This week is the premiere of “When It Rains” a one-minute silent film commissioned by imagineNATIVE’s Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative. The film can be seen October 15-21, 2012 at locations across Canada including Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa. The film was Co-created by award winning Director, Cara Mumford and Dancer and Choreographer, Sandra Lamouche; Guest Choreographer (hip hop), Sugarray Robinson (Toronto, ON); and Guest Choreographer (Indigenous Contemporary), Rulan Tangen (Santa Fe, NM). The film combines hoop dance and hip hop to, “represent the collective journey of the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. While each of these women’s stories is unique, they share a commonality in their collective experience of identity loss and voices silenced” (Cara Mumford, Project Description of ‘When it Rains’).
It has been almost ten years since I first heard about the Stolen Sisters and started to get involved. My first time advocating for the Stolen Sisters was sitting at a table by myself in the University of Lethbridge atrium during one of the Native Awareness Week events in 2003. I printed off the petition and information and collected signatures from students and staff. A year or so later I was invited to the Lethbridge Public Library to be a part of a panel discussion for the film about one of our missing sisters called ‘Finding Dawn’. I remember saying that if Aboriginal women were to be protected and acknowledged as having human rights then we would also have to acknowledge treaty rights, which include the rights to our land and resources, something I believe stands in the way of treating Indigenous peoples everywhere as human beings.
A few years later, wanting to learn more about my family history, I asked my mother what happened to my kokum (my grandmother), her mother. She told me the story of my kokum Sarah Cardinal and how she had been hit by a drunk driver and her body thrown into the lake, she was later found frozen. This happened over fifty years ago and is still an unsolved murder case.
In 2006 my youngest sister Julie Lamouche went missing from our home in Lethbridge, Alberta for about one month. She was with an abusive and controlling boyfriend who would take her different places without telling her or anyone else where they were going. Thanks to the guidance of a medicine man in Saskatchewan and my auntie’s spiritual gifts she was found near Edmonton, Alberta. That fall I attended the first annual Lethbridge Sisters in Spirit Candlelight Vigil.
These two stories tell the worst case and best case scenarios for Aboriginal women who go missing in Canada. For my kokum, as an unsolved murder case I believe that the police have not done enough to bring justice to her murderer(s). In my sister’s case, again, the police actually did very little to help find her. It was my parents and family who searched for her. It was because of the spiritual help that we knew where to look for her in the first place.
In June and July 2012 I began rehearsals and filming of ‘When it Rains’ which forced me to re-live the anger, hurt, worry and frustration from my kokum and sister’s story. This allowed me to re-evaluate the situation of the Stolen Sisters campaign, Aboriginal women, my community, family and myself. For the first scene I did a traditional hoop dance in a traditional Cree dress as I thought of my mother and how her actions and words embody so much of what our traditional roles as women in Cree culture is all about. How spiritual connectedness and prayer is such a major part of her life and how I aim to be as peaceful and grounded as she is. The second scene was the hip hop choreography which represented the pressures of mainstream society on Aboriginal women, such as glass ceilings, systemic racism, oppression and stereotypes. Here I thought of the injustice of my kokum and my sister and their experiences. This helped me to tap into the anger and frustration surrounding the issues faced by Aboriginal women. The third scene was the rain which washed away the negative (represented by statistics written on my arm and hand) and symbolized healing. This was followed by the ‘fusion’ look which combined hip hop and hoop dance styles together. This represented the ability for Aboriginal women to live in both contemporary and traditional worlds and maintain healthy and balanced lifestyles. I was not only empowered by the women in my family and other women around me (such as Cara and Rulan) but also by being able to spread awareness, understanding and inspiration to others as well. In the final scene I set forth my intention for the future, my own and future generations, to move forward on the path towards healing and well being.
In August 2012 while in Vancouver I was able to attend a gathering on the Downtown Eastside one of the main areas of focus for the Stolen Sisters and Sisters in Spirit. Here I witnessed one of the largest gatherings I have attended for the cause. I witnessed group choreography by the Butterflies in Spirit. A group of 12 Aboriginal women in Vancouver who create dance performances dedicated to, “...raising awareness about violence against aboriginal women, remembering and honoring missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls across Canada, promoting positive role models, aiming to provide advocacy and support services for the families of missing women” (Butterflies in Spirit). They performed a powerful piece that honored the missing and murdered Aboriginal women using both traditional and contemporary song, dance and imagery.
