Interview with Ceilidh Isadore
Shawna Redskye: So, Ceilidh, I would love it if you feel like introducing yourself to get us started.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah, for sure. So happy to be here and to be part of the project. Such an amazing idea with beautiful people. So, yeah, I'll get into my introduction and I'll introduce myself in the language first. [Mi'kmaq language] Hi, my name is Ceilidh, my spirit name is Windy. I was told everywhere the wind goes I go. I'm from a community called Wagmatcook in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I'm a Mi'kmaw Two-Spirit being, twenty-two years old now and just finishing up my little journey in academia. I am finishing up my fourth year of Indigenous studies at Trent University. Other than that, I'm an artist, I do a lot of fine art - fine detail work, do a little bit of poetry and a few other art forms. But that's my main area. Yeah! That's a little bit about me.
Shawna Redskye: Ceilidh, I'd love to hear if you want to elaborate on its importance to you.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah, for sure. So I do a lot of work with pens, and a lot of fine ink and different kind of fine tip markers. And so I do a lot of drawing and I am just starting to work with colour a little bit more on my iPad. That's been really fun doing digital work. But the reason why it's so important to me is that I really like to demonstrate interconnection and just show how interrelated we all are. And I believe that showing it in a visual way gets people to understand the story a lot deeper and they can make their own final conclusions on how they connect with the piece and they can figure out how the stories told themselves.
So I don't really have to do much, but just follow my heart. And I believe that my ancestors and helpers up there help me a lot during the creative processes. So it's really important for me to show how interrelated they all are too and show how much impact they have and how I don't just do it alone; I do it collectively. And so I really like to demonstrate that by showing animals and plants and different elements and lots of different kinds of people and different movements and grooves I would say. I do a lot of like flowy things and swirls and all that. I just like to show movement and I don't like to keep things linear!
Shawna Redsky: Do you have a piece of work that you are most proud of? And if you do, why?
Ceilidh Isadore: I really believe all of my pieces are family to me and they're so alive. I have a lot of beings in my pieces that have their own personalities and their own life. So it's really hard for me to choose my favourite family member [laughs] that's how I view it. But I would say as a collective, I'm really proud of the pieces that demonstrate the body and vessels. And I really got that word from you - showing how much our vessels hold in different ways and how so many stories are held in them from generation to generation. So I'm really proud of the pieces that can hold a lot of different stories and different symbols, all in one piece where people just get it right away and they feel healed by it or they feel closer to their bodies by it. Yeah, those are my most proud pieces. I would say.
Shawna Redskye: That's so beautiful, thank you. Are there any artists or art movements that you've been particularly influenced by in your own work?
Ceilidh Isadore: So many art movements all over. I'm really inspired by so many artists on social media and just how they're always pushing the limits and getting out of their boxes and just challenging so many norms. And they don't care about what people think or what people have to say. And I really take that kind of power and courage and try and bring it into my art, because I like bending the lines a little bit and making people feel a little uncomfortable when I can [laughs] in a good way. But art movements in general, it's kind of hard for me to narrow it down. I'm really inspired by movements that come up that need a lot of attention right here, right now.
So I did a piece for the moose decline and the moose issues that were happening on Algonquin Territory in Maniwaki area a few years ago. And so I was inspired to create a piece that would honour the moose in that way. Any time, an event needs an extra voice, like when the Wet'suwet'en events were happening and those issues are still happening. But when a lot of awareness was happening, it's just nice to get my foot in there just because I feel like I have a responsibility to fulfil and I have a role I have to show up for. During those times, I just really grew up in a way where I can't be silent during those issues and those events.
So I like to get involved in present events and just see what I can do based on that feeling that comes up. Out of anger or grief or sadness or passion, that anger that comes up when we see brothers and sisters getting hurt and harmed. I try to use that medicine and try to create some sort of visual from it. And it definitely helps me work through my emotions with it.
Shawna Redskye: So this next set of questions have to do with your childhood and reflections around your childhood. So the question is, how does the land and water where you are from influenced your work?
Ceilidh Isadore: Ohhh I love this question. I get so excited just thinking about it. I feel like this land holds so much of all the reasons why I create and why I keep going even when it gets really tough. Sometimes it gets really tough, especially with academia and trying to balance passions and creativity and all these ideas. Right. It's hard to find a comfortable line where you could make it all work without straining yourself. I feel like what brings me back to just continuing is just remembering the oldness of things and why our teachings still work today? Because there's so much thought and medicine and gentleness that goes around them and trial and error. And they've just worked for so many generations. There's a reason why we are told the same things over and over again because we need to hear it. And sometimes it's really hard to hear things and you don't pick it up until you're older. But I feel like the thing with land and water is like it's always hopefully [laughs] there. You never know how things are going now, but it's always there and home is always there.
