Art by Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch | Image credit: Shannon Webb-Campbell
Two-Spirit Man/Two-Spirit Woman Call Home the Salmon w/Help, a collaborative installation, honours the power of art, action, and ceremony. Featuring work by Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour and Dayna Danger, Christi Belcourt, and Isaac Murdoch, the exhibition ran at Never Apart, an urban queer art gallery in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal, until September 22, 2019.
“Two-Spirit is about storytelling,” says Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, of Secwepemc and 4th generation English settler descent. “It’s a doorway through which we tell our beautifully diverse stories of triumphant loving and being and sur-thriving trauma with the lands and water and peoples that we serve and protect. Even in light of the fact that the hands of those we thought would protect us and keep us safe were the cause of violence – or idle while it happened.”
Art is a call to action, a means to hold space and presence. Indigenous art explores transformational ancestral connection between the body, water, land and spirit.
Two-Spirit Man/Two-Spirit Woman Call Home the Salmon w/Help is a calling, an act of resilience and space-making for Two-Spirit youth in particular, as a means of to move necessary conversations forward.
“I’m interested in sewing seeds for two-spirit persons coming up behind us or those not yet here. I have to use my gifts to clear as much of a pathway as I can for the young ones,” says McNeil-Seymour. I don’t want to wait another seven generations for things to get better or the next federal or even an INAC band election and hope – maybe this time.”
In the exhibition Two-Spirit Man/Two-Spirit Woman Call Home the Salmon w/Help, two mannequins are dressed in cedar wrapped shawls, and each wear a Sundance skirt belonging to Metis/Saulteaux/Polish Two-Spirit artists Danger, whose long black skirt features an embroidered uterus (designed and sewn by Erin Marie Konsmo and Dayna’s mother), and McNeil-Seymour’s skirt is a brilliant cobalt blue with light blue ribbon layered over salmon shapes cut from navy blue ribbon. Traditionally, long skirts are worn during ceremony, yet can be quite controversial should a person deviate from the gender binary and wear one the wrong way.
“In thinking about the issue of skirt shaming and other erasures of Two-Spirit people from having historically existed excludes us as young persons from feelings of belonging –The Indian Residential School system must be named as having cemented homophobia and transphobia always and loudly,” says McNeil-Seymour. “The colonial technology’s of homophobia and transphobia are Canadian colonial cultural projects deeply embedded in all communities of the nation state of Canada.”
Murdoch’s iconic water protect prints feature a silhouette of an Indigenous figure with a bright red beating heart, and text that reads : Water is Sacred No Pipelines! While these prints contrast the exhibition’s more subtle textile pieces, Murdoch’s and Christi Belcourt’s work boldly frames the show’s central poetic focus. Water is sacred. Two-Spirit people are sacred.
“Water is medicine and medicine is water. So I fight. I fight to save what I love which is the water and the salmon because we are salmon people, but also in that fight I am reclaiming accepted spaces for Two-Spirit people.”
Edited by Never Apart’s Veronique Mystique, two screens project aerial video winter footage of Tk’emlups (Kamloops, BC). Indigenous performers; including: Danger, Raymonde Lisa Bourque-Bearskin, Aunty Colleen Seymore, Skullhemp and Stkmastik and special guest Miss Quanah (Style) Napoleon, begin the ceremony by singing a Secwepemc honour song to the river. McNeil- Seymour offers salmon bones wrapped up in a cedar bundle, and lays them on the frozen shoreline by the rushing river in order to call the salmon back, and in turn, bring Two-Spirits home.
“This video installation is entirely a way to transmute knowledge while simultaneously forcing an interruption and juxtaposes a city coming to life in the morning as we hear sirens and trains and geese and ravens,” he says. “While an almost eerie constant wind blows, underscoring the confluence and friction of settler society while ceremony is stood back up again and happening just across the river.”
McNeil-Seymour says the inspiration behind the video installation is for younger Secwepemc Two-Spirit (and all Two-Spirits) generations to attach to water and salmon defence as something they can feel responsible for, and how they can contribute.
The split image of ceremony and infrastructure depict the fragmented effects of the colonization of land and water, and how it relates to Two Spirit identity, youth suicide crisis and belonging. At one point in the video McNeil-Seymour drops to his knees, Danger steps in and cuts his braid, and he weeps. While rubbing his shoulders, Danger gently places the braid on the cedar bundle offering. In this instance their kinship and Two-Spirit resistance transforms misogyny and heteropatriarchy, and calls upon us to act.
“Two-Spirit Man/Two-Spirit Woman Call Home the Salmon, w/Help requires the witness to use a search engine of their preference to learn more about Secwepemcul’ecw, but most importantly, ask themselves who are you? Where are you from? And why are you here?” says McNeil-Seymour. “The witness is no longer allowed to sit idly by if reconciliation is authentic in its doing for them. Settler mastery of naming Indigenous territory is a necessity, but then what are you going to do? Allyship is over. We need accomplices.”