Episode Four – Cheyenne Rain LeGrande ᑭᒥᐊᐧᐣ

Additional Reading:

This episode contains strong language.

Chipo –  Hello, I am Chipo Chipaziwa  and welcome to Performing? No Performance. This is a podcast in which I ask performance artists why and how they create the work that they create, and what does studio time mean and look like to them. I’m also joined by Live’s Brady Ciel Marks, who sometimes joins in on the conversation.

In this episode, I speak with Nehiyaw Isko, performance artist, Cheyenne Rain LeGrande ᑭᒥᐊᐧᐣ.  Cheyenne’s practice concerns itself with further investigating her identity, and I am honored to have her as my fourth guest. 

Chipo – The first question I wanted to ask you is regarding the work which won the BMO BC’s category in 2019. Could you help me pronounce it? 

Cheyenne – Yeah, sure. That work is titled  Nehiyaw Isko ᑭᒥᐊᐧᐣ

Chipo – Which to my knowledge is a video piece in which four performances are shown. One performance takes place in Emily Carr. Another performance takes place at the Seawall in British Columbia, Vancouver. And then the two other performances take place in Alberta, your hometown. 

And I wanted to know, What was your process, especially since you repeated  the same actions, but in various places. . 

Cheyenne – Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So that performance started at Emily Carr. We were actually given a really simple prompt in class about thinking about color and what does it mean to you?

So I started thinking about the color red and for me, all of the meanings it holds. You know, to a lot of people, when I was rubbing that, that that red pigment on my body, it looked like blood. It also like symbolized protection to me. I was thinking a lot about this racist idea of like red skins.

So it’s like me rubbing that on my body. And then I’m using the sheer fabric to kind of try to wipe it off as well as at Emily Carr I, I wiped my, my body and the pigment on the institutional walls. I think I just, I became really aware of my body as an Indigenous woman in this institutional space.

In these white walls. I wanted to, to rub my body on it. And then I also, I took that performance home to Wabasca and I performed all of these performances with my mother and that in itself was like so special to me to be able to to, to perform with her and be with her and create art with her, I feel really lucky.

So yeah, we went back home and we were in my kôkom backyard. So we did two there. One in my kôkom ‘s backyard where my Uncle Barry helped me build like kind of a ring of fire. That one particularly was a little risky because the the fabric was like, you know, it’s synthetic, so it could have caught fire at any point,

But I, it’s interesting to see my performance over time because I used to push my body really far. And yeah, so that one was special to me in the backyard because my kôkom. She like came around the back of her house and she watched me and that’s the first time she’s ever seen me perform. So that was really special.

I also performed in Wabasca in the winter. Both of those were actually done in the winter. So it was kind of cold, but this one in particular was very cold cuz it was in front of the frozen lake. And I was, I also performed in my bare feet. So like when I talk about like pushing my body really far in the beginning of my performance career, I, yeah.

Like I remember getting into the car with my mom after and like my feet were just like fully thawing out and I’ve never felt such pain before. I remember like screaming and like humor is like a big part of like, my family. And so like my mom’s actually like laughing cuz it’s just like, what is happening  Like it was, it was a wild experience, but I was okay.

I didn’t get frostbite or anything, but I did push my body to like the point where I was like, okay, I can’t, I can’t, I can have to get out of the snow now , but in all the performances. Oh yeah. And then the last one I brought back again to Vancouver and performed in the water along the Seawall. I was thinking a lot about different elements and in each one of those my mother and I are just responding to those environments in those moments.

So the sounds that my mother’s making are just responding to those environments as well as how I’m moving in the space is I’m also responding to her, her voice, and. Yeah, I think the first one, I guess if you think about the same action that I’m doing in different ones the first one it definitely  it felt like more intense because I was in an institutional space and like thinking about, Just, you know, intergenerational trauma and, and a lot of my performances especially at the beginning, I often would cry because performing is a way for me to feel and like release and, and, and heal as well. So that one was like really intense for me, but again, really healing. And then to have my mom there is always like, just so comforting and special. And then to bring it back home, it felt different. It felt like. Yeah, it’s like always had my mom, my comfort there, but then to have like my kôkom watching and those three generations present and I always feel held by the land when I’m there and so the actions I’m doing are, are the same, but they, they feel different and they kind of meant something different in those moments.

Chipo – Just wanted to talk more about how…making art pieces that require ourselves and our, and our mothers to be vulnerable, even though we may have not shared that same experience. 

