NDN Joy: A 2019 Photo Essay

+ plus my top five moments of 2019 below +

Personally, it’s been a hard year. I feel stalled in many things – like my academic work, like my poetry – but sweetmoon continued to be a creative outlet for me, allowing me to leave my safe spaces for hours on end, connecting with my community and like-minded artists. I noticed I would feel guilty when I started packing up my gear, taking the time to make sure that I had my batteries, my extra cards, my favourite lens. I would feel guilty because more often than not, I was stepping away from an article I had to read, a book I had to finish, a paper I had to work on. Academic work that I was invested in, but fearful of, for a variety of reasons. But I also couldn’t ignore the fact that once I was gone from the house, sitting across from my clients, walking in a field with my camera in hand, listening to the stories of love and friendship and photographing them, my shoulders would loosen up. My jaw would unclench. My heart would beat lighter, and my laughter came easy.

Photography has always been an unplanned adventure for me, but every year that I persist within it, I see how this is medicine for me. This is what connects me to my family and the stories my community carries, this is how I share my pride in where I come from, who I come from.

I wanted to showcase the joy that had carried me through this year, during the times I wasn’t feeling at all joyous myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a stoic Indian gazing into the sunset (for real) but when I think of my favourite memories, the laughter of my aunties echo around me. Joy is a foundation for my work, and how I move through this life.

In no particular order, showcasing just a sampling from the work I did this year, I hope these images give you joy as well.


Top Five in 2019

A little surprise edition for the blog readers. I wanted to showcase a few sessions and tings (spelled that way purposefully) that stood out to me over the year. This has been a yearrrrr, and I’ve done a many new things and learned a lot. Like learned a LOT. And these are a few sessions that stuck with me throughout the year.

Erica and I usually wander about for new headshots once a year or so, since we’ve started hanging out. She’s gotten very used to me being like “I have this idea, let’s go.” But this session was based on her Urban Indigenous identity, something I had never really thought about until our friendship. Growing up on the rez, surrounded by my community and culture, is a privilege, something I had never had to think about before. And this session reflects, for me, the many friendships I’ve had this year that have opened my mind to new ideas, new experiences, new ways of knowing. Friendships that change me and challenge me, friendships I’m grateful for.

Shooting my niece’s wedding in August was emotional but fun – she has truly found a family that embraces her and reflects her charm, quirkiness and attitude. It was a beautiful day. That being said, my cameras busted halfway through (I don’t even know) and I had to steal Cousin Jeremy’s Nikon (I’m a Canon girl) and shoot on the fly. CREATOR had me that day, for sure. These were shot on the Nikon and we were all pleasantlyyyyyy surprised by how nice they turned out.

In June of this year, Smokii and I were both presenting at a round table talk in Vancouver and he wanted a shoot to represent his movement through transition, confronting body love and body issues, and asked me to document it. We came up with this grand idea of a sunrise shoot in the water, and both managed to get 2-4 hours of sleep that night, and crawled out way to the beach in time for some beautiful light and some fuggin fearless attitude. I loved this session, was incredibly humbled by the trust given, and was ever so grateful for the coffee afterwards.

My friendship with Wakeah has been a hilarious blessing in man life. I haven’t shot her with clothes on yet, for real. We went from admirers on Insta to You My Bestie Because I Spent Too Much Time With You Naked Otherwise. But she, for her first shoot, wanted a nude session with her belly, and brought in so many significant items – the buffalo fur rug, the granny hankie as a backdrop – and was so fearless in front of the camera. I usually hate studio work, but this was a beautiful challenge and a personal favourite session.

*Wakeah’s images shared with permission*

I worked with CBC News for this little feature. I gathered some of my favourite photos of my Elders, including this shot of my parents – shot in the backyard on the rez in June of 2018, on my Fujifilm x100s – and it’s always made me smile, seeing them like this. I was so glad to see how this photo resonated with the community throughout Canada as well.

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    welcome tho.

    Welcome to the blog, showcasing the latest sessions and adventures. In case you missed it, I'm Tenille, Dene photog, living in Treaty Six, YXE. Feel free to lose a couple hours creeping around, and drop a line if you have any questions.