"A Little Bit of Indigenous Magic"

By Alexia Bréard-Anderson

Indigenous women, holding each other up. Visual artists, supporting each other. A safe place to talk about the work, interpretation and inspiration behind projects. A place that reminds us of sitting at home around the kitchen table, with tea & bannock
— Tenille Campbell
 Photograph by Joi T. Arcand

Photograph by Joi T. Arcand

Tea&Bannock is a blog and collective of Indigenous women artists, writers and photographers from across the country. From interviews and travel diaries to photoshoots and intimate reflections on motherhood, the community platform has woven together hundreds of stories to create and foster an online space of support, strength and inspiration.

Founded a little over a year ago by Tenille Campbell (Dene and Métis) and Joi T. Arcand (Cree), the blog features the work of countless contributors including Caroline Blechert (Inuvialuit), Claudine Bull (Cree), Amanda Laliberte (Métis), Shawna McLeod (Dene from Northwest Territories) and Jessica Wood (Gitxsan from B.C).

I connected with Tenille, Joi and Amanda to talk about collaborative blogging, indigenizing image-making, and bridging distance through the creation of online spaces. Read our conversation below. 

What was your initial inspiration behind creating tea&bannock?

Tenille K Campbell: The original inspiration behind tea&bannock was to create and cultivate a safe space where we could chat about the technical and inspirational aspects of photography and images with other women. Personally, I needed a community to vent, collaborate and create kinship with. I was very lucky to find such a great core group of women of varying experiences, ideas and cultural backgrounds to connect with.  

 Photograph by Caroline Blechert

Photograph by Caroline Blechert

The online community you’ve built weaves together so many stories, projects and reflections. How do you approach the individuals you want to collaborate with or feature?

 TKC: For myself, I creep on social media a lot. It sounds terrifying and way too honest, but it’s true! Indigenous use of social media is insane, and we are all there — from doll makers in Las Vegas to jewellery designers in the Yukon to photographers in tiny little communities on the East Coast. You just have to look. I’ve learned to awkwardly introduce myself, share basic information on who we are, and explain why we want to connect with them or feature their work. Luckily, I’ve found that most women are into this idea and want to create a little something with us. I try to leave it open – we all have different women and artists that we want to shine some light on – and we usually ask them to either do a guest post or we send over interview questions for them to answer.

What draws you to use collaborative blogging as a space to share stories and raise voices, especially those of Indigenous women? Why do you think this is important in Canada - and internationally?

TKC: I was first drawn to the idea of a collective blog – that featured both written stories and visual components – because I wanted us to have a space to unpack the meaning and work behind the images. I wanted us to get a little personal, to delve a little deeper. The idea of creating in a community is a natural extension for me: I was raised by a strong woman, amazing aunties and present grandmothers. I grew up with cousins who were chosen sisters, friends who were family…  This blog is just a digital extension of the kinship ties I have in my everyday life. Once I saw what this blog could become and how it resonated with each of the artists we worked with, I understood how much of an impact this could have beyond our circle. This was about reaching further out, yet again, and providing a platform for our community. We need to show the depth, integrity and inherent strength of Indigenous women, in our own voices, with our own stories.

 Photograph by Shawna Mcleod

Photograph by Shawna Mcleod

Writing and editing demands a lot of time, energy and dedication.. tea&bannock has a large, talented circle of contributors from a variety of different locations. Have you ever felt your communication challenged by geographical distance?

Amanda Laliberte: I haven’t felt the communication challenged by geographical distance. Like most people, we are able to stay connected through emails, texts, video chat, social media and the odd phone call. We have, however, felt our communication challenged in other ways. Aside from all of us being photographers, we are also managing other careers... as well as leading our lives as mothers, aunties, partners, lovers, writers, artists, students, athletes, entrepreneurs, and much more.  Sometimes these multiple roles get in the way of communicating, but it is not the physical distance that gets in the way. Each of us understand that life can be challenging at times. No matter the distance, we are there to support each other and there is no pressure to produce.  

Many say that “true” or “real” connection is being lost in this age of digital social media. Others argue that it has expanded the way we understand and listen to each other. What are your thoughts on this?

