Francine Cunningham_N'we Jinan Witset Residency 2018

Page 1

Wet’suwet’en Artist Collective Discovery Program 2018

2018 This zine was made during the 2018 N’we Jinan Arts Residency with artist Francine Cunningham and her work with the 2018 Discovery class at Khay Wiget Education Society. We would like to thank Mark West for use of his pictures of the discovery program. Magazine design by Francine.

Tansi! Welcome to this wonderful zine filled with some incredible writing from the students in the 2018 Discovery Class. I worked with this group of students for three weeks and in that time they wrote pages and pages of work and each created some visual art. In these pages you’re going to read a wide range of experiences and get to know some of these students just a bit more. I hope you enjoy reading as much I did! Thank you to all the students in these pages who tried so hard and created vunerable, funny, and deep work. Hiy hiy, - Francine Cunningham

This is me, Savannah! I’m Big Frog Clan from Witset and I love to cook!

Savannah Mitchell

This week was great so far because we started our bentwood boxes, we’ve been working them for 2 weeks, and James Madem has been our instructor, he has been doing very well with helping us with our bentwood boxes. Day one we built a steam box which is for our boxes, in order to make a bentwood box you have to carve four one-inch grooves into in the center of your cedar ply wood that is at least eleven and three quarters apart, then steam your piece of ply wood until you are able to bend the plywood into place, and after that you peg the edges together. After you’re finished you can design your bentwood box however you’d like, I decided that I will be carving my own traditional clan on mine.



I am from Witset, my clan is Lakshamshu. I am currently in adult education and I live on the reserve.

Being Indigenous has always been a topic, it always seems like we have been sterotyped. There is always someone saying that we get everything for free, that we should work for our money and not expect handouts. My belief is that if not for the government sabotaging our people, sticking children in residential school, and taking our fluent language we wouldn’t get our every moment judged not matter how hard we try to change, we will always be a target. It feels like we will never get out of this cycle. Isn’t it bad enough that were put on reservations away from society. When will they ever realize that we have pride in how we live traditionally. We are finding ourselves. All I can say is its a work in progress. Hopefully in the future we can create unity.

Perry Prince

Many men I have spoken to say being a father is the most difficult job because not a lot of men are ready for fatherhood, I wasn’t. I had family and friends tell me that I couldn’t do it because I was drinking a lot and doing a lot of drugs, to me that was a challenge. I took the challenge to prove to them all that I can do it, and prove them all wrong.

Hi, my name is Perry Prince I am from Fort Saint James, B.C and am from the tlaz’ten nation and part of the Frog Clan.

Alison Wilson AUNTY GUSSY & AUNTY KATHERINE The most inspiring women in my life after mom past away, you both showed us love and compassion. While dad was hurting and drinking his life away without mom, little did dad know that mom left a part of us there for him to tend to, but dad was hurting so much that he let alcoholism take him from us to, his depression was too far gone without mom. Both my Aunties were the matriarchs to our community and especially our Family <3 and they were dad’s oldest sisters. The day we found out that you were ill, we stayed right by your side, our whole family was devastated when we found out you had lung cancer, a week before your passing, the Dr told us it can be anytime. We stayed as close as we could to you, our hearts were preparing for you to enter the Spirit world, my youngest sister and I stayed with you till the end. We made sure you were comfortable and well rested, then as morning approached you fell into a coma ☹ As the family gathered that day and stayed with you until you took your last breath at 4:20 January 2nd. We all had tears flowing down for days, until the day of the burial. Aunty Katherine was the most kind and loving woman you would have ever known, she was even worried about Rez Mutts being fed, she even “cooked” for them as well. I remember the drives we had whenever she asked for a ride I was always there to give her a ride, then on a lot of our rides you had stories for every corner we turned.

My name is Alison Wilson, I belong to the Gidimt’en (bear/ wolf) Clan, I am the second oldest of 6 children to Sylvester & Esther WILSON, I lived and grew up in Witset (Motown).


by Laura Mitchelle


Laura Michell Unknown Discipline Since I was young I’ve been thinking about myself and my sister and brother. We’ve we’re all sent to the residential school where we had to listen to the supervisor, and if we didn’t listen they sent us to the dorm. Every end of the year, they’ll have the kids meet together with the head supervisor and they would call out the names of each kid, and if your name is called you would have to go in front of all the kids and get a stripe, five more depending on what you did, and that is the worst thing for any kid to go through.

I was born November 28th, 1962 and I got three sisters and four brothers and many neices and nephews. I am Little Frog Clan. I have three kids. I just moved back from Vancouver to live here in Witset. I have graduated from Prince George College.

