Wednesday, September 30, 2015

That wonderful square box

Moose come in these colors right?
I want to get back to learning Cree so I am going to work on adding a few words a day to my vocabulary.  I am starting using this the Tansitv site as the have sound bites of the vocabulary.
Tansi - Hello, how are you?
M'on ana'ntaw - Good thanks?
Kiya maka - How about you?

So, I love tv.  Usually only had to two channels, one of which was fuzzy or full of hockey for part of the year but it was magical.  It showed people in other places living exciting and shiny lives.  I learned about gay people and men who dress as ladies from tv.  For some reason, these shows were allowed even when most things weren't in my family/religion.  It was a refuge as I moved between parents for the weekend visits.

Now it is a way to see worlds that are different to mine.  It is an opportunity to share stories with the family when we don't read the same books.  I really liked this Buzzfeed article about why these parents let their children watch "inappropriate" tv.  It is a good articulation to the issues of managing tv (or online content really).  We have had so many excellent conversations after watching things together.  We have talked about history, being cis females, sex, good decisions, gender performativity, growing up, money and on and on.

A couple of nights ago I went to the Aboriginal People's Television Network to check out their shows and watched "The Guilt Free Zone".  This show was Foucault come to life.  It offered a safe space to talk about sex and decolonize.  It even came with the properly dressed gentleman host and a faux Victorian set. The opening dialogue really says it all, that sex was not a bad thing for aboriginal peoples before contact. 

This reminded me of the chapter in Kim Anderson's "A Recognition of Being" where she discusses the negative construction of indigenous womanhood, often stressing the sexualization and uncleanliness of the "savage" female body which could be tamed by embracing christiainized social norms of sexuality i.e., that sex is dirty and shameful.  This show is a deliberate rejection of this body colonization.  Some of the jokes are a little primordial, but this too is part of the fun.  Farts and hard ons can be funny. The musical guests were interesting and some of the vignettes quite clever.  I like the inclusion of the safe sex element, which came across without being preachy.  Parts of it did not work, but the idea overall is great and we quite enjoyed it.

I have also become aware of the need to decolonize our food so I was interested to find a couple of cooking shows on the network.  I started watching a show called "Moosemeat and Marmalade."  The set up is two men, one a classically trained English chef and the other a Cree Bush chef together who explore the creation of food in each culture.  There is a fine line here not to cross that line into "look at what the funny brown person is doing".  There are times it got close to the line for me, but I did think in general this issue was well handled.  I liked the discussion of how pheasant hunting was important to maintaining the English country side and I like watching Art Napoleon (Cree) hunt, gather and cook. 

It was especially exciting when the girls joined me mid beaver skinning "it's sooooo gross" and stayed asking for more episodes.  We had a great conversation about hunting and gathering, I share some memories of my mooshum's love of tounge and we listed to people talking in Cree.  They liked the humour of the Cree women as they watched the very proper English fellow help cut the moose while in a white dress shirt.  They were inspired and decided that we need to make our own bannock today.

TV can be a crutch that we use to hide our real feelings about things that aren't working on our lives or to fill silences in our relationships, but it can also be a powerful tool in showing us different lives and communicating important stories.  A final link, this video on one hand is pretty straight forward interview with and Elder picking sage, but there is so much learning in these few minutes.  Since I don't have a lot of Elders around at the moment, I appreciate these moments of teaching.  How do you use tv?  What are you watching?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


DIY Tassel Choker Necklace:
Maegan Tintari
In lieu of being the kind of person that does not make assumptions about others, I try to build reminders into my life that this behavior is harmful.  The woman in the picture is one of my reminders.  In my childhood home, we spent a lot of time envying people who seemed to have it all.  What was on the surface was the reality and we hoped that one day we could be those people without any troubles and with lots of money and interesting jobs.  Even when the cracks were clear, someone had cancer or lost a job, it was just glossed over.  Poor us.

As an adult, I am aware that the outside tells us little about the inside of a person.  The perfect person can be in an abusive relationship or have a troubled past or be sick.  I am aware that the more we tell our stories we allow ourselves to grow and we support one another as we go through things.  I am aware that judging based on someone's hair color or job is not helpful to supporting meaningful adult relationships.

Maegan is my reminder of that.  She is a DIY blogger that I liked to follow.  She is blond and beautiful, lives in a cool house in LA and has a job in a gallery.  She is the perfect outside to our society.  But Maegan is also a real person, who shares her challenges with infertility on her blog.  Looking at her picture it is easy to dismiss her as a person who I would have nothing in common with but with the layer of story, she is a multidimensional person who is sharing her difficult journey.  Her honesty inspires others to tell their stories and we are all better because of that.  

