Friday, July 31, 2015


This is from a Buzzfeed article imaging if men cheered for feminism like they are supposed to cheer for sports.

Reclaiming and Proclaiming - Christi Belcourt

I recently read an article in the Native Studies Review by Christi Belcourt entitled "Purpose in Art, Métis Identity and Moving Beyond the Self".  I knew of Belcourt as an artist and her writing was a continuum of her other work.  In this essay she works through the nature of art as a reflection of ourselves and in this case, as a reflection of a Métis person.  She speaks of the continued use of historical references in the work of Métis artists as "...a means of reclaiming of one's own personal history" and that "... it all adds up to a reclaiming of our collective history" while "...defining and proclaiming what it means to be Métis in the twentieth-first century."

Honouring My Spirit Helpers Acrylic on Canvas, approx. 8ft x 12ft Collection of the Seventh Generation Midwives (Toronto)
I have struggled with this use of references myself and where the line is between plagiarism and deeper reflections of cultural symbols.  As it is still so new to me, I am building up my cultural symbols as I learn about new artists.  I am building up a whole, but the whole is still very discernible as to the parts.  I don't want to take anything away from the work of others, but their inspiration pulls me to new places.  Her articulation of these interconnected threads provides a partial answer to these concerns.

Belcourt speaks about the use of a beadwork style in her paintings and the multiple roles this stylistic choice plays in her art as "a proliferation of all things Métis...joined with others in the nation to work to raise awareness and to strengthen our collective voice."  She uses it to infer a sense of history and to "celebrate the beauty within our culture" as well as to show that it is a living history.  She notes that she also sees it as a dialogue with the ancestors, telling them "you don't have to worry any more.  Our struggle is not as dire.  We have survived and we are celebrating ourselves even if Canada is not."

I find these words resonate with me as I do my bead work.  A part of me hates it.  It is so fiddly and slow - it is not me.  But I keep doing it.  I finish a project and start another.  I find meditating with a line of women who came before me.  I am inhabiting my culture.  I am slowed.  The whole world is in the piece.  I can make a thousand different beads into something beautiful and whole.

Belcourt asks herself if she contributes as an artist or is art inherently selfish as it is what she is called to do.  Do we need to accomplish something more or can the act of creation be enough in itself?  She responds that the act is enough, but that there might be a need for more from a deeper part of herself that is connected to a culture and a peoples and that while her art is part of her path to answer the question of who she is as a person, she can also be contributing to the larger dialogue of who we are as a people and as a culture that survives and is dynamic.  For myself, I can say her art has been a big part of building up that whole and thinking about what it means to be a modern Métis.

The last paragraph of the essay is a quote from her friend Jean Teillet "The only thing worth doing is to fully search out truth and knowledge.  In whatever field you are in, go as far as you can to feel out what it truth.  And I think you know it when you hit it, it rings inside you."  What rings inside me as I create is the tension of my path to remain in balance, in the middle of the circle.  Fast can be good, but not always. I matter, but I am part of something more.  Life is hard, but there is beauty.  I can teach, but I must learn.

I appreciated this essay on a lot of levels and I am excited that I am part of the dialogue in a small way as I create my things.  While I wish I could sit down with the author and talk to her, I feel so blessed that people are opening their minds and hearts and sharing their knowledge in these ways.  We may not be able to live in physical community as urban Métis, but I feel as thought we can still be in community.  Many thanks to those who share. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

200th Post - Still here

This is my 200th post.  Thanks to everyone for reading. 

I would like to share this Cris Derksen video "Powwow".

I feel so proud to be Métis and to have experienced all the amazing things indigenous people are doing and sharing with the world.  We are still here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I'm a real girl now

I received my Métis Citizenship card in the mail last week.  I have been thinking on this for some time waiting to feel something big.  So much conversation and work went into that moment, but the moment itself wasn't the defining thing I thought it would be.  In the work was the claiming of the identity, in the living and decolonializing I became something else.  I am proud to have the paper, but I am prouder to have the life.  What were your experiences of claiming like?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Moon time - when life is not black and white

Our red teepee
Sophie phoned me at work last week, needing to talk as she wanted to know if her first moon time had come. I have to admit that I thought this would be a more binary discussion than it was.  I was very glad that I had done lots of planning already and was able to set out our special activities for the days.  In the way of our family, it did not go totally as planned.  The first ceremonial dress I made was too small as she had grown enormously in the last six months.  I put together a tent for us to sit in, and we did a smudge, prayers and some learning time, but then everyone wanted a break.  So, seclusion was not quite as I envisioned.  We came back to the tent later and I hope to do more over the next month and spread out the teachings.  It was not what I planned, but it was a special time together as women.  Even if the tent is made of sheets and not as glorious as in my mind.

I was really glad to have the book I made because even thought I felt very rushed in pulling things together, I had something written down to work from with the wisdom of a lot of Elders brought together.  And while this process did not unfold the way I wanted it too, taking more time will allow us time to think on the lessons a little bit more.  Maybe it is better this way.  The path to womanhood is not a clear moment when you move from child to woman.  Maybe it is just starting the traditions of coming together around moon time to learn and listen. What do you think?