As I sit here wondering how you all are doing this day . As I sit here at the canyon on this beautiful day in the nice fall breeze as the sun rises like your smiling faces that lights up my day. Then coming to school was even better day sitting in the woodwork shop making bent wood boxes all the cheerful people there , getting to know my classmates and getting our bentwood boxes done . But outside today is cold wet and dreary day , snow is falling but inside it don’t feel the same way you could feel all the warmth of my classmates smiling faces .

Myron Wilson

My name is Myron Wilson, I’m a native from Moricetown, British Columbia which is now called Wit’set. I’m a good hunter and fisherman, and I’m 5’10 tall.

My name is Cherilyn Dennis, but I’d rather be called “Cher” or “Cher Bear.” I am 19 years old. I’ve been living in Smithers almost my whole life. I started going to school at the iCount Highschool in 2014 and I am currently doing some upgrading at the UCEP Program here in Witset, BC. I am working towards being a Pediatric Nurse or a Criminologist.

Cher Bear

I see everyone around me yet I still feel alone, as the moon is surrounded by stars and planets. Although I am glad I have one person my world revolves around, same as the moon orbits the Earth.

What I care about is my life, you only get one, so I like to try and be happy every second of the day. Some days can be rough on me, but we all get through things that trouble us by doing it together and being positive and kind to one another. Even when the person who’s angry just let them cool off and you could try and cheer them up, it may take some time but eventually maybe the person might want to talk later on. Every night before bed I think about how and where the next journey is going to take me towards, will my day be exciting or will I be unhappy and miserable.

Zachary Williams

My name is Zachary Williams, I’m from Witset, British Columbia. I like to watch TV shows and movies, I enjoy reading a book once in a while, I enjoy going out and seeing my friends when I get a chance, and my favourite thing to do is play some online video games.

Faye Michell I belong with the Big Frog Clan, in other words it is the Floating Clan. I was born in 1966, and have four older brothers and a step-brother two older sisters and one younger sister. I was in a major car accident in 1981 were three people died and I was unconscious for almost four weeks. Wanting to graduate with my best friend did not happen. I did continue my goal of graduating from high school and finally did succeed.

My First Two Bagger The subject that I will be talking about is baseball. I finally had the privilege to play with the big kids. The place in which we played our baseball game was in a big open field below the highway sixteen in Northern British Columbia. Being a small kid watching movies where the car comes barrelling down the highway and hitting everything in sight gave me a bit of uneasiness. On the opposite side of the field were the train tracks. I had no idea that the train was a major means of transportation back when there were no cars or horses for mobility. Hearing the medal wheels roll on the medal tracks also made me a bit uneasy. They started playing right after the school bus dropped them off. First chores had to be done and ate there snacks is what I use to see my older brothers and sister do. The sky was all blue and the leaves of summer trickled through the leaves as a soft breeze ruffled through. It was my turn to bat and everyone was bigger then me. My best friend was the same age as me and was a bit bigger then me, which is why I never got to play. My best friend had been apart of my life since daycare; we grew apart as adults but still share the kinship of a kids mind. It was my turn to bat, the first ball passed, the second ball passed as I swung the bat. Last chance to hit that ball, I had no idea I was going to hit that ball over shortstop. I ran as fast as I could and managed to make it to second base, so lucky to be an athletic runner. I could have fell over if I didn’t have to run the bases. Learning that skill hits you like a brick. Everyone was telling me to run, so I ran and made it to second base.

Melvin Dennise I used to work at all types of jobs which varied a lot from carpentry to sawmill work, from cabinetmaking to forestry, campcook on a minig site in Alberta between Valleyview and WhiteCourt. But I miss being in a rockband. I loved jamming with new found friends, and bandmates. One band I enjoyed jamming with was The Worms Hate Rain. I miss being onstage, it was cool.

Last Sunday 04/11/18 We had a feast for the late Sam Pierre. For his expenses and funeral. One gentleman got up. And made a speech about seven or eight of them surviving a house fire in Smithers, BC. He ended up in hospital. But he heard about what happened. Everyone got out. But they didn’t know Sam got out, they were all crying and he came up behind them and he was also crying with them. And he asked them who they were crying for . They said Sam, he’s still in there. They didn’t know he was standing beside them. They realized he was standing beside them, their cries turned from sadness to laughter. Because they didn’t know he was there with them. 26/10/2018 Last night in my dream we were at a funeral and some of the people wanted a six gun salute. Who for? That was what I was wandering about. Because we never had one before. All the procession was getting ready. Then some of them wanted to lead the ceremony. And things got out of hand. Guns started waving around. Then at 4:30 am the ambulance woke me up, with their siren blaring.

