Riel Manywounds is from Tsuut’ina and Dakelh T’enneh territories, of Diné and Blackfoot descent. She programs youth arts and cultural events for her Nation. She is a street artist and advocate for Indigenous Arts in Calgary, Alberta. Riel is a single mother and has a dog named Beans.
Riel Manywounds InterviewRiel Manywounds
Interpretations of their own teachings and opinions shared here are the responsibility of each artist.
Written transcript is below.
"Learning about street art, very like masculine and male dominated. So for me to have art in such a way or have such a statement was like for me to take up that masculine space and, you know, to do it with grace and just be like, yeah, like I get it, like, you know. So I think for me, I don't like thinking. I don't like I don't like art that is like more masculine and feminine... I think people are able to express themselves however they want."
Interview with Riel Manywounds
Riel Manywounds: All right, my name is Real Manywounds, I am from Tsuut'ina Nation, which is a Diné Nation we're the Beaver ... are the Beaver People, sorry. We're located in Blackfoot Territory, Treaty 7. We signed a treaty with the Blackfoot Confederacy. My dad is also from BC. He's from like Central Interior BC, Dakelh T'enneh Territory. So he's also a descendant of Diné and he is from the Trout Clan Nak'azdli and they're the Central Dialect language. So I'm mostly Diné. My grandma was Blackfoot from Siksika. She was a Goodeagle. She married into the Manywounds of Tsuut'ina, that's where my last name comes from, it's from where my grandpa's from, and yeah. So I live SW Calgary, which is like seven minutes away from Tsuut'ina and I work on my Reserve. I am the Youth Program Coordinator and I have three staff and we together coordinate programming and cultural events and rodeos, powwows, seasonal events for our Nation. So but you know, everything has been different with Covid now. So mostly we do online stuff for our youth on the Reserve. And I'm a mother. I am a single mother right now, and I have a dog named Beans. Yeah, I, I guess that's my intro.
Ceilidh Isadore: Ah, that's amazing! And what beautiful roles you carry and responsibilities, right? I love hearing that youth work that you're doing and it's so important and needed. And yeah I can already tell that your little one has such great influence around and it's nice to hear that you guys are doing it strong, so...
Riel Manywounds: Thank you. Thank you. That's that's a really big compliment is... That's one of my favourite ones, is when people comment on my son's energy. Yeah. Means a lot. Thank you.
Ceilidh Isadore: If it's OK with you, we can talk a little bit about your personal artistic expression and dive into our roots a little bit so we can start off with the first question, which is what is your method of artistic expression and why is it important to you?
Riel Manywounds: So I haven't really done any pieces of art in the last bit awhile. I think I'm really into teaching my son how to express and draw himself in colour and use colours right now. That's kind of where I'm at. And then I also just facilitate and coordinate youth programs that are art influences on our Reserve. So like last Friday, we... It's like a little bit of everything. So this past Friday we do a online craft class and we did we made arrows from wood and bone and sinew and feathers fletching. And while we were doing that, while we were learning, the instructor, his name is Kendall Jacobs from Tsuut'ina, he was teaching us the lessons in safety. Why the things why there was made a certain way how to make it straight, different types of arrows, different types of arrowheads to kill buffalo or whatever game. And then he also shared stories of why they would mark the arrows like the Warriors and just hunting practices from before treaty, before, you know, from our old, old people. So that is kind of like, that's what I've been doing for the last seven years, or I think it's been six years, five, almost seven years I've been doing this work on Tsuut'ina.
Ceilidh Isadore: Oh, wow...
Riel Manywounds: We also made like medicine pouches from deer hide, just tiny pouches. I have some examples. I just wasn't. Yeah. So I could grab an example, but it's not a video. And then we made like medicine shields and just the lessons and history behind all of that. It's incredible to learn about, like the way because we did a medicine show, but like a miniature size. Then the way that it was tied in the back was the way that it's been tied since the beginning, you know, so to learn a skill like that and it's not even that complicated, but to learn why things are done in a certain way and how things like maybe in the past used to be like waterproof, the the the parts of the animal they would use to make sure the tool worked properly, or the you know, and then on top of that is the design. So the design is based on whether it's your last name. The animal, part of an animal that you identify with or that you were named after. The design of the mountains. The way that things are drawn a certain way that's specific to Tsuut'ina, specific to, you know, how people used to communicate and draw back then as well.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah.
Riel Manywounds: Yeah, we will. It's been quite the experience. And then on top of that, like tipi [sp?] design and beading design, we learned about how, you know, the elk teeth on regalia, like some capes that women would wear. They're actually it's like they're made out of ivory and tusk. Like it's like a it's like a tusk or like a horn inside the elk mouth. And then so if you see a woman with, like, many elk teeth on her cape, that means her husband or whoever was giving her the elk teeth for good hunters because you only get two teeth from one elk. Just so those are, that's just what I'm really trying to promote is just like... Especially with the pandemic, we are just keeping the connection, the stories that the things we should remember based on like the season or based on just things that we don't want to be forgotten, you know, when... so it's like as we're learning and, you know, picturing ourselves like doing this pre-treaty, pre-everything is such a sense of connection. And it's just like it's such a healing thing to learn. And the kids that complete their [Unclear], they're so proud. And, you know, it's like such a beautiful craft for them to present or gift to somebody, you know.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah. I can even imagine the like that experience at that age. And I really liked what you said when you said you guys are doing the things that you should remember and we should remember. And like, I feel like that just really hit me strongly.
