EN | FR
Teresa Vander Meer-Chassé
Shii'itsüh | Pleurs dans le cœur | Crying in the Heart
13 May - 30 June, 2023
Teresa Vander Meer-Chassé is a proud Niisüü member of White River First Nation from Beaver Creek, Yukon and Alaska. She currently resides on Songhees, Esquimalt and W̱SÁNEĆ Territories in Victoria, British Columbia. She is an Upper Tanana, Frisian, and French visual artist, emerging curator, and Master of Fine Arts candidate at Concordia University in Studio Arts. Her visual arts practice is invested in the awakening of sleeping materials and the reanimation of found objects that are rooted in understandings of identity.
As a way to process grief and loss, I have created a literal and metaphorical shelter that has been reclaimed, reconstructed, and revitalized. Having found myself in deep internal conflict following the loss of yet another family member to substance use, I invite you to enter Nee’ Shah | Our House to witness the importance of awakening sleeping materials as a method of navigating loss. Through the processing of natural materials with my family, I attempt to empower you to witness universal cycles of loss, grief, and mourning.
By way of patches, I translate text I have sent to family members that I have lost to or are currently experiencing substance use disorder. I do not personally experience substance use disorder; I am only a witness and a loved one to many that are experiencing or have experienced substance use disorder. Symbols, colours, and patterns that represent my Upper Tanana, Frisian, and French families and communities are present throughout the tent and act as protection, grounding, and connection. Natural materials were collected and processed collaboratively as a family and became a daily ritual in my self-growth and grief recovery.
CONTENT WARNING: This exhibition includes themes of loss, grief, and substance use. Hǫǫsǫǫ dìik’analta’ de’ (take care of yourself).
Nee’ Shah | Our House
Taathǜh (Canvas Tent) - I upcycled and reclaimed a used canvas wall tent from my community of Tthèe Tsa’ Niik (Beaver Creek, Yukon). There are quite a few wall tents in and around Tthèe Tsa’ Niik but many of them are brand new and actively being used. Rumour had it that the wall tent my Grandma Nelnah Bessie John had at her Fish Camp might still be there. With permission from the family and White River First Nation, I planned to visit Fish Camp with my Dad Wilfred Chassé. Before heading out, we spoke with my Uncle Ricky Johns who told us that they had already thrown away Grandma Bessie’s tent a summer or two before but that there may still be something out there that I can use.
Grandma Bessie’s Fish Camp is located directly across from the international border marker along the Alaska Highway, separating Yukon and Alaska. When I was young, Fish Camp was accessible by foot but in recent years and with development of the highway and effects of climate change, it requires a canoe to access the site. My Dad and I loaded up a two-person canoe on his truck and he drove me there in the early morning. It was turning out to be a beautiful sunny day. We unloaded the canoe and struggled through the mud to get the canoe out on the water. It was my first time canoeing that lake and it was beautiful but shallow in areas. After digging ourselves out of the weeds, we made it to the banks of Fish Camp.
We searched but came up with nothing. I became a little worried that we wouldn’t find anything to use but sure enough, as soon as I pushed passed a fallen structure, I found an old rotten canvas on the ground. We eventually got the canvas tent in the canoe and paddled back to the highway. While we were paddling, two swans took flight beside us and it marked a wonderful moment of reclamation, family, and rediscovery. I transported the wall tent back to Victoria, British Columbia where my Mom Janet Vander Meer and I spent a week cleaning the tent to rid it of all mold and other toxins. I completed the wall tent’s reconstruction at the Ministry of Casual Living in downtown Victoria.
Ch’ithüh (Home-Tanned Hide) - Throughout my Master of Fine Arts degree, I spent the majority of my summers in Tthèe Tsa’ Niik working on a dinǐik thüh (moosehide) with my Mom Janet Vander Meer and my Grandma Marilyn John. My Mom’s partner Dwayne Broeren shot a dinǐik choh (large bull moose) in the fall of 2020. They skinned the dinǐik and left the flesh outside to freeze over the winter. During the cold months, a starving wolf entered the community looking for something to eat. The wolf ended up destroying the hide and leaving a small chunk of the rump left on the fleshing pole. I wasn’t confident enough to work on a dinǐik thüh choh to start with so the small rump piece made the most sense. However, I soon learned that many hide tanners actually remove the rump because the skin is quite thick and the shape makes it difficult to scrape.
For the first summer, I lived with my Grandma and we got as far as we could on the dinǐik thüh by way of her memories. I would ask her questions about her childhood, before she was forced to attend Lower Post Residential School. I asked her what she remembered of her Mother and Grandmother tanning hides, what she saw, what she smelled and heard. We made it quite far into the process until memory was not enough and we needed assistance. A community of young hide tanners came to our aid and offered their knowledge and skills which helped immensely. Unfortunately, on my final trip to complete the hide, we were hit with various factors that prevented me from smoking the hide properly.
Feeling somewhat of a failure and experiencing the loss of the dinǐik thüh that we had worked on over the course of two years, my Grandma Marilyn had a solution. She had been saving two ch’ithüh that her sister Nelnah Bessie John had completed before her passing in 2000. Grandma Bessie was the last person to successfully complete a hide in the community. I decided to use the hide that Grandma Bessie had already begun cutting up prior to her passing. And I am honoured and very grateful to my Grandma Marilyn for allowing me to display this piece. This is certainly not the end to our tanning journey, just the beginning.
Mēet Thüh (Lake Trout Skin) - Shnąą Thielgay eh naach'akch'įǫ. My Mom Janet Vander Meer, her partner Dwayne Broeren, and his brother Doug Broeren, took me on my first official fishing trip to Kluane Lake in the summer of 2021. It was supposed to be the annual fishing derby but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they canceled it that year. Despite the cancellation of the organized event, numerous boats still decided to go out on the lake that day. Lake trout, white fish, and grayling are the most common fish you can find in White River First Nation Territory. My Mom and I caught a large 20-lb lake trout on that sailing, however we ate it and did not keep the skin.