by Melvin Dennis

26/10/2018 I sat in the waiting area at the Access Centre. It was full of people murmering. In the background elevater music was thrumming. That’s before you had to take a number. The clerks working there were doing their nails, chatting to no end. And giggling about some misadventure. Finally one noticed me, can I help you, she asked. I pondered about the wait and used one of the Late wrestler Roddy Pipper”s line in the movie They Live. I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum and i’m all out of bubble gum. The women started scurring around. My french friend looked at me and said ‘you’re crazy’. 26/10/2018 When I was young I grew up on the mountain. My grandfather taught me how to read the stars. So when I got lost I”d look up at the stars and know my way around. Even in the city of Edmonton, Alberta. I would know where I’m at even among the skyscrapers. I would just look up and find my way in the concrete jungle. I just wish the missing people would know how to read the stars.

Anita Naziel I had a memorable childhood since I can remember. We use to run and play everywhere on our reserve. We had lots of good friends, cousin’s, aunts, uncles, and grandparents around us. We use to climb this big huge tree to see if our friends or cousins parents were home, if no car, we go to visit them. We would all hook up like a little gang and plan our days of adventure, running wild in the bushes behind our houses, or go swimming in a near by lake. If we got hungry we would just eat the vegetation on our land that my older sister would show us, this is also what my mom would told me to eat when we went hunting for rabbits or grouse for stew. We had a club house were we plan to meet after we get off the bus after school, at a certain time after supper it was an old abandoned building that the nun used to live in near the church. We had no worries of wild animals like bears, or wolf ’s attacking us because we had our reserve dogs following us too, we never thought of the dangers around us, except the cow named Bouvier the neighbour up the hill, she used to walk on our trail’s behind our house that our parents used to hunt or trap, year round. We were never allowed to go down to the canyon here in Moricetown, B.C, it was like a sin to us, but as we got older, we got curious of it, so we snuck down there early in the morning before our parents would awake on the weekend. We were so excited to see the little minnows swimming about in the shallow areas, one of my cousins caught a minnow and out it to her wide open mouth and swallowed it alive, saying she will be a good swimmer when she grows up, I thought it was gross. Now that I’m older I see things have changed dramatically. I have six children and I continually remind them of my childhood days to warn them of all the danger there is now in this world’s confusion. There are animals everywhere due to global warming, looking for food because of drought, floods, fire, and earthquakes. So in hard times just pray to our creator and be thankful for what we have left.

Anita Naziel

I am a single dad of a half Wet’suet’en and half Ojibway son named Cashish from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I have been a single dad for five years and sober with no wishes to return to alcoholism. I do what I gotta do to support my child and help him grow as much as possible.

Tim Naziel Precious times at Stanley Park, The memories of the beautiful scenery as I look into the sky. Its about 11:30am as the sun shines warm against my face as me and Cashish just enjoyed the aquarium taking pictures left and right. I sit on the grass watching the beautiful boats and pretty women run by. Watching birds and squirrels as they pass. I sit and relax as I watch Cashish play his heart out and feeling the breeze against my face. I spent my child life at Stanley Park with the nice trees grass, nothing like good memories as we both will forever have father and son time at Stanley Park.

Tim Naziel

Lenora Wilson July 25, 2001 It was a hot humid summer afternoon and my cousins and I were cleaning the house. I can still remember the sound of Mama B’s classic country music playing loudly through the TV as my cousins, Mama B and myself laugh and joke around. Thee overpowering smell of Lavender Pine-Sol and an occasional gust of clean crisp air from the open doors and windows. You can feel the hot summer heat as the sun was brightly shinning through the squeaky-clean windows and open doors. You can see Mama B’s beautiful vine plants hanging in all corners of the living room and dinning room, twinning and creeping along the string that Mama B hung along the edge of the ceiling and wall. The sight of that old off-white linoleum with light blue squares that curled at the corners and lifting in a lot of places was a sight for sore eyes. Living with Mama B and 4 of my cousins always made me feel happy, content, silly, joyous, energized and on top of the world. But on this particular day, everything changed. Right after lunch, just before we pitched in to clean the house, we would gather on our little porch just to be nosey and see who’s all around. We seen a few people out and about. We even spotted my Uncle Sogun from across the yard at Auntie Blue’s house. He was having a cigarette on the porch, seen us waving at him so he returned a wave as well. We had always worked well together as a team to get the house clean. After some time passed after having fun and horsing around, we finally got to our chores. I remember I had just finished sweeping the floor, making my way to the stairs, my cousin Tara trailing behind me with the mop, C-jay and Cathy Tidying the living room and fixing the couches, Leonard doing the dishes and taking out the garbage, and Mama B cleaning the bathroom and making sure our bedrooms were spotless. All of sudden there was a knock at the door. I spun around quick to see who it may be, and it was my Auntie Irene and Auntie Andrea. They looked concerned and immediately asked where Mama B was. I walked down the hallway to see if she was in the bathroom, but she was not. So, I continued down the hallway and found her changing the bedding in her room. I told her that Auntie Irene and Auntie Andrea were here for her at the door. By that time, the Aunties were already behind me. They said they needed to talk, so I walked out of the room and they closed the door behind me as I walked back out to the living room. Not to long later, they went rushing out the door with Mama B. They said that they would be back. I immediately knew something was wrong but we continued to finish cleaning the house. As the hours passed by and the light from the sun slowly started to fade. We all knew something was wrong, we normally would have went running outside to play or changed the music channel but after we were done cleaning, the music was turned off and we sat at the top of the stairs waiting for Mama B to come home and reassure us that everything was okay. Instead, I remember a red pickup truck pulling over on the side of the road in front of our house.

