A remembrance of the artists and friends we lost on Highway #6

by Carle Steel, Chrystene Ells, Tasha Hubbard, Elwood Jimmy and Trudy Stewart

Michele Sereda and Lacy Morin-Desjarlais - photo by Janine Windolph

The highway took our people again. It does that from time to time, in ways so random it seems like it’s not random at all.

Lost to us in the terrible collision on Feb. 10 are Michele Sereda, artist, director, the mind and soul behind Curtain Razors and the facilitator of many outreach and teaching projects; Michael Green, co-founder of One Yellow Rabbit, extravagant theatre artist and animateur of Calgary’s arts scene for over 35 years; Narcisse Blood, Blackfoot elder, scholar and teacher; and dear Lacy Morin-Desjarlais, a young woman who came onto Regina’s indigenous arts scene only two years ago and hit the ground dancing.

Their work was important, and their reach worldwide.

All were artists, creators, mentors — joyous ambassadors of the ineffable. Through them, people across the treaty lands of Saskatchewan and Alberta were brought together to learn arts and cultural practices spanning many traditions, indigenous and non.

The personal loss of these people to the community and friends is inexpressible, unique to each person who met them across their — and our — many lives. If the outpouring of love for them is any indication, we are legion.

What is saddest is what we can most easily express. In these artists, we know exactly what we are losing: these were people who were literally changing the world. Through decades of work and risk and innovation and bravery, they eased the process of reconciliation and decolonization, and were on road to help healing minds and souls and hearts through their words, music and dance. They built the bridges between cultures that we so desperately needed, especially here on the Prairies. They had only just begun to show us how to use them.

With Michele, Michael, and Narcisse, we’ve lost three established artists and teachers; in Lacy, the tantalizing future of a young woman who would have continued to create and grow as an artist in the world they left for her, a world that was more open, more embracing of indigenous culture, art and thought.

Words are all we’ve got at our disposal at the moment to describe this indescribable loss. What is art but the willingness to try anyway? So here are some more words, from friends and colleagues of Michele, Michael, Narcisse and Lacy. /Carle Steel

Narcisse Blood

The loss is far beyond the scope of my words. Narcisse Blood left this world and I can’t imagine it without him. He loved the arts, history, education, knowledge, and the spirit of his Blackfoot people. My conversations with him did more to influence my thinking than any thick academic volume in a library. He also loved the buffalo, and it was our shared enthusiasm for their story that made us decide to develop a buffalo documentary. He had so much appreciation for everyone in his circle, and delighted in telling anyone who crossed our path about my accomplishments. I always thought that he was the best promoter I knew, but it speaks to how he viewed the world. He saw people’s gifts very clearly and he had faith that people could and would bring their best to this life, and he inspired us to do just that. I know I am one of many who counted him as a mentor and friend. My sincerest condolences go out to his family and everyone who knew him. /Tasha Hubbard, documentary filmmaker

Michael Green

Michael was my first theatre guru when I was a shy 19-year-old stumbling around in the Calgary arts scene. Michael, George McFaul, Kirk Miles and the rest of the One Yellow Rabbit theatre ensemble welcomed me in, although I was wrapped in sorrow over my brother’s suicide and I was acting, I am sure, sullen and scared. I was not on any tracks at all — no college, nothing. It was Michael’s kindness — and that of the other Rabbits — that helped me survive my grief and gave me the tools on which I’ve built my entire artistic career and practise. I still teach and work with the concepts I learned from them all those years ago.

In the one show I got to do with the Rabbits, I made Michael’s exuberant stilt costume: yellