The project really started in 1969, Wendy Ewald came to Sheshatshiu with some Polaroid cameras and handed them to some Innu youth. My involvement could have started then when Wendy gave my grandfather a Polaroid camera to take pictures with. Almost 40 years later Wendy returned to Sheshatshiu with Eric Gottesman and brought back those original photos back to show the people. I remember hearing about a strange old white lady walking around with pictures but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I don’t exactly remember when, but Wendy and Eric came to my school, Peenamin McKenzie High School and conducted a workshop with Polaroid cameras, which I was invited to participate in.
Wendy and Eric had picked myself, Phillip Nuna, and Dakotah Snow to participate in furthering the project, and Wendy gave us some digital cameras and asked to go around our community and take photos. At the time I was very interested in the Environment. Innu people always had a deep connection to the land. We had an opportunity to snap photos of what was important to us. The land is sacred—all our cultural needs came from the land: our food, our spirituality, and our way of living. Innu people have always been involved in fighting to protect the land, and this project was a way for me to showcase the beauty the land has.
My mother Denice, was a part of the ’60s scoop, a time in Canada where Indigenous youth were being forcibly removed from their communities to try and force more Indigenous people to assimilate to modern European ways. My mom being a part of that generation and being taken away also affected me, because I was born in Ontario away from my community and grew up without my culture and language. So my mindset was focused on the land and looking for that spirituality within it.
Water is very sacred to most Indigenous peoples in Canada, because of the important role it plays in life. Eric and I were walking on the beach in late spring, so there was still plenty of ice on the lake, and during the day it was warm and in the evening it was below freezing, so the ice melting and freezing left a really interesting texture. Eric picked up a piece and I snapped the photo. I was mesmerized by this piece of ice, and I started to make a connection to Innu people who have been taken away by Social Services, like during ’60s scoop. When they come home they’re different. They’re hardened, like a shell has grown over them. I look at that lake as the collective of the Innu population and that piece of ice as a hardened version of an Innu person: when they get placed back into the water, they melt into place with the rest, as it should be. A lot of Innu youth have been displaced, but have returned home, and for most, while reintegrating back into the community, the culture and language have been a savior.