FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Sandra Lamouche
FUTURES/forward Mentee, Sandra Lamouche — cohort #5, February to June 2023 — mentored by Inuksuk Mackay
As part of the triad model, Sandra was placed as an artist-in-residence at TRAction.
Community-engaged arts project co-created with TRAction: Honour Dance for Creation
Sandra Lamouche is a nehiyaw iskwew (Cree Woman) from the Bigstone Cree Nation in Northern Alberta. She lives on Nitsitapi land in Treaty 7 with her husband and two sons who are members of the Piikani Nation. She is a champion hoop dancer, an award-winning Indigenous education leader and a two-time TEDx speaker, writer, artist and choreographer. She received her B.A. in Native American Studies from the University of Lethbridge. She has a Master’s degree in Indigenous Studies from Trent University on Indigenous Dance and Well-being. She uses the multidisciplinary nature of Indigenous Studies in her work, from women’s studies to Indigenous art, Indigenous law courses, and beyond. She has over fifteen years of experience in ten international styles of dance including ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, modern, contemporary, hip hop, powwow styles, and the hoop dance. She has gained most recognition as a Hoop Dancer and has been showcased and performed internationally. The hoop dance and its teachings of unity, balance, equality, and interconnectedness of creation inform her practices. This often includes land-based practices, environmental and climate-related topics, as well as social justice issues.
The community-engaged art project I worked on — Honour Dance for Creation — was inspired by TRAction: Art for Climate Justice and their Procession for End Times. I wanted to do a similar project from an Indigenous perspective so I thought of how we might do an honour dance for a person or group of people who have achieved success and to show respect and reverence for their life and contributions to the world. I thought that this would be a more hopeful and positive message and be in alignment with Indigenous protocols of respecting the land and animals.
The first step I took was learning about different endangered and at-risk species in Canada using websites of various well-known organizations and groups. We browsed some of the lists and looked at some of the information on the animals. Each participant took time on their own to look through the resources and research to study different animals. Participants shared how they enjoyed learning about all the different species at risk and getting to know them better. They learned about some of the different risk factors and some common themes related to risks became apparent. Many participants chose animals that were in the region of the country where they lived as well. They shared that they felt a closer relationship with the specific animal as well as with the land and environment around them.
I created a presentation and shared the purpose of the honour dance and some basic history of Indigenous dances and music. We listened to an honour dance song that my husband, Lowell Yellowhorn, had recorded with a hand drum. I taught the basic steps for the dance and talked about the different elements of the dance. We also had a discussion about cultural appropriation. I shared how I felt this was not cultural appropriation because the art was of an animal and not necessarily related to only Indigenous cultural traditions. I also know that the honour dance is not only done with regalia, it is open to everyone including those in pedestrian clothes and of all cultures. As an Indigenous person leading this dance, I felt that this was also an important aspect. Generally speaking, cultural appropriation is taking an aspect of another’s culture in order to profit or benefit in some way; whereas this project was done not for our own gain but to raise awareness of endangered species in Canada and it was Indigenous led. The artwork created was not specific to Indigenous culture and the honour dance is only done as a public/community dance, as far as I know, with everyone being welcomed.
I was excited that participants had so many questions regarding cultural appropriation, Indigenous dance practices, and about my own art and experience. They sought guidance on whether or not they should choose animals from their area (we had participants from across Canada and met virtually). What type of artwork should they create? Should it be an endangered species or an at-risk species? I preferred to make the process as open and as flexible as possible. This was important to me so as not to feel oppressive in any way.
To create our animals we used recycled materials, and to encourage and inspire the participants I provided examples of different types of animal puppets, sculptures and artwork, including those made from recycled materials. I shared that recycled art can be made using a variety of materials including metal, plastic, paper, fabric. These can be used to make 2D and 3D pieces. Recycled art has been done by a variety of ages from children to experienced artists and I chose examples from a range of styles and abilities. I also shared the importance of recycled art: it encourages others to recycle; it brings awareness to climate change and over consumption; and it is an eco-friendly option for creating. Consideration of land and the environment has been an important part of my practice for a while, also including land-based dance practices that use up-cycled materials for costumes.
The connections and discussions between participants were very important and the overall process of learning about the animals, the different regions, and the threats to animals was the most important part of the project, more so than the final video and performance. We had a pretty even mix of visual artists and dance/ performance artists which was interesting and exciting as we got to learn about the different skills and practices of others, and we got to help each other using the different strengths and experiences we had.
We released the final edited video on Earth Day 2023 as a call to action and as an educational and awareness tool. By request, we also held a final gathering the week after for a debrief and to chat as a final wrap up. One participant took an extra step after the workshop to share the video with their MLA to advocate for protection of the species at risk. For myself, I feel I gained a better understanding of the different endangered and at-risk species in Canada, the difference between different levels of risk, and learned about several different types of species that are at risk. It has made me consider my lifestyle choices and other actions that could help. I hope to more consciously integrate different endangered species into my hoop dance performances as well. I am also encouraged to continue creating using recycled materials. I feel that the video was able to inspire hope, and several participants mentioned this as well. The process allowed us to collectively learn together and from each other.
The final video of the puppets and honor dance can be found here: https://vimeo.com/820175805
The endangered and at-risk species that participants chose were as follows:
The Black-footed Ferret is an endangered species extinct in Canada but have been reintroduced in the US and Mexico. Exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas can have direct or indirect detrimental effects on them.
Classified as a species of special concern in Canada, Narwhals are known to be sensitive to increasing levels of underwater noise from boats.
The Wood Turtle is an endangered species threatened by poaching, illegal collecting, habitat loss, vehicle mortality, and climate change.
With over 250 species of these social insects, Bumblebees are important pollinators. They are threatened by habitat loss, changes in farming practices, and pesticides.
Rusty Patched Bumblebee
Since the 1990’s it has rapidly declined in numbers due to pesticides, climate change, severe weather, as well as intensive agriculture and urbanization.
The Monarch Butterfly is an endangered species that is threatened by climate change and habitat degradation and fragmentation.
Little Brown Bat
The Little Brown Bats is an endangered species in Canada threatened by habitat loss, pollution, climate change, pesticides, and harm from wind turbines.
ICASC/JMP wishes to thank the TRAction for this collaboration and hosting Sandra Lamouche’s artist-in-residency. FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Sandra’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Metcalf Foundation.