Cheyenne – Hmm. I think well my mom was an artist and actually one of my biggest inspirations.  She, she can speak Cree and she writes all of her music and Cree and Nēhiyawēwin and so I feel like it just comes really naturally to us for us to perform together and create together. And I feel really lucky for that to, you know kind of be here on earth together and, and getting to, cuz we collaborate a lot like recently I had my kôkom and my mom translate Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, which is what you hear me singing in that performance as, as well as in the video.

And Yeah, so it just feels really special and I feel really lucky that I’m able to like collab with my family like that. 

Chipo – Another thing that I wanted to ask you was that when I was researching your practice, I noticed that there are recurring motifs of considering your body as a mode of research, considering your relationship with time and also with an element of endurance put into that.

And I think about when you were at the Banff Centre and when you weaved together 3,300 beer tabs together using a rhythm, like rhythm, sorry, ribbon. There you go. . Like, what was that? What was that process like? And like how long did it take you and why did you choose to use beer tabs? 

Cheyenne – Mm-hmm. Yeah, I refer to that shawl as being like a Pepsi slash beer tab shawl.

And Pepsi in our culture is like all the, the like, You know, everyone just loved Pepsi and it’s like like I knew the term is like Bepsi. And so I like to like kind of talk about that. Like that, like my family and a lot of Indigenous people love Pepsi. So that was part of that. And then, and then beer, like It was, it’s just like both of those things, tabs just in general, like are something I came across every, not every day, but pretty often in my life.

And I wanted to use an object that I don’t know, I thought about my ancestors and I thought about how they would make anything out of anything. And so I wanted to utilize the object that I came across all the time. And I also just love like the, the look of it. It felt, it felt like armor. It felt, again, like a protection, like weaving them, the, all of these like metal bits together with ribbon and that shawl really also was like a, a way for me to kind of reclaim something that I felt like I’ve lost. Like I I don’t know how to traditionally dance, but this shawl is inspired by a fancy shawl, which is like a traditional powwow dance. And but then I also wanted to really just speak about it, that in a way that was just true to my identity.

I really love fashion. And that’s a similar thing with the moccasins, the moccasin platforms where I’m, you know, my kôkoms and my aunties all made moccasins. But in my generation, none of us know how to make moccasins. So I visited my dad’s sister and my aunt, and she taught me to make moccasins.

And that, and then again, I wanted to kind of create like a hybrid shoe of a moccasin platform because yeah, if you, if you know me, you know, I always wear moccasins in or sorry platforms even probably when I shouldn’t be. I just love, I love a platform shoe, so it just, yeah, again, it felt like. It felt important to make a moccasin platform shoe.

But yeah, like could you repeat your question? I’m just kind of going on a…. 

Chipo – So basically my question was that I noticed that there are recurring motifs, of you considering your body as a mode of research, looking at your relationship with time, with a hint of endurance. But having heard you speak just now, I’m just thinking about the past. Those before us and having that insight and creating something new. 

Cheyenne – Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Yeah. I feel very thankful to have access to the knowledge and, you know, It’s, it’s really because of colonization, why I’ve, you know, lost my language in a lot of the traditional practices, but I’m so thankful that I can today, like have the opportunity to, to learn and to access that knowledge and… yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m really thankful. 

Chipo – And building off of that, I just wanted to ask you if you’ve ever felt as if the work you are creating can be read as representing the totality of the culture that you grew up in? And if that is the case, how have you managed to navigate around it? 

Cheyenne – Yeah, I’ve always felt that I cannot speak for all Nehiyaw people and I never would want to. I can only speak to my experience and yeah, like I. I guess another question I’ve been asked recently is like, kind of along the same lines, is that am I thinking through like pop culture in my practice? And in ways I am like. I do think about it, it would be so cool to be like a Nehiyaw pop star, like a dream of mine would to, you know, like K-pop, a dream of mine would be have like Cree Pop and it’d be like me dancing with all these dancers.

Like that’s like one of the performances I really, really wanna do in the future. But then have like pop song, like, you know, fully in my language be performing to that. So like but yeah, to answer your question, I definitely feel like I just speak to my experience here and now. Yeah. 

Chipo – Before I even begin my next question, I want to acknowledge the magazine, Luma Quarterly, and the writer Sanaa Humayun. The writer wrote a beautiful article regarding one of your performances, and in that article, the writer points out similarities between them feeling out of place in Canada and with you living and performing in a new territory. I hope I’m not overstepping when I say this, but I can really relate with what was written.

For instance, I have recently become a permanent resident of Canada and I’ve been asking myself, What does that mean? The term permanent resident and especially in relation to stolen land. 

