ierra Lefave is an Anishinaabe photographer, creator and activist. Their newest project is focused on Indigenous identity and how Indigeneity comes in all shades and sizes. The project will take them across the country, photographing Indigenous people who have also struggled with identity and how they fit into their communities, celebrating “cultural variety, rejoicing in the things that make us different and make us Indigenous.” The first part will take place in the GTA this spring.
The Hoser: When did you move to the GTA?
Sierra Lefave: I've lived in downtown Toronto a few times. I've been back and forth, but really the university is why I'm kind of here I guess officially. I haven't lived in the same city for more than maybe six months of my entire adult life contract because of work contracts.
The Hoser: How does that feel?
Sierra Lefave: Good. It's different. It's less different because of COVID, obviously. The staying at home thing was kind of mandatory, so I got used to it. But it’s kind of nice, I’m enjoying it. I get to participate in a lot of stuff in the city, like activism that I couldn't participate in before because I was never sure if I was going to be in the city at the time.
TH: What activism do you do?
SL: Mostly environmental stuff. I'm a member of the Extinction Rebellion chapter here in Toronto. A lot of it is centred around environmental or Indigenous activism. Those are my two focuses, and they kind of merge themselves together, I think for obvious reasons.
TH: How do you feel about Toronto?
SL: It's a very difficult city to find where you belong. If you find where you belong, it can be a fantastic city. But I think that that's a complicated journey. The one thing I'll give Toronto is you can't be bored.
TH: What are you studying at X University?
SL: Politics and Governance
TH: How does that affect your creative work?
SL: I grew up in a political family. And I actually sought to avoid politics for the majority of my adult life. And I really only went back to school because, to me, there's only so much I can do as an activist. I feel like I can accomplish more by being one of the people who stands in the room.
I think in my personal creative work is really the only time that these kinds of things are at play. I definitely choose models and looks and themes and concepts for my own creative work that would likely be considered very political.
TH: Tell us about your latest endeavour.
SL: I'm photographing Indigenous people. It started as a project here in Toronto. I made a post in an Indigenous art group that I was looking for people in Toronto to photograph for this project, and I just got a massive response. It was crazy. So it kind of expanded from there to be Canada-wide. Because so many people in so many different places were willing to host me.
It’s an identity project.
Being somebody who's white-passing, I’ve spent a very long time finding a place where I fit in my community. My family is status stripped, which means my ancestors many years ago were assimilated. And so it's taken a long time to rebuild my family trees. And that can be very, very complicated. Because the further back that you were colonized, the harder it is to come across that information. It's quite a process. So it's been very difficult to kind of fit into the community, and find where I belong.
And I’ve received a lot of judgment for not looking Indigenous enough. This project was really born of the fact that I want to show both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that being Indigenous doesn't have a colour. It doesn't have a look. It doesn't have an age. Indigenous means many things now because we were colonized. There are all kinds of reasons why people are mixed. This means we come in every shape, colour, size and age. We're a spectrum of people.
And that was really what the project was born of. I just want to [photograph] many different people who are all Indigenous. Their Indigeneity is no less valid or more valid because they look more are less Indigenous. I'm looking for my own identity and how I fit into the community and putting all of that out there.
And a lot of people identified with that, because it's taken them a long time to find where they exist in the community, some people still haven't been able to do that. Or, you know, they don't have access to the community in the same way. And it can be very complicated. So I think a lot of people resonated with that struggle, and that, that loss of identity.
TH: Thank you for sharing that. And tell us a little bit more about what your plan is for this project.
SL: So the project is called Who We Are and it's going to be done in two parts. Part one is going to be photos of people here in Toronto, and it's going to be a grouping of images that I'm combining into one image, which, when you see it, it'll make sense. And it represents the spectrum of colour.
And Toronto is just kind of a stamp of the idea that in one city we're going to represent every colour. The idea that even within one city, you're going to see every type of Indigenous person possible. Very simply representing what it is that we look like. Part one is basically an exploration of the shades, and I'm stripping everybody of their culture.
So part two of the project is a continuation of that, but instead of representing the shades of who we are, it represents the incredible cultural variety we come in.
It will be portraits of people in their environments, many of them in regalia or clothes they've made. Part two represents internal identity, and part one represents external identity. One is more about how we see ourselves and the idea that we are always judged by society. And the second part is it almost like a freeing of that? A lack of caring for that, and rejoicing in the things that make us different and make us Indigenous.
TH: When will this be put out into the world?
SL: So part one will be released in the early part of the summer. I'm hoping to shoot it next month and release it relatively soon after that. Part two is going to start right after that, and it will be ongoing. I'm gonna have quite a lot of photographs. So I imagine that will go until the end of the year. I'll travel [across the country] throughout the summer. People will be welcome to follow along on various social media channels.
TH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
SL: I'm really excited for people to join me. This started as a project of self-discovery. And, you know, without even trying, I gained so many people who understand that feeling of not belonging. And I think it's very special that I get to have this experience and that so many people want to take this part in this journey with me, and I'm just really excited to have everyone along with it. And I'm thankful for it.