I did not recognize who it was, but they said that Mama B sent for us and that there was terrible news. Without hesitation, I immediately grabbed my hoodie and put my shoes on and jumped into the red pickup truck without knowing who that person was. All I was thinking was I needed to get to Mama B. We drove across the highway, passed the elementary school, and turned down Park Road. It was starting to get dark enough to see red and blue lights shinning bright from the bottom of the hill. There were so many vehicles everywhere and they were not allowing anymore vehicles drive down where the police lights were shining. I asked where Mama B was and instantly started to speed-walk in the direction they gave me. At this point I was still unaware of what was going on and things started to become a blur. I swear almost half of the community was there, but I did not recognize or recall seeing any particular individual, except for one person, Norma, our nextdoor neighbor at the time. She stopped me half way down the hill and grabbed my hand and gave a gentle squeeze, she said she was so sorry, and I had no idea for what. I just flashed a quick half smile and said thank you and continued down the hill in search of Mama B. Finally, I seen her and I went running over towards her, I was so happy to have found her. There were a lot of people surrounding her and my Papa, they looked so hurt and lost. No one was telling me anything, I had no idea what was wrong. We stood on the road staring towards a house, I looked up and I could see someone laying on the floor in the middle of the doorway at the front entrance of this house. Finally, I overheard someone say something, I turned to them and had asked what happened. It was definitely not what I was ever expecting to hear. I think I nearly collapsed. That whole time I stood there staring at this house, I was unaware that it was my Uncle Sogun laying there on the floor lifeless. I was so sure he was going to get up and everything was going to be alright. That was definitely not the case. It was one of those, at the wrong place at the wrong time moments. He had died from a single stab wound to the chest. I think I went into auto-pilot mode, because the next few days was a blur. I stayed strong for my mom and my younger cousins. I never left the side of Mama B, even when they got together to make funeral arrangements. Our house was always filled with so many people who wanted to extend their sympathy and show their support and respect for my family. Every time they opened his casket to do a viewing, I went to Mama B’s room. It wasn’t until the day of his burial, when everything hit me like a ton of bricks. Reality set in, I am never going to get the chance to see my uncle. I am never going to see his smile, never going to hear his jokes and never going to hear him laugh again. When Mama B asked us to get ready for the service, I continued to my room. I was in complete disbelief, confused, emotional, and I felt so empty. I fell to the floor and started to cry and my tears rolled down my cheeks uncontrollably. When I heard somebody walking towards my bedroom, I jumped up and pulled my bunkbed to the door to block anyone from getting in. I sat there against my bed, not willing to open the door for anyone.