Cheyenne – That work I produced when I was living on the territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations and Yeah, the exhibition curated by Maria Margaretta was kind of about yeah, like Indigenous, like Indigenous folks living there.

And and what that meant, you know, to be living in a territory that wasn’t ours. And for me, my connection came through shared knowledge and shared teachings and I had a, my friend Nicole had shared knowledge of like stinging nettle. And so we were in like the Deer Lake area in Burnaby and we went and we picked nettle together and she shared that knowledge and I was so thankful for that.

And I went home that day and I just like she was teaching me about how. It’s actually a, like, it’s a  traditional medicine and how it’s often used to help arthritis and there’s different, different uses for it. But I went home and then I just like, Was like, I had this instinct that came to me to like, wanna rub this nettle all over my body.

And so I had like, you know, told her about that after I was kind of processing the day and she’s like, it’s so funny you say that because like elders back in the day actually used to bathe in it and . And so then I, I asked her if I could, you know, do this in a performance at Deer Lake. And yeah, she came with me and that’s where I did that, that video performance and the, the crown that I’m wearing in that performance was another shared knowledge experience with Ya’Ya. And he taught me about a traditional medicine called Ha Ums. And like the colonized world word for it is Devil’s Club. And he harvested it and we, he showed me how to make tea. And after we were done there was all of these pieces left and I, yeah, I asked him if I could make something out of them.

And yeah, he allowed me to take the, the remainder and I created a, a crown with it that I performed with as well. So my connection to that territory and to that land was through shared knowledge shared knowledge of medicines, traditional medicines that, that grew on that land. And yeah, I’m so thankful to Ya’Ya, Nicole for sharing that with me.

And it was kind of a way for me also to like, to thank to thank the land. To, to thank the people who come from that land. And yeah. So that performance was really like close to my heart and very thankful for all of the knowledge that was shared with me. 

Chipo – You have been busy as of late given your performances and exhibitions. How are you feeling about it? 

Cheyenne – Grunt was my first solo exhibition. And so to be in that space, yeah, to be in that space was amazing. Like I, I couldn’t have imagined a more supportive space to, to have my first solo show. So Yeah. And I think also, like, kind of going back to your question about like the, the tabs and like how long it took and everything.

I think it’s really important to like balance, if you can balance like creating and, and working with also really just getting to experience, like what makes you happy? What brings you joy? What, what is, what is like caring for yourself? Because sometimes when there’s a lot going on, you forget to do all of those things to make sure that you’re doing good.

And so I. At, at Banff, as much as I was weaving that shawl, I was socializing and being in the mountains. And so I think that’s really important to me. I’m really thankful for all these opportunities, but also I think it’s really important to like self-love and self-care too. And yeah, I try, I’m trying to do that when things are really, really busy.

Chipo – I feel like a question that I asked a previous interviewee was, is there a balance between performance, art, and life? And correct me if I’m putting words into your mouth, but just based off that answer, I feel like you more or less are trying to say there is not like a balance, but there is a separation.

Cheyenne – Yeah. I think it probably just came in time. But. I think in order to be able to create you have to always make those times I find for myself if, if I don’t, you know, make those times too . I don’t know. I find then maybe my art practice would, would, like, it’d be affected by that. So like, by taking care of myself, then I’m able to really, really be present when I perform.

And performing takes a lot out of you. And so also that it’s really, really, really important to like take time after you perform, I find too , performing is, I don’t know, I, I don’t really feel like I perform alone and I perform with my ancestors and yeah, to take time to process all of that.

And I think because my practice has become a healing, healing for me, that it I don’t know, it’s like interesting to think about this idea of like art practice as being work cuz ultimately a certain point I’m really thankful that I’m just doing this full-time and I’m able to like, you know, make a living off of this right now.

And it’s interesting to think about it as like work too, cuz it kind of, I guess, has become them. But it doesn’t really feel like that to me, like. I feel like it can be a lot, but I feel like I’m able to live my dream. I’m able to, I don’t know, it’s just wild when I think about like my ancestors and, and like my mom and my kôkom and like everything that they’ve done and everything that they’ve fought for has brought me here today.

Chipo – Mm-hmm.  

Cheyenne – And I, I get emotional about it because I am, I’m so thankful, you know, I feel so honored to tell our stories, like I’m in a generation where I’m strong enough to feel and express and heal, and. I feel really lucky and really thankful every day. So yeah.

Chipo – And I believe that is that for this episode, I would just like to say a big thank you to my guests and I would also like to say thank you to both LIVE Biennale and the city of Vancouver for funding this project. Thank you.