Chaudière Falls, 1894-2017. Photo on the right: ©2017 Paul Couvrette
The Chaudière Falls have been the site of First Nations ceremonies for thousands of years and the region hosts archaeological evidence of First Nations settlements in this region for over 5000 years. However a paper mill and hydro station were built on the falls which blocked off their access. This particular site has not been accessible to any one for over 150 years, that is until last July when traditional dancer Joseé Bourgeois (Algonquins of Pikwakanagan) and photographer Paul Couvrette (French) gained historic access to undertake a ceremonial photo shoot and semma (tobacco) ceremony. In their Artists Statement both Couvrette and Bourgeois remarked how they believe these images are the first photographic images of a First Nations individual at this site, since the first photographs in Canada were taken in the mid 1800s.
“I really want people to make a connection to the significance and beauty of the Chaudiére Falls to the Algonquins,” said Bourgeois. “It’s a message; it tells a bigger story of whose territory they are on.” Before the photo shoot a sacred tobacco ceremony was performed. Giving semma is a way of praying and giving thanks. “It’s ceremony that hasn’t happened in a long time at that spot,” Bourgeois said. “We walked down to a rock feeling the mist from the falls and I held Paul’s hand. We put tobacco in the water together to give thanks for that day.”
Bourgeois and Couvrette met in 2015 at the Ottawa River Keepers Gala and struck up a friendship. Couvrette is an established photographer who has run a successful photography business for over 40 years credited with photographing each of the Prime Ministers of Canada since Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He has a keen interest and connection to First Nations history in the Ottawa region. Bourgeois is a traditional dancer performing across the city’s capital and is based out of Kitigan Zibi, QC. Maintaining their friendship over the years, Couvrette approached Bourgeois about doing a photoshoot on the Chaudiére Falls before securing access to the falls from Hydro Ottawa.
The message for this project is about Indigenous resilience. We are still here and we always will be. It was about re-asserting and acknowledging the First Nations presence and voices on land that has been used for sacred purposes since time immemorial. Bourgeois explained, “It was profoundly meaningful. Doors opened to reaffirm that the City of Ottawa is changing and that the First Nations, especially Algonquins, are on a good path to reclaim our territory.”
This is the first time these photographs will be seen by the public.
Excerpt of Artists Statement:
The idea originated from a desire to highlight the resilience of First Nations people in the Nation’s Capital and to acknowledge the connection of someone like Joseé, who is Algonquin, to this site. The image of Josee in traditional fancy shawl and jingle dress regalia, standing on the rock face surface inside the pipe shaped caldron at the bottom of Chaudière Falls is a strong symbol of the spirit and resilience of the Algonquin Nation and a new awakening in Canada.
Couvrette chose the site for this reason as well as the fact this his French ancestors were involved in building the Chaudière dam facility as well as working as loggers on that section of the Ottawa River for decades, and he has a tremendous amount of respect and honor for the reality of history this site carries for both First Nations and non-first Nations people. Through his friendship with Josee they were able to put this vision together and turn it into everlasting art, that was created with sincerity and respect.
Josee, she wants the other generations both younger and older to feel a sense of overwhelming pride that an Algonquin life giving mother stood on this beautiful and powerful site and was able to lay tobacco and give a prayer of thanksgiving to the Falls. She feels that her ancestors are very proud that one of their descendants and loved ones were able to be a part of the shift in times we face and the capacity of possibilities we as Algonquins can create for ourselves and our sustainability on our territory.
The images will have a range of purposes from their donation to a number of Museums to their support of fundraising primarily for First Nations and Ottawa River causes in the future. We hope they contribute to the ongoing discussion of the history of our region and the reconciliation process in Canada.
We wish to thank Ottawa Hydro and all other friends who were apart of the planning process and helped in making history with us, Migwetch.
Paul Couvrette is one of a select group of Canadians named Master Photographer by the Professional Photographers of Canada. He won Canadian Photographer of the year in 1994 and has shot for Time in the Arctic Circle and Nortel across North America. His worldwide lectures focus primarily on his friendship with the Karsh brothers and his early pioneering of digital photography. He owns the longest standing studio in Ottawa, the sole studio in the core of Ottawa owned by a photographer.
Josee Bourgeois is a member of the Algonquin’s of Pikwakanagan First Nations in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario. Most of Josee’s life has been spent growing up in big cities like Ottawa and Toronto. Ms. Bourgeois began her journey as an accomplished contemporary dancer and competitive gymnast as a young girl, by the age of 13 Josee began a very successful international career as one of Canada’s only high fashion First Nations models where she traveled all over the worl . Over the last 10 years Josee has graduated College as Valedictorian, and worked for the Federal department of Corrections Canada in Nova Scotia.
In 2014 Josee moved back to her ancestral Algonquin territory of the Ottawa valley and since then began a career as an Accreditation Coordinator for a First Nations Rehabilitation center in Kitigan Zibi, QB. To date Josee has performed in productions for The National Arts Center, Cirque du Soleil- Volta production, has been featured in documentary series on APTN and been casted in several different music videos for her dancing abilities as a First Nations traditional dancer.