jingle-dress-dancers

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TBT. But every day is a good day to be indigenous! 

(Just some photos taken throughout my year as the Stampede Indian Princess) 1st Photo taken by Karyn Lee, photos 2-7 taken by Noah Fallis from Calgary’s Avenue Magazine

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“I grew up in a churchy town. There were sixteen churches in a town of 2,000 people. Mennonite, Catholic, Lutheran. So everybody was in the closet. It wasn’t about being Two-Spirit, because nobody was out where I come from.

Growing up, I felt the energy from different people who were Two-Spirit. It’s like we knew each other, even if we didn’t talk about it, because it was something that we were silent about. I grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, so it’s different than here. That’s why I came out here, because it’s more acceptable to be who you are in this particular city than anywhere else I’ve ever been. When I truly found who I was, it was like an explosion. Like, ‘Wow, I can be who I am?’

Two-Spirit means having both male and female spirits within you, like a gender fluidity between male and female. I don’t think one’s more important than the other. They balance each other. We go along the gender spectrum. We’re fluid in it, we’re not just stuck in one place.

Part of my Two-Spirit identity is being a male traditional dancer, even though I’m female. There’s a lot of men who cross into being either a jingle dress dancer, or a female traditional dancer. It’s all about who our spirit tells us we are, not who society tells us we are.

Right now my cousin’s son is expressing himself. He’s dressing up as a princess, and I’m glad she’s allowing him to be who he is. Posting pictures on Facebook, even, not keeping it hidden. And I like that, because she’s empowering him. Until we embrace our Two-Spirits and bring them back into the circle, it’s never gonna be a circle, because we complete it.”

Sewella (a.k.a. Mo)

Willow Cree from Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada

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Tweet:  #Indigenous Warriors raise Unity flags to celebrate Stephen #Harper’s defeat at Main & Portage ave in #Winnipeg

Tweet:  First Nations Jingle Dress Dancer celebrates Stephen #Harper’s defeat at Main & Portage ave in #Winnipeg.

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Tweet:  Rock the #indigenous vote organizers gather to celebrate Stephen #Harper’s defeat at main & portage ave #Winnipeg

Why I Write

Oki! (Hello)

When I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Quite frankly I was mostly just scared of failing so I never really “tried”. I was just a girl from a rez. All I knew was that I wanted to be involved with the media industry in some way. It intrigued me because it was and still is constantly evolving. 

This past October, I got the opportunity of a lifetime.. Well for me, anyway! I got an interview to work for my reserve’s media outlet. Three weeks later, I got the call that I got the job. Immediately, I thought “shit, I can’t do this!” This was my first reaction because I’m not one to finish what I start. Also, I get scared of failing so I get discouraged easily. The job description included: 10 newspaper articles per month, 10 hours of radio per week, three photos per article (plus 10+ photos for the rest of the paper), advertising, graphic design, editing, videography, and interviews. I was expected to take over the newspaper, radio station, and media services for an entire reserve. Canada’s second largest reservation… On my first day I got a tour of the office and the radio board was like braille to me, there’s no way I can learn this and figure out what it means. And let me touch on the fact that I’m the ONLY person doing all of this. Yes, I only have 2 other co-workers. Our boss/editor and the office administration. I’ve had about 67728 “I’m not cut out for this shit” moments since i’ve started. Yet, I’m still here. Let me explain why:

I took everything gradually. The first two months I focused solely on photography and writing, because that already came easy to me. Then I hit the ground crawling with the radio content and I’ll be honest, I’m still not perfect at it; but I’ll get where I want to be. Next I’ll be focusing on videos so I can do news casts, live on location updates, interviews, short docs, etc. And good news: I have since been upgraded to full time this past April! I haven’t been fired yet! With a population of +7,000, I underestimated how many people I’m actually reaching. Not to mention the surrounding areas of my reserve, which include all of Southern Alberta. So again, why am I still here? 

Growing up, I was a jingle dress dancer. I have always been proud of my culture and where I’m from. I’m 100% Blackfoot and I’ve never shied away from that. Outside media tends to paint a negative depiction of First Nations reservations, or natives in general. Drugs, alcohol, abuse, violence, homelessness, these topics are often used when major outlets cover first nations stories. And to top it all off: when these are broadcasted, social media trolls have a field day in the comments section. Yes these unfortunate things happen to First Nations, I’ve already had to write a few articles on them. However, that’s not all we are. We’re not all high school dropouts, drug addicts, panhandlers, drunks on the streets, dealers, prostitutes, etc…

Just like EVERY community out there, these things exist. It just takes a small number to make the rest of us look bad. How many city kids have ever been to a reservation? I highly doubt a lot have been. Yet, most of them only see a Native in person if one is homeless or drunk downtown asking for change. That’s the only impression of Natives that some non-natives get. 

Also, our issues are more offered to the general public because reserves are much smaller, so when violence, drugs, or controversy or whatever happen it’s a huge thing, thus causing outside media to swoop in and report on it. Let me give you a personal example: My first HUGE coverage was the Castle Mountain Land Claim settlement. Basically, Canada took a piece of our land away and we have never been compensated for it. That land is nestled between Lake Louise and Banff. So I’m live on location in Siksika and a guy from the Calgary Sun and the Calgary Herald calls me and just strikes up a conversation with me. I told him not to quote anything from our conversation, but what does he do? He misconstrues my words and basically wrote that I said we’re selling our land. I died, I thought for sure I was fired. Thankfully my boss was behind me throughout the mess and the fallout. But after, I learned that the big boys in the city will do anything for a controversial story, especially if it involves Natives. However I’m not bitter, I just learned the hard way that that’s how some journalists work. Now, the reason I write? Why am I still in this stressful, underpaid position?

I want to counteract the negativity. I want to help the departments on my nation. I want to shed light on issues that need awareness. I want to celebrate nation members who are doing positive things for the community. I want to continue running a radio station and newspaper, and hopefully it’ll develop into something bigger. Possibly add a magazine, podcasts, apps, photo studio, the list goes on. I want to continue dreaming and thinking outside the box, because it is all possible.

I love my job! I love all that I do. Will it be as stressful forever? No, because I’m still learning, and it’ll honestly take me about a year or so to “settle” and get into the regular grind and routine. Am I a perfect writer/ interviewer/ radio host/ photographer/ videographer/ editor? Definitely not. But I know I am determined to get to where I want to be.

I’m still here because this is what I’ve wanted forever. And what you want won’t come easily at all. You have to fight for it and that’s what makes it worth it. I don’t want to be a radio star or a native Oprah, I simply want to share stories to help others. I am happy to say that at 24 years old, I finally know my career and purpose.