly on aesthetic choices that Wylie feels were “risky” or amateurish)

Another brief but significantly kinder review by Joy Fisher a Victoria based playwright: http://coastalspectator.ca/?p=4071

(Fisher acknowledges the traumatic results of government sanctioned modes of ethnic cleansing and lauds Tailfeathers for her skilled storytelling. I wonder if Fisher is able to empathize with/better understand the story because of her position as a woman and the female tendency to emotionally caretake)

A brief note, it was quite difficult to find even a handful of reviews for this film although it was released in 2014. Those that I could find were quite brief, and often provided in a batch with brief reviews of other related films.

Question: How can we explore the notion of blood memory and organic texts as a means of furthering our own scholarship as Native and non-Native students and as a means of fostering collective healing and growth?

*by this I mean, engaging in connection to both the land we occupy and ourselves, mining our physical sensations and experiences and emotions that are called up as we mine these experiences.

Talking Stick Festival – Git Hayetsk Witnessing

 

On February 24th, I attended the Talking Stick Festival at the Roundhouse community centre. This festival brings in many different Indigenous artists to perform, speak and display their beautiful work. I was lucky enough to have the change to attend a performance at this festival, the Git Hayetsk Coastal First Nations Dance group. Sm’algyax is spoken by the Nisga’a, Tsimshian and Gitxsan Nations. The words Git Hayetsk mean the people of the copper shield in Sm’algyax. The copper shield is symbolic of ceremonial wealth in the Northern and Northwest coast nations. The group uses traditional and hand made regalia, masks, and drums for their performances. The songs and dances performed are a mix of contemporary and ancient. The dance group has performed at many different locations and events in the past. Most recent events include Hobiyee, SFU: Indigenous City Gathering, and the Discover Dance! Series.

 

Witnessing:

 

When you walked into the performance floor it was constructed in a circular formation. White wooden temporary walls formed the circle where the stage, tables and chairs as well as a dance floor were located. On the walls hung regalia, tapestries, rugs, drums and carvings. When I arrived, a dozen people were walking around to view all the beautiful works of art. Nine round tables with candles distributed were present in half of the circular area. These tables had 5 chairs surrounding them. I sat at a table that was unoccupied and soon after had 4 strangers at the table with me. The tables allowed for easy discussion about different pieces with a variety of people. Sitting at a table in the space made it feel comfortable and informal. The way the tables were distributed with space in-between them made it easy for dancers to interact with the audience during certain pieces.

 

The acknowledgement of the land was made by Mike Dangeli before the performance began. Before each piece was performed it was introduced and background information was given. I was sitting with someone who had walked into the Roundhouse community centre to ask for directions and ended up staying for the entirety of the performance and she loved the introductions because it allowed her to visualize and make connections to the introduction throughout the performance.

 

The second piece was made for the raising of Mike Dangeli’s first totem pole. This song comprised three singers on stage with two of them drumming and one with a shaker. Six dancers came to the stage all in masks that represented birds. The faces couldn’t be seen except for one dancer who was a younger boy around the age of 7. The diversity in age of the dance group made the group seem more like a family. There were children and older adults present, and the way the whole group interacted made it obvious that everyone was welcome and treated as more than just a dance group member.

 

The third piece was a photography piece. Professor Dangeli introduced this piece. It was written and composed to represent the topic of her Masters thesis, Benjamin Alfred Haldane. She addressed the fact that bridging the traditional and contemporary indigenous artistry is important in this day and age. After this introduction, four people went on stage. Each person gathered around one big drum and started singing while drumming. Three dancers took the dance floor each holding a canvas. The canvases were covered in black cloth and the dancers moved around the stage holding them. A fourth dancer came out with a camera and pretended to take pictures of the audience and the dancers. Halfway through the piece the cloth covering the canvases was removed. This removal followed the action of the fourth dancer taking pictures of the covered canvases. The removal of the cloth revealed a beautiful picture taken by Benjamin. The level of mystery and the connection made between the artistry of photography and dance in this piece was new and exciting. It left me wanting to see more. It wasn’t like any other performance I had witnessed.

 

The fourth piece was about a trickster. Different nations see this figure in different forms. The form shown by this performance was a raven. The dancer performing this piece came onto the stage wearing a Raven headpiece that allowed the beak to open and close. This figure then went into the audience and stole patrons hats, bags, and scarves. Eight other dancers joined this figure, some wearing big masks, others wearing smaller headpieces. They all joined in the stealing of items from the audience. At the end of the piece the items were returned and patrons thanked for being good sports throughout the performance. I personally loved the interactive aspect of the piece. It fully engaged the audience and had everyone laughing nervously as their belongings were taken from them.

 

This was my first introduction to Indigenous dance. Without having background knowledge on what to expect, other than the research I did on the dance group prior to my arrival, it was an incredible experience. The diversity of pieces this dance group performed gave me an encompassing view of the different pieces that are performed by dance groups. I am very happy I was able to attend Git Hayetsk at the talking stick festival prior to my attendance at the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival. Going into the festival with a slight idea of what I was about to witness allowed me to explore what I was seeing to a deeper extent rather than strictly being in awe of the beautiful performance in front of me that accompanied my witnessing at Git Hayetsk.

 

The question I had at the end of my experience was ‘How is stereotyping addressed with respect to traditional and contemporary dance and how can we better recognize and acknowledge contemporary composers for their work?’