And being someone who grew up away from the community. I grew up in an urban setting. I grew up in Ottawa for the most part then I did my journey and Peterborough and throughout all of that travelling and being far away from home; shifting, being far away from culture and family. I knew that I had to hold on to that essence and that medicine that is still there within our fires within ourselves, that'll never go. So I learn that my connection with land and water, despite my connections being so deep on my homelands, even if I was far, I knew it was always going to be there within me. I feel like the fire really helped me learn that because I got so close with the fire during my few years of fire keeping at Trent. I really learned that fire feels like home to me and fire makes me feel so seen and warm and held and close to my ancestors that no matter where I have fire; I have home. And that really changed my perspective of home and just changed my feelings of loneliness. Of course, I definitely would get lonely being so far away from Unama'ki (Cape Breton) but I just knew that I could still create art around it. I could still create poetry around it. I feel like my poetry and art were really, really inspired by the land. Did I try to use a lot of metaphors and wordplay and just have fun dancing with the words. Also dancing with my ancestors while I'm creating and it's like this whole other space where I like to fly into this other world, it feels.
The land in the waters is everything for me because at home I'm just surrounded by water and mountains and land. And I understand that it took care of my father, who was my best friend and who I've learnt everything from. And because it took such care of my father, I have to give it the utmost respect for taking care of him his whole life during really hard times. And now it's taking care of me and all my family and friends around me. So being this close to the land and the water, I feel like now I'm just always questioning and asking myself how I can show up for better and how I can get closer to it and how I can speak for it more and bring others towards it to see if they find like a similar connection. But I feel like it's a never-ending relationship that is so beautiful. And I'm grateful that nowadays folks are really starting to build their own personal relationships with the land, especially the youth and the children, which makes me really happy to see.
So, yeah, that's how I feel about the land and the water, I could talk about it forever I feel.
Shawna Redskye: How has your gender identity and or sexual orientation influenced your early years and how has that influenced your work?
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah, that's a really good question. I feel like especially because of the family that I grew up in, I was just in a really lucky situation. When I was growing up, I knew I was different and I knew that I was attracted to all people. So I would identify as pansexual - I just normally don't like to put a lot of labels on things, but I knew I was always open and attracted to just all beings. But all throughout my life, my family made that topic so comfortable and made identities very comfortable that I felt like I never had to put it on this red carpet to announce to my family. Which felt really nice because I know so many people don't have that privilege. And it was definitely a big privilege because I feel like in high school and elementary school, it wasn't as big of an issue for me. It was more of an internal issue where I felt a little like shame, internal shame, or I felt like there was something that may be wrong with me. So as I got older, I feel like I was able just to see how many amazing diverse folks that are all around me who were living their best vibrant lives.
Especially being on YouTube and just being around social media, I got to be inspired by a lot of folks who were being themselves. And I've always been one to really take that kind of passion and see how I could incorporate that into my life. If I see someone doing something really badass or showing up in their full selves - I'm so wowed by it. I try to find my internal medicine and use it in my own way. So I feel like growing up, I just learned to have more confidence in myself. But I still felt like it didn't need to be that talked about. Then it wasn't until Trent and being in University where I really got to be in so many friendships and relationships with folks that were just themselves and challenging the norms that we grew up with and really teaching me so many things that I wasn't able to learn previously. It really helped being in some of the friend groups or spaces that I was in. When I got that education and got that freedom of sexuality and identities, it really felt liberating and it really felt life-changing. It was really nice, just wanting to own the fact that I was gay and the fact that I was really queer. I like to use a few names because they're just awesome. And I started being proud of it.
I even remember making this like Facebook status that said "in case ya didn't know, I'm queer as fck." I had family on there and all that, but I didn't care at that point. I was just so open and so happy with the place that I was in with myself. I feel like because of that liberation, I got to change my look a lot and just play with my hair and piercings. It was just fun getting out of the box with the way I looked and the way I dress and not because I was gay, but just because I was free with myself. I was accepting of myself and I was inspired by so many vibrant folks. So I really feel like I took that empowerment and I try to put it in my art a few times. I did a few Two-Spirit pieces that are still really powerful to me and a lot of them are in my early days. I was using a dollar store pen but it's still such a good piece.
Now in my artwork, I try to really see how I could represent all life without, representing one specific kind - I like to draw beings that are very flowy and you just interpret who they are or if they have gender or not. I don't like to look at a lot of my beings or pieces like they have gender and the Mi'kmaq language never had gender either. So I like to do that to be in balance with that. A lot of my pieces have Mi'kmaq names. So I feel like I'm honouring that story and that root - when I keep my art a bit genderless but I like to make space so that if anybody is engaging with my artwork or my pieces, they can feel like they see themselves in it, I feel like that's really important. They can also feel like they can see everybody else too - they can see community all in one piece. I think it's important to learn how to show up for each other better despite any sort of sexual orientation or any sort of gender identity.
Shawna Redskye: Maybe we could go more into depth about it in terms of what role art played in your childhood and how that has influenced your work?
Ceilidh Isadore: That's a good question. I feel like when I was a child, I was really struggling with being an artist - being a little artist and not having the direct channels and the direct forms and the direct roots to express it in. I would be doodling all the time and learning as much as I could all the time and I'd be seeing so many artists around me. I remember so vividly just always being stressed and the fact that I felt like an artist, but I couldn't make it consistent or I couldn't find any theme or style within myself, it felt very arbitrary. As a youth and as a kid, I had so many artists that I was looking up to and I had a lot of artists within my own family. I felt like I was below them internally and I felt that others were a lot more skilled. Now that I'm older, I would never, ever, ever look at anybody like that or anybody's creations like that. But it's just interesting how down we can get on ourselves.