Riel Manywounds: Well, I think with the pandemic, it's really it's really it really simplified a lot of things because, you know, it's awkward to be in a video setting like this. Obviously, it's not the same as in person, or like by the fire or in a circle with smudge, you know. But usually that's important in our anything we do. We open with a prayer and we often we tell people they can bring their smudge. Usually the Elders, we ask to pray for us. We'll burn smudge, you know, just so it's still still there. The kids still very much take that time and the time to pray. Very sacred. And it's like super important part of the opening and closing, right? Because it's like you open, you invite in all the the Spirits and youse welcoming everything and, you know, thanking, thanking Creator and Spirits for it, for everything. Right? And praying for protection and then we go into it, we share the stories of our ancestors, shared stories of even the families and how they're related. And just like different things we learned from like the Cree tribes or like how the Blackfoot people did different things and how, you know, the Stoney people had different ways of doing it. So each tribe was unique. But we all kind of whether it's competed or just like honoured each other's differences in that way, that's that that came up to me. And being part of Treaty 7 is learning that history that this is Blackfoot Confederacy and we're Diné, we settled here. Not many people know that. So we don't like... Our language dialect is different than Blackfoot. You know, through through over the years, there's been many mixing of Nations, like a lot of us are, have relatives everywhere. We're kind of all, you know, and then us being Tsuut'ina is like, right by SW Calgary.
So being sort of more like an urban urban Reserve, I guess, even though we have our own territory. But it's like literally a road, is is the border, you know, for a [Unclear] Tsuut'ina. So the difference are... Like how we've adapted too to the city and how... But the thing is, it's like what I mean by simplified is that it's teaching me and I hope that this has started this on our Reserve that, you know, if this pandemic lasts or if things get whatever happens, we can always do this way of sharing. We can always use the video and this technology to still stay connected. Because another thing we do, like on tomorrow night is the Elders night, and so we have two Elders come and just share stories and they talk about everything they remember with the Elders and ancestors told like older people, their grandmothers and grandfathers told them, you know, and so that's like. Four, five generations back, six generations where it was it was the time when we were forced to stay on the Reserve. So just these different stories of like how we should appreciate what we have now know, because we often forget that we forget the struggles. That's all of our ancestors went through so we could have band administrations, schools on our Reserves, like all the things that we had to fight very much to have our place and to have things secured for the future generations. So that's like what comes out.
But it's like we started this and it can easily, like anyone in any family could ask people to join their Zoom and then they can share stories, you know, like it to me it really made that really simple and clear. And it's too bad that we all live very individualistic now, you know, when they said I think I remember now they're sharing stories of how things changed when everyone got their own freezers and fridges because we never shared food because, you know, it's like it's all stored in one place. People come together and they share the food. So that was like the beginning of us not sharing things anymore and being apart. And I feel that, like I can be on the Reserve and not see any of my family and not see any of my cousins. You know, I just kind of stick with what with the pandemic now we have to we're forced to stick with our little bubbles. But sometimes... And the things we do with the programs, too, is like have huge gatherings, like whether it's a Junior Rodeo, Junior Powwow, Halloween [unclear], Easter Egg Hunt, you know, these community events that we have to keep going and we partner with different groups. So we like pool our resources together to have these events. And then people see each other and we're like, oh yeah, it's so good to see you. And then this year, not having the Powwow, we have a huge annual celebrations in July that we do a Junior Rodeo and Junior Powwow. It's like the most busiest time of the year. But like, it's just so nice to be able to bump into your friends, your relatives, your cousins you haven't seen in so long, you know, so that's that's what I find this is helping or helping Tsuut'ina to stay connected. You know?
Ceilidh Isadore: If we maybe you could even talk about if you have a favourite piece of work that you're most proud of or maybe you could talk about like a favourite workshop or maybe activity that you did with the youth... whatever feels right for you.
Riel Manywounds: OK, I think like one of when I was doing our I did like just kind of like street art and then I did like fonts and my thing was like either spray paint or I was able to be a part of this project where I did woodcuts and linocut prints. That was the time I think that was like kind of when I was like fully be an artist and like was part of different projects. And but one piece that stands out is this piece I did with Gord Hill, who's a graphic artist, but he he basically an activist and also artist. And he does have graphic novels. But it was a time when the Olympics were coming to Vancouver, 2010. So I was like, I want to be a part of this like granted art project from this gallery in the Downtown Eastside, Downtown Eastside [Vancouver BC]. So I said yes. And then it was we were to make these panels. I forget the feet, but it was a pretty big panel and probably like I would say, like this size of the door, the frame all the way up like that. And I ask Gord to help me with it because I was like, I'll do the font, like the writing. And if I want to do like the Thunderbird image. And so he said, OK, so he did like a Thunderbird image of breaking the Olympic rings apart, because basically, like a lot of Natives were opposed to the Olympics because they they destroyed like this whole eagle Eagle Bluff, north of Vancouver, Squamish territory. So they just destroyed that for. So there's a lot of like environmental destruction because of the Olympics to build like new facilities.
And, you know, in BC it's all unceded territory, right? So it's always a battle of who owns what and Title. And usually the federal government or the province just kind of overrides any sort of Indigenous Title or discussion. So it was very much like, this is not OK. This is a waste of resources. We still need to deal with the homelessness first, like you know what I mean? Trying to present Vancouver in such a way to the world which doesn't make which. Yeah. And then Elder passed during those protests and during because they were protesting at the road blocks before it was destruct, like take. So it was very much a time where everyone was just super charged to try to prove that, you know, the Olympics in Vancouver wasn't agreed upon by everybody, right? And the destruction, the homelessness, because they shipped homeless people to like Maple Ridge, like over policing that happened. People's housing, like rent and stuff got higher.