On October 4, 2012 my sister Maria and I volunteered for the Sisters in Spirit Candlelight Vigil in Lethbridge, Alberta to honor our kokum Sarah and all the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. After all these years, all that I have learnt and all that my family has gone through it was a very emotional day for me. I found myself smudging by noon that day because of the intense emotions I was feeling... wishing I could have met my kokum, thankful my sister was found safe, all the stories and statistics, how awe inspiring the Aboriginal women in my life are and how little recognition they get. It was a chilly evening and as I danced I began to lose feeling in my fingers ‘how am I going to do this?’ I thought; which was immediately followed by a thought of my kokum Sarah and her frozen body. I thought, ‘I’m doing this for her’.
I was thankful to have my spirituality as recourse for the intensity of the day. My prayers, hopes, dreams and perseverance serves as a silver lining to the oppression of Aboriginal women, and I believe that our ancestors would want us to always look for that silver lining. My mother, knowing how it was to grow up without a mother of her own, did everything she could and more to provide us with a safe, happy and healthy environment to grow. My sister, now a mother of a beautiful toddler boy is in college and a life coach, promoting healthy lifestyles.
We are all moving forward together... towards healing and well being.
Kisaageetin... You are loved by me.
imagineNATIVE's Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative
Cara Mumford’s blog post on the making of ‘When it Rains’
Amnesty International- Stolen Sisters
Native Women’s Association of Canada- Sisters In Spirit
Photos by Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Studio
From September 6- 30, 2012 I was honored to be part of the creation process and world premiere of Dancing Earth: Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations, Walking at the Edge of Water with founder, artistic director and choreographer Rulan Tangen and choreographic dramaturge, Jack Gray (Maori) at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, NM. Rulan describes this work in the following excerpt:
17 originating cast members, from USA, Canada, New Zealand, representing 21 First Nations of Maori, Inuit, Purhepecha, Laguna and Santo Domingo Pueblo, Dine, Apache, Cree, Ojibway, Anishnaabeg, Samoan, Hopi, Assiniboine, Kainai, Metis, Papanga, Shoshone, Fulani, Meherrin, Zapotec, Tsalagi and Taino.
DANCING EARTH celebrated IAIA's 50th anniversary with a world premiere co-presented by Lensic, Santa Fe Art Institute and IAIA - in a multi-disciplinary expression of arts dedicated to the healing of water.
Expressionistic movement, traditional songs, spirals of smoke from sage and sweetgrass, visions of paintings, films and photos projected into different dimensions turning a theatrical box into a transparent spherical world, spoken word poetry, live vocals, costumes made from salvaged fabrics and window screens with painted pottery designs, petroglyphs, graffiti, oil spills and clay ...
I participated in two previous intensives as part of the initial research, creation and development of this major work focused on the healing of water. Both times were hosted by Indigenous Performance Initiatives (IPI) collective at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. In March 2011 we collaboratively created and performed Walking on the Edge, of Water choreographed by Rulan. I participated as Assistant Choreographer to Daystar/ Rosalie Jones alongside students enrolled in the Indigenous Dance Theater course at Trent University in Nozhem: First Peoples Performance Space. In June 2012 I participated in another stage of development with other professional Indigenous artists, dancers and choreographers. The first half of this development was a site specific work Gaabinjigabaa’ang: Where We Come Ashore performed at the Ode’min Giizis Festival Opening in the Ayaandagon garden at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, June 20, 2012. The second half of development included collaborators Jerry Longboat, Norma Araiza, Heryka Miranda, Javier Stell-Fresquez and Waawaate Forbister as well as guest artists Leanne Simpson, The Unity Singers and Vanessa Dion Fletcher as well as community and youth artists. The show was presented as Zhishodewe... at the Water’s Edge on June 28, 2012 at Nozhem: First Peoples Performance.