So now I do art youth art workshops with youth, usually between grades four to six often. And I teach them how to overcome that insecurity, I feel l like I'm still trying to do it all the time. I just remember as a youth, sometimes if people compliment your things, you say "oh, it's not that good, it's nothing, it was fast to do." Or if someone's asking you questions about your artwork, you don't really want to speak too much about it. You kind of close yourself off. I try to teach the youth now that I'm older, that it's really important to let people in on the story if you have the capacity. When people compliment your art, they're complimenting you because they're connecting to it. I try to teach them and I try and teach myself that if I'm denying people's compliments and denying those nice things that people say to my artwork, I am kind of dismissing their connection to the story and their connection to the piece and oftentimes they can see themselves with within it. I like to try and think about how I can honour them more and how I can honour the relationships and the stories that are being shared amongst the whole community who engages with my art.
I just try to always heal that inner spirit and talk to my art with a little more kindness and talk to myself with more kindness. That's also what I try to teach the youth. To understand that style and creation are always going to be shifting and it's always moving. But if you never give up, you're never going to lose right. I tell them, I'm so grateful that I continue doodling despite having so much insecurity and doubt for years. I've spent most of my life being in that insecure mode because I just didn't find my style until my first year of university. All the way up until then, I was obsessed with it. I was so connected with it. I watched so many YouTube videos and books. I was very inspired by my artwork and the feelings that they can create.
It took me a really long time to figure out it was within me. But if I didn't stop doodling, I would have never found it. It was one of those things where I just stumbled upon it. I realized, wow, I love this flowy style. I love how forgiving it is. I feel like my art is very forgiving. If I make a mistake, I can always make it work because I have so much movement happening. With movement and with energy, you can make anything work because it's forever, right.
Now that I'm older, it's such a beautiful experience and when I get any opportunities or when people compliment my artwork. I really try to open up the story more and see if I can see what they see, because I know everybody sees something different and it's just nice, building this collective story rather than keeping it so individual.
Shawna Redskye: How does the generation who grew up in influenced your ideas about art?
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah, that's a question. I feel like the generation that I grew up in is really brave and it's really courageous and it's on fire. The people around me and the people I grew up with and the people and the youth that I see coming up are just so filled with this passion and this attitude that they're not going to take shit. My dad always taught me at a very young age he'd say "don't take shit tus!" which means daughter. I'm grateful that the energy still likes being carried with us because we need it. And often we take far too much of it, a lot of harmful things that happened. Now I feel like growing up with the people that I did and seeing so many influences around me, it just reminds me to be loud and to be proud and to do my part in the way that I can. But it also teaches me to take my time and take breaks if I need to.
I feel like a lot of Indigenous folks around us on social media really help us to go to our medicines and go outside and take breaks and not take this colonial format too seriously. Oftentimes, I can get caught up in this colonial Western structure and routine of things which creates a lot of pressure. I really tried to move away from that. The generation helps that and they just make us be bold. I like how a lot of our pieces that come from our generations make a lot of older folk uncomfortable, like the white folk. I'm really inspired by that, I think that's needed. Oftentimes we try to say things or say words or messages or talk about our histories and a lot of times people just close their ears or they don't want to hear it or they don't make space for it. With art, it's really hard to avoid sometimes because it's just so in-your-face and it's clear and it's impactful. And like I said earlier, it's very needed. So I'm continuously trying to find time specifically - It's hard to find time for art and trying to find space and time to create more bold pieces and pieces that are exotic sometimes or that are challenging some of the social norms we grew up with that are just far too pressured. It's really nice because those types of pieces also get amazing responses where a lot of people really feel seen and a lot of people really feel like themselves with those. I like to try to plan out to make more space for that.
I believe this generation is just really strong and they're going to keep going. I don't think we're going to lose energy any time soon. I think we have days where it gets really low. But all in all, I think collectively we're very powerful and I think we're going to continue to inspire the folks younger than us. It's going to be really nice to collaborate. I'm all for like the youth taking lead and us having not much to do [laughs] because their future right. It's going to be awesome just continuing to see what they bring and the medicine that they hold. I think it's going to get even louder and prouder. It's going to be good.
Shawna Redskye: Talking about fire eh? it's interesting because I've been referring to you as a youth - as someone who is older than you. But I feel like, in terms of context and who we interact with, It can mean many things.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah! Youth can be a vast range of ages. I like the word youth as it includes a lot of people and includes so many roles and so many responsibilities. Folks in their 30s and folks who are 12 and 13 have different roles and responsibilities, but it doesn't mean that they're separate or they have to do it in a different space.
Shawna Redskye: Thanks for sharing that. So what aspects of your Indigenous identity do you feel influenced, your art practice?
Ceilidh Isadore: I really believe that so many of my dad's teachings and the teachings he's learnt from his helpers are transmitted through my art pieces and I do that because it's not because I'm specifically trying to call them up all the time. It's more because they're just so ingrained in me. I can't separate myself from those teachings and the learning environment that I grew up in. My dad was just so amazing at always making me feel seen and heard and myself. He never ever made anything mandatory. He never put pressure on me. if I was celebrating anything or if I got any good news, he would just affirm it with me and never go against it. It was just really helpful for me. He gave me a lot of affection and time. It's interesting because when I was a toddler, my dad was doing his master's in social work and working a few jobs and having our house downtown Ottawa but I have so many memories with him during those times - endless memories of doing things with him. And I never knew he had a job or that he was doing anything crazy busy until years and years later. So it just goes to show how much dedication he poured into me and how much intentional time he took with me. So I don't take that for granted. I really try not to.