Wisdom of the Elders

I have been pretty busy at work with not a lot of extra energy at the end of the day to write.  I am enjoying the new challenges but it is more tiring.  It is also forcing me to face some old demons. 

I am working my way through Richard Wagamese's book "One Story. One Song"  I am a big fan of his writing.  I feel like these are an opportunity to access the wisdom of an elder in easy to read bites.  I am trying to read one essay a day and think on it as I work through the day.  I feel so blessed that our elders are willing to put their stories down for us to access even at a distance.

Yesterday's essay is entitled "What We Share" and he speaks about wisdom shared by Ojibwa Elder "Jack Kakakaway.  The author writes that he was talking with the Elder about his feelings of displacement in the Canadian Mosaic as he came to better understand his indigenous roots.  The Elder told him "There are no pure cultures anymore."  The Elder said that as first nations people we let go of things like snowshoes and toboggans to get snowmobiles and trucks.  We let go of our languages to speak English.  "It was the same for everyone everywhere, he said.  The world asks us to sacrifice something in order to be included."

That paragraph spoke a lot to me.  I have written about this question several times here.  How do you find the balance of being you and being part of society?  What are you willing to give up to belong?  For some people it is not even a question if there are things we can't give up (disability, poverty, race etcetera).  In some things I could not be "normal" if I tried so where do I find the balance to that?  In extra education?  In enough money to get away with eccentricities?  Who do we leave out of society because they can't make that balance?  What about those people spending all their energy just getting by, who don't have time for the niceties?  Where do we leave them?  What does that do to the collective?

The essay goes on, " What we need to look for in this world, Jack Kakakaway told me, are the things we share.  There are as many things that make us the same as there are those that make us different.  The difficulty is seeing them.  The things that join us are as basic as breathing, as small as a tear.  We all began as people huddled in a band around a fire in the nights.  We all longed for the comfort of a voice in the darkness.  We've all sacrificed part of our identity to become a part of the whole.  What we've lost is what binds us, what makes us the same."

I need to stop thinking about the I in this question and look to the us.  Where do we find those shared moments and focus on those.  I need to stop doing my own personal math and start looking at the whole and where there are changes I can support to make that whole more inclusive.

Monday, July 13, 2015


I was very inspired after seeing a piece of art on this blog.  I decided to do a piece with just thread.  I started with the buffalo head and went from there.  I am so happy to have people share their work and to get to see what other people are thinking about.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Gotta Serve Somebody

I have not been feeling particularly musically inspired lately but I came across an old favorite this morning, Bob Dylan, "You've Gotta Serve Somebody"  There may be some absolutes in our lives, but we also have choices around these choices.

Stories in the Night - Losing your tail

Last night we did a story from "Keepers of the Night: Native Stories and Nocturnal Activities for Children." I have had this book for some time and was excited to use it.  Overall, while I enjoyed the story we read and some of the questions about the story, overall the emphasis on the facts about how eyes work and the different kinds of night animals was too much for me.  I was not sure how you would use this content without making it a memorization of facts activity.   The few things I tried to share with them - how much a bat could eat- which seemed cool and was unknown to me, they already knew and acted bored. 

The story itself was good.  It was the story of the sun who went missing and the squirrel who went to look for it and in helping the sun got burned, went blind and lost his tail.  So the sun offered him a gift and the squirrel choose flight, and was made into the first bat.  There was so much about living the circle in the story - lessons about letting things go and becoming something new.  One of the questions we discussed was what you would ask for in that circumstance.  Sophie answered in a "good" grown up way and wanted world peace.  But Runa put herself in the place of the squirrel and asked for never ending acorns and a warm nest.  I love to watch her think.

The girls were able to relate this story to the rainbow crow and raven steals the sun stories and it was great to see them making those connections.  I thought this book would be more, but in thinking about my disappointment I realized that I actually took a lot away from this story, so I guess it actually did it's job.  Have you used any of the books from this series?  What was your experience?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Finding and Preserving Story Medicine

Vision Quest by Paul Taylor
Vision Quest by Paul Taylor
When I started in government, every day I wrote down what I learned.  Now, I have this big binder of things and I return to it sometimes to remember where I came from and wanted to go.  But some of the other things part of me now and I wonder if it is time to let this work go and bring the pertinent stories forward with me.  Before doing that I am reading the binder through one more time and I thought I would share some of the stories here.

My very first entry was something we saw the day before I started in government and it seemed symbolic for that moment.  We had just gotten into Ottawa and everything was new and we were poor.  One evening wandering through the market area we stopped to observe a street performer.  Things were not going his way, he was juggling and he kept dropping things.  It was uncomfortable to watch, but he kept trying so we stayed.  Finally he looked up at us and said that it was time to quit.  He gathered up his things with dignity and left.

This story stays with me as is an ongoing question in my life.  How do you balance the need to sometimes keep pushing when something is hard and how to know when it is time to pack up or find another way or just let go?  How do you know when it is time to turn away?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Near starvation.....?

