Chelsea Vowel and Sandra Lamouche: Decolonizing Storytelling
By Erin Blondeau
This episode of Matriarch Movement Podcast features two incredible Indigenous women from so-called Alberta, Chelsea Vowel and Sandra Lamouche, who talk with podcast host Shayla Oulette Stonechild about writing, decolonization, and staying connected to identity.
Sandra Lamouche, a Nehiyaw Iskwew from Bigstone Cree Nation, is a champion hoop dancer and award-winning educator. Chelsea Vowel, a Métis from manitow-sâkahikan (Lac Ste. Anne), is mother, a writer and an educator.
In this episode, the trio discuss the newly formed Audible Indigenous Writer’s Circle, which Vowel and Lamouche say has been an excellent program of mentorship and support for emerging writers. Vowel is a mentor in the program and Lamouche is a mentee.
The Journey to Becoming a Writer
Vowel said she was first approached in the spring regarding the writing mentorship program by Audible. As Vowel explained, writers often fall into informal mentorship roles as other aspiring artists reach out for help, but this program by Audible was especially intriguing because of the long-term support that it offered.
“It’s so exciting because the projects that people are working on are so interesting,” Vowel said. “I feel very enthused and full of energy when I get to do this stuff.”
Vowel told Stonechild that there weren’t many stories available by Indigenous peoples during her adolescence. She remembers reading Half-Breed by Maria Campbell and works by Thomas King. Besides that, there wasn’t much to choose from. This is a story we hear so often from our podcast guests, but as each year goes on, we witness Indigeneity breaking through the barriers of colonization in so many different ways.
“The landscape has changed so much in my lifetime...Indigenous people have exploded onto the literary landscape,” Vowel excitedly told Stonechild.
And it’s not just biographies or historical texts coming out–Indigenous writers are telling any story that their heart desires. Far too often, Indigenous writers are expected to only write about Indigenous-specific issues (usually for non-Indigenous audiences), as though it is our job to educate and spread awareness about our culture. Though our Indigenous cultures are unique, we still exist in the same world as non-Indigenous peoples. We are not a monolith. Many Indigenous folks actually enjoy other genres, like comedy, fantasy and sci-fi. It’s important for publishers to remember that Indigeneity can be intersectional and shouldn’t be confined to what non-Indigenous people think we should write about.
Lamouche told Stonechild that she was very shy when she was growing up, but had a lot going on in her mind. Namely, the lack of Indigenous representation. She reminisced to Stonechild and Vowel about a textbook she read in high school. According to Lamouche, the text read something along the lines of: “all Native people died of diseases and chose to give up their culture.”
“It was very shocking,” Lamouche recalled. It’s partly because of these twisted retellings of our history that Lamouche is so passionate about reclaiming Indigenous culture. For Vowel, being in her own territory has reinforced her identity.
Overcoming the Dreaded “Writer's Block”
Having a strong sense of identity is a part of our very essence; it can negatively or positively impact our creativity, our health, and relationships. As Lamouche and Vowel explain to Stonechild, having a strong connection to identity can help overcome a slow-down of creativity, commonly known as “writer’s block”.
Because of colonial destruction, Lamouche’s family was subjected to trauma that negatively impacted their identity and connection to their land. For many of us, our identity is inherently tied to the land, but being away from our traditional land doesn’t make us any less Indigenous.
“Your culture, your belonging, your spirit–it’s all within you,” Lamouche recalled her mom always telling her. Looking inward, toward our identity and spirit, can help us overcome creative blocks.
“I listen to my body, even as a writer. But also as a dancer, as a mother. When it comes to dealing with things and finding answers… that creative intuition is more in the body than in the mind for me,” Lamouche said, adding that spiritual practices help her avoid writer’s block.
The Abstract Nature of Decolonization
Decolonization – what does it really mean?
“It’s often used as a metaphor, so it’s easy to talk about it in the abstract,” Vowel explained. “It’s almost impossible for us to imagine what our thoughts could be like... what the land could be like before colonization.”
To Vowel, decolonization doesn’t mean going back to the past, but is instead about strengthening relationships with the land and with kin, both human and non-human. Though Lamouche used the concept of decolonization in her thesis, she recognizes how complex the concept is. As the trio discuss on the podcast, decolonization doesn’t mean that “western” culture or literature can’t exist. But rather, it is a tool that people can use to reframe the way we think about cultural norms.
For more on decolonization, writing, and identity, check out this episode of the Matriarch Movement podcast.
“There is a quote that I heard recently: ‘your words may be the exact shape as somebody else's wound’,” Lamouche told Stonechild.
“So, there’s people that need to hear your voice and your words.”
To aspiring writers: get out there and share your thoughts, ideas, and wisdom. The world needs you.