Within my art processes and within any opportunities that I'm involved with or if I'm collaborating with anybody, I try to bring those teachings in of acknowledging all life. He always taught me that. So he said all life deserves acknowledgement. All life just wants to be acknowledged. Just like us - we need that, we crave that. Everybody else isn't different so, when you're scared or when you're in this fearful situation - if it's not going to impact your safety oftentimes you can acknowledge it or open your heart up to it in a good way and chances are good will come out of it. He was just really good at making me understand how important community is and how important reciprocity is. If anybody did a favour for him, right away he'd tell me okay our turn. Even if nobody did favours for us, he was always helping people out any time he could. It was never anything to him but just a normal routine. And so I just tried to take his kindness with me and his openness. He always wakes up and even to this day says "every day is a plus." He messages me every day because we're far apart right now and he'll say "good morning tus" which means daughter and he'll say how are you doing? And I'll let him know and then I'll ask him, how are you doing? He'll always say "I am good, every day is a plus" and share gratitude for being alive for another day. I really try to bring that gratitude into my artwork and into my everyday life. I feel like gratitude really eases anxiety, it makes a lot of good things happen and acknowledges so many relationships that help us out each day. I'm always trying to return people's favours and not just to do it - I want to do it because it means so much to me.
When people help me out or when I connect with folks their time really means a lot. It's a big part of my journey, I have a lot of plans coming up and I want to do a lot for the youth so I understand that when I have those big plans, I have a lot of little seeds to pick up and a lot to learn from others. So I try to use my dad's journey to learn that it's good to have an open mind and to never stop learning, to never stop picking up crafts and different hobbies, he has over 50 unique hobbies he can do. He's always challenging me to level up and just grab other areas where I connect to. And he always taught me to always step away when I'm not comfortable and where when things don't feel right and to never overwork myself and to never stretch my capacity, as he keeps me in line. I could talk about my dad forever [laughs] everyone knows that. I think he is such a big part of my Indigenous identity because he was my Indigenous parent and my mom did so much for me and taught me how to be such an amazing independent woman. And I'll never take any credit away from that. Living in an urban area like Ottawa and in a Catholic high school, having my dad was so needed and having that cultural root was so needed because I didn't have those roots anywhere else. So because of that and because of the way he did it with gentleness and with intention and with genuine passion; you can tell he genuinely wanted to pass me the knowledge that he carried so I view that as with high importance and it totally comes out all throughout my artwork.
Shawna Redskye: What cultural teachings around gender and sexuality do you feel comfortable sharing and how do they relate to your art practice?
Ceilidh Isadore: I want to first say that all Two-Spirit folks are so different and carry such a unique experience, we share a lot of commonalities. I also understand that we share a lot of differences, I never like to group things or group gifts like that.
From my experience, stepping into that Two-Spirit identity is totally one. I wouldn't have been able to do it, at least for a long time without your help and without our sister's help. It was in my first and second year when I really began to see that I was different and I was realizing that I carry this medicine and knowing. Especially being around a fire in a sacred space, I feel like that it's so comfortable for me. It's so easy for me to hold the space energetically and to hold conversations with grace and hope and just to create this welcoming environment. I feel like now that I'm getting older, I'm realizing how many times my gifts and my role as a Two-Spirit person came out without me even realizing it. It really goes to show that it's true when people say, oftentimes and others will see your Two-Spirit identity in you before you do. And it's happened so many times and within so many stories. But it totally happened to me, and I remember you folks talking about it at lunch and the conversations being brought up a lot.
I remember the whole week every time I was going to bed, I would question "is this something I can hold myself? Am I even allowed? Are there qualifications? It goes to show how being from an urban setting while being immersed in so many colonial norms - makes you feel like you have to graduate to get a title like Two-Spirit. But that's totally not what it's about. It's about how you feel inside, what your spirit is like and how it travels and how it dances and how it helps and how it shows up for people. And I'm so grateful to have your helping hand.= and our sister's helping hand during that process. When you folks told me I could grab that, and that it totally makes sense. When you both said that you saw it in me too; that's when everything just felt right. I really did feel so seen, and it's a different kind of seen. It's a spiritual sight and it's a spiritual recognition, also a big identity thing. I believe when I owned that term - I could own my medicine a little bit more. I could channel it a little bit more. I could ask different questions as I am talking to my ancestors and helpers through prayer. I could open up different communications.
I remember calling my elder Albert Marshall and asking him about Two-Spirit in relation to Mi'kmaq territory. It opened up a lot of education, now it's just nice to know that I can continue to bring my uniqueness into the art and I can continue to be myself without apologizing for it. And it's nice, I feel so one with my art now and one with my spirit and with my Two-Spirit identity. It's nice to be in a position where I feel like I could just discuss and collaborate with folks. I don't have to stress too much about it. I can try and hope now and open my hands up to what other people need instead of what I need, now that I'm in a more comfortable space.