Nanabush and the Pumpkin

We completed our Nanabush story last night so here it is for your pleasure.  I am still thinking through the story medicine of this one.  The story is all Runa, with a little help from me to reduce run on sentences.
Nanabush and the Pumpkin. 
On a bright sunny day, he goes to choose a pumpkin, but he sees one that is very big and already has a face on it.

Suddenly Nanabush realized the pumpkin has arms and legs.  The pumpkin floats up to become the moon.

Then Nanabush yells at the moon, "you come down you silly pumpkin"

The pumpkin refuses and scared everyone in the town by coming down as a person saying "Croook, craaaak, clloooook" knocking over kookums and mooshums
So Nanabush comes and he says "poocon, go back to the pumpkin patch" and makes a ferocious face.

So, the pumpkin runs away to the pumpkin patch and is never seen again and that is why we have Halloween.

Monday, September 28, 2015

In the West

Sarrita King - Waterhole:
Sarrita King - Waterhole
Still working through Wagemese's "One Story. One Song" and I really appreciated the introduction to his essays on the West of the medicine wheel as we move into the fall.

"On the medicine wheel, introspection is the "Looking within place."  Humility and trust offer many teachings, and introspection is a means of seeing how those apply to our life.  It's a place of visions.  It's a resting place where the story, the song each of us has created up to this moment can be inspected and those things deemed unnecessary be let go...introspection is meant to bring us to balance.  It is the place where all things are ordered, where all things ring true at the same time.  Balance allows us to move forward..."

I think this quote especially speaks to me as it uses a number of words that strongly resonate, the story that is in all of us and that move to balance.  In the constant striving to improve our own stories we can become immersed in the need to change.  It is important that we take time to see how far we have come, to appreciate that we can change and sometimes, I wonder, to accept that certain things won't change. 

I like the medicine wheel as it reminds me that there is a place for introspection, but that this time also passes and there will be a time for action too.  It is easy to get caught in our habits and get comfortable with following the same mind paths day after day.  The wheel allows the support of the well trod path and the encouragement to wander and make new paths.  It is all about balance.  How do you make time for introspection in you life?

Juggling eyes

Nanabush loses his eyeballsTansi

We started the weekend with a late night walk under a very beautiful grandmother moon and the happy sounds of Canadian Geese on their way South.  Runa thought they must get very tired to fly so far.  While I wish this child would sleep more I also treasure these weird in between moments we share.

Nanabush and the Wild RosebushesWe also read "Nanabush loses his eyeballs" by Daphnie Odjig.  While the book shows its birth in the 1970s, the story was great and lead itself to a fun out loud read and since we know the names of some of the animals in Cree we got to use them.  The throwing of eyeballs made this a great hit with the children and it includes a lot of good story medicine.  I would recommend this book.

Sunday morning, I got it together to coral everyone for circle time.  It helped to have the new table with our circle supplies already set out.  It made it easy to pull things together.  It would be nice to smudge once without having someone ask questions or trying to find your tickle spots while you do it.  We sang the woman's honoring song and Sophie brought down her drum.  Then we read "Nanabush and the Wild Rosebushes" which I did not think could be as good as eyeball throwing, but it did pretty well.  Again the story worked well to read out loud.  The characters were engaging and the fat bored bunny and grumpy rose bush made the children laugh.  Both these stories would led themselves well to a group setting and could easily have accompanying crafts.

In one of those perfect moments, Runa got out supplies and put us to work writing our own Nanabush story.  We are working on "Nanabush and the spooky pumpkin".  I will post pictures when we are done.  These moments are great as I get to see Runa engaging with the stories and also taking on the role of the story teller.  I see her slipping into the stream of our culture and know these times will be with her forever.  I would really recommend these books and taking the time to make your own.  We love reading them later and it is great to work together as a family to create something.  So stop juggling your eyes!!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Change your questions

Fogbound on the Great Canadian Highway by Michael Robinson:
Fogbound on the Great Canadian Highway
by Michael Robinson
I have just finished "Change you questions Change your Life" By Marilee Adams.  The book itself is  business dribble.  I don't think it helped that I have a big text version either.  However, the idea, that by changing our questions we can change our perceptions and create spaces for new answers is a good one.  It is basically the process of moving from asking "Why me?" to "Why not me?"

A couple of quotes/ideas caught my attention. 

"Are you willing to take responsibility for your mistakes - and for the attitudes and actions that led to them?...Are you forgive yourself, and even laugh at yourself?"

"Change begins with the person who wants the change."

"Change your questions from who's to blame to what am I responsible for?"

Q storming - not brainstorming but coming together to look for new questions.

"Am I willing to allow others to contribute to me?"

