When they mention their origin, the Innu refer themselves to water points. Soleil is from Mashteuiatsh on the shores of the Lac-Saint-Jean — Pekuakami. As a performer, she lives in Montreal — Tiöhtià:ke — where the 11 Indigenous nations present in Quebec coexist. This month, I asked Soleil to lend us her voice and thoughts to speak about the connection between art, spirituality and the environment. She shares her journey and reflections.
Mariette Raina: How has your art developed in relation to your roots, and how do you bring them into your creative space?
Soleil Launière: Through my art, I relearn my culture. It is a deep and long personal process. Indigenous culture has suffered a lot of repressions. Residential schools existed until 1990, so this is still recent. Over the last thirty years, this culture finds its sources and its lost stories step by step. Art provides the opportunity to reclaim one’s own culture and keep it alive.
By integrating my roots, the stories that belong to my family, I transform them, I rewrite them, in the light of what I feel about the territory. I interpret how my ancestors could see it. I bring in my inner feeling of how I could or should look at it. What interests me is to see what presents itself when I connect to these stories that I discover and let my intuition emerge. Initially, I didn’t think I would integrate the sacred into my performances, but it presented itself despite myself, and it came to life inside the performances.
Her body is tundra
From the corner of the eye
I observe them
Her soul dances
With the Northern Lights
Poem by Joséphine Bacon — A tea in the tundra NIPISHAPUI NETE MUSHUAT
“I arrived in Montreal on November 28, 1968,” she explains. I live in the city. But the tundra is my home. Now, when I am “in” the tundra, I am also “with” it. She’s like a human being to me. A loved one who never disappoints. So, in my poems, I address myself to her as to a person … ”Josephine Baker Interview Entrevue
Mariette Raina: You talk about the body, the territory. Can you develop the link between the two: how do you experience the “body-territory”?
Soleil Launière: They say that a ceremony or an apprenticeship happens in your body before you have even experienced it. Dreams are guides that anticipate what will happen. It is possible to feel the resonance in this body-territory before actually setting foot on the place in question. Having an idea of the performance space (the country, the city or the theatre), I visit the visions and dreams that bring me a path to the performance. The images of these territories, the sensations, the tastes, the animals that appear to me are all elements that give me keys. Each space has a specific energy. This is where the performance brings its share of magic: I build the body-territory before coming into contact with the environment-territory. Then, when the two meet, I see what emerges in the energy of the performance. It requires to be in a state of reception. It is the sharing of a stream where you both receive and give at the same time.
So the territory is the natural place’s space, but it is also the body and even the animal. In my performance for Umumanishish — “moose’s fetus” — I explore the unknown time that exists before birth. I’m talking about the inside of the body and the birth. In this performance, it was the physical animal territory that emanated through my body.
Mariette Raina: In your approach, everything seems very connected (the body, the space, the interior and exterior world). What do you think of the environmental problems we face in our time?
Soleil Launière: We forgot to listen. We have lost this knowledge. A lot of people don’t know what’s really going on. They’re stuck with daily obligations. They don’t have time to sit down and really see what’s wrong. Our society’s structure is such that we do not have time to stop to observe, listen, question.
The cycle of life is crucial. Each stage of life has its role to play. Among the Innu, families are large, and children are as important as the elders. Each generation is fully integrated. But in our modern societies, which have lost this sacred meaning, we put children and the elderly aside, and we think that only people between 20 and 50 years old are important. So under the pretext that at both ends of life we are less “productive,” we are outdated? This way of segmenting the natural cycle of life does not make sense. It’s not birth or elderly age that is the problem, but the education that shapes the values of our societies.
We do the same with nature when we put aside anything that is not productive. Each parcel of land must be exploited to be profitable. Trees are not left to mature since they are planted and cut down just as early as halfway through their life. We have forgotten that nature as well, like a human being, has a cycle. It needs to age to regenerate. We have lost respect for the cycle of life, whether being on the human or environmental level.
One of my performances — Grumbling of the Being of Nature — ask how to listen to nature while being in the city: can I change my lifestyle to be more respectful of this reality of the natural cycle of life? It is a daily challenge, even for those who are aware of the issues.
I carry my grandmother on my back
My knees are bending
Under so much wisdom
Poem by Joséphine Bacon – A tea in the tundra NIPISHAPUI NETE MUSHUAT
Mariette Raina: One last thought that you would like to share?
We have to listen to our inner world and what surrounds us. Nature has a lot to teach us. I think there is a reason the pandemic is here, which has to do with globalization. The water, the earth and the sky are too polluted. They need a break. Like many people today, I have travelled a lot to do overseas shows, collaborations or artistic residencies. Today I wonder, is this the way? The number of planes flying every day is incredible. If we put our personal universe aside, we would remember that there is something much bigger. Travels are so unimportant compared to the break that nature needs to regenerate. I don’t have answers, of course. Only questions that keep me and get me going.
Quote and poems by Josephine Bacon.
Born in 1947, Joséphine Bacon is Native American, Innu from Betsiamites, and lives in Montreal. She is a poetess who writes in her native language, Nutshimit. Her work is worldly acclaimed and contributes to keeping and restaurants the knowledge of her culture.
Image 1: Stripped Tree Production
Image 2: Chelsea Liggatt
Image 3 et 4: Hugo St-Laurent
About the Author
Mariette Raina joined the Never Apart Center team in 2016 as a monthly columnist. Her writing focuses on spirituality, art and environmental issues. Mariette has a master’s degree in Anthropology. She is also teaching yoga and photography that she approaches like self-reflective and introspective mediums.
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Photo Credit: Stephane Desmeules