It's so nice that we had a lot of opportunities where guest speakers or elders or knowledge holders came to Trent. A few times there'd be a Two-Spirit person around. It was so needed and inspiring to have those voices around us and to show us that that we too can own our roles and responsibilities and such a beautiful way. There's space for it and they're continuing to make space for it. So, now I'm just continuing to try to make space for those folks in my own plans. Eventually, I'd love to create a youth hub. That's very land-based and one of my dreams is to have a Two-Spirit leadership board to be governing that youth place and community. Because they have so many different gifts and we all have different purposes. I think within a youth hub, it would be very crucial to have Two-Spirit voices involved.
Shawna Redskye: How is your identity as a Two-Spirit artist consequential to your art?
Ceilidh Isadore: I would say what's hard is finding balance with the roles and with the responsibilities and being able to create expressions and create stories. It's such a beautiful and healing process for me. If I could choose, I would just endlessly do art and endlessly create and be in a little studio in the bush forever. But right now I have to work and pay bills and do this and that and tend to my relationships here and community here, elders here and also myself. I feel in general with the pandemic and being an Indigenous Two-Spirit being - I sometimes really emotional and I don't have the capacity to answer emails or work on my website or order prints or do the stuff that could help more art excel a little more. Not to say I'm focused on that aspect but I'm more focused on wanting to provide the space for folks to connect. I know if it's not out there or if it's not available for folks. Then I am kind of like closing that connection a little bit when it's really wanted and really needed. So I feel like it's just hard finding balance in this day with such a sacred practice like Indigenous art is so beautiful and it's generational and it's filled with so much essence.
And I believe each symbol that I use, the symbol itself holds thousands of stories from years back and pictographs and hieroglyphics and all these things they're so old. And with that oldness, they carry so many answers and so many reminders and that's what I like and why I like using symbolism. I like using pretty basic shapes then filling them up with fine details because I feel like they're easily interpretable at that point. But I would just say it's hard finding the time and space, there can be a lot of waves to ride. It's not always the most fun ride, but it's so worth it. And each day I still go to bed and I still wake up thanking my helpers for many things, but one of the things I always think is for them is the fact that they chose me as the vessel to share their stories and share the images that they feel are important. It's really important for me to just tell them that I appreciate this gift exchange and this trade and this continuous relationship. I just try to honour the relationship in the best way I can and sometimes I want to call on it a lot more and than I have the capacity for.
Shawna Redskye: So, as an Indigenous artist, what has been your experience with mainstream art scenes?
Ceilidh Isadore: I feel like with mainstream art scenes I get involved in something really present and needed at the time as we did Wet'su'weten fundraiser a few years ago and my art was auctioned there. That was super awesome, I really like donating art or having folks purchase art for auctions or fundraisers when I have the capacity for that. So that's been really nice but in terms of any show shows in particular, art galleries - I haven't had much experience with that, but I definitely know there are opportunities for it. I'm really excited to learn how to paint with my style. Painting is my next huge goal. I would love to create really big murals; I mean drawings and like small pieces are so amazing already, so murals would jam-packed with enormous knowledge because of how long people work on them and how many details there are. I'd love to go into that next. In terms of mainstream art, I can't say I'm too experienced.
In Peterborough, there's a lot of opportunity for little art shows or little art clubs. It was really amazing watching other folks get really involved and engaged. I feel because of the little bit of that insecurity that I talked about earlier, sometimes it can hold me back on opportunities. So I have a little bit of that imposter syndrome where I feel like I can't be in an art show or an art gallery. But now I'm getting to the point where I really want that and I want to just show my younger self that I can do it. it doesn't have to be in the colonial form. I really don't care what form it is, but I just want to continue to challenge myself and continue to level up to myself and not level up in society's terms, but level up in the way that I want to. I have a lot of goals I want to reach in a lot of other things I want to try. So that's never going to end. So hopefully one day I get some nice pieces up in some important places.
A few folks said they'd love to see some of my work around bodies and vessels in health centres and how powerful and is that they would be in health centres, especially Indigenous health centres. Reading those comments made me feel so whole and made me realize how full circle everything is. I remember being a young girl, seeing so much Indigenous art in places or sometimes I wouldn't see any at all and so in the rare occasion I did see a piece I'd feel really helped by it and I'd feel really moved by it. It would just make my day a little bit. So it'd be really amazing to have that impact on other folks around the world one day.
Shawna Redskye: Oh my gosh. Such context in the medical system to and to see representations of bodies, of vessels, I think that would be so incredible what you were talking about murals like a giant epic-sized piece of your art. I was just so blown away.
Ceilidh Isadore: l feel like I totally have to do it - I don't do it in this life, I'd be pinching myself forever. I always thought was so scary, seeing other people do it. I could never wrap my head around it. I thought it was the most skilful thing - it takes a lot of skill to be able to scale things properly. Everything has such different proportions. One day I'll wrap my head around it all and maybe we'll do some cool pieces. It'll be nice to get a big mural and Peterborough one day.
Shawna Redskye: So as a Two-Spirit woman, what has been useful for you in terms of solidarity and support from non-Indigenous artists?
Ceilidh Isadore: I really walk with that all life deserves acknowledgement and all life wants to be acknowledged. So I feel like when you creating a movement or you are within a movement or when trying to share a certain story; when we have support from non-Indigenous folks and those good allies, it makes me feel really seen/heard and really acknowledged and not that I have to prove myself to them, but it's more that I'm just glad I don't have to work so hard because people are joining our team. It's just nice to know that the weight in the work is slowing down a little bit. It is definitely still there and is going to be there for a while. But it's nice to know that it's getting a little bit lighter because folks are really connecting with things and they're also seeing the things that they don't connect with within the lives that they grew up with. It's nice knowing as a collective, we're pointing out issues and problems and things that harm us.
I really like it when it gets focussed on learning systems and learning styles and education institutions, I spent a lot of time on these topics in my research. Eventually, I'll do my master's and then Ph.D. But all within all that research, I'm really passionate about how we can learn better and how we can learn in a more gentle way. How we can learn in a way that really uplifts us and gets us excited rather than puts us down and shames us. When folks are inspired by that kind of story and that kind of idea too it makes me feel happy that we just have more people and more minds together to be able to build it and be able to create that life. And we're not going to be able to do it alone. I really like working with that teaching. I got in the early first or second year. I remember hearing the question of why should we put all of our energy and our efforts and our work into dismantling systems that were designed against us. We can continue to do that, but it just gets us really tired and exhausted.
So rather than pushing these walls down that are really, really, really durable, really strongly built we can create programming and create spaces and create routines and create lifestyles for ourselves that just work better. Eventually, we don't have to see that other side. We don't have to follow the other side if we create greatness and if we create beauty and gentleness with folks who want to live that lifestyle. I believe eventually that beauty and that goodness will just grow and continue and inspire lots of folks where people aren't even turning their heads towards what was and what used to be.
I try to continue to create in my own way and provide opportunities where I can without using too much energy on the negatives. To me, it's really empowering when we have good folks with good intentions joining that fight. It's nice when they know their rules and their places. We have amazing allies that know when to speak up and when to kind of back down a little bit because the Indigenous voice needs to be heard. So I really appreciate and respect balance.
It gets a little bit hard when things aren't being completely respected and or things are being a little bit taken advantage of. But I feel like that's like maybe another conversation and more based on individual relationships rather than collective efforts.
Shawna Redskye: Are there other things you'd like to share or feel comfortable in sharing about how our teams can better support Two-Spirit, trans, non binary, and our women Indigenous artists?
Ceilidh Isadore: For me it's just making more access and opportunities for them. Rather than a poster event or as a photo op, I really hate those things. I don't like when universities or schools do a Two-Spirit event just to do it. It's nice when they call on Two-Spirit voices or Two-Spirit conversations or make space for Two-Spirit folks to gather continuously. So I'm asking how do we make space for the voices daily and how do we make sure that those gifts and that medicine is being used to create positive change. Not to say that every Two-Spirit folk needs to use their medicine to work, it's more if they want to where can they? For example the Traditional Area at Trent, maybe there has to be a space for Two-Spirit folks to gather weekly or monthly or have greater conversations with the rest of the population there if they wanted to. Or maybe there's room for them to actually be a part of Trent's policymaking and financial talk and all these things - we don't just have spiritual roles. A lot of folks carry gifts that cover so many categories and so many topics and areas. It's not our job to make it small or to make it less then. I believe the possibilities are endless, we can reach for the stars and we can put use our voices in so many areas especially management and decision making.
I think it's important to have perspectives that honour the land and all of the water and honour ancestral relations and communications. When we don't have someone advocating for those things, we are totally missing out on so much and a lot is harmed in the process. So I want to make sure that our life stays safe and all life stays safe and the best way that that it can. So I think we can help with that.
Shawna Redskye: And here's somebody who's going to get that work done. Knowing you and who you are. For this last question; does your art practices involve or include non-Indigenous artists. And if so, how does this impact your work?
Ceilidh Isadore: I haven't done any collabs per se, or done any pieces that directly would be for non-Indigenous folks, but I would say it involves down Indigenous folks because it lets them in on a certain story that maybe they wouldn't have access to if I didn't create the piece. I don't mean that in a cocky way but just everybody runs into something for a reason or someone engages with my piece for a reason. So I like to believe that those reasons are to remind them of certain things and to remind them of natural world responsibilities and remind them of how much has been taken, but also how much is still here and how much is still creating. I really like to speak and create about how we're never ever leaving [laughs] you can't get rid of us. So how do we work together and how do we work around some of our issues to compromise and make sure that we continue to live in a good way together. I believe I can provide some teachings and some different perspectives to my work. I'm also always open to hearing how people connect and I love hearing their stories, what they see. A lot of times I hear about their stories and how they connect with the art and how they feel about peace or calming that they haven't felt in a really long time. That colonial pressure takes over all your being and it can be really damaging to all life, not just Indigenous life. So when folks tell me that my art piece is calming or healing or that it moves them I don't take that lightly at all. I really am so grateful that I can do something like that for them and create a positive emotional experience.
Especially with youth, I feel like now I really collaborate with non-Indigenous youth because I do workshops a lot. I do workshops around the Toronto area and around the West Coast area online virtually doing those workshops in classroom settings. I get to collaborate with folks from all different cultures and all different backgrounds and the fact that we can just all still talk about natural world responsibilities and animals and how we can get closer to them each day by communicating aloud or feeding them our leftover food scraps. Whatever it is, it's just nice to know we can do it together. It's nice to know that that we can all create this impact and we can all feel a little bit more peace together and feel a little calmer. It's been really fun collaborating with the youth. I'm really inspired by them and I would love to involve them more in my work to collaborate on an actual physical piece. It would be nice to have multiple youth come together to create something.
Shawna Redskye: So as an Indigenous artist, what is your experience with Indigenous art scenes?
Ceilidh Isadore: I have a really bad memory, so sometimes I may be involved with something and I have no idea. I view art in so many different ways. I view singing as art and dancing as an art and speaking as art and so many things. I've been involved with some Two-Spirit panels that I would view as art for sure. Some dances and some fashion shows, I haven't done poetry or slam poetry myself, but I wrote a lot of poetry and I've got some poetry published and I got a few pieces published in a place called Room Magazine. So in terms of art scenes, I've been a little bit familiar but I'm trying to follow a digital art scene right now, because it's a pandemic and because right now that's what I have the capacity for.
Some of my physical, paperwork takes between 16 to 20 plus hours. I don't always have the capacity for that. I'm trying to follow the digital art scenes, maybe get into a little bit of small animations; that would be really nice. I feel like my art is already filled with so much movement and it shifts like I was saying earlier. So it would be nice to show how it moves and shifts and flows. I'm just following along. When opportunities come up, I try to take them if they feel right with me and if they don't feel right with me, I always will just pass them on to somebody else. So yeah, I am keeping my eyes open, my ears open and taking things day by day.
Shawna Redskye: So for you, what has been useful as a Two-Spirit woman in terms of solidarity and support from other Indigenous artists?
Ceilidh Isadore: This is a good question. Like everything, it's so valuable and important to show up for each other, so any time I'm getting support from other artists and just other folks in general, I feel so empowered and I'm just reminded of why I do the things that I do. Sometimes I get a little low or some days feels like everything's so impossible. But I try to leave these little love notes on my wall. I also view those comments as little love notes to remind me of the impact that I have and the voice that I have and how I can continue to call on it when I want. That's also really important to know for when we need to really raise our voices to get the rest of the world hearing something. It's really empowering having other support from artists and it teaches me how to show up for others as well.
I keep mentioning the youth, it really helps me teach them in a better way and teach them more and more things that could help them on their journey, especially being such a young age. Me and my dad like to talk about how it's so nice getting these folks between the grades four to six because they're at the age where they're a sponge, just soaking so many things up and their minds are open and they don't have as many walls and the things that we have to breakthrough. So they can connect so easily and they get so excited about things. They love drawing the animals and they love speaking about the water and the fire. What other artists teach me is the importance of community building and the importance of representing each other and representing those who don't get represented much, it's so needed. They teach me to take my time for myself and to take care of myself.
It's really nice seeing other artists take breaks on social media or take breaks online and just show that they need to rest too because it just normalizes the fact that we can't always do art and we can't always create. Sometimes I take multiple months off. And as much as I think about art every day, I just don't have the will for it sometimes and the energy for it. Even right now, I'm kind of in that space where I haven't created in over a month. It's definitely a wound for me, it can hurt me a lot when I'm reminded of it. I also know there's a reason why I haven't been creating and I'm the type to create when it comes up. If I don't do that right away, I know there is a reason for it. So I just try to sit with it and other artists teach me to sit with it and to not force things too much.
I continue to be inspired by other artists. It's really important for me to sign up for workshops when I can when I see them available. Like there's a lot of Toronto Indigenous organizations that have artistic visual workshops where they have well-known Indigenous artists on and they'll teach you about time management or social media tips, grant writing tips. I try to take advantage of those any time I can because I know learning is forever. I'll always learn something new and then I'll always be able to pass it on to somebody who needs it. So, yeah, it's so awesome being connected with artists, always inspired by them. And I'm so grateful to be a part of that world. My younger spirit jumps and freaks out remembering that I am an artist and that this is my life now after wanting it for so many years.
Shawna Redskye: So this next question is how do you offer support and solidarity to artists whose lived experiences are distinct from your own? So, for example, queer Indigenous folks creating opportunities for trans women to work on their own theatre productions?
Ceilidh Isadore: I think with everything, I try to just provide space and really make space for voice to come through and truth to come through without force. I really don't like forcing anything or making people feel like they have to do anything or whether that be plans or ideas. It could be exciting, but it doesn't have to go perfectly well, not everything has to follow the plan. So I feel when I'm showing up for people, I like to try to lower my voice to make a lot more space for theirs and really affirm their experiences and use my friendliness just to show them that their pain is real, their grief is real. And that's what we were talking about. Their stories are real and I usually like brainstorm a lot with folks or problem-solve with folks. So if folks who have a different lived experience than me wanted to create an event or have programming or do this and that I would totally give my time and attention to creating their vision with them in the way that they want.
So I'm just like a helping hand and I like to give space to folks who need it. Like we'd want from our allies? Someone to follow along, to be a helping hand to put their minds together with us because we're always stronger as a collective. I would never use my lived experience to control their vision or to try to lead their vision. I want to be on the back burner. With conversations and connecting with folks, I feel like it always works when you find a middle ground where you can relate on a topic and it can just be something small. Like a favourite area of the country or talking about the fire or a favourite animal. It's always nice to find a topic where you can follow their lead and then you can start building relationships, start building trust. And then beautiful plans and support can continue to arise after that.
