Solstice Dreamer

As an interdisciplinary artist, Mariel shares her process in transmedia platforms with the physical scale models to activate story development through play, costuming, set design, and sound scape. She performs these gestures visually through a digital platform sharing video and still photo of these activities being embodied. She becomes the Dreamer, the activator of the space, the user of the tool, the village dweller. On this day the Dreamer’s implements come alive.

The Solstice Dreamer event held at the Head of the Lake Hall on Okanagan Indian Band December 21, 2018 was inspired by the MFA project “The Earth Re:Claimed Her” and the preceding work initiated in 2014’s BFA thesis performance “Hall of Femme”. For Mariel this work is meant for her to better understand these changes/differences she now notices within herself and as interior Columbia Plateau women how did we engage the isolation lodge and canoes?

Mariel writes:

I did a lot of the work alone, in isolation whenever I was motivated to work. It started as a labour of love I needed to know what it felt like to set up and live in, create space for and engage in the physical labour. Re-inspired and energy manifested with the help of the lodge Shawn Brigman brought to UBCO in 2017 and from all his Facebook posts, I laid in the tipi at night, listening to my grandmother sing out the speaker of my laptop and dreamt of what it would be like to embody the physical gestures of my ancestor mothers. The harvest and creation was described in a quote of he referenced in chapter five of his PhD thesis, elder village grandmother transferring her knowledge through story to the younger generation in front of her. Village mother and cousin nieces’ scene brought to life in 2018. The tipi we displayed was created and shared with community specifically to engage the dreaming ones. Harvest was assisted by community members and friend: Maria and Ruby Alexis, Barb Marchand, Jackson Traplin, Sienna Belanger-Lee, Tyrell Allison and Justin Joe. I was mentored by master mat makers Angela Buck of the Wannapum people, local elder Barb Marchand since Senklip Native Theatre where we first made mats and construction of the current mats were assisted by Emily Wilson.

As a Sqilxw, dreaming one of the land – I have a responsibility to uphold the teachings of the structure, the places my great-great grandmother lived. This isn’t your average set, it is an in-depth study of self governance in egalitarian society building. As a performance theorist I must do what was done to know exactly why it was done before or after I embody ancestral gestures. I don’t just talk about how hide tanning is a method, I use it, I take the time needed, when it needs to be done. The Tipi is the method
I can stand here and be brought to tears knowing how hard the work was because I did the work. I can truthfully embody that experience when I roll out a mat to place on the frame. I didn’t have this capacity the first time. I was moved to tears because I made it more difficult than what it was in that moment by wearing a wedding dress. It was labour intensive but not like weaving each mat is a strain on your back, hunched over for long periods of time. They did it in various ways. In my performance there will be tears real emotion attached to the set. Speech slowed, motions/ gestures embraced by each muscle remembering the physical memory of making my own. Deepens the performance more than any method I’ve known. Becoming Sqilxw Apna – the dreaming ones of the land.

I was inspired to install the blue Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe, we skinned with Shawn Brigman in June, suspended in the sky as I visualized from the transcension story my stemtima grandmother Mary Abel speaks about as she translates for my tupa, great grandfather Joseph Abel in a 1979 recording with Wendy Wickwire. Tupa speaks of his grandfather Ol Dr. Williams in his quest for knowledge. The cedar and light imagery was inspired by the waves as they lap on the outside of the translucent canoe. I retold that story of a traveller through the vapour of time and space. It occurred to me Saturday afternoon that I could see our great chief N’kwala’s headstone outside, across the road and in the cemetery from the tule mat lodge when the windows were open. Super honoured to be able to exhibit these implements at n’kamaplx head of the lake. Ginger honoured us with a beautiful song that I am sure my granny and everyone, even great Chief N’kwala’s bones vibrated their spirit to spend time with them over night in the hall with all our songs over the past few days. I think about my granny every day.
Every every day

Many people have brought cultural implements over the course of my life. Barb Marchand first taught me mat making in 1989 when Lynn Phelan brought theatre and captikwl through Senklip Native Theatre into my life. My granny Mary Abel kept hide tanning and my uncle Louis Fred taught me. Jeannette Armstrong taught me traditional Syilx storytelling but my granny had me dancing at age 5. Jeannette had us sorting reeds for the smoke house at Enowkin and Chantelle Mitchell wrote a story called Tuk and Tan which I embodied her reed character. My granny described a tule mat lodge that Shawn Brigman made so I found a grant to bring him north to learn from the inside and now I am rounding out my practice by doing.

I combined works, including Shawn Brigman’s hand carved Columbia Plateau style paddle with the cattail canoe made by Barb Marchand and Erik Hrabovsky at the 2016 Enowkin cat tail workshop with the tule twined baskets from Senklp Native Theatre. I installed sculptural work from 2014 my first university sculpture class and combined it with my current scale model. With these works I was devising materials, blending both worlds I come from. The scale model is a memory of me being in the 2017 Shawn Brigman tule mat lodge at UBCO. It was the first of its size to be exhibited in the Okanagan. The Barbie doll is the reflection of Sqilxw Dreamer. I am Sqilxw Dreamer featuring the artwork in the Senklip Native Theatre backdrop made by Barb Marchand sometime in the early 1990’s.

Sqilxw Apna and I were fortunate to partner with Ruby Alexis, Barb Marchand and Joanne Alexis to exhibit their continuous work in twining and cattail/grass hat making. Their explorations in Interior Plateau materiality was funded by the Canada Council of the Arts. I am thankful for my mother Hilda Belanger, Emily Wilson and AJ Traplin for coming early helping to install the Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe and “The House White Privilege Bought” sculpture featuring the poster art of David Bernie. Closing our reception with songs, spoken word and lyric from Amber Kruger Cardenas, Emily Wilson, Cori Derickson, AJ Traplin and myself.

It was hard work but it is good to share what we learned. Starting in July asking for help and we are just finishing a small tipi in December. We sourced our own material from our own knowledge of location. Dried them in the Okanagan sun and dreamed of what it might be like inside our own. We have two extra big mats but I think that’s because I made a small but tall tipi. It’s all good, it looks nice and smells fabulous, I love that smell. That night we saw how our dreams might come alive, incentive to continue. This knowledge is for all of us. It is site specific and necessary work needing to be done. Our marshlands depend on us to be where the material is.

Sqilxw Apna is dedicated to bringing Indigenous knowledge to the community. By hosting these events Sqilxw Apna fulfills its mandate to engage family transfer practices and community sharing as close to egalitarian as we can given the time economy we are in. This event and the coming spring outdoor exhibition is funded by the First Peoples Cultural Council and devised by Mariel Belanger MFA for Sqilxw Apna society and surrounding community members of the North Okanagan.

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