The question that resonates the most at the moment is why is it so hard to forgive ourselves?  I have forgiven people for doing things that hurt me, but I don't give myself a break.  I am going to ponder this.

Books that follow you...

teachingliteracy:  Constellation, book sculpture by Jodi Harvey-Brown
Book sculpture by Jodi Harvey-Brown 
I have been thinking recently of a book I read 20 years ago in university.  It blew my mind at the time.  It played with ideas of time that I could not even imagine when I was in that place.  What if time went in circles or backwards?  Now these things seem less new and I can examine them in a deeper layer.  The book is "Einstein's Dreams" by Alan Lightman.  What books have moved you?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fawn Wood

Listening to Fawn Wood today.  I enjoyed the mix of contemporary and traditional in "Pledging my love" and the Cree in "Grandmothers Song"

Clever people

People are so clever....  this is by Christian Chapman, Ojibway

pepsi baby  mixed media on canvas, by Christian Chapman, Ojibwe:

The beast inside

Early settlers described it as a werewolf, devil, or cannibal. A wendigo is a supernatural entity that feeds on human flesh. It is always hungry and never stops feeding. Native Americans believe that a wendigo is made when a man eats his own kind.: I have a deep fear of starving.  Maybe this is blood memory, or maybe a result of other experiences.  My mother had hyperemesis (extreme vomiting) when I was in utro and was frequently hospitalized as she could not eat.  Maybe I feel that first lack of nutrients?

As a child not having enough money was something I was aware of, but we had food.  While there was not enough money to buy processed foods or eat out a lot, that is a long way from starving.  For a while my parents ran the food bank, so maybe that is part of it, seeing all those people come in for food seeing that side of life early on.  That was when food banks were first created.  They were shocking.

I also remember the shame on the years that someone decided we should get a food hamper.  The dirty feeling of it all, that someone saw what your family had tried hard to hide.  I remember trying to figure out what to do with food you did not normally eat and the weird food. 

I know my grandparents stored food, scarred deeply by the depression.  I remember the cold cupboard full of weird jars where the canned peaches looked like the tiny corpses of something awful and the pickles were worse.  The strange things in the cupboards that you weren't allowed to touch, likely far past their best before dates, but kept just in case.

When we were first married I used to have a cupboard full of lentils just in case we ran out of money.  I would buy lentils every time I shopped.  The lentils would save us.  Pregnant with our children, I also had hyperemesis and was hungry all the time.  I lost weight with each pregnancy. Eating is still such a blessing to me.

Even in the morning now, when I get my coffee I have to fight the urge to get something extra to bring up to my floor.  What if I get hungry?  What if there is a lock down?  What if...?  I am surrounded by places to get food and a grownup with access to cash but I am fearful.

Looking for a picture to go with this post, Witigo/Wendigo came up as the beast who is always hungry and feasts on human flesh.  I feel like Wendigo sometimes.  There is never enough to make the fear go away.

I have been thinking about this issue of hunger for a while.  Is food the stand in for other things that are missing in life?  Is food just food and my experiences have made me weird?  Is food the one thing the church did not demonize so it became the safety?  I had not thought of this with the lens of the Wendigo and his stories.  Maybe there is story medicine there.  Do you fear starving or do you have another fear?  How do you deal with the beasts inside you?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sharing our pain

I continue to work through Richard Wagamese's book "One Story. One Song".  The essay is called "Families" and the end particularly struck me

"When there's pain in our lives, we tend to believe that we're the only ones.  Often we keep that pain to ourselves out of embarrassment of shame.  But when we do that, we put ourselves out of the reach of those who might help us."

This really struck me, because as a teen I remember coming home from church and feeling confused about how people's stories were so compartmentalized and that this lead to lost opportunities to share and support each other efficiently.  They would talk about the women who had breast cancer and the things we would do for them, then group X and group Y and it lost the underlying themes of loss and pain that bring us together.  Those people became their affliction and not people in pain. I think it made us less sympathetic.  I have not had affliction X.  I can be cold and clinical about their problem.  But talk about loss or pain.  I know those.

Sharing our stories is important.  It helps us put things in context.  It lets us know that we are not alone.  It shows others that we survive.  It gives us spaces to help others and share what we learnt.  It can be raw vulnerability and that can be scary.  But that is what makes us human.  What is your story?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Making things - pine needle baskets

The goal this weekend was to make pine needle baskets.  We headed to the park on Saturday with our basket to collect needles.  The very act of collection was more profound that I expected.  Just the process of picking up the needles and interacting with the space was new.  I heard the wind differently sitting on the grass trying to choose which would be the best needles for my project.  I could smell the animal pee and see the insect around me.  I could hear the wind in the trees.  I was slowed down and part of the earth.  I was awed that as large as my basket was, I made no dent in the supply of needles.  I was surprised by Runa who wanted to work out how long it would take to make a house out of pine needles.

