For the second in our ‘Five Questions for…’ series, featuring conversations with QWF Members about their practice and community, our Communications Assistant Audrey Meubus spoke with multidisciplinary Métis spoken word artist Moe Clark.
Moe Clark fuses her unique understanding of performance narrative with traditions of circle singing and spoken word. With a background in voice, spoken word, and visual arts, she employs a looping pedal to add multi-layered vocal structures to her performance. Her poetic songs resonate with the power to heal, to celebrate spirit and to connect with authentic purpose. Apart from performance work, Moe works as a community educator to facilitate voice, writing and spoken word workshops in high schools and local communities to promote literacy and creative expression.
You just got back from an artist residency in London, UK! Can you tell us a bit about that? What were you up to over there?
I was over there for the Origins Festival, which is an Indigenous performing arts festival. I did a couple of performances as well as a community-based installation piece.
One performance was for the opening ceremonies, which was an international Indigenous ceremony acknowledging the different artists who had arrived at the festival, Indigenous people who live or are based in the UK, as well as two chiefs from First Nations in the United States.
I sang a round dance song called nêwo atoskêyâkanak, and we had the entire audience round dancing to close off the opening ceremonies. It was a great honour to share teachings about the round dance and this time of year, which is the season of the Thunderbirds, who are the spirits of the sky; the rain, clouds, thunder and lightning. In spring, summer, and fall, the Thunderbirds come to bless us in a different way. The song that I sang was about bridging people, coming together in circle, perseverance and resilience, and continuing to practice and share our stories and prophecies. The four workers (nêwo atoskêyâkanak), which are the wind, waters, earth, and fire, are in the process of cleaning the earth right now. This is one of the prophecies that the old people shared about the time we’re in; the time of great upheaval, when the earth will begin to tremble, great fires will devour the forests, the waters will begin to swallow up the shorelines, and the great winds will clean the land. So this song is about bringing people together… and that’s what we did! We had over a hundred and fifty people dancing.
We also created a lodge in one of the performance spaces, where I held a talking circle of storytelling and song, drawing from the Cree Métis teachings of Maria Campbell (author of Halfbreed). Her teachings are centered around kiyokêwin ,which translates to mean “visiting.” Visiting between people has always been a way of creating, maintaining, and celebrating kinship and wahkohtowin, which refers to kinship beyond immediate family. We built a lodge out of canvas and metal poles, stitched together with tape, zip ties, and ribbons. This was a one-time thing that was up for only half a day. We gathered a group of participants inside the lodge in a semi-circle and invited elders in through Skype video projection, to tell stories and share, in order to activate kiyokêwin, a visiting. Each of the participants were then invited to introduce themselves and, if they were inspired to, share stories about their family and kinship. The two elders we invited into the lodge were Maureen Bélanger, a Métis elder who is Michif and Cree speaking from Ile-à-la-Cross, and Joseph Naytowhow, a Cree elder from Sturgeon Lake, based in Saskatoon. Joseph and I have written songs together with one of my aunties, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, for the last six-and-a- half years in nêhiyawêwin, Cree language, as a song-writing and language learning process. The lodge ended with Joseph jigging on his kitchen floor.
2. You have a very multifaceted creative practice; can you tell us a bit about your writing practice specifically? How would you describe it?
This is a funny one for me because my work is so multifaceted that I wouldn’t say that I’m a very disciplined artist. I’m definitely multidisciplinary, but I don’t know how disciplined I am…
I’m a nomad, I travel quite a bit, so I always have a writing journal with me everywhere I go. Sometimes I’ll pull prompts off of things I see or hear, maybe that’s through an exchange with elders or friends, or a conversation on a bus, maybe a book I’m reading; I’ll use them as an activation for my own writing. I often write based on reflections of experiences and interactions I’m having, and I’ll then refine them into the computer, which is where most of my editing happens in its first phase.
When I’m working in a more performance realm, which is where most of my writing ends up, I’ll take those words and poems into the rehearsal studio (which is sometimes my living room), set up my looping pedal and activate using smudges. I usually have sage, sweetgrass, and cedar on hand, and I’ll burn those medicines while acknowledging the body, spirit, and mind, and all of the visitors who come to join in the process of creation for me, whether they are my ancestors, different animals, or spirits, who are invisible and sometimes unknown, but present. They’ll come through in the practicing, singing, and creation of sound. In the embodiment and voicing of the words that have been written, sometimes the story will change and I’ll rewrite based on the recording of the sound performance. So really, writing is one component, but the entire practice is very layered. I wouldn’t say that it’s only one thing.
I enjoy that same practice when I’m teaching. I’ve been teaching with the Quebec Writers’ Federation and the Writers in the Community program for six or seven years now. I really like working from the works of Indigenous writers, poetry and stories, and material that’s audio based. I’ll use those as tools to create dialogue and prompts, generating a continuum of story using images relevant to the people I’m working with, who are often members of Indigenous communities. I try to choose themes that relate to the people I’m working with. Recently, I’ve been working with a group of Inuk youth, so often I’m trying to use Inuk stories, poems, and music. A funny story from that was when I incorporated the work of Jaaji Okpik and Chelsey June of the band Twin Flames. Jaaji is Inuk and Mohawk from Nunavik, and they have a music video called “Taanisi,” that I used in one of the workshops. The video is mostly in Inuktitut, the first language of most of the boys I teach, so I wanted them to listen and tell me what they heard. We listened to the song and they told me taanisi means “let’s dance” or “to dance,” and in Cree language it is our greeting, how we say “hello, how are you?” What I had thought of this word, based on the teachings I had, was different from what the boys had been taught. It was an honour to be able to experience this moment where we connected in two Indigenous languages, in a space that is primarily occupied by the dominant English language. By activating these opportunities to work in and with Indigenous language, we were able to share about who we are and where we come from.
