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Indigenous artist Terrance Houle, a member of the Kainai Nation, is set to bring his latest work, “Dance/Ipásskaa,” to the Luminato Festival in Toronto from June 7 to June 17.Houle has been immersed in the world of dance since childhood. His late mother, Maxine Weasel Fat (Naatoyiipotaki/Sacred Soaring Bird Woman), played a pivotal role in this journey by meticulously crafting traditional regalia, including his sister’s elk tooth dress and his daughter’s jingle dress. 

Houle has transformed these family treasures into a dynamic photographic mural titled “Dance/Ipásskaa”, which captures the essence of these garments in motion, honoring his mother’s artistry and inviting viewers to experience the Kainai Nation’s heritage through his family’s lens.

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The mural will be displayed on the Bay Street facade of Brookfield Place in downtown Toronto throughout the 11-day festival, providing a stunning visual experience for festivalgoers and passersby. 

Houle’s work spans subversive, humorous, and solemn artistic expressions, often exploring themes of history, colonization, Aboriginal identity, and representation in popular culture. He uses various media, including photography, painting, installation, performance, music, video and film.

Native News Online spoke with Houle about his latest work, “Dance/Ipásskaa”, the emotions behind his art and the challenges he faced creating it. Houle discusses honoring his late mother’s regalia work, overcoming challenges through cultural practices, and his ongoing project “Ghost Days,” exploring themes of the afterlife.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey as an artist and how your heritage has influenced your work?

I began making art over 30 years ago, starting in high school, where I explored photography and animation. Growing up in Calgary, Alberta, I was deeply influenced by the punk rock and skateboarding scene, which has significantly shaped my artistic style. 

My upbringing played a crucial role in my development as an artist. My family was heavily involved in powwow ceremonies, and my mother was a master of beadwork and leatherwork, making regalia for powwow dancing. My father, a veteran who served in the Middle East in the 1970s, also contributed to my understanding of tradition and ceremony. I grew up immersed in both Indigenous culture and the punk scene, which gave me a unique perspective that I bring into my art.

Can you describe the piece you created for Luminato and the emotions and messages behind it?

The piece is deeply personal and honors my late mother, Sacred Soaring Bird Woman. It’s based on her regalia work, showcasing elements of dance and movement, reflecting the vibrancy and tradition of our culture.

The mural includes sections of her beadwork and textiles, symbolizing the community’s dance and the support that surrounds and uplifts us. It’s meant to show that our ancestors and community are always with us, encouraging us to step into the world with confidence and pride.

What challenges did you encounter while bringing this piece to life, and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was dealing with my mother’s illness and her passing. She battled multiple myeloma for nearly 18 years, and her strength and resilience inspired this piece. 

Another challenge was selecting the right photographs from the thousands I took. With the help of a good friend, we narrowed them down to about 18 images. The most difficult part was not being able to install the piece before my mother passed away, but she did see a mock-up and gave her approval, which means the world to me.

To overcome these challenges, I relied heavily on our cultural practices and ceremonies. I did a lot of smudging and leaned into my upbringing, drawing strength from my father’s Sundance rituals and the teachings of my community. These practices helped me process my grief and focus on completing the piece. I truly believe my mother’s presence was with me throughout this process, guiding me to finish the mural in her honor.

How do you hope the viewers will engage with and interpret your mural at Luminato?

I hope viewers will feel the motion and emotion of the piece. It’s meant to convey a sense of community and support, much like a powwow where everyone is welcome to dance and celebrate together. I want people to see the vibrancy of our culture and feel the presence of the dancers and the community surrounding them. The mural is a tribute to the strength and resilience of our people, and I hope it inspires viewers to appreciate the depth of our traditions and the love that binds us together.

Looking ahead, do you have any future projects or different things you’re excited to explore?

I have a project called Ghost Days, which I started in 2015. It’s inspired by my mother’s illness and our cultural perspectives on the afterlife, which we call the Great Sand Hills in the north of Alberta. My mom used to joke about being at the Great Sand Hills casino in the sky because she loved going to the casino. Our culture, the Blackfoot and the Ojibwa, have a rich tradition of humor and storytelling, and that spirit infuses this project.

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.