Shawna Redskye: Yeah. That's so awesome. Does your art practice involve or include global Indigenous artists and if so, how does this impact and or influence your work?
Ceilidh Isadore: I honestly haven't done too much globally at all. I have a bunch of artists who are from all over the world who I really look up to, but I just don't know where a lot of folks are from right now because everything's just so virtual and spread out. I know that inspiration is all over. And I'm always trying to keep my eyes and ears open to folks who are creating awesome impact and challenging norms over there. I know in research and academia, global work is so important. It's really nice seeing those perspectives, especially cultural perspectives from because they're still so similar, we're so far apart and often we still carry a lot of similar gentle teachings and similar responsibilities. It's very inspiring and empowering, reading them and soaking up the words and just allowing their medicine to come into my vessel as well. I view all learning opportunities and teachings and moments to be the times where we can pick up those seeds and we can hold them until we plant them again. So whether I'm connecting with somebody globally or just within my own community, my heart's open for whatever is to come. And hopefully, I can learn something about myself and they can learn something about themselves. So we can also learn from each other. That's what I'm always trying to do.
Shawna Redskye: So this next section has to do with social issues. How do you use your art to address social and cultural issues?
Ceilidh Isadore: I will say that it's always changing and it's always moving. I'm so grateful to have the access to this art form during social and cultural issues. I can turn to my art and I could turn to my creation and I can know that partnership is right there and that teamwork is right there too. And I know I can trust the process of creation and that there's something needed going to come about. It's like giving birth, I feel like all my pieces are babies and to be kin and to be creations of my spirit and my ancestors. So any time there is a social or cultural issue, I try to focus on how we can show life and how we can show movement.
Often you'll see little people floating in my artwork and to me that saying our ancestors are always flying around us. I like to show that we can always call on those helpers and those communications to get us through those hard times. If we follow the medicine and follow our prayers; the hard times aren't as big anymore, they get a little quieter when you have such trust in the universe and such trust in natural world relationships. I try to call on that energy when something's going on and I try to call on that beauty and provide more calmness for folks. I know during those hard times the grief is crazy and the anxiety is crazy and a lot of folks can't sleep. That happens quite a bit. So I try to bring a little bit of that peace, but also a little bit of loudness.
Shawna Redskye: So I'm wondering how do you involve the community and if you want to share more about your process?
Ceilidh Isadore: I would say when I'm creating and it's really important to me to really utilize everything that I've learnt from the community. So I feel like, within each piece, there is some sort of teaching or some sort of lesson that I got from somebody that I connected with. I feel like that's what community is all about. And that's what creating is all about, it is sharing collective voices and collective stories. I really try to stress how creation is not about me or not just from me. It's multiple people and multiple beings. So when I'm thinking about art and community, it's really important for me to honour all those phases and life stages.
I like to think about how I can honour my younger spirit and with that learn how do I honour the folks who helped me in Ottawa and raised me in Ottawa? How do I honour the folks who raised me and Peterborough and helped me out there. How do I make sure that the same friendliness and that same welcoming energy they provided me is reciprocated for other folks?
I remember being a younger youth in university and going to the tipi or sacred spaces was so scary at first because you don't know too much about it. You don't want to do anything wrong. Now that I'm older, it's important to me to make tipis, sacred spaces, sweat lodges and ceremony spaces so exciting and welcoming and full of like sunshine and rainbows. Almost like my artwork of just movement and home. I like to make that feeling of home in a lot of my pieces and I like to make people aware that those spaces are available and they have access to them and it's for them and they should grab them any time the chance comes. I often try to think about how I can continue to collaborate with the community like I would love, love, love to have some sort of proposal here for workshops and programming within my own community so I could work with them in my youth here. I think the possibilities are endless and it's always going to be about community. I feel like especially being away from a lot of the people who mean a lot to me, all I can do is just take what I learnt from them and put it out into some sort of visual form. And those who are those who I am honouring often get it right away, I don't have to explain it. It's done through spirit and through travel. I like to leave things like that.
Shawna Redskye: Ceilidh, I'm wondering if there's anything else that you would like to share?
Ceilidh Isadore: Nothing that I can think of, I'll share a few social tags just in case, but if anybody is curious about my art, I have an Instagram called CeilidhPitaw which means 'up the river. My dad always called me CeilidhPitaw growing up and we have some property just beside the river. So the name I feel like embodies all of my interconnection and stories I'm trying to tell. Thats where you'll find my art on Instagram. I am working on my website but it's not ready yet.
Shawna Redskye: Oh, that's exciting. Well, darling, I am so honoured to start with you today. Thank you for the abundance that you shared and I'm so grateful for your courage to step into your gifts because really it's so amazing. I'm just blown away by your art and the way you're using your voice. I'm just so thankful for that.
Ceilidh Isadore: Thank you, I am happy we got to chat together. I'm sure the viewers know by now we go way back and we've been really, really close for so long. I swear it's just like a match made perfectly. It's really special that these conversations bring the best medicine out of one another, so it was needed to go this way.