FPCC is sharing the creative ways communities and individuals are changing their projects during COVID-19. This series on COVID-19 success stories feature some specific examples of how a willingness to be creative and flexible during this challenging time has led to new and exciting work.
The following is an Indigenous Arts Program success story featuring soundscapes of Indigenous artists provided by Odette Auger, a Sagamok Anishnawbek audio storyteller, reporter for Indiginews and a first-time recipient of an FPCC Sharing Traditional Arts grant. This funding supports projects by Indigenous artists in B.C. that pass traditional arts skills and knowledge, in all art forms, across generations. Odette shares with us the connections and transmission of knowledge that take place through generations and how she overcame challenges. With a focus on audio storytelling and soundscapes, Odette describes to us how the project was able to evolve and respond to changes during the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Below is the story was written by Odette along with a select number of audio clips and soundscapes of Indigenous artists that she gathered for the project.
In the winter of 2019, I planned a series of artist interviews with creative soundscapes from their studios. I’m a first-time FPCC recipient of the Sharing Traditional Arts award and this project combines my background in visual arts and my work as an audio storyteller and journalist.
My love of deep listening goes hand in hand with storytelling and this is a series that explores the inner life of artists. Connection was at the core and that meant long in-person interviews. It also meant time spent in personal spaces and studios, to capture the soundscape.
A key theme of the project was to record demos with youth and explore the intergenerational transmission of traditional art-making. The first artist’s sound session unfolded exactly as planned, with Coast Salish carver Jesse Recalma, from Qualicum First Nation. Jesse shared a 3-part series of demos at Cortes Island School, 2 per day with different outcomes for the varying age ranges. For the younger children, stories and language were shared. Gentle redirections around cultural appropriation were offered through an invitation to interpret their surroundings in their own way, using their own visual language.
Scholars say intergenerational transmission requires 3 generations of involvement — we could take this very literally, or indirectly– as I observed by listening in on Jesse’s artist talk with youth at local schools. Before COVID-19 restrictions, I walked into a woodshop with youth in grades 6 to 9. Jesse was carving, youth were learning how he’s crafting a Northern Salish style paddle and during conversation with the youth, his grandfather and father also enter the shop. Below is an excerpt from Jesse Recalma’s transcript:
“My late grandfather was one of the first FN principals in the entire province… one of the first to graduate from school in the province, he wasn’t the first, he was one of the first. He was very lucky, his father eventually said no to him being in residential school, he wasn’t going to send his son to that, and risking jail… he was able to get his son put into the public school system in the Comox Valley, and my grandfather went on to become a shop teacher and principal in Hazelton B.C. So I spent quite a bit of time in his shop growing up…”
The project was unfolding with interviews in hand, editing in the works, school visits underway, and then COVID-19 interrupted. Suddenly, reaching out came with the concern of exposure and careful planning was required. High-quality sound recording was essential to the project and recording through telephone or zoom calls wouldn’t meet the benchmark.
As one of the participants, storyteller and journalist Pamela Post said, “These strange pandemic times have both interrupted, and inspired.”
Thinking out of the box sometimes means willing to be flexible- not just once, but constantly. This has been the case for the soundscape artist interviews series.
I sent Tla’amin weaver Sosan Blaney a recording studio in a box, delivered by courier. I included an extra zoom recorder with fresh batteries, an SD card, printed clear instructions and return postage pre-paid. Not many recording tips were required as Sosan already had experience with the tools.
A significant part of the project was drafting the interview questions. When Sosan was under lockdown I shared the questions for her to muse over. The sensitive recorder picked up pauses and inflections of warmth as the artist remembered learning from Elder Elsie Paul. She speaks with gratitude about her mother, immersing her in both language and weaving from early childhood. Learning from Elders continues, and her own children were engaged in the weaving demos. The recordings captured their interactions with Elsie Paul and their mother.
The reality is every artist had different levels of technical understanding, and comfort with recording tools. The pace slowed, but the content became richer through the time everything took. The increased sound editing required them to record repeated takes at times. For example, recording without headphones, someone might not realize how much background sound was audible such as traffic for example. This had beautiful surprises too, like when ravens could be overheard, scratching in the moss on Elsie’s roof during the weaving.
The “a-ha” moments still happened, and the goosebumps of confirmation still drew listeners in. For series cohesion and style, the artists were given the same questions, with completely different results. The artists’ experiences and personal reflections, on what makes them an artist, were completely unique from each other. The common thread was the significance and impact of the energy that is transmitted along with skills, through generations.
Once completed, this collection of interviews and soundscapes of Indigenous artists will air on co-op radio and will be archived on a simple website. There is hope that the collection will continue to grow, beyond this challenging year, to share more stories of knowledge transfer.
FPCC funding was an essential support to my project, and also felt like validation. The knowledge being transferred is a treasure beyond measure, the artistry being communicated, in order to continue on for generations as it has been to this day. I felt this through my interactions with FPCC staff, too – they valued this work and understood why it mattered. I felt supported through brainstorming and helping me adjust for COVID-19, ensuring success.
Thank you Odette for sharing these important stories and for capturing the sharing of Indigenous knowledge and arts practices from one generation to the next. The Sharing Traditional Arts grant accepts applications during the summer with a deadline of September 15. If you would like to be notified when the call for applications opens please sign up here.
Share Your Story!
Do you have COVID-19 or FPCC program success story about how you have adapted the work you do in First Nations languages, cultural heritage and Indigenous arts in B.C.? We want to hear from you! Please send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org and check back as we post more stories about the good work being done across the province.
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