Above is our urban gathering collection, that of course included a trip to the coffee shop and some time to read.  We read "Métis Travel" by Leah Dorian, which the children enjoyed by considering all the other ways of travel Dorian had not included for the Métis people such as explosive farts and pink unicorns.  We debated whether a dog sled made up of beagles would work and talked about what we would make out of the needles.  It was good time together as a family.

Runa was very engaged in the idea of making the baskets.  When I soaked the needles she made sure to add lots of tobacco and cedar.  She really wanted to do this right.  She came and enjoyed the aroma with me.  It was very satisfying to soak the needs and see the steam rising from them.  We used the trick of using a straw to keep the thickness of the basket even and that worked quite well.  The whole project was a bit much for Runa at 7, but Sophie at almost 11 could handle things ok.  The smaller basket I did came together in about a hour and Runa enjoyed playing with the pine needles while I did her basket.  We used the cooled water in our bath later and Runa really enjoyed seeing how it interacted with the bath overall.

I completed another larger basket as shown here below.  It was amazing to see something come together out of something we would normally just walk over and ignore.  The process of gathering lead itself naturally into a conversation about medicine plans and was a good reminder of what we have been learning.  It was awesome to stop and remember the abundance all around us and to have a good discussion with the girls about how people used to live and what that would mean practically.  Sometimes I spend a lot of time trying to get everyone focused on a project and it does not work.  This just worked and it is a reminder that sometimes you just have to go with the flow.  Sometimes it works in your interest and sometimes not, but it will work out eventually.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Goodness from others

Came across this site from a couple of US museums pulling together art and activities based on natural materials.  It has lessons plans and simple to follow instructions for some activities.  I really appreciated the one on how to make pine needle baskets.  I remember being taught how to do this a long time ago and not really appreciating the knowledge shared.  I would like to try this with the girls this weekend.  It also had lots of interesting looking links, although some appear to be dead.

I wrote about the “Hårnäver I made in this post and was excited to find this Iroquois and Wabanaki hat in similar design and colours.

Historic Iroquois and Wabanaki Beadwork: 19th Century Iroquois and Wabanaki Beaded Hats | Another example of an Iroquois Glengarry.
Iroquois and Wabanaki
Loved these dapper folks getting ready for fall.  It strikes me more and more that beauty is people just being who they really are.

Enjoyed this review of a new Lilly Tomlin film with a strong, gay, older female lead.

Was looking for pictures of Nanabush and came across this interesting article about outside critique of indigenous work and playing Nanabush.  In the same search I came across the Nanabush stories by artist Daphnie Odjig which have been reissued.   I am very excited to read these with Runa when they come.

Happy to see updates to the Beyond Buckskin blog and to find this list of native artists.
What treasures have you been finding?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Making stories - authentic voices or continued cultural corruption?

When I saw this picture it made me want to write a version of the princess and the pea story from a Métis perspective.  I wanted to liberate the woman from her role as passive victim to one as a trickster going head to toe with P't Jean.  I worked through a number of possible version in my head, but could not get the pieces aligned quite right.  As I was talking to Joel about this he asked me why I wanted to do this.  In his view this story is not old enough to have the universal elements to make a translation really interesting.

This made me think about the why some more.  My visceral reaction was that this is the way of my generation, that we combine and "mash up" things as a process of humor and as a means of investigating the discrete elements in order to better understand the underlying pieces.  In a way it is also the very nature of Métis culture. 

But as I continued  to think about this question I also had to ask myself why I was wanting to engage with colonial stories.  Why not play with the Métis cannon?  Why try to decolonize a story that does not "matter"?

Girl with a Bamboo Earring - Awol Erizku. wonderful, beautiful twist.:
Girl with a Bamboo Earring - Awol Erizku
During the day I had come across this photo playing with repositioning classic art themes to inject the missing diversity "Erizku reworks art history's classic portrayals of women by scouting models off the street and having them sit for classical portraits, retroactively adding diversity to the artistic cannon with style." 

Kent Monkman also does this with his art and even goes beyond by pulling the Europeanized elements into his created scenes.  Is the one "better" as it does not just insert the "non white" perspective/body but co-opt it?  Is insertion itself an acceptance of the dominant view and a move to squeeze other perspectives into the symbols and "official" histories?

I also remembered this piece by Banksy where the body under consideration takes control of itself  and redefines the context totally.  There is something very pleasing about the active nature of this response as well as the hole it leaves.  Reclaiming may not be a tidy process.  It might leave us with holes in our symbols and histories that are uncomfortable and even personal questions and urges that will challenge us.