Miinakii and Me
by Lauren Crazybull and Faye HeavyShield
In this collaborative artist project, Faye HeavyShield and Lauren Crazybull have created new work through intergenerational conversation, exchange, and kinship. Calling out and responding to each other in turn, the resulting works reflect the many ways in which all things are connected: berries, ancestors, Prairie grass, time, stories, relations, ceremony. All part of a wildly complex and beautiful form of gathering, the form of gathering that is life, itself.
Faye HeavyShield: I work with the idea of temporality and how time can shift. Time can’t be tied, and neither can our connections to our environment and our history—these things remain a part of us. Niitsitapi have always gathered food, for sustenance, for medicine, and for ceremony. In this pandemic, even though some things are not as physically possible as before, that meaning and feeling of gathering is not lost, not gone. The berries are still here, the land is still here and because of that, so are we. The absence of physical gatherings does not negate that this is the season for berries.
Lauren Crazybull: When I hear you talk about gathering, and about how berries connect us to our ancestors, stories, and land, I feel like there’s just so much that it could mean, there is so much behind the act of gathering berries; it can ultimately connect us in ways that aren’t just physical. Can you tell me about how these ideas informed your material choices?
FH: I use the image of Prairie grass often because I’m surrounded by it. I chose to use berries as a tie to another form that is often present in my work—the circle (and sometimes the spiral). The okonokiistss (Saskatoon berries) are the stones in the medicine wheel, tipi rings, the remains of the old camps. The land, the berries, and the stone markers signify our strength as Niitsitapi. In this work, they indicate our history, and who we are today. They stand in for stories we have heard. Connecting this further, okonokiistss are imprinted on the second image, the juices leaving a vivid trace.
LC: Seeing the berries layered over the photograph of the grass made me go back to my drawings and think: How can I make these images more physical? How can I move them toward embodying something you can touch? I didn’t want to make images that felt disconnected or far away.
FH: Where did you start in making this work?
LC: I looked at my copy of the Blackfoot dictionary and there were so many different definitions of gathering, I thought it was kind of funny: gathering for an event, gather all people to one spot, gather fabric, raking… there was even a Blackfoot phrase for gathering at Walmart (Iitáóhkanáóo’p). I took these unpeopled, solitary photos of the land in Blackfoot Territory, then I looked at images of past gatherings that were important to me, like of my family’s annual justice walk for my late aunt Jackie Crazybull, and of the time me and my siblings went to Nose Hill Park to learn why it was an important Blackfoot landmark. I gathered all these images and memories on top of one another, thought about how I feel right now being away from people I care about, and tried to emulate
that feeling. And then I got some objects together: the sweetgrass I was gifted last time I was in Sikohkotoki (Lethbridge) and the mint you gave me when I visited your home. I wanted there to be a trace, a memory of these past gatherings, mixed with these images of the land—peopleless, for now, but not empty. I guess I like to map out these images that can tell a story, or many stories.
FH: What does solitude mean to you?
LC: For me, it can be a nice thing, but like everything, it works in moderation. Solitude can help me feel more human… I can sit with my thoughts, map them out, and try to think of my next steps. Without it, I feel like I am just going through the motions. My practice thrives in solitude, so I find a lot of value in it. I’m a slow thinker so I need that time to organize my thoughts. What about you?
FH: Solitude is when I can devote my whole self to this other entity in my space and that is my art. I need that intimacy in my work. To be able to make decisions, to question myself, and to feel good about the choices I make. I remember one time, years ago, thinking that if nothing else happened to me from that day on, I would still have all these stories, experiences, and references to make art about and with. I feel richer every day that happens. Even when you think you’re not moving, you are. You’re ruminating. You’re making decisions. It’s not all just doing. It’s about thinking, deciding—for, against, instead.