So, you know, just cause it caused more damage than good. So then we were just trying to prove. So our piece was very much the Olympic piece. It was like. We put the five pieces like the five things that reason why we're opposed to the Olympics, one looks like stolen Native land, policing, homelessness, huge public debt, and then environmental destruction. So we put those at the bottom and then Gord had an image of a Thunderbird ripping apart the Olympic ring. And then because the graphic in the message was so strong, we actually got like censored. So they were like, we cannot show this piece on Hastings because they're to install it on a construction site. So then they basically said we're pulling this piece from this project. So then we were like, this is you can't censor us. You asked us. And then what came to the surface was that the project was actually funded from VANOC. So this like art director took money from VANOC to do this project and then basically was silenced by VANOC which was the Vancouver Olympic Committee. So like every city gets a committee to deal with the Olympics, or whatever. So it's like, you know, I guess it's like a board or committee or something that deals with everything through the Olympics, including the money. So that came to the surface.
So it was like this controversial thing that me and Gord Hill got censored and then that this art gallery person, who is very much like radical in his own sense, took money from the Vancouver Olympics, which everyone was... You know what I mean, so it was like that, I think was my favourite piece, because it it made like I got like a lot of attention from that because it took notice and like, the whole community in Vancouver was like that wasn't okay, that piece of art is awesome. And because everyone was very much opposed to it and then the riots happened. Right.
So that piece for me is kind of like, and it's still true, like I think that artists still have to be aware of what money, where the money comes from in regards to, you know, applying for grants. And a lot of them are funded through oil and gas, you know, especially in Alberta here, so. That could happen to artists, is the whole thing. So it's basically like we went through that situation to prove the point that, you know, corporations or whatever it has and art doesn't mix. Right.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah, and thank you for touching on that, and I think that's a really awesome reminder for folks listening, is that it's always good to do that extra bit of research on an any opportunity we get in. It's great to get opportunities right. And for so long, a lot of us Cree like imposter syndrome where it's hard to take opportunities. And and it's also probably harder to take that extra like glance to make sure that everything is is is appropriate and everything is aligned with our values.
Riel Manywounds: I could send you a photo of it, for sure, in my email. Yeah, it's still in Vancouver. I remember this cafe called Rhizome. There are very much like a queer space, like like they supported people in their neighbourhood. It was very much like a cafe that felt like the... Hello (laughs), very much a cafe that supported any sort of like struggle. And they took that piece on. So they were like, we're going to, since it's been censored from this space, we're going to take it and proudly show it in our cafe. So they they held it for a while. And I think, yeah, it's it's in someone's storage in Vancouver. I just don't know exactly where because it's such a large piece. It's hard to transport it. I don't think I would be able to bring it to Alberta, but I kind of just like let it go like it is. If it's like a piece that Vancouver wants, for whatever reason they can have it, you know.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah. And it's like it always carries its stories just within our experience. Right. And just by talking about it and sharing that that process. And it's nice for you to get to work on that. And I'm so happy to hear that it's in a cafe or in a spot where people can or was in a spot where people could interact with it for a while, because I'd hate to for that to go unnoticed.
Riel Manywounds: And it's like it's history. It's part of Vancouver's history, right. 2010, it was quite the quite the time.
Ceilidh Isadore: Absolutely. And so the next question is kind of similar in a way, but it covers which artists or art movements have you been influenced by, if you feel like sharing?
Riel Manywounds: Mostly like street art, graffiti, stencils. I was really big into, like checking out world street art, you know, on like websites [unclear] collective back in the day learning about, like the New York graffiti scene and Buenos Aires, like South America, Brazil. And then later on, I was able to spend some time in Mexico and then which is very much inspired by. Like, it's not even it's art, but it's like different than the art that they have. It's like propaganda for the struggle. You know, so it's like it's so it's all political in a way which is beautiful. So that very much so. And that's like stencils, graffiti. It's it's installations like yeah. So I was able to spend time there and just like, yeah, I did some journalism there as well and Human Rights Delegation. So we went down to record stories of people who experience human rights violations from the government. And yeah. So that was a time where also it was just like, yeah, art is art is the way to spread the truth and to counteract the the lies from the government in because it's like it's like a battle of propaganda, you know.
So yeah, I've been thinking a lot about that lately because. I think we're going into a time in Canada where, you know, like this was 2010, right? The Olympics, that was 10 years ago or 11 years ago. What has changed? Right. An Elder was arrested. She was protesting on Indigenous land and was arrested and then she caught sickness, pneumonia in the jail and then she passed away from her health complications. But what has changed? Right. Like any sort of like, any sort of thing that people stand up for, they will get arrested and then not like even if they get released from prison, they still have to deal with the prison. I mean, the stuff to deal with, like charges in court. And it's just like such a dehumanizing experience to go through all of that, you know?
So I think what's important is just to always support any opposition to to to Canada in a way that people view us as like they view Canada as like really beautiful. And like, you know, everything is everyone's getting along. And yeah. So I'm very much still for art that shares those truths and, yeah, and I support street art, and I also sit on a committee in the city of Calgary Public Arts. So I, I try to like I'm on that committee to sort of share my experiences as Treaty 7 Tsuut'ina, artist person, Youth Coordinator. And then, you know, like all art organizations right now, they're going through deaths and rebirths of sort of like trying to either deal with inclusion, Indigenous reconciliation, deal with equity in the way where we want to make sure everyone is supported and involved, you know, so and it's it's been a tough process. But I feel proud that I can sit on that and help guide that and make sure that my voice around street art is heard as well, because it's like, you know, like we're granting money to people who have the tools and abilities and privilege to apply for a grant. But then there's so much people out there that have a way more powerful message but didn't apply for the grant. And then their street art is illegal. But then we're paying this person and we're going to protect it, you know? So I always bring up that. I bring up that because it's important, because if I'm going to grant, you know, this muralist, all these prime street art locations, then we're going to talk about it because. Right. Like, why is this OK? But then she's going to cover over prime locations for a street artist and it's like they have.
