University of Victoria law student Summer Tyance knows that she’s living at an important historical time. The Two-Spirit artist from Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek in Northern Ontario is excited about the landback movement. She’s also thrilled to be witnessing the revitalization of Indigenous languages, laws, and stories.
“They’ve just been sleeping from the repression of colonization,” Tyance tells Pancouver over Zoom. “But they’re woken up and I’m seeing it. I’m so honoured to be alive and learning daily about who I am and where I come from.”
Tyance is also a BC Culture Days ambassador. In this role, she is working with mentor and Métis musician Norine Braun to uplift Indigenous youths who identify as queer, Two-Spirit, trans, nonbinary, or in other ways.
On Saturday (October 7), Tyance will lead a free Indigenous Youth Two-Spirit Hand Drum Song Workshop at Persona Creative (402 West Pender Street) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The workshop brings together youths “to learn a song, enjoy a meal, and create an awesome Two-Spirit Anthem”. BC Culture Days continue until October 15 with many other events highlighting access, inclusion, and resilience.
“When I saw BC Culture Days advertising for that, it made me think of access to drumming,” Tyance says, “and how not a lot of my Two-Spirit, queer, and trans relatives—especially youth—have had that access.”
She’s been a member of a drum group called Moondance for six years, so she’s well aware of the benefits.
“I think I really learned to use my voice through drumming, and with confidence,” Tyance declares.
Tyance will reduce barriers to drumming
In addition, drumming helps her reconnect with spirits. She also finds that drumming helps her embrace her identity, which she says is “just so powerful and rewarding”.
She points out that the BC Culture Days workshop will be trauma-informed and queer-led. Tyance strongly emphasizes that people are welcome to show up however they want.
“Sometimes, there are a lot of protocols around drumming—every nation or community has different protocols,” the artist notes. “Some nations don’t even allow women to drum and some folks will say you need to wear a skirt to drum. These are barriers for our queer kin, who maybe don’t feel comfortable in that.”
Tyance’s artistic journey began with sketching and drawing. Around the age of 14, she started painting landscapes in acrylics.
“I am definitely a sucker for autumn, even though my name is Summer,” Tyance quips. “Nature isn’t perfect. That’s why I love painting trees and flowers.”
A self-taught artist
She points out that because no two flowers or trees ever look the same, it’s not considered an error if they appear differently on canvas. As an Indigenous person, she feels that being an artist is in her blood.
“I would say I’m self-taught but there are a few artists in my family,” Tyance says.
As she began reconnecting with her identity, she learned about Anishinaabe Woodlands style. It was made famous by legendary artist Norval Morrisseau, who was also from Northern Ontario.
According to Tyance, this style is derived from the land and connections between visions, dreams, ceremony, and kinship. Lines to the moon and the sun symbolize how all things communicate with each other.
“One of my first spiritual paintings that I’m really proud of was inspired by a dream that I had in 2018,” Tyance reveals. “I would say my dreams are a huge influence on my work. I often wake up and I sketch them out right away, so I don’t forget them.”
Healing power of fancy shawl dancing
Over time, she began experimenting by mixing mediums and working with pastels. In the past five years, Tyance has also been practising beadwork.
She also dreamed about the colours of her regalia, which she wears as a fancy shawl dancer in powwow ceremonies. The blues, greens, and yellows make her feel connected to the land. She appreciates the help that her Nana Rita offered in putting it all together.
“It’s a huge privilege to have that support and family who encouraged me to dance,” Tyance says. “I have family that dance.”
She feels that dancing, especially when surrounded by other Indigenous people, is incredibly healing. Fancy shawl dancing is just one category of powwow performance and it mimics the butterfly. The shawl represents the wings and it’s a faster dance, often done by younger women or teens or girls.
“There’s a lot of spinning and flapping and the footwork is light and also fast,” Tyance explains. “Powwow dancing comes from the heart. There is no wrong way to do that, either, as long as you follow that heartbeat of Mother Earth.”
BC Culture Days presents the Indigenous Youth Two-Spirit Hand Drum Song Workshop at Persona Creative (402 West Pender Street) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday (October 7). Admission is free. Register at Eventbrite. For more information about BC Culture Days, visit the website.