My Uncle Pat managed to get the door open just enough to squeeze through. He grabbed me, hugged me and held me as I tried to break free from his arms. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing. He reassured me that he loved me very much and that life isn’t fair sometimes and that in life, things happen and it was out of our control and that we needed to be there for each other, and that at this very moment, Mama B needed me to be my strongest as we were just getting ready to lay her son to rest. He continued to hold on to me while moving the bunkbed with one arm. Mama B, my mom and aunties came in to console me. After a few minutes, I had got up off the floor and got ready for the funeral service. My Uncle Sogun played such a significant role in our family. He was only 29 at the time of his unfortunate passing. He left behind a beautiful 5-year-old little girl, who he loved unconditionally. He had 3 sisters, 1 brother and many nieces and nephews. He was also the assistant coach for the soccer team that was once in Moricetown. Uncle Sogun was always willing to give a helping hand to whomever needed it, without hesitation. Uncle Sogun was always such kind-soul and always lit up a room with his charming smile. He also shared the same birthday as his parents. Which eventually made it hard for them to even want to celebrate for many years to come. It has been 17 years since this unfortunate event took place. The day my Uncle Sogun was ripped away from us still remains UNSOLVED. He was taken home way before his time, he still had so much living to do. It still tugs really hard on the heart strings. As I am sitting here typing it out, there is a huge lump in my throat, my hands are shaky and my tears are pooling in my eyes. I am feeling extremely hurt, angry, bitter, and vulnerable. I know he is our handsome guardian angel, watching over us from above. I know for a fact that he would have been proud of everyone of us. My Uncle Sogun was THE BEST uncle anyone could ever imagine having. He definitely had a genuine heart of gold. There is not a day that goes by where he is sitting heavy on my heart and running through my thoughts. He is truly missed by everyone who has had the opportunity to meet his beautiful soul.

Rest in Sweet Paradise! Please continue to watch over us, until we meet again!!!

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know who I am anymore I constantly feel like I’m on the verge of breaking down I feel like I’m going crazy And if my minds an ocean, my thoughts are a tsunami I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate, I can’t even think straight. I Am A Mess I’m coming apart at the seams and it scares me.

Cher Bear

Francine Cunningham

she is watching the valley from her place within the trees rings holding her from here to eternity strands of hair lost within every forgotton dream gnarled hands grasping at the figments of hope left behind by every woman who walked these same forests and never returned

Francine Cunningham is a Canadian Indigenous writer, artist and educator. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in The Malahat Review, the anthology Boobs: women explore what it means to have breasts (Caitlin Press), The Best Canadian Essays 2017 (TightRope Books), and more. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The Puritan, Joyland Magazine, Echolocation Magazine, The Maynard and more. She is a graduate of the UBC Creative Writing MFA program, a recent winner of The Hnatyshyn Foundation’s REVEAL Indigenous Art Award, and a recipient of the 2017 Telus StoryHive webseries grant. You can find more about her at

I am currently in the process of finding out about my father and mother’s geneology. Throughout my life, I have been asking about stories about my father and my mother’s father, Mac, as my mother does not want to talk about them. When she does talk about my father, it is usually no answer or something negative, or once-in-a-blue-moon something positive. She would say she does not know much about her father. So I posted not too long ago on Facebook a query any stories about my father. One said he and his father were best friends. Another posted how my father was great with kids by keeping the protected and playing with them. I found that quite disconcerting in that I have minimal memories of my father. I do know that he loved driving fast in his brown and beige wing-tipped car and he smelled of Brille creme. He always used Brille cream. I remember how he would comb it through his hair in the mirror. I guess that is from where I get my vanity. I have wonderful memories of my grandfather, Johnny “Mac” Mack, after he and my grandmother, Mabel, took us in after my father died in 1970 when I was five years old. My memories at that time is one of events happening in darkness with no sound. I recall being at school and crying on an old woman’s lap, who was wearing a long wide black robe and white robe. She had thick glasses on with light blue eyes talking to me but no sound was coming from her mouth. She pointed across the room. I saw another classmate giving me a big wide smile. The old woman got up and brought me to a play area at the back of the classroom. I looked at her and I saw where I sat on her lap that one area of her robe was darker than the rest. She smiled at me and someone brought me to the outhouse. It was then I saw the thick white snow. I do not remember it being cold as I could not feel anything. Then in January, I was brought to another school. A smiling young woman in a light -weight yellow sweater with a white and long grey skirt with a big pin fastened on one side was waiting for us under the sheltered entrance of this brick building. The old woman with the black robe brought me and introduced me. There was a young boy my age. He had light blue eyes with seemingly glowing white hair. They brought me to a classroom where I saw another student with hair that seemed to be on fire. He had dark blue eyes. I still could not hear the smiling young woman and old woman’s words they were saying to each other. It was not until I heard my name that I realized I was the only one from home going to this school. I realized that I was the only one, who had brown eyes. Everyone else had varying shades of blue eyes.

Donna Williams is from the Laksilyu Small Frog Clan in The House of Many Eyes.

Donna Williams

Anita Naziel

Savannah Mitchell


Anita Naziel

Thank you for reading!

N’we Jinan is an organization that works alongside Indigenous communities across Canada to celebrate and showcase Indigenous voices in fulfillment of our overall objective: To build confidence in creative expression through the development of tangible skills in the interest of empowering youth and strengthening a sense of community belonging.