Aani! Dolly Berlin ndizhinikaas.
(Hello! My name is Dolly Berlin)
I am a burlesque showgirl and event-producer-on-pandemic-hiatus based in Tkaronto (Toronto).
A proud Indigiqueer/Bi+ mixed Ojibwe woman, I am very excited and honoured to collaborate with Never Apart to bring you this column highlighting Two-Spirit and Indigequeer folks making waves in the arts. For the launch, I chatted with one of the splashiest wave-makers in the West Coast; Quanah Style.
I can’t recall exactly when I met Quanah, but we’ve crossed paths a number of times in T.O. through the drag industry. She lights up a room with her energy both on stage and off, and is quickly gaining notoriety as a recording artist, having just been mentioned on Billboard’s Top 10 Dance Albums of the Year list.
Hey Quanah, Introduce Yourself!
My name is Quanah Style, I am from Moberly Lake and a member of the Saulteau Cree First Nation in Northern B.C. I am predominantly a recording artist who dabbles in acting and drag. I am the mother of the House of Style, currently living in Vancouver.
Do you have any highlights from the weirdest year for the entertainment industry?
This year has definitely been interesting, but it has also been inspiring to see how drag artists have maintained ways of entertaining and finding new avenues to perform and engage their audience. A lot of these girls are coming out of the pandemic with new skills such as lighting, editing, and sound; things we weren’t necessarily trained to do on our own before. It’s also been inspiring to see the concepts people are coming up with.
I was part of the Transform Festival, which was an amazing show for me. It was an online festival that was pre-taped, but we built six sets filmed in one live-take shot. It never would have been possible or even crossed my mind if it weren’t for the pandemic, so that was a really cool outlet and a way that I got to express my music in a new way.
On another show I did called Let’s Hear It Live with Music BC, I opened for Snotty Nose Rez Kids. I did a 40 minute set and at the end of every song I clapped my hands up and on the clap they switched the frame quickly and rotated it so that it looked like my outfits changed with every song. That one was really cool too.
With the pandemic, land defense, police violence, and politics this has certainly been a heavy year!
Activism has always been a big part of my life. Growing up my dad was chief of our reserve and I remember going to blockades as a kid, so that’s something that has been ingrained in me; to protect the land and the water for future generations. Sometimes people can think that these are acts of rebellion but I look at it as acts of support.
When Black Lives Matter was brought to the forefront earlier this year I remember being upset and outspoken and moved emotionally. I happened to be in Edmonton and remember a beautiful moment hearing all of these empowering speeches and seeing all different walks of life come together and support the movement. One of the memories I have specifically is everyone taking a knee, it was thousands of people and I felt very lucky to experience that moment and see everybody standing in solidarity. Also the city lit up that day with the protests throughout the night. It was like the Oilers won, but there was no rioting or anything bad happening; it was all love.
Being in B.C., can you describe what it was like attending some of the actions for Wet’suwet’en in the area right before the pandemic hit?
I spoke at one of the rallies in support of Wet’suwet’en and I feel like closer to the beginning of the pandemic there were a lot more eyes and focus on what was going on. People have short attention spans so it’s important to remember these things are still going on and not to forget about it and do what we can to help. The rallies were intense. These are people’s backyards and homes we’re talking about, where their families are and ancestors are buried. They’re talking about desecrating gravesites for profit and not taking into account the history, as well as how people are maintaining their cultures there throughout the seasons.
For Indigenous youth and adults, these instances of revolution and resistance we’ve seen in our lifetime have seemed to spark a renewed interest in connecting to our cultures. I really admire that you are able to unapologetically merge a performer persona with being very open about connecting to your culture. Your short “Dance With Me” is a great example of this. Have you found opportunities to connect during the pandemic, or anything in particular you are looking forward to once it’s safe? Do you plan to do more jingle dress dancing?
I grew up on the rez going to sweat lodge ceremonies every Sunday.