They have sort of like their own way of either putting up new pieces, covering pieces, like it's it's all in a way that can that's kind of respectful and it's like it's like manageable on their terms. Right. So anyways, I just that's always something. And I and I'm happy to grant murals and be on selection panels to do that because we need more art. Like, I don't understand why Canada has been so bland and passed out like 80s night, like right here the landscape of our cities, just like the 90s pastels. And it's kind of like, why not have more murals? Why not? You know, and I know the city itself struggles with what kind of murals this one's too this, this one's too that. Or we have murals of white artists doing Native things, you know, so we're like shifting. Like, we're just trying to. Yeah. Move forward with intention. So, like, no more, you know, RCMP murals, like, I'm like, nope, we've seen it. That's not that's not really truthful to the relation of Indigenous people. So this is not actually reconciliation at all. So I don't need to see another painting mural of the RCMP in a redcoat like, that's just not, we should move past that, you know, so feel like.
Ceilidh Isadore: Oh thank you for talking about that street art and how much voice and impact it has like I've definitely always been interested in, but maybe not as educated in those worlds just because I feel like there's so many things to learn. Right. That it just takes like a process to get there. But I'm learning so much just like sitting with you and being in your energy. I agree with you. It's so plain. And I always think, like, I can't wait to build. I would love just to mural my whole house, like, I will totally deck out my whole house with art. I don't care. Like, no one's going to stop me.
Riel Manywounds: Oh, yeah. Like there is so much empty wall space. It could be so much murals, you know. And if. Yeah. But then yeah. And also like I have been a part of being in the Native Art Scene, I've seen a lot of evolution with that and I have not been really involved in it lately. So this is my experiences but I think that. It's like we have to be (sighs), yeah, because I seen I've been to Native Art shows recently, and I'm more like... This is beautiful, like where we're bringing back our culture. We're using like traditional materials. We're doing it in traditional ways. But then, you know, I was questioned the art show like the party, because I went to one art show and I was like, this is not really... First of all, I'm sober. So I'm walking into an art show and it smells like wine. They're offering me wine. And I'm like, this isn't like, OK... so I'm going to be like, slightly anxious and triggered now, walking around this art gallery and then seeing Elders who come to the show not have a comfortable seat. They're standing there uncomfortable. So then I'm like, OK, so then what? Who is this art for if it's not for an Indigenous person or Indigenous Elder here? Because we're both uncomfortable. So what is the point of this like? Why why are we having these big fancy art shows in huge galleries when we're missing the point like who is this art for? Is this art to be, to make ourselves more famous in the white world then we're doing it wrong? Because we don't need that? You know, is this going to impact the youth and inspire them to express themselves in important ways? Then then good.
But right now, it's kind of just a egotistical show of I went there, I'm sorry, I had to go there. It's just like it's it's like a thing. And so for me to program art shows. Or like program art programming for our youth on the Reserve is very much about bringing our culture to the spaces. So like we have this program where we we connect with Indigenous artists who come to Calgary either in the time and then we bring a group of youth to either a studio where they want to teach their art form to them. So we've done like we've done beading, we've done clay work like pottery, we've done painting or not no painting like. Anyway, sorry, I'm blanking on it, but we've done a few and so us bringing the youth to these spaces is changing very much the way the space interacts, right? Because it's like we have a bunch of Native youth. And let's talk about why these Natives don't feel comfortable in art gallery spaces downtown. Like why, you know, like they're they're coming, but they're very much feeling not comfortable or welcome. So let's work on that first. Here's some smudge. Let's pray. Let's have an Elder, have a comfortable space to come and share this food and space with us, and then let's learn art. So it's like we don't just go to be artists.
We bring, like, I guess our culture and what we think first to set this space, you know, and that's the difference. Like, that's that's what's missing in the city is intention, ceremony, our medicine. Right. And so so as much as we enjoy coming to the city, the gallery that we're working with is Stride Gallery Truck Gallery in the city of Calgary, we've been to different other spaces in the city of Calgary, like just different studios, different spaces that are huge. Yeah. So it's like we're coming with our youth and we're gifting you with this practice, this knowledge. You can witness this sort of like ceremony we have before we start our program, you know. So it's like it's like we give back as much as they give back. But yeah. So I also like enjoying that and then encouraging these youth to take that platform and... But with safety. Right. Like with safety nets like use the space and we're encouraging you to do that. Yeah. So we're trying to break down those barriers. You know, we're trying to really encourage this youth to feel not only welcome, but feel like they belong there and that if they need to take the space. Because the other thing is about how many times have artists who are have a huge platform have been called out for not even being Indigenous? That's another controversial thing.
So, you know, like my and then we went through the city of Calgary, a public arts collection, and that there was not one Tsuut'ina artist in the whole collection. And this collection goes back to, I don't know, the eighteen, like, I don't know, nineteen. Something like this is a pretty huge collection of art. And then there's a whole bunch of white people depicting Tsuut'ina Warriors. But then there's no you know, so just going through that and sort of helping the city of Calgary through the guiding circle, deal with that and then I guess decide where these pieces that because there's some Blackfoot artists in there, decide where those pieces go. Right. Like how we're going to, and then just making it obvious to the city of Calgary that they need to do better, like we need to have some Tsuut'ina artists in. Or maybe more artists from Treaty 7 in general. Right. So, yeah.
Ceilidh Isadore: And be told by one side. Right. Important to have those voices in there. And I love how you talk about like this comfortability. And I really like I learned this teaching and in a book called Look to the Mountain, but they said you need to with Indigenous art. If it's OK with you, we can go into a little bit of some like childhood reflections around these discussions, and the first one is a question that I really like. So how does the land and the water where you are influenced your work?
