Yellowknife photographer Pat Kane is releasing his first book, a 160-page hardcover photo examination of the relationship between Dene people and organized religion.
Copies of Here is Where We Shall Stay will be available from Kane at the city’s Sundog Trading Post from 1pm till 4pm on Sunday, April 23, where copies can also be collected if you preordered them.
The book, an extension of a World Press Photo Foundation project Kane began in 2020, “focuses on how the Dene of the Northwest Territories are moving towards meaningful self-determination by resetting the past atrocities committed by the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church,” he writes on his website.
“This book is intended to acknowledge the brutal history of colonization in the NWT, and examines the present-day complex relationship between the way of the Church and the way of the Dene.”
Kane joined Mornings at the Cabin’s Jesse Wheeler on Thursday to explain more.
This interview was broadcast live on April 20, 2023. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview by downloading the Mornings at the Cabin podcast.
Jesse Wheeler: Tell us about Here is Where We Shall Stay.
Pat Kane: It’s very complex, I think.
It smells good.
Yeah, it smells great. It’s a book about religion, and the Catholic Church, and the role it played on Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories – and also how Indigenous people are dealing with colonization and these institutions and these systems, but also moving forward and reclaiming their narrative, whether that be through their own storytelling, the changing of names to traditional ones, moosehide tanning, land guardianship, things like that, setting the path forward to deal with the complicated relationship between structured, organized religion and Indigenous spirituality.
These are complex issues and a tragic history. What did you find out while you were doing this? There are so many Indigenous people that still find themselves in the Catholic religion or Christianity and still cling to it pretty hard. Are we seeing that recede, especially in the younger generation?
I think you’re right. With the younger generation, we are seeing more of a pullback from organized religion and moving into more of the spiritual – land back, getting back to bush skills, learning from Elders as well. But there is a very devout group of Elders in many communities that go to church, sometimes daily. I was at a caribou monitoring place out in the barrenlands with some Tłı̨chǫ researchers, and we did the rosary every morning in Tłı̨chǫ, and it was kind-of strange but also beautiful. There’s a cadence to it and after a week of doing this, you’re like, “Wow, this is actually quite beautiful.” You have to respect it.
My mom was Algonquin – she passed away many years ago – so I’m Algonquin and I also have an Irish Canadian background, so I grew up in those two worlds as well, where my mom was very tied to sweetgrass ceremonies and powwows, and our Indigenous heritage was very important to us. But we did that inside the house, and we went to church in public. So I think my mom kind-of struggled with this relationship between religion and Indigenous spirituality, and so did I, growing up.
The work that I’ve been doing in the North for the last 20 years made me realize how connected people are to both of those structures, or ideals, or concepts. And I wanted to explore that through this book.
My mother is a Sixties Scoop survivor. She’s Nelson House Cree, northern Manitoba, and didn’t start to reclaim or dive into that until much, much later in life. There wasn’t a lot of that going on in my house. My parents were never very religious at all. She’s actually in the book, you gave me a copy for her. It’s a beautiful photo of her and Be’sha Blondin wrapped in traditional blankets, standing on the side of the lake. You have such an eye for this stuff, for capturing being on the land and traditional cultural acts. How long have you been working on this book in particular?
In 2020, I was accepted into this fellowship through World Press Photo, which is like a highfalutin kind of photography organization in Amsterdam. And in our cohort, we had to work on a project in all of our regions, spread out throughout the world.
I wanted to do one, obviously, in the Northwest Territories. I work in Indigenous communities all the time. I wanted to do something about colonization, because a lot of the fellowship was pitching a very academic research-heavy topic, then trying to photograph that. And then you’re mentored along the way. This was the topic that I chose.
I started photographing this during the pandemic, in 2020, and I was able to travel to the different communities around Yellowknife and the Sahtu – I went up to Délı̨nę and Tulita as well – and down to the South Slave region, too, and the Dehcho.
From that sprouted the idea of: what am I going to do with this project, besides presenting it to academic people? I thought this might be a good first book to do, because it’s not a portfolio piece, it’s not a best-of, but it does have a lot of meaning behind it and a bit of a message. I wanted to do something that was hopeful and beautiful and launch from there.
How many photos did you take, total?
I don’t even know. In the book there are 67 photos and 162 pages. I mean, I took thousands of photos and then you just edit and sequence it in a way that hopefully tells a bit of a story. It’s not really like a photojournalistic book, it more bridges the gap between photojournalism and fine art, I guess. So I want the book to feel very meditative when people open it.
We made it to look and feel like a bit of a Bible, on purpose, to kind-of reclaim that book format. When you look through it, it’s a lot of scenics or details or some things that you’re not quite sure what they are. When you go through it page by page, it doesn’t tell a specific story but it gives a feeling of what the story is all about.
There’s gold inlay of fireweed on the front. Beautiful. And again, the smell. There’s a relaxing quality to all this, even though you’re dealing with something very deep and resonant. Meditative is the perfect word for it. Congratulations.