In the summer I try to do learning with the girls.  This week we read "What do you Believe?"  I want to make sure that the girls understand how other people are living their lives and that they can make good decisions about how they live their own lives.  It is also important to me that they can see how Christianized our culture is (even spell check just capitalized it for me) and that they are able to ask smart questions about these things.  
 This book seemed like a good overall introduction to different belief systems.  It is Doris Kindersly who is usually  a decent publisher.  It was all going ok until we got to the two pages where they threw in everything not "Religion" including aboriginal spirituality, norse mythology, African, Australian Aboriginals into a big pile of "other".  I especially enjoyed the aside about the frozen north and the shared ideas about religion and starvation (Anyone out there coming down on the "starvation is great" side?).  To make it worse this is a recent imprint.  To be fair, it gave us lots to talk about.  Just not in the way we planned. 

The other book I read was "Wisdom of our First Nations".  This is part of a series on first nations personalities.  Each chapter introduces an Elder, their history and work, and their lessons.  It is sometimes a bit hard to read as the author has tried to reflect the speech patterns of the specific elders.  I really like this approach, but it can be challenging as a reader who is used to one bland voice.  There appears to be good representation between male and female Elders and Elders from different tribes.  This is a young adult book, but I enjoyed learning more about what indigenous people are doing on turtle island and how they have used their own gifts.

Give Away for 200 Posts

Hello folks, to celebrate 200 posts I would like to have a give away.  Leave a comment below by July 21 and I will choose a person at random to bead a medallion for. 

The winner can choose the subject of the medallion, the colors and the finishing (barrette, pin etcetera).

Hårnäver - Swedish Inspirations

At Powwow we rescued some pieces of birch bark from the garbage.  I think they were too small for the artist's project, but they were like gold for us.  I have long had designs on some of the amazing birch bark earrings I have been seeing.  In looking for birch bark projects and earring designs I came across these two pictures of a “Hårnäver” a headdress from Norra Ny in Värmland! (Sweden)

I was inspired by how these captured the spirit of the Métis and decided to make on for myself.  I don't have quite enough hair for the braids, but I was very happy about how this turned out.  It was nice working with the birch and learning about how to sew it together.

Monday, July 6, 2015

First Moon Time Book

"Walking the Moon Path"
As I mentioned previously, last year I made a book for Sophie about moon time. We read this when we have our red teepee time or she has questions. This book looks at the whole life cycle of a woman and situates the first moon time in the larger context of her life. I tried to pull from all my learning over the years, my favorite artwork and some great books about indigenous women. I thought I would share some of the pages with you occasionally. This is the Cover and below is the opening blessing. What are you doing for girls entering this phase of life? What resources would you recommend?

" As you take you place, in a linking of arms going back to when the first woman fell to the sky, her arms still outreached to mother moon, we come together cleansed by the burning of sage and with thanks in our heart to the creator, spirits and our ancestors. As you walk your path of womanhood, do not forget your connection to this earth, your great power of creation as a woman nor the beauty that resides in you."

Making things

Summertime means lots of time at the park with the children.  I find I can get a lot done during this period.  It is also really inspiring to be watching the children play and sitting out under the trees.  I finished a project from last year with appliques of t-shirt material.  It forms one side of a pair of culottes.  The picture above is the first finished moccasin for Sophie.  I am so proud to see this come together.  What are you creating right now?

Métis Awsomeness

I was so excited to see that Christi Belcourt worked with Valentino.   She is such an amazing artist and an inspiration.  It was great to see indigenous work treated with respect and I was really proud to see that she looked into who they were before saying yes.  It is a good example.  Getting ahead isn't worth it if you need to sell out the other things that are important in your life. 

Who is indigenous?

Discussion on who is part of the "group" be it indigenous or metis can get pretty intense.  A blog post by âpihtawikosisân generated plenty of discussion and her blog overall explores some of these issues.  I don't know if you have been following the case of a woman in the US who lived her life as a black woman.  This case has fascinated a lot of people interested in issues of race, belonging and consumption of the other.  I wanted to write about this a while back, but I was not quite sure what I wanted to say about this case in the indigenous space.  I guess it comes back to that fear of "going Indian" and taking on an identity which is not yours.

Indian Country had a number of articles on this issue - here are a couple for you

Ethnic Fraud and the Quest for Authenticity by Dina Gilio-Whitaker where she explores why someone might want to take on another "Race" identity.

Rachel Dolezal Is the Big, Bad Wolf in This Red Riding Hood Tale by Terese Marie Mailhot who sets out some practical ideas for what non-indigenous people can do. to help the indigenous cause without taking on another identity.  I like this approach or leaving people with action.

A couple of the children's books we have read try to address this issue.  One is "I like who I am" by Tara White.  She explores the idea that being Mohawk is more than just looking Mohawk.  We use this book to talk to the children about the importance of living a good Metis life even if you don't look like someone's idea of a Metis person. 

The second book is "Unusual Friendships" by Beatrice Culleton Mosioner that speaks to belonging beyond the colour of skin or type of animal.