Riel Manywounds: Well, I mean, we like with the pandemic, we just can't wait to get back out there and visit spaces, visit the rivers and creeks. Yeah, and we usually try to do like some summer camps and we did this, oh, every year at our while we have it, we had a tipi [sp?}, there was an accident, but we had a tipi that was painted. And then we learned how to put that up and then we would just hold that space at the powwow grounds for kids to come because it was like it had our name on top of the tipi and the Truck Gallery and the Stride Gallery would come out and then we would do I'm just blanking on the name. It's like you do sun prints. So you collect plants and flowers and then you put it on a type of paper and then the sun makes a reflection or whatever. So it's like a negative print of the thing you lay on it and then you rinse it in water, Cyanographs? I want to say? sorry.
So we did that, but then we did it with like sage medicine, like yarrow, just the different plants that were available at that time. So like July at the end of July. So everything's pretty much bloomed. So just have the kids, whatever kids, even kids from different Reserves. Right. We didn't, which is open to everybody. But then they would come and pick the plant that they wanted and then put it in the sun. And then we just hang out, we have some snacks and then they come into the tipi. We show them, but it'd be really hot. And then we'd rinse the paper for them and then they'd have their their print to take with them. And then some kids really enjoy them and come back and make many prints. So we just kind of so we kept that as a tradition, I think, two or three years in a row. But this year since we didn't have the powwow. So I feel like that's that's a really good way. And then also like picking medicine, we did that at our last summer camp, so we picked sage when it was ready. So we're just reminding kids like you come winter, you need to start picking it now. So you have your your supply for the winter and then these are the ones to pick. This is the female plant is the male plant of this [unclear] sweetgrass, and this is where the sweetgrass can grow. This is how you look for sweet pine, you know. Yeah.
So we did that too, last summer and and I'm learning as well doing this program, I learn and I feel very grateful. So, yeah, I think the connection to the land is not so much inspirational, but just hands on. And that's that's also the way I like to teach youth that that's also a way we're being creative is by on being together and learning and doing hands on, because, you know, that's how we learned and that's how we shared stories as well. We were doing things and exercise, bending down, doing squats. Those are good for your body too right, your hips. And that's how, so just movement and being on the land and the safety with staying on the land, too. Yeah.
Ceilidh Isadore: So if everything's good with you, we can go on to the next question. And this one touches on how did your gender identity or sexual orientation influenced your early years and how has that influenced your work?
Riel Manywounds: Well, I think for me, like learning about street art, very like masculine and male dominated. So for me to have art in such a way or have such a statement was like for me to take up that masculine space and, you know, to do it with grace and just be like, yeah, like I get it, like, you know. So I think for me, I don't like thinking. I don't like I don't like art that is like more masculine and feminine. It's like I think people are able to express themselves however they want.
And so I struggle with that a lot with like traditional Tsuut'ina way, because it's very much like... me and my Two Spirit cousin, we often talk about this like how we can we talk about it, we question it, sure we get it. Like women aren't allowed to do certain things and like, this is the role and role. But then, like, I think generations now are changing those changing those rules. And yeah. So I think I just always think about that and I support. I'm very much like the the way we do our... The reason why our programming, we went from like Powwow Rodeo, now we, pretty much most of our programming is Arts and I find is important because we're the one program on our whole Reserve that is not hockey, not baseball, basketball. You know, like we're such a hockey Nation. We support that. and like everyone puts so much energy into, like, the Native hockey tournament, which is fun my son plays hockey. I've had experience going to the Native tournies. And it's fun, you see people, but. There is a lot of kids that don't really are sporty, right, like so and a lot of a lot of young males are Two Spirit or however they identify are a little bit more in like.
So we're just I just wanted to have that platform and space for people to be able to express themself and and not a macho manner, you know, like that. So that's what I think about. But very much me, like I have always identified as a woman and I am now a mother. And hopefully I can be a mother again someday. But, you know, like, that's. Yeah. So I, I like to think of myself and take on the matriarch status of just being like. Yeah. Like I also can lead things on my Reserve as a mother, as a woman. And I also make sure there's safe space for people who identify as queer, Two Spirit, gay, lesbian, you know, and then what I've seen this past year in our programming is so many kids are gender fluent right now and have that gender awareness of like breaking that down and being like, no, actually I'm kind of in between now. And they're like, all right. All right. So then let's talk about what pronouns are. Let's talk let's make sure this space everyone not only does points you out but everyone accommodates and understands why this is important that you identify as this. So I don't think that's ever been done before, you know. So yeah. So we very much like to hire.
We'll get lucky and artists like we're we have a program coming up for trans, a trans artist is going to lead our, and we're very much opening it and going to seek out kids who who also identify as trans or Two Spirit or just want to... It's open to everyone but we're going to seek out the youth that we know. So hopefully that they can feel like they want to learn why this trans artist does art and, you know, so, yeah, I think that's how I'll answer that.
Ceilidh Isadore: That's very big. Thank you for sharing that. And it makes me feel really good inside knowing that there's, you know, these youth out there wanting representation and wanting, you know, space and also probably feeling a bit shy sometimes and I always know that having those matriarch folks around me like that's what made me feel like I had family around me. That's what made me feel like I had real community around me, especially being far away from my own mother. And like my own father for a long time, I feel like those aunties and those mothers, like, totally always lifted me up. And so, yeah, that's an important role.