For Indigenous dancers the meaning behind the dances are often the most important aspect of the performance. So in this blog post I will discuss some of the thought processes, intentions and stories that informed my movement and served as motivation throughout the piece to show how Indigenous dance can be much deeper than just aesthetics and technique. This is one of the things I have always admired about Rulan Tangen and her company Dancing Earth uses Indigenous methodologies in the creation process not only using the stories and teachings but embodying this in every stage of the work. As a Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree woman) dancer, and for most Indigenous dancers, the emotional intent serves as the driving force behind the dance. For choreographers Rulan and Jack one of their main concerns was for the dancers to go beyond acting and pretending towards being... living the choreography as an authentic part of our reality. Rulan explained that many of the artists really were being themselves, “Sina was embodying her ancestral and spiritual practice for which she was named, as voice of water... [and] the scenes of stark emotional trauma were actually real experiences that the performers have lived.” The result was a choreographic healing ritual created collectively with the dancers and choreographers from diverse backgrounds to invoke healing of the waters of earth and of our bodies.
The Prologue: Vision is a post apocalyptic scene showing the lack of water and misuse of water today. This was a group piece where each person used a personal story related to water to inform their movement, this story came out of a movement exploration of water in the studio. My theme was ‘the way it used to be’ this came from my exploration where I was drawn to Lesser Slave Lake and the way it used to look when I was a child and how it has changed since. The lake is a designated provincial park area and is the largest recreational lake in Alberta. On a regular basis it is used for sand castle competitions and fishing derbies and as a result the lake has been subjected to a lot of human impact over the years. The waters are also affected by development such as the Alberta tar sands and pulp mills. These combined effects are evident in the water and shore of Lesser Slave Lake. Nostalgic and yearning for balance and healing of the lake I imagined the lake as it once was, full of life and natural. Simultaneously mournful and hopeful my embodiment attempted to evoke crashing waves on the lake shore.
Act 1, Scene 5: Reflections, also called In You I See Myself from the song title, was based on movement exploration focused on reflecting our partner through movement. We initially began with an exercise where we took our partners weight and then led them around the room with eyes closed and transformed these movements into a choreographed duet. This process led to me and my partner, Deollo Johnson to create a duet based on the law of attraction, the theory that opposites attract. We used the image of a molecule, H2O, and the positive charge of hydrogen and negative charge of oxygen to inform our movement. Deollo began his journey with heaviness in his movement (negatively charged oxygen) and I began with a feeling of lightness (positively charged hydrogen). I entered as if lost and searching and met Deollo center stage. He was slumped over in his heaviness and we began taking on each other’s qualities and reflecting each other’s movement. I was then guided around stage eyes closed and when I opened my eyes again was able to ‘see my path’. My understanding of the duet was that it created a sense of balance, through positive and negative/ male and female, and how seeking balance with others influences our own identity as the song says ‘In you I see myself’. As we began to reflect each other we also became more assured in our own identity. Through relationships with others we are able to understand our purpose in life, without others and without relationships we are lost. In terms of water there is a need for us to understand our role in the healing of water and how we also rely on clean water for our own healing... My mother has always told me that rain cleanses the spirit.
Act 2, Scene 9: Statistics, Rulan shared that this scene was intended to make all the statistics about First Nations people, Indigenous people, water and the environment more relatable. Most people do not care about statistics and this scene was intended to show the audience their role in creating statistics and how these statistics influence their everyday lives. I did push ups backstage in order to get pumped up for the intensity of the scene (something I never thought I would do!). It was often referred to as the most important scene of the piece... This was what it was all about, to get people to care about the healing of water. The main thought in my head throughout this piece was, “What are we doing?” and my intention was to show everything that was ‘messed’ up with the world... consumerism, racism, sexism... I thought of the history of our people, the history of colonization and the present manifestations and continuation of this history... For myself the scene was very intense in the anger, greed, hatred, illness and pain that I had to represent, which are all effects of our compliance in society, not caring about all the statistics and not caring about our environment.