3. “Moe draws from traditions of the talking circle, employing the microphone as a talking stick to engage youth through technology.” Beautifully said. Please elaborate on this; why do you find it so important to give youth a voice in the arts?
We’re living peoples, so the tools that we consider technology are constantly transforming. At some point, pen and quill were considered modern technology. We’re now exploring different devices, so for me, the looping pedal. It’s a tool I use to record voices, sounds, and instruments, and it repeats what is recorded in a continuous loop. I can then layer on top of that, showcasing how we can inspire and impact one another in our words and movements in a ripple effect, a reverberation. When I work with youth, I like to demonstrate this, because they often feel like they’re living in isolation; sometimes they may not realize how impactful and important their voices and ideas are. It is a simple way to bring people together in a circle and create what I call soundscapes: using sound to generate an environment. Thinking of how can our voice be the wind, water, fire, or even how can our voice be the sound of the goose call?
We create these soundscapes with multilayered voices, allowing us to enter different realms. These realms are more embodied, listening and deepening our relationship with others or even our own breath. Those soundscapes are a catalyst for written work; what are we seeing, touching, smelling, what does this landscape inspire in us? Is it a memory? A recipe? A moment we experienced? We can use sound that we’ve generated in community as a tool to return to a personal dimension, where we tap into our own personal or collective memories, to then share them back into this landscape. By repurposing our stories into this sonic landscape, we are decolonizing language, using our bodies as the land that we’re accessing story from, and sharing in a collective creation. I’ll speak about the sacredness of the tools themselves, like how a microphone might seem like a daily object, but when it’s plugged in, that power is coming from the land. That electricity is being generated through water, hydro, and I use that as a reminder that we’re constantly in relationship with the natural world and whether we’re perceptive to it or not, we’re constantly having those conversations. Acknowledging the sacredness of these tools, in relationship to the sacredness of our own bodies.
4. Do you have any rituals or habits that go along with your creative process? Tell us about one!
When I’m teaching I try to use rituals of burning plant medicines to clear out negativity, excess weight, or self-sabotaging thoughts we might be having. Maybe something someone told us isn’t sitting right or there is soreness in our bodies. For that we use medicines from the earth, we light them with a flame and the smoke cleanses us. It’s like taking a shower, but with smoke instead. I use these tools with the youth and they’ve started taking charge of these rituals by sharing the roles of who prepares the medicine and lights the smudge. It is passed around to everyone in the circle so they can cleanse themselves. Transmission, exchange, autonomy, and sovereignty within the teachings are really important. They don’t need me there in order to engage in this ritual; these are things they have in their tool-kits that they can access at any time. This is important. In my work as a performer, I smudge the stage, my instruments and my drum before I perform and present. I try to show this to others, so they too have access to learning about these rituals.
5. In the spirit of building a strong artistic community, recognizing and supporting a diversity of voices, what are some ways in which one could be more involved in supporting the Indigenous artists in our community?
Showing up. Checking out shows, gatherings, National Indigenous People’s Day celebrations on the solstice, June 21st. Connecting. Finding out when there are workshops and book groups that are focused on Indigenous community and artists. There are a lot of ways to get involved, but really it’s about not waiting to receive an invitation. It’s about showing up with an open mind and an open heart. It’s not making the assumption that you’re going to make instant friends; relationships take time and trust takes time to build. Show that you’re committed and open, willing to connect as humans, first and foremost.
You can consider contributing to groups that are engaged in and work in the community, such as the work that QWF does with Writers in the Community, working in different Indigenous contexts with schools and centers.
There are plenty others as well, such as the Native Friendship Centre, Native Montreal, Native Women Shelter, Cabot Square Project, Journeys Program at Dawson College, Aboriginal Student Resource Centre at Concordia University, McGill University’s First Peoples House.
There are also different arts organizations such as Espace Culturel Ashukan in the Old Port, run and curated by Nadine St Louis; The First Peoples Festival, Terre En Vues at Place-des-Arts, that happens every summer; there’s Ondinnok, which is a local Indigenous theater company; Onishka, founded by Emilie Monnet, and they’ve been doing work with OFFTA in recent years.
There’s Memoire D’Encrier, which works with and publishes a lot of Indigenous writers, including Joséphine Bacon and Natasha Kanapé Fontaine. They also just translated one of Tomson Highways’ books. There’s also Turtle Island Reads through CBC Montreal, which creates space to acknowledge Indigenous writers.
Really, there are a ton of festivals all across Turtle Island (Canada) and the world, where people have an opportunity to learn and get involved. But I’d say, start local and then go global!
You can see Moe performing on Friday, June 21 in Cabot Square!
‘Come out to Cabot Square on June 21st 2019 at 3pm to Celebrate National Aboriginal Day!
We have the following artists performing:
– Corey Diabo
– Moe Clark
– The Sinquah Family Dance Troupe
– Buffalo Hat Singers
– Nina Segalowitz
Also going on at the park will be a soap stone carving workshop, and the opportunity to browse through local Indigenous vendors and organizations tables!
Come out & bring your family & friends – you won’t want to miss it!’