My parents were both pipe carriers and had a stronger upbringing than others in their generation might not have had with the language and culture. So that was something that was passed down to me. My mom is always sending me care packages of medicines and
tea. I’ve definitely been smudging and putting forth some intentions throughout the pandemic.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to dance jingle again. Some of my favourite
memories from childhood are going to pow-wows and it makes me feel really connected to the culture. I love seeing the regalia, the colours, the beadwork and just how out there it is. I cannot wait to go to a pow wow and have an Indian taco!
(You can watch Dance With Me here)
For those of us in urban settings, learning and getting in touch with culture can sometimes be a struggle. Do you have any tips for anyone who is not sure where to start?
Online events, groups, or your local Friendship Center. If you’re curious about your language there are a lot of cool resources and even apps out there. Reach out to elders too, they are also a great source for knowledge.
In regards to media presentation. I recall some months ago you were working on a campaign and wore your hair red for the photos. As a result someone gave you grief for not wearing your natural hair. How do you respond to this kind of criticism?
I was in a Pendleton coat with an eagle feather and I got some backlash for having red hair. It’s a tough position and I have gotten that feedback before. When it comes to funding I’ve gotten, “we love that you’re Native, but we wish that we could tell that you are.” I grew up with my culture and I am Indigenous, so no matter what hair colour I have I am still First Nations. We are so underrepresented that people want us reflected in a stereotypical way.
Being represented as Indigenous in any form of ourselves is cool. When I was growing up I never saw myself represented in the media. Now with shows like Trickster and movies like Monkey Beach, it’s inspiring to see more opportunities out there for Indigenous actors and people in the entertainment industry. And in music too with artists like Snotty Nose Rez Kids coming to the forefront.
Director of Trickster Michelle Latimer has resigned from the show after her claims to Indigeneity came under scrutiny. There’s been a lot of discussion online in regard to this and calls to continue to support for the show as it features so many Indigenous talents
The cast and the crew are amazing. The show and books are great too.
Crystal Lighting who plays Maggie is incredible in it. I really enjoyed watching it, so it’s unfortunate to have it tainted like that. I feel for everyone who worked so hard on it. To have this scandal possibly derail everything would be unfortunate. Accountability is important but I hope the show can continue with the right players in place. I’d love to be part of it!
What other artists are you loving?
Artists I’m listening to are Anna and Juceefroot. I’ve also been following a lot of the girls from Canada’s Drag Race because I was so into season one. I love Jimbo, Jimbo is hilarious. And I always keep up with my “sissys” Ilona Verley and Scarlett BoBo. They’re a big part of my life and because we’ve been socially distant I’ve been keeping up with them on instagram. I treat my Instagram like my own little reality show.
What are some of your self care tips for the next few months while it’s too cold for outdoor meet-ups and we’re still expecting to be socially distant?
I’ve been journaling. It’s been hard to not be able to do what we love and to be separated from the people we’re close to. It has been trying and there have definitely been highs and lows. I’ve been lucky enough to still have opportunities but we all go through shit. It helps to write about how I’m feeling and read it back, almost like I can give myself advice from an outside perspective. So I journal and I’ve also been working on my new album which I’m finding therapeutic. It’s important to remember to treat yourself well and remember that you are not alone. Try to not be hard on yourself if you are feeling down. Reach out and talk to somebody!
You’ve recently put out a video for “Where Do We Go From Here” on your Instagram along with some fun futuristic looking teaser photos for “Glow.” When will we see the new video? Tell us what’s next!
With touring off the table right now, I am working with 2 new teams in the UK and US to break into those demographics and create new markets for myself. I put out “Where Do We Go From Here,” off my first album on WetTrax. That album was just listed in Billboard’s Top 10 Dance Albums of the Year next to Kylie Minogue. That gagged me!
I’m also excited about my new album with producers Dmetz from SNRK, Frustra, Goddexx and a few other collaborators. And the new video will drop in early 2021!
Any other things you’d like to share?
Check out my music now available now on all platforms! I hope everyone is staying safe taking care of themselves and looking forward to the New Year. You can stay up to date by following me on instagram @quanahstyle.
With the clubs closed, I definitely recommend putting Quanah’s album on for an afternoon pick me up! Wishing you a successful 2021 and a happy Birthday Quanah!