Act 2, Scene 12: Mourning was performed by a trio of women including Dancing Earth company members Erika Archer and Nichole Salazaar and myself as a cast member. Described by Rulan as “feminine prototypes, embodying the idea that as protectors of water, women also are feeling the sorrow of what has happened to water and indeed to their own status as women - the oppression, forgetting of respect and sacredness, the wastefulness.” The choreography was based on several Native traditions for mourning, including washing the hair and cutting the hair. We also used hand painted bowls as props, which were inspired by Native clay pottery customs. Getting into the scene was made easier because it followed Statistics and Ancestors Lament a powerful and moving duet with Rulan and Jack where ‘Ancient ancestors are awakened into this nightmare – energy of death, disturbing the ancient fossils and grinding them up’ (Rulan Tangen, Narrative for Walking at the Edge of Water). Before I even stepped on stage I began to think ‘What have we done?’... what have we done to the earth, to water, air, trees and to each other? Then before even stepping on stage I would pray for forgiveness for myself and for all of us... praying for pity from the creator. I truly felt that this helped me to experience the mourning dance as a powerful and important piece in the healing of water. I hope that real tears on stage also helped the audience to also understand and feel what this scene was about. In the Anishnaabe (Ojibway) culture water is related to the emotional and tears are part of healing. The scenes Mourning, Ancestors Lament and Sacrifice were the trans-formative pieces and helped lead the way towards healing, purification and ritual.
The piece ended with passion. We ‘splashed onto the stage’, as described by Jacqueline Shea Murphy, in Act 2, Scene 15: Offerings which represented the restoration of healing and balance of water. We are the offerings to water... we offer ourselves; we offer our love and gratefulness in order to change our thoughts and behaviors to keep water sacred and to keep the water alive for future generations...
“We are the ones we have been waiting for” – Hopi saying shared by Rulan Tangen
Ninanaksomun, I am thankful.
Dancing Earth: Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations: http://www.dancingearth.org/
Promo video for Walking at the Edge of Water: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4p3e9LsBTY&feature=youtu.be
This apprenticeship sponsored by Canada Council for the Arts.
In 2011 I was contacted by Native Earth Performing Arts (NEPA) (www.nativeearth.ca) in Toronto and asked to do a fancy shawl demonstration for animators that were working on a Sky Woman Animation at Seneca@York. I was told the animation would be used for an online video game about the creation story featuring Sky Woman.
I was totally thrilled about the project. But as a dancer I had no idea what to expect as this was my first time involved in something like this!
Once I arrived at Seneca@York I had to look for the animation studio. I have to admit I had no idea what I was looking for I was even wondering if they would be putting those little stickers all over me (motion sensors).
Instead, I arrived at a small classroom with a small circle of easel desks and some yoga mats laid out in the middle of the room. The four animators were sitting around enjoying a coffee... Uhh, I forgot to mention I was a little late after going to the wrong campus first! (Why me?)
I was welcomed in and needless to say everyone was ready to get to work... I put on the beautiful shawl that Shannon from NEPA had let me use for the project. The shawl was made by dancer and designer Deanne Hupfield (http://www.deannehupfield.com/). The lead animator asked me to do a few poses with the shawl and I started to explain the meanings behind the dance all the while holding up the shawl at different angles for thirty second intervals which was quite the arm workout. The animators were mostly silent and focused on their sketches. Every now and then asking questions about me, Native dance and powwows.
During a break I got to take a look at some of the sketches. I was amazed at the amount of talent in the room. The sketches were varied in color style and medium. Some used watercolor, pastel, pencil crayon or charcoal.
Wanting to get some movement into the images I was asked to do a few dance steps, stop and hold a pose and repeat.
To get the movement of the shawl I was asked to spin for as long as I could then stop and spin the other way!
I know, sounds like torture right? (Maybe it was punishment for being late?) Regardless of how dizzy I got and how tired my arms were from holding up the shawl hours on end there was always that greater purpose that kept me going. This meaningful aspect of art allows us to willingly endure uncomfortable and sometimes painful situations. Knowing that this would be one small piece to a larger picture - a website dedicated to Aboriginal stories and culture! - was inspiring and humbling at the same time. The project fit perfectly with my vision and dedication to the use of dance, art and culture as a means of healing within Aboriginal communities. Being a part of the Sky Woman animation is just one of the many ways that this dedication has manifested itself in my life.
I was thrilled to find the link to the game (www.turtlesback.ca) on NEPA's website. Instead of playing the game you could watch the video of the creation story BUT if you want to see the drawings from my day in the animation studio you have to play the game from the beginning to unlock the next level of the story. And, yes I did play all four levels AND I had a blast playing them too... the last level was like an Aboriginal version of guitar hero! And I totally jammed out like Nehiyaw (Cree) rockstar!
I think the most significant thing is that seeing myself in the role of Sky Woman (even briefly) has got me thinking of the role of women in creation stories as well as traditional roles of women and the degree to which we maintain this central position in our communities today. I am thankful as an Aboriginal woman to be able to play another small part in the role of creation. This time a digital creation. Hiy hiy!
