Dominique Normand provides us with eight pieces of art and four answers to questions posed by Serai’s Nilambri Ghai.
Your paintings, photographs, and films reflect centuries of Cree tradition and culture. What do you see as the future of this lifestyle in James Bay?
I sincerely hope that the unique lifestyle that I am privileged to witness and to participate in will remain alive and strong. As long as there is a need for humans to renew themselves through nature, to become one again with the elements and there is a need to learn, practice and share skills that teach patience and beauty in art form honouring the rituals of human life on earth, I feel that there will be a need for the native culture to live on.
The Cree Nation of James Bay is extremely proud of its cultural heritage. The nine communities are working diligently at developing new ways to stimulate the interest of the younger generation. They create special programs in schools, traditional centers, sport centers and wellness centers to support the rich heritage that has kept the Cree culture alive. The community members are invited to learn and practice hunting, tanning, cooking, survival, arts and crafts, tool making, and sowing skills with the elders.
They record stories and legends from every region. We are currently working on the first of a series of films: “Tanning Moose Hide”. I spent a few months recording each step involved in the making of a soft moose hide to be used for clothing, moccasins, mittens and bags.
IDLE NO MORE is a good example of the interest that the young Cree people have in protecting their land, their culture while making a statement in their own way. They are fearless, courageous and willing to make a difference.
I also see a new breed of young native people in the music world, strong individuals with unique and confident voices, churning the political scene: Samian, Ceramony, A Tribe Called Red, Black Bear, Elisapie Isaac, Chloe Ste-Marie.
Northern Quebec Native Culture still has a long way to go to be heard and understood by the Quebec population and in fact, by the world. Social Media has made a huge impact on their lives. Living in distant areas, they can now connect with family members afar and thus develop new contacts, allowing the sharing of their lifestyles.
I think that there will be a serious need for more understanding of the relationship that Cree people have with the land and how they have been able to live closely and respectfully for so many years. We will eventually come to them to seek advice and they will finally be seen as whom they truly are, extremely generous, creative, courageous, resilient, open-hearted, sensitive people with amazing values and a strong sense of community.
Their culture, their ways, their philosophy and their wisdom will be recognized because the world has a real need for it at this time.
Your art brings mainstream Canada closer to the Cree of James Bay. What more could be done to remove the barriers that increase distance, isolation and exclusion?
I do not think distance is a problem any longer. I travel 13 hours to Mistissini every two months.
I believe that we should invite the Cree Community elders, thinkers, musicians, poets, writers, politicians to work with us, to rebuild a world based on harmony, to participate in a plan that takes into consideration, our relationship with Mother Nature, her critical needs and the importance of assuring the well-being of everyone within the community.
What is the one characteristic of the Cree that stands out for you as being the most critical for growth and success?
Native people were free-spirited beings.
This is how they were able to live in harmony with all of their relatives. By helping them become autonomous, we will help them regain their pride, strength and ability to help us recreate a society that cares for its people, its land and the living.
We are, as a Canadian society, in a very precarious place financially: the major working force that was the baby boomers in the past 30 – 40 years represents a huge percentage of people who will depend on government money for subsistence and medical care. At the same time, native population in Canada has grown 7 times in the last 15 years. There are a lot of young native people in this country. Most of them also depend on the government money. I believe that it is imperative to help the native population and assist them with appropriate business skills, professional advice and education in order to give them the necessary tools for a more autonomous economy and wellbeing.
How could Montreal Serai help in telling the Cree story the way it should be told?
Why not visit the communities to see for yourself? Come to visit the summer gathering in August. I would be pleased to take you there if you wish.
Invite leaders to talk: Ashley Iseroff-politician, Murray Neeposh and Jane Blacksmith- Tradition and Social Development.
Present my films (The Gathering, Tanning Moose Hide, two more films to follow on the subject of the Annual Journey Walk and then next February, Fishing with a Net and Trapping Beaver).
Visit the Nishiyuu page on Facebook to learn more about their vision. Seven young walkers left Wapmagoutsui 3 months ago by snowshoe to make a statement about the land claims and the natural resources in James Bay. They arrived on march 25 to address the prime minister with concerns. M. Harper was very busy greeting two Pandas from China.
I can also introduce you to some other cree artists, sculptors, painters, singers, story tellers.