Riel Manywounds: Well, I always think, like, it is our role, it's our role to hold that space and to demand that the children, the youth have, are sacred and they're at the centre of it and the safety comes first. If the men are going to take so long to heal and get over their own ego, patriarchal, toxic ways of being homophobic and trying to tell young boys to toughen up, then it's our role to demand that they do better, and demand that if this space doesn't is not safe with you, then you've got to go right. Because we have this Two Spirit youth who you're intimidating. So then go it's easy as that.
So I have always seen my role as like a mom. You know, people view me as very straight. You know, I'm a mom, like hetero normative. So I have this hetero normative privilege. I definitely will never back down when I'm correcting someone in their toxic way of trying to control the space in a manly demeanour to make whatever Two Spirit persons around uncomfortable. No, that's I'll take it on full on. That's... I can, you know, within safety. But at the same time, it doesn't take much to just like set the space and make sure that everyone respects everybody. Like it's about time. I'm so tired of I'm you know, so. Yeah. And if and if I am that that mother. Right. Because like. I think mothers have this role because we'll have love for who, whatever kid, you know, and I think that that's kind of what shifted is that we actually we take care of all kids, even though they're not your relatives or, that was how our communities worked. Right. It's like all the aunties would teach the kids certain things and they would go from different aunties and different cousins and they learn from the whole community. And then that means everyone was keeping them safe. Right. So everyone was in. So, yeah, I very much always think about how how how things were way more harmonious back then, before, before men were forced to be a certain way. You know,
The Treaty have to do with how we were placed on Reserves, how we adapted the white man's way of the man is the leader of the house and owns the land. And, you know, and you marry the man and you take his name, like all that was different. I think the women on the tipis, the women were, had had say of huge decisions in the community. The grandmas, the mothers, those were the ones who had the say in the end, you know, so. Yeah, and their opinion and their voice very much represented those children and everyone in that tribe that didn't have a voice. You know, that's what I think anyways. Yeah.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah. OK, thank you for sharing that. I'm kind of soaking it all up because it was really good.
Shine Manywounds: [quiet]
Riel Manywounds: Have to get it, but I'm not quite done. Just give me a little bit more time.
Shine Manywounds: [quiet]
Riel Manywounds: I'm almost done.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah. Go in there so you can get back to those awesome plants that are here that yeah.
Riel Manywounds: He got a scooter for his birthday, wants to go...
Ceilidh Isadore: All right. So the next one we have here is how does the generation you grew up with influenced your ideas about art or any of the perspective that you hold currently?
Riel Manywounds: Well, in Tsuut'ina, like there's so many artists that are well-established now who are around my age, and they're they're really, really deadly, you know, like really good painters, really good beaders, really just like really skilled people. So I cherish them. And I you, I always support them in every Christmas or, you know, events, I like to buy art from them, like, I really like to support their business. And like not only that, like ribbon skirt makers, you know, people like just so talented. So so I find that Tsuut'inas... I really like our style and our style is really like very colourful. We have there's like some things that we still carry on, like there's like some designs of like the mountains that we do, the colours we use. And we actually did a project, a mural project based on that. And we did a mural based on like the old societies, the colours we used, the designs we used. So just to learn that, but then to see the artists on Tsuut'ina use those practices still and have their own... Like everyone is unique and everyone is... Yeah. So I like, I support that and I, I think that I like, you know. Just thinking that people viewing Tsuut'ina are like, well, they're very talented and they like the things are very crisp and like super, you know, that's what I feel like. The style of Tsuut'ina is super vibrant, very bold, crisp and unique. So, yeah.
Ceilidh Isadore: If you don't mind, would you like to share some of the colours that come to mind when you speak of those colour schemes that you're mentioning?
Riel Manywounds: The colour is very much blue. Blue is like, and then like some of the designs were like the mountains, because to the west of us we have like the Rocky Mountain range, so. Yeah, those are I guess I could just say those are the only two that I really know, but like blue, like a sky blue is like Tsuut'ina and like the mountains. The way that they're drawing in a way, is Tsuut'ina. Yeah, that's about it. But like we have so many skilled painters that do portraits of our leaders and our first Chiefs. So those are those are super awesome. And we still have a buffalo herd. So a lot of the art also has buffalo influence in, so yeah, I would say that, yeah, the style.
Shine Manywounds and Riel: [Quiet]
Ceilidh Isadore: This first question just says what aspects of your Indigenous identity influences your art practice the most? Maybe this kind of a broad question, but these questions are more just like how you interpret it and where it feels right for you.
Riel Manywounds: OK, well, yeah, the programming we do is very much Tsuut'ina so, and then what's Tsuut'ina, what's important for us is that, yeah, we speak a different dialect of language. We had different like slightly different ways of doing things before we settled here. And then when we settled here, we adapted a lot of different ways, like either Blackfoot or Lakota ways or Stoney ways. So, yeah, we've come a long way, but I think. Tsuut'ina are very spiritual people, very connected to, like the old ways, the old practices of doing things. So that's something. So when we do our programming, it's a lot of that. It's a lot of just being like, yeah, let's say we're doing a medicine shield, but like, you know, everything that comes with that, right? Everything in regards to why we were at war with different tribes, because we we fought for the place we're at.
Tsuut'ina is located just like southwest of Calgary. But that that area we... our leaders fought many battles and we are very stubborn, so like this, the term Sarcee comes from the Blackfoot words [in the language], I think meaning I think it means something to the point of stubborn people. And we very much and yeah, for us to just be like, no, we're here. This is where we want to settle, because we kept… either the Blackfoot tried to push us away and then city of Calgary tried to make us settle elsewhere but our leader fought for us that there, and then the land itself is very much lush. It's a very beautiful there's a very much there's a lot of water. I think there is. Yeah. And there's certain points that is connected to the stars that they just recently discovered, like there's like underground aquifers that are connected to like the one end of the river to the other, like they're finding things out that like. How did our, how did our ancestors know to be in this exact location because of these, like, aquifers and the health of the land? And, you know, we will never flood and all this stuff. Right.