Native Earth Performing Arts (NEPA): http://www.nativeearth.ca
Play the game or watch the video here: www.turtlesback.ca(A partnership between NEPA and Seneca College)
Last week Canada Arts Connect (http://canadaartsconnect.com/) asked the question: Should artists/ musicians/ actors/ writers be role models?
The answer to this question may depend on a lot of factors such as culture, medium, purpose/intention and audience. I want to tackle this issue using one aspect of good role modelling- being drug and alcohol free. I will also be 'lumping' all artists together - dancers, musicians, actors, visual artists - Carelessly, yet gladly! For I believe artists SHOULD work together more as a cohesive lump :)
From my own life experiences (fifteen years experience n ten international styles of dance) I know that being drug and alcohol free can be one of the major differences between Western and Native art forms. In Western art forms, especially in mainstream and popular cultures, it may be the opposite with the most ‘successful’ artists being those who many parents dread their children become fans of (myself included). But, is that the purpose of art? Financial gain and popularity? Surely, there are more efficient ways of achieving this.
For many Native artists cultural values such as respect, equality and responsibility (hence, role modelling) are part of their practice.
This has been the case for myself as a hoop dancer. When I first began to learn the hoop dance from my teacher, Jerry First Charger (Kainai), one of the first things he taught me was that once I start dancing people will start to notice. He was saying that I would become a role model. My mother and older sister later told me that when you are doing Native dance you should be drug and alcohol free... again, they were saying that Native dancers are role models. Responsibility is actually a key teaching in the hoop dance and is represented by the hoop itself- whatever you put out comes back to you.
Today, I have been four and a half years drug and alcohol free, even though, I started hoop dancing seven years ago... What can I say it was a work in progress! At least I tried, never gave up and was, eventually, successful!
... So basically all I did so far is stereotype artists into non-Native alcoholics and drug addicts V. romanticized Native warriors. Fortunately the world of art is not as black and white as this, or maybe red and white? What about Native people who use contemporary art forms? OR Native people who practice traditional art forms yet continue to abuse drugs and alcohol? OR Non-Native sober artists who practice Native art forms? (Okay, maybe I was getting carried away with that last one)...
Just because a Native artists uses contemporary art forms does not mean they use drugs and alcohol... and just because a Native artist uses traditional art forms does not mean they are sober... Although a Native artist may not be sober it does not mean that they do not respect, honor and embody their culture. They may simply choose to express their identity and culture in different ways, highlighting different values and teachings.
In the end, as Native artists we walk a fine line between traditional and contemporary... Although I am drug and alcohol free I regrettably do not live in a tipi (except for during Driftpile Powwow!) I drive a car and I go grocery shopping, we've heard this one before.
The beauty of being an artist is the ability to create... This is what art is regardless of culture, medium, purpose/intention and audience... It is creating beautiful/ ugly, funny/ boring, vibrant/ dull... yet ALWAYS (or mostly... or hopefully?) creating new and evolving ideas. Whatever stage we are at in our own growth and process as Native artists we can say that we are creating something new (new interpretations, forms, techniques, designs, patterns...). This new 'thing' is often the result of the ongoing negotiation between the traditional and contemporary. Artists themselves are part of this ongoing negotiation so it is reflected in our everyday life. We make our own choice of where we draw the line between the traditional and contemporary. Or even how we define traditional and contemporary (that's a whole new blog).
So, should artists be role models? I think we are all role models and there is always someone watching us... But the definition of what a role model is may be totally up to the individual.
'Cree Woman Speaking' is a space to share my voice. My goal is to spread awareness and share wisdom as I learn and grow as a dancer, choreographer, and woman. My passion is to show the healing power of dance and culture. I love learning from elders, experience, and research and being able to synthesize Native and non-Native ways of knowing!
All Cara Mumford Cree Hoop Dance Idle No More Indigenous Dance International Women's Day 2017 Life Givers Missing And Murdered Aboriginal Women Native Hoop Dance Native Women Nehiyawak Reconciliation Resilience Rulan Tangen Sacred Hoop Sisters In Spirit Stolen Sisters Sugarray Robinson When It Rains World Championship Hoop Dance Contest