tukʷtniɬxʷ  – tule mat house:
October 2019
Moon lodge First Rite: Fir bow sculpture

Indigenous women governed the waterways with architectural construction and self-governance through first rites and skills acquisition. The fir bow menstruation lodge is first rite for a menstruating person. Constructed out of young saplings, the bows would be tightly woven to provide weather proof shelter.

I imagine Marianne and Mary Terese Greenhow together constructing Mary Terese’s first. I imagine it was close to here but not this close to the mosquitos. I imagine the ceremony: the selection of poles, wearing a fir bow headdress, her first night alone but not alone as we were always cared for. I imagine Mary Terese working teaching my granny Mary Abel with her mother Mariette Gregoire. I imagine them sitting on the side of the hill telling me what to do, how to layer where to braid the next bow in. To scold me for not saving all the bows, they are all necessary to create a tight water proof structure. I imagine them teaching me as I learn how without their assistance. I dream their instruction and embody their gestures

This is a living installation piece funded by First Peoples Cultural Council by descendent Mariel Belanger


I started with 8 bundles of 100 5ft stalks. I had to go through the “too small” bundles and start making 4 ft and 3ft stalks until I had enough cut to make two sizes of mat. I am so happy to have as many quality stalks as I have. I took the little scale model into two Armstrong Elementary classes, showing colour photos of actual tule mat tipis, not black and white photos of ghost practices.

Someone could come and dictate all this to you but it doesn’t mean much unless they know what materiality is available to you. There were three other people that I knew who were actively harvesting in our area and I was not the first one out. This speaks volumes to the destruction of our marshlands. As far as I can tell cultural genocide is occurring in places we aren’t concerned with, like areas that filter our water. It’s ironic. And so despite going out 20 times, harvesting at least 250 sticks per harvest I don’t have what is needed.
So what if you don’t have access to the super tall tules and you still need to cover your house? You use what is available.

Size matters.                                                                                                                                      Had I this visual and physical knowledge when I started, I would have known better how small is too small. But it’s all relevant learning. When I go out next year I won’t have to work as hard, I have my base started and every year after will be inventory. The best part of this project has been the conversations I’ve had with Maria and Em my two young helpers. We are learning together. I am proud these two have an appreciation of who they are and where they come from. I used to drive by these reeds and think nothing of them. Colonized in the mind. These days I know my children missed out greatly not being surrounded by the smell of tukʷtn.

I missed out.
I don’t want to have to move away and get “a real job”. I want to focus on getting back into my village. I want my grandniece to know every smell, every material, everything. We are displaying our dreams, putting our intentions out into the solstice dreaming with our hands, talking our dreams out, finding and carving paths for others to find.

Each one teach one.
In egalitarian times inter generational teaching is the norm. In contemporary times we often don’t even have our daughters to help support the continuation of knowledge transfer. In an effort to maintain family transferral of knowledge this project helps us demonstrate the performative gestures of family governance, village society and being self sufficient.
These are the activities that were happening in the woman’s isolation lodge. All year she would have material and projects on the go. Today we continue living our artful lives as we’ve always done. After a while feeling the dried reeds you can start to tell which ones will make better baskets. Some reeds dry oblong and not round. I am getting a stack of them so I know what project comes next: Toast baskets like I used in Arica Chile last year.
This is about survivance not elite artistic renderings of ancestral structures.I have embodied and experienced openly with honest intentions. I am not a specialist. I am learning “what happens when…” in some ethnographies they say that there was a late November harvest. Yeah ok I can see that. The tules are already dried out so you don’t have to worry about that step but how do you soak them up again to weave without getting some wanting to grow mold? I don’t think it is practical to believe whole mats were being woven because they grow mold so fast when you don’t move them every day…. oh …. and so the learning occurs when the mold comes telling you “move it or lose it lady”. I suppose they would hang the bundles in the lodge rafters to allow the hotter air to dry them out faster.
Learning means starting over.                                                                                                           I am learning and this is my process. I am performing “Village Daughter” I ask questions of my mentors and favour the ones who respond with kindness and love . I am learning again how to start and how to finish. I perform these things using this space as a digital stage – a media platform for engaging community. My goal is for them to get excited again about this work.
It will result in a shortage of materials which will make it impossible for us all to continue.
And maybe then, our work can really begin.

Follow Mariel’s new First People’s Cultural Council supported project Egalitarianism and the IsolationLodge where she explores tule mat house construction from the beginning. Mentored by Barb P Marchand and Ruby Alexis, Mariel and youth assistants take the memories of tukʷtniɬxʷ to make our own. See new updates on our Facebook Page


The following photos were taken from the student initiative I coordinated. Playing off Shawn Brigman’s PhD thesis title suméš in the Built Environment,  we Indigenized the UBCO Built Environment July 14-19, 2018 featuring Shawn Brigman PhD’s tule mat lodge including performed happenings “Making our Mark” and “Moving Camp” “Tattoo house” “Poetry House” and “Place of Dreams” photos by Jill Janvier

N’sis’ooloxw Isolation Lodge and Kelowna Art Gallery installation. Photos by Maura Tamez and Kelowna Art Gallery

Looking forward to an amazing 2019 working with Barb Marchand with Cat tail and Tule reed technologies.

Return to Mariel Belanger

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