Like, so just honouring that and trying to share those stories with the youth constantly. Yeah. But, you know, and then I also do this program, which has been kind of on hold, but we like to teach the kids like all the different aspects of hip hop. So graffiti, dance, murals, beat making, deejaying, emceeing. So we do like we tried to just like facilitate food ceremonies, talking circle for them to, like, find their voice and build their build their social, build their voice in general. And then we feed them good food and then we get into them developing whatever skill they want. So whether it be graffiti, the street art aspect, and then we teach them about the different styles of street art. Well, whether it be on trains or whether it be like murals or whatever. And then we go and then we show them the different forms and then also the history of how how it's come to be, you know... Okay.
Yeah, so we do. So that to me is important because that's also showing like that art isn't just painting, it isn't just drawing. There's different forms that you can take, whether it be performative, dance, you know, electronic now, even video video is a form of art... Even video is a form of art, then possibly making their own music video and stuff like that. So, yeah, and then also we did some few workshops on supporting them with grant stuff.
[To Shine] Go, go.
Very much wants me to be on the trampoline. Yeah, so I think it's important to be like here, do this type of art. But also here's the ways that you can, as an artist, be supported, so that you're not either taken advantage of, you know, you're not exploited. You're not you know, you're choosing wisely who to apply for grants. And then here's some support on applying for grants, you know, like because that's always hard, like that's such a pressure. And I know because I have to write, write grants for my programs too. Like, it's such a bureaucracy of like like. Write it this way, write it this style. It's just like so much pressure to keep those grants going and the reports going.
Ceilidh Isadore: Yeah, and it feels like it's such a task that makes you feel like paralyzed in a sense, like you don't want to do it and you don't want to get to the computer or open up the computer because you're scared of that one big colonial task that just doesn't really make much sense, especially to artists like us who are doing programming for like a different reason, like not to do things to fill up a budget. It's to do things for for generational responsibilities and and to provide for the youth.
Riel Manywounds: Yeah. I mean, that's the thing. Like, we would provide them healthy comfort food so they wouldn't even know it was gluten free, dairy free, you know, and then fresh fruit, vegetables. So a lot of kids have, you know, like, oh, coming in and being hungry after school, like feed them. They eat lots and then then yeah, they have that space to feel welcome because you have to. Like it's like a cultural thing to welcome people and if they're hungry, feed them, you know, like if you're inviting them into your home. It's just such a grandma practice, you know, and especially your kids. But they want to feel included and welcome. Then they're always hungry. You always got to give them snacks like that's just the mom thing. But yeah, I find that the food and the talking circle, the smudge, the Elders were... Just completes it. Right? it completes it in a way where it's, yeah, super impactful.
And then for them to shyly be working on a skill and then for us to have that space, for them to be like, OK, I'm going to emcee what I you know, I've been working on this rap and I'm going to rap it for you. And then everyone would be like, WOW, you know, it's. Yeah. Showcasing what they've been learning along the process, too, and then having the consistency with the artist educators. Right. People from the city of Calgary who are coming in. Some are Indigenous, some aren't. But their passion for either their dance or deejaying or visual skills.
Shine Manywounds: [to Riel]
Riel Manywounds: Yeah. For them to just also it's a way for them to connect with an Indigenous community to do their reconciliation work. Right. Like I know how many of them were so grateful to just be able to come to the Reserve and connect with Native youth, you know, and and then also just being mindful of the language we use. You know, I tell my workers, check yourself, don't be using hurtful language. Don't be over over oppressive in any way. If that's, you know, like I mean, like that's like but just to be mindful because these youth are so like you're... The way to connect with them is like we're not going to make like it's what is it. Like zero discrimination in the space, right?. Like so and then it would force the workers to work on that within themselves and be like, okay, yeah I have to watch what I say. And yeah, so it's a beautiful experience,
Ceilidh Isadore: Like the like the guests who are involved get to challenge themselves and challenge the things that they bring into another space.
Riel Manywounds: Yeah. Thank you. I and I'm grateful I'm grateful for the leadership that allows me to do what I do. You know, like my and I'm grateful for the team of employees I have who are from my Reserve as well. And just like getting to know them and having a working relationship with them and us just supporting each other to get all the work done, like it was a lot of work we would be doing like two to three drop-in nights a week, plus bigger events. We do traditional naming ceremonies where that is where we have Elders carry on the tradition of giving them a Tsuut'ina name based on everything. Right, based on the family, based on the battles they fought, whatever the situation, based on the story of their ancestors and whether that name gets passed on or they get a new name. Right.
So then you have that name and it's and then you can forever pass that on or keep it with you. But that name is a Tsuut'ina name, so. Yeah, like it was a lot of work plus like we would, we also did like, I don't know now how many people probably like eight thousand person powwow before Covid, our Christmas event. We would do like an annual gathering and we were in charge of doing the powwow and yeah. Like six hundred dancers, 30 to 40 drum groups, you know, like that. There's a lot to take care of.
So now like with the pandemic, we've been kind of, not chillin, but it's been nice to be home and to be able to reconnect with my son because I was so busy all the time. So our relationship is good and I'm home schooling him. I just taught him how to read and write. So, like, what a like, you know, it's we're in a pandemic and I have to teach my son school, but like, what a gift that his mom taught him how to read and write. Like, I feel really proud about that. Yeah. A shout out to all the parents who are teaching their kids from homeschool right now, you know.
Ceilidh Isadore: What are some ways where art scenes or art spaces can better support Two Spirit folks, trans folks or women artists in general?