I learned to tan ∤uuk thüh (fish skin) from Vancouver-based artist and tanner Janey Chang. I took a workshop with Janey online and proceeded to tan more than 40 skins while I was in Tiohtià:ke/Mooniyang/Montréal for my final semester of coursework. Upon my return to Tthèe Tsa’ Niik Dwayne had saved me a ∤uuk thüh to tan that was from our Traditional Territory. I decided to tan the mēet using the oil method. I was given a recipe from Beaver Cree artist Cheryl McLean and it worked wonders. Along with my Grandma Marilyn John, my Mom, my Auntie Rosemarie Vandermeer, and my Niece and Goddaughter Sophia Vandermeer we worked on processing the mēet thüh. Four generations of hands touched this ∤uuk.
Dinǐik Tth’èe (Moose Backstrap Sinew) - My Mom Janet Vander Meer and her partner Dwayne Broeren hunted a dinǐik and butchered it on site. My Uncle David Johnny had come to help them cut the dinǐik. He told them stories and identified the dinǐik tth’èe which they cut out and kept for me. Long before I was interested in tanning a hide, I was more keen on learning how to spin sinew. I remember watching my Grandma Marilyn John do it when I was young but I wanted to try it for myself. My Grandpa Sid van der Meer mailed the dinǐik tth’èeto me and my Mom and I learned how to spin from my Grandma over speakerphone. We listened to her and told her how it looked. I took the sinew with me on another trip back home and Grandma gave me the thumbs up that I had spun it correctly.
Donjek (Silverberry Seed Beads) - My Mom Janet Vander Meer, my Grandpa Sid van der Meer and I decided to take a trip down to the White River. I wanted to collect some of the ash sediment on the banks of the River for a project. My Grandpa enjoys playing tour guide and it was an area he hadn’t explored for quite some time. He had a cabin and business along the highway near the White River. It was my Mom’s first home. The structure is now being reclaimed by the nän’ (earth). We spent the entire morning collecting ash, rocks, and driftwood along the river. As we sat to catch our breath, I noticed a bush filled with silverberries. I was gobsmacked because I didn’t know where the jik (berries) grew. I knew they had a seed inside them that was and is still used today to make beads. We collected as many as our pockets could hold and brought them back to Tthèe Tsa’ Niik to be cleaned and dried. My Grandma Marilyn John told us that you could eat these berries and that the seeds were used to make beads but that the practice wasn’t done as often today.
Nuun Ch’oh (Porcupine Quills) - I gathered these nuun ch’oh with my Mom Janet Vander Meer off a nuun that Dwayne Broeren had killed for my Uncle Patrick Johnny. My Mom and I sat in the back of her Ford F150 plucking away and smacking the nuun with a towel to gather as many quills and hair as possible. We had to move quite quickly because my Uncle Pat was eager to eat! After we gathered as many nuun ch’oh as we could, we watched as my Uncle Pat used a blow-torch to singe off the rest of the quills and fur before he skinned and gutted it. Apparently the feet are quite tasty however I didn’t indulge.
New Zealand Brown Sheep Yarn - I was gifted two New Zealand brown sheep rugs from Shuudèh Wunąą (My Sweetheart’s Mother) Rosyland Frazier. I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to do with them but in a flash decision, I decided to teach myself how to spin yarn. I picked up a few simple tools from a local yarn store and watched more online tutorials than one should. I decided to use the handspun yarn in a blanket stitch pattern in certain areas of the tent.
Melton/Stroud - Melton is a woven wool fabric that dates back to early fur trade in what-is-now-called northern Canada. Until quite recently, Canada had its own melton company however it closed and we now have to import melton (or stroud). My first dancing dress was made of red felt and I recently made my Grandma Marilyn John a tunic from white and red stroud. In the creation of Nee’ Shah | Our House, I wanted to include our family colours - red and black - with melton. I cut the melton into symbols that are representative of Upper Tanana communities. I was lucky enough to have seen some of these symbols on works by the Elders of our Elders during my visit to the McCord-Stewart Museum and the Field Museum.
Other materials include: canvas, cotton fabric, embroidery yarn, crochet yarn, nylon thread, cotton thread, polyester thread, glass seed beads, vintage seed beads, galvanized gold delica beads, ABS pipes and fittings, metal fittings, notions, rope
Tsin’įį choh (big thank you) to everyone that supported me on my learning journey. From hands-on learning to sharing memories, stories, and language, I have been blessed with numerous teachers throughout the past few years as I underwent my Master of Fine Arts degree. This journey would not have been possible without the following contributors and supports: Janet Vander Meer, Marilyn John, Wilfred Chassé, Dwayne Broeren, Sid van der Meer, Christopher Walton, Lisa Jarvis, Rosemarie Vandermeer, Tuffy Vander Meer, John Vandermeer, Jordan Vandermeer, Deuce Vandermeer, Quanah VanderMeer, Sophia Vandermeer, Patrick Johnny, David Johnny, Ricky Johns, Jolenda Benjamin, Bessie Chassé, Courtney Wheelton, Montana Prysnuk, Angela Code, Janey Chang, Cheryl McLean, Jesse Lemley, Rosyland Frazier, White River First Nation, Ministry of Casual Living, Field Museum, McCord-Stewart Museum, YVR Art Foundation, Concordia University Studio Arts Staff, Faculty, and Peers, MFA Supervisor Surabhi Ghosh, Centre d’art daphne’s Board and Staff, Lori Beavis, John Player, and to everyone that has offered an encouraging word or a helping hand - thank you.