Jean Baptiste

Bloodlines

I inherit from my bloodlines
Filled with the hopes and dreams of my Mother
my Grandmother 

Overflowing with memories
of pain
of love
of a thousand names for each caveat carved out of and into my flesh

Twisting and tracing into bodies unknown
Names lost in the translation of a language cut into our tongues
Caught within the trees so we can no longer hear their sweet whispers

It is where hands meet earth
Meet each other
Meet where stories blend truth

“That is not traditional”

Blow torches and swim shorts
But there is no room in the middle of the lodge
Boys to one side, girls to the other

Red flowing
Down our arms
Between our legs
Amidst each other
Weaponized in a way only the patriarchy understands

Injected into
Drowning out
Attempted banishment of our bonds
Memories locked in muscle that have yet to be untrained

Holding the blueprint to my being
Stitching together the pieces dropped off over the centuries to create anew
It is the go between and the in between

Holding the unworthy with the salvation
Gifts unfelt but not forgotten
Absorbing what my mother knew
Her mother knew

Born into the knowledge of our ancestors
Deep in our chest
At the tip of each finger
Brought to life with each intake of breath

I need to remember

Shielded by broken bones and promises
It sits
A truth willing to wait
Buried among but not tainted by our burdens
Flowing to and from generations now and past
Connected by a conscious knowing

Gifted into my body still cradled in my mother’s womb 

It is what I inherit from my bloodlines

Moonbeams and Starlight

Old teachings sit in my bones
Accumulating indiscriminately
Their stories a lifeline

Whispered in the crackles of burning cedar
Tucked in the feathers of robins
Woven in the mossy green hair of birch trees
Held safe by hands more practiced than ours

Our stories will come back

Existing in a space outside of our consciousness
But felt in a place of dreaming
Guided by moonbeams and starlight
Not quite sufficient to see ourselves reflected back in its silvery rays

But enough to awaken curiosity
Entombed by trauma gifted down from one generation to the next
Holding fear as sacred

Red flags are not counted amongst the tobacco ties
Yet they are adorned with huckleberries and thistles

Prayers carried on wisps of smoke and drum beats
Voices hoarse from singing in lodges
Inviting in and being held by our ancestors

Who know all too intimately our struggles
Whether to hold on or let go
Allowing it to be born once more

Our teachings sit in my bones
Permeating stories
Written by moonbeams and starlight

 

Northern Lights

Cold arctic nights feel like home
Black skies dotted with countless stars

They are the Grandmothers and Grandfathers
Holding eternal vigilance for those below
Existing in a kind of limitlessness we can only dream of

Shifting, moving, swaying
Their likeness trapped in the ice beneath our feet
Existing in fractals of red, blue and green

It is the time where they teach the baby spirits how to dance
Feel settled in their feet
Accept the shaky newness of each step

We watch from below
Listening to the soft fizz and crackle of a language not familiar to our ears
With a whistle we call them closer
Close enough to see the whisps of twirling skirts and scuttling feet
Hoping to hear the tendrils of laughter and joy reach us on the wind

Here we stay
Beholding as the luminescence trip and twirl
Frost kissing the tips of our nose
Darkness held at bay by a light dusting of snow

Knowing what it means to be held
It feels warm
An ignited yearning
Familiar ache slightly too deep to touch

Holding hands muted by mittens
Breath burning away the static ache of winter
Before defrosting giggles wrapped in old blankets and woolen socks
Safekept by the rubbing of fingernails and zipping of zippers

In the season of night
All we can do is witness

Remnants

Surrounded by the remnants of our ancestors
Strewn in pieces marked
Walled behind translucent glass
Armed with placards 

A location in time

Void of the intricacy hands used to shape
Unrooted from the ground it was birthed from

Whose own are you? 

Warrior songs thrum in riverbed arrow heads
Savagery interwoven with the cracked shells and missing beads
Pictures still and stoic

Relegated to an exhibit hall
Alongside dinosaurs, neanderthals and mesopotamians
Pieces of our history lay bare
Naked for thousands to see

Jagged edges smoothed over by time
White gloved hands gingerly hold and caress
Discerning eyes discriminating each crack and crevice

Please look but don’t touch

Dirty sticky fingers dragging on the cement walls
Groups full of oohs and ahhs
The building of crescendoing delight as they get to pay to see the Indians they saw in the movies

The thunderous noise of bodies mask the lamenting cries
It is not silent when restless spirits pace the halls
Unfamiliar images reflected back in the shadows of brushed metal
Wandering and lost

Please, let us go home

A generational mantra
Jurisdiction over our body only counts if you believe in our personhood

Written Gospel

Reading the words out of books like gospel
Holding ideas old white men jerked themselves off to

Doesn’t hold a flame to nights full of stories and prayer
Sitting lackadaisy around a fire laughing about our cousin’s cousin’s cousin
Who fell while dumping out fish guts into the lake

Sitting in chairs for 8 hours a day
Generation after generation
At least we don’t get hit
We listen to the glorification of the desecration
Of land, of soul
Of things that are held dear to the “conquered”

Lectures by those who are only interested in hearing themselves speak
Not by the rolls of their tongue
But by the regurgitation of others
Reflections of knowledge held deep within practiced lines

Painted by brush strokes so sharp as to cut out its truth on blank paper
Believing it will last forever
In the minds and hearts of those who unquestionably intake these interpretations

Embodying the fantasies of ancestors
Not ours
The ones who could not see past the fireweed and caribou
Licking the slick black beneath our feet as if it was nourishment
Filling bellies with falsehoods and promises of more 

Black tar covering the highways that told tales of hooves and mocced feet
Film topping the crests of rivers and streams
Ripples written from the backs of salmon
Prose appreciated by only those who care to see it
Line upon line of long drawn out testimony
Of how they helped carve out their sacred waterways

The shifting of techtonics working in harmony with giants
Settling new mountain ranges
Migration paths outlining it’s ridges and base

It is easy to remember stories
The ones left embedded in the landscape

Repeated for thousands of years
Unbridled by bindings of books
Immune to it’s rot
Having a dimensionality stronger than a line soaked in ink

Lessons don’t always come from the repetition of a time table

We offer drums and song for nourishment
Stories for water
Tobacco for relationship
Knowing that these roots and trees are more eternal than gospel

Jean Baptiste, Kihew Mahihkan Atayohkan Iskwew, is a trans, nonbinary Two-Spirit member of the Wet’suwet’en nation in the Laksilyu clan. Since they were a child, they have been on a journey of exploring their passion of storytelling through various mediums. From 2010 to 2014 and 2018, Jean presented at the annual Utloo’ Noye Khunni: Weaving Words Celebration in Prince George. They hosted panels as well as shared poetry and spoken word pieces exploring Indigeneity, gender identity, queerness and sharing northern stories. In 2018 they started to learn more about beadwork after being introduced to the art form by two close friends and mentors: Shalane Pauls (Tahltan and Tshimshian) and Lynette LaFontaine (Metis). In collaboration with Jean, they developed Beads & Bannock – a provincial Indigenous art collective with its membership spreading from Terrace to Victoria. Jean also has participated as a draglesque performer at an IndigiQueer Cabaret hosted by Gwandaak Theatre (Whitehorse, Yukon) in partnership with Yukon Pride. In their role at Trans Care BC (Provincial Health Services Authority), they blended their storytelling skills with community development frameworks to initiate conversations around the concept of Two-Spirit as part of a provincial needs assessment researching the health needs of Two-Spirit people. Each piece of art they produce is grounded out of their experiences consciously delving unto their relationship with their body, community, history, and self-identity.

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