Fire-broken rocks, bones, and quartzite flakes – Métis musician Deedra Salange Ladouceur

“When I think of animals, no matter what we have done to them, there is still trust

Birds – when they look down at us, they see everything equally.”

– Deedra Salange Ladouceur

 

Deedra Salange Ladouceur is a Métis, Mohkínstsis-based (Calgary) thespian, musician, poet, puppeteer, stand-up comedian, and podcaster. Deedra Salange Ladouceur goes by her full name while discussing theatre. A graduate of the Dramatic Arts program at the University of Lethbridge, she got her big break with Making Treaty 7’s (MT7) production of Kiitistsinnoniks (Our Mothers) in 2018. Directed by Alanis King Odawa, Kiitistsinnoniks explored the lives of Elders and Matriarchs. MT7’s production empowered Deedra Salange Ladouceur by giving her the space to create characters and, for the first time in her life, a cappella music. “We heard their life stories – how they survived residential schools, reform schools, colonialism, and missing and murdered Indigenous women,” she says. “It was such a powerful experience because most of my schooling took place in euro-centric towns where I was the only Indigenous kid in my grade. Through that experience, I could reflect on my education and recognize where I felt outed – on the outskirts of creation.”


For her audition for the Istotsi Residency program, Deedra Salange Ladouceur wrote and performed a song about her post-university journey to Mohkínstsis. Moving to the city with Istotsi castmate Marshall Vielle and friend Elizabeth Ferguson-Breaker, the piece is a celebration of their friendship.


“Birds are everywhere – I think we take for granted how long they’ve been on this land before us,” Deedra Salange Ladouceur says. “I picked the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Sanctuary is a word that holds so much meaning, implication, and power – it’s very purposeful.”


The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary rests in the Inglewood Wildlands – a 78-acre, inner-city nature preserve in South-East Mohkínstsis fenced in by concrete and bedlam. Although the sanctuary has been home to over 270 species of birds since 1929, its history is rooted in colonialism. To learn about it, one can’t help but learn about the invader, NWMP officer, and Calgary’s “citizen of the century,” James Walker. Among the many articles written about Walker, very little is mentioned about Indigenous Peoples living on what is now the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

Deedra Salange Ladouceur during the filming of Istotsi.

“It was only one or two sentences in this entire essay – just that people existed in that place and made a home of it,” Deedra Salange Ladouceur says. “It made me think of all those people’s lives who are completely ignored...not remembered. It’s sad when you’re only allotted two lines about the remains of your civilization. I don’t want people to forget that whoever they were – they existed here.” When bison were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the early 20th century, birds who had never known bison knew the tufts of their fur made good material for nests. The land we live on has memory – an instinctual memory that perseveres in the face of extinction. This lesson, taught by a Knowledge Keeper and artist who spoke during the Istotsi residency, influenced Deedra Salange Ladouceur’s piece. “...maybe don’t talk about the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary from the perspective of a person – think of what it is to a bird,” she says. “Crows and ravens. They’ve adapted to survive in all our environments – [they] haven’t left populated, urban cities. The sanctuary might help native birds and non-indigenous birds that can’t survive in the city, but ravens can survive in the city and fly freely in the sanctuary. I realized that I wanted to write something from the perspective of a bird calling it like it is: ‘thank you for this little piece of land; I wish there was more throughout the city for us.’”


As a whimsical nod to the big-band era, Deedra Salange Ladouceur envisioned her song sung by a raven with a backing band of crows – Raven and the Murders. The song’s lyrics were taken from an 18-verse poem Deedra Salange Ladouceur wrote called Displaced. An allegory of the reserve system, birds were displaced from their homes – only to return to an enclosed sanctuary years later, unable to survive in the new urban area encroaching on their land.


“The chorus eventually turns into, ‘this city is like a cage/fills us with rage,’” she says. “It’s not a song meant to attack the institutions we have in place to protect wildlife – it’s to say, ‘we can always do more.’ There can always be ways people connect to nature and live alongside it rather than pushing it out of our spaces.” Although her initial draft was written in frustration and anger because of the state of the sanctuary, Deedra Salange Ladouceur had to ask herself what message she wanted to tell people. Rather than coming at it from an us-versus-them position, she tried to solve the problem as a collective.


“Raven is a teacher, who looks at it from an unbiased perspective,” she says. “The idea in this world [is that] birds come into human form – they’ve existed for hundreds of years and seen so much, but they’re also rock stars. Personifying them and bringing back that homage to live performance – [between] the audience and the band – was so exciting.”


Deedra Salange Ladouceur will be taking a master’s program for interdisciplinary creation and research at the University of Calgary next fall. She is writing, producing, and starring in ‘Ghost’ Ruminating A Musing for her thesis – the second part of a planned trilogy. The first part, ‘Ghost’ Return to Mourning, was directed by Marshall Vielle and released in 2020. Autobiographical in nature, ‘Ghost’ Ruminating A Musing explores the theme of karma. Deedra Salange Ladouceur is also working on a new podcast called Downtime with Deeds – a series of interviews with Knowledge Keepers and family members about genealogy and what it means to find who you truly are.

 
Istotsi: The Land We Live On is made possible in part by the RBC Foundation

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