Riel Manywounds: Can you say that again, sorry?
Ceilidh Isadore: How do you think art scenes or art spaces can better support Two Spirit, non binary or woman artists?
Riel Manywounds: I think it has everything to do with what I was saying before, like we just need to demand that people who are being unsafe be safe or leave the space, you know, and I think we need to stop allowing police in spaces because, I mean, I'm going to go there because I have to go there. We need to re-evaluate, like, the structures, the power structures that exist in every corner of the world now because of colonization, because of globalization, capitalism, classism, all of that we need to address. So I think it's just about demanding better. And all the matriarchs need to take that power to ensure that the people who have less representation, less of a voice because of trauma they've been through, you're that voice for them, you hold that down for them and demand that the people in your life, even your dad, your family, your uncle does better. You know, you. We have to do this every day for it to change.
Riel Manywounds: Does that answer that question?
Ceilidh Isadore: If you had any more you wanted to add or not?
Riel Manywounds: Well, I just think, like, you know, we're on the verge of huge changes. But if we just keep allowing things to happen, it's not going to things won't change if we just keep allowing these people in power who abuse that power and support these white supremacists foundational systems, we can't we can't do that anymore because it's you know, it's like now it's a fight for the last bit of water. It's a fight for, you know, people's land. There's still kids in cages. All that, you know, police are definitely need one of the biggest like checks like they need to be called on everything that's happening, and we just need to support those people on the front lines, you know, donate to them like Tiny House Warriors, shoutout to Canahus. You know, they're they're sacrificing their freedom to prove and to to hold oil companies accountable for what they've done. And it's all connected. All of this is connected.
It's connected to Black Lives Matter is connected to Indigenous Land Back and Indigenous Title, Crown Land, Treaties. I encourage people to do more research on the Treaty that you're in and imagine that the city or wherever you're at do better and honour the Treaties and work towards reconciling the Treaties. So it just it takes all of us to be to feel more empowered, to say the right things in the moment. Right. And yeah, and then I guess the next step is to just like help each other through our healing around it. Right. To be more. Like, give each other that that great space to to make mistakes and to do better and to support each other through those tough growing pains. And, you know, that's the ultimate that's what I ultimately think.
Ceilidh Isadore: But make it a little bit easier for folks. And with that easy, it's just safer to go into those areas of where we need to take the brave steps or like make those courageous moves around. I'm close to wrapping it up here because I feel like we talked about so much amazing things. And I feel like a lot of the things we mentioned earlier kind of touches on some hanging questions. So I have a few left here and one of them says, how does your… how do you use your art to address social and cultural issues? Maybe if you want to elaborate on that a little bit more.
Riel Manywounds: Well, the way that I'm like more behind the scenes in the art scene, like I feel like my voice is very much impacting the way the city of Calgary is moving forward in regards to why they're granting money to certain projects, how they're seeking out the people who may grant the money to, the inner workings on how they're relating to Indigenous people in general by honouring our truth, honouring our story. So and then funnels down to me holding space for the youth and setting an example like I really hope that people view Tsuut'ina youth program and be like, yeah, that's what they're doing, good work. And that's like that's what we need to do. And it's important to not only just do programming, but to always include the culture aspect, you know, always include the ceremony. It's sacred. Like if we don't, we'll lose it. So however that works and in whatever Reserve you come from, however that fits.
But it's important, like I said before, it completes it. And it's that holistic. It's like more of a holistic approach. So I like when we think of whole holistic, I think of healing. You know, I think of I think of strengthening and healing. So, yeah. And to start calling our leaders on their toxic, outdated ways, like, you know, and let's stop kissin butt to oil companies for money. And, you know, I don't know, there's just so much, but I think the more safe space we hold and demand, the better. It's going to spread. So we need to we need to be that voice. We need to just stand in our truth all the time. And we need to create safety nets for that. We need to create that that ceremony. We'll need to honour. Yeah. Like from art shows. Like, is it is it an art show? Or is it like more like a ceremony unveiling? So let's, let's think about that. So let's just create our own spaces with more intention and more ceremony. Yeah, that's what I'll say.
Ceilidh Isadore: And I look forward to seeing how art and sharing art changes over time and how we can create spaces for that. That just makes a lot more sense than some sort of show or fancy celebration like that.
Riel Manywounds: And also shout out Louis Cruz, who connected us, very old friend from Vancouver. We met and we still kept in touch. And I still support them as an artist with the beadwork they've done recently. And that's what I was talking about, like that shift. Like it's no longer like this roles for this gender, this roles for this, you know. And so I think it's beautiful when we can just create however we feel like it. And Louis very much embodies that type of like they're they're so they're beautiful people. I'm glad to know them.
And also provide so much kindness and compassion and like flexibility. Like, it's been really nice a few times like this, just with the interviews and booking and Zoom calls and emails. It's just nice having these discussions with artists who just get it and just understand that things need to be rescheduled or things need to be moved around and sometimes you don't have capacity. So it's been really awesome working with like the project and folks like you who just make it easy and make it a fun and enjoyable.
Ceilidh Isadore: So, yeah, thanks for sharing everything and I can't say thank you enough, because I really do like this act is such a creative thing, an artistic thing, but also it's such a vulnerable thing and a brave thing. And I don't take it lightly. It takes a lot of courage to share community stories, cultural teachings and and personal experiences. So I definitely hold this a lot with my journey and in my heart. And it's I got like awesome little notes and tidbits here on my book that I'm sure is going to continue to give me good reminders as I carry on. So, yeah. Thank you for everything for that.
Riel Manywounds: You're welcome. Thank you for having me. I'm honoured to be to have this to share my story and share my experiences. Thank you.