AL: I love the connections that are being made through social media. We pretty much formed as a collective around those exact connections. Some of us have worked together previously, others have connected just recently and some of us haven’t even met yet! Having access to the internet has allowed us an opportunity to find each other because we’re constantly communicating with one another behind the scenes. We’re able to share - not only our values and appreciation of photography - but also a mutual understanding of the importance of the female indigenous voice in image-making.  I feel that - should the day come where I get to meet them in person - there will be no awkwardness because we already know each other. The connection has already been made.

 Photograph by Jessica Wood

Photograph by Jessica Wood

Tea & Bannock is nearly a year and a half old! Do you find it has changed a lot since? What have you learnt from the process?

TKC: I am so proud of the work and people involved in tea&bannock, and I can’t believe it’s already been a year and half. We’ve had a pretty straightforward process since the beginning… it hasn’t veered much from that. There are still works we would like to focus on – we need to find the time to do the community outreach and mentoring again – but overall, I think we have hit a great streak. During our time together, I’ve learnt from my co-writers how to push the issue when it’s needed and when to let ideas breathe when it feels ‘too soon’.

We have always been aware of the political movements within our communities (and our ally communities) so we try to give space to that in a productive way that feels true to our roots. How should we say this? What is the lasting point? How do we encourage readers to do their own connecting with the issue presented? Essentially, what is our end goal? While the answers to these questions are different with every post, I think we are all reaching for the same thing: to give voice to who we are as artists, and as indigenous women.

Joi Arcand: Although it started as an experiment, tea&bannock changes because it must be adaptable to the variables of life… especially when there are so many writers involved. Some writers step forward while others retreat into their busy schedules. Currently, I am on hiatus from writing but I am still invested in the community that has sprung up around the blog.

Is there a specific piece (that you’ve read or written) that has surprised or moved you the most?

JA: My piece “The Place Where My Spirit Breathes” went viral on Wordpress last year, and that surprised me. The hundreds of comments we received were mostly positive and encouraging. I don’t think anything I’ve written has ever had that kind of reach before, and it was a little bit overwhelming.

AL: I look forward to every single post that is published on Tea & Bannock. On those days where I am feeling uninspired, I know that I can look on the site and can come away with a sense of hope after reading what each author has shared.

Of all the posts, the one that leaves me most in awe is Tenille Campbell’s “Teacups and Beadwork, Lace and Birch Bark”. Her words and photographs do an amazing job of giving light to the Indigenous female experience. Like Tenille, I also grew up in wonderment of Alice’s adventures and to see Tenille take that story and indigenize The Mad Hatter Tea Party through her lens was simply mind blowing. And of course, she collaborates and shares the space with her family, friends and community to execute her idea and create as Tenille says, “a little bit of Indigenous magic.” It reminds us that we do our best when we are able to work together.

When I find myself scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest looking at other peoples stylized photographs, I am inspired by some…  yet most of the time I am left searching for something more that I can connect with. The worst is when the collaborators appropriate Indigenous content into their stylized photo shoots. This is why I like Tenille’s post so much… it’s for real. I am able to connect with the work because I get it. For me, what lies beyond the frames and beneath the layers of tea cups, beads, lace and birch bark is the voice of Indigenous women.

 Photograph by Claudine Bull

Photograph by Claudine Bull

Do you have any projects you’re looking forward to manifesting in the near future?

TKC: There is much going on in my life… and I’m still trying to decide what I need to focus on. As a new author, I am working on going North and making sure my book is accessible for the people I grew up with. It’s all about readings, gossip and laughter. Not to mention more writing! As a student, I need to finish my PhD which is important so I can move forward in other areas. As an artist, I’m trying to do a few more rounds of #KissingIndigenous and then taking it to another level with a new project based on indigenous sexuality in the bedroom. Lastly, I would love to dedicate more time to the blog: from travelling to meet up with the other writers to seeing what we could do to celebrate another year together in January. There is so much to do, and much I want to try, but I’ve learnt to let it develop naturally and go from there.

 Photograph by Snowshoe Studios

Photograph by Snowshoe Studios