I've been very eager to share this particular session with you and am so excited that all the pieces are together now, for me to put it out there. Baby Sage was born in early December, and on a crisp sunny morning on the 22nd of December, I came to Sean and Alyssa's home and was welcomed with warmth and hospitality. Upon entering, I was immediately aware of a comforting, earthy aroma of herbs recently burned. A Christmas tree was up with presents all around, walls were painted deep colours and everywhere I looked, my eyes found symbols and items connected to a rich and vibrant heritage. It was immediately clear to me that Sean and Alyssa's rich heritage is preserved, respected and celebrated in their home, and this made me so very grateful to be invited and trusted in their space and also made me curious to learn. I opened myself to them completely and listened to their stories, and considered all of their ideas for the session we were about to collaborate on.
This was such a fun and engaging session not only because of the collaborative nature of it, and the culturally rich elements that were involved in it, but also, because Sean is a storyteller himself. He works in videography and his calling in life, his work, involves telling the stories of First Nations all over Canada. He has so much passion for his son, his daughter, his partner Aly, his personal life story, his community, and this photo shoot we were doing together, it was impossible not to get sucked into the passion and enthusiasm. I'm passionate myself, so, together, we had a really beautiful experience together, everyone's eyes were twinkling with engagement and FUN. We had FUN. I am just grinning here, writing this, thinking back to that day. Please take a moment and read up on Sean here. When he sent me this article, I was so overcome with emotion. I just find his story really inspiring, and I can only imagine how much of an impact Sean has had on so many people, young and old, whom he has made contact with so far, along the way. He's pretty great. I took all his suggestions, and appreciated his ideas for lighting and angles.... even though, most of the time, we just let things go with the flow, allowing me to do my thing, follow them around, quietly observing them being a mother and father, being a couple in love, being a couple enamored with their brand new gorgeous son.
It was important for me to include direct input from Sean (who is Cree and Anishiniaabe(ojiibwe)) and Alyssa (who is Anishinaabe and Icelandic) in this blog post, because I believe that stories of indigenous people should primarily be told be indigenous people - first and foremost. I am so honoured to be able to share these photos with the consent and blessings of Sage's parents. But it's also really important that both Sean and Alyssa have a voice here. So here are some thoughts from Alyssa:
"It was really important to us to have our indigenous ancestry expressed in our son's first photo shoot. In addition we wanted to utilize our own props and ideas in the shoot, things like the leather diaper, moccasins, beaver pelt and medicines. Connecting about this ahead of time made it all come together, Elliana took some of the elements we presented and turned them into something we could not have imagined ourselves. We feel as if this was a true collaboration and we had an opportunity to create something really special and unique. The fact that the shoot was completed in our home made it that much more "us". Miigwich for capturing these moments in time that we will never forget and always be thankful for."
Towards the end of the shoot, after having nursed Sage, Alyssa put him into his moss bag that was made especially for him. She told me all about moss bags, and how they were traditionally made from hide or cloth and filled with dry moss and crumbled wood that absorbed a baby’s discharge. The beadwork on his moss bag is just exquisite - all hand-strung and hand-stitched from top to bottom by his kokum (grandmother). All the images depicted in the beadwork are symbols with meanings significant to the family. It really is a spectacular thing to see up close. And Sage was so comfortable in there. It reminded me of a really well wrapped swaddle blanket, keeping baby warm and snug and safe. He was asleep before long, and so comfortable. You can see the moss bag in the gallery below.
Sage blog photos
Later, we got the bath going, and both Sean and Aly wanted to go in with their precious baby. I was overjoyed that Sean would want to go into the bath as well as Aly, since in many cases in my experience, it tends to be mainly moms who are keen on milk bath photos. I always encourage dads to get involved, but in this case, Sean was already on board before I even thought to suggest it. In fact, he went first! Here are some thoughts from him on the subject:
"In the milk bath my son Sage was surrounded by water, which is sacred and an important part of everyday life in my Indigenous culture. The medicine Sage, which I picked in my traditional territory, was also incorporated into the bath and is especially meaningful because it is my son’s name. The milk bath provided a unique bonding experience where I was able to tap into my paternal side, there were moments in time when our eyes locked together and we were completely connected in the bath. It felt calming to be surrounded by the medicine from home which makes me reflect on my family and home community, and the future that I want for my son.”
And Aly also wrote a bit about the milk bath experience:
“Seeing daddy and Sage in the water was heartwarming, Sage was so weightless and content floating in his dad’s strong hands. Sage was surrounded by the element of water, which is sacred and gives life and medicine picked by daddy. This memory will always be in my heart, it captures a moment in time when the two men in my life were skin to skin and were bonding in a way I never imagined existed.”
sage milk bath
After we shot and talked and shared stories and did the bath... and Sean told me all about his other child, his sweet and adorable daughter Ava (like any typical proud loving daddy, he asked that I share her photo):
and all the major elements of the shoot were completed and things were pretty much packed up, Sean and Aly offered me some traditionally picked and dried sage to take with me on my journey. They told me I could keep it as is, or I could burn it to bring purity and positive intentions for the space I am in. I was so grateful and thanked them both.
Over the last few months I have worked with an increasing number of First Nations families and I have to say this makes me happy on a very deep level. I am humbled and honoured to be invited into the lives of such a beautiful culturally rich community and hope that I can continue to do my part, in whatever way I can, to help connect their voices and stories to a wider audience.
I deeply value my relationship with Sean and Alyssa and hope to work with them again in the future. I also hope to continue working closely with indigenous communties here in Manitoba. It's really something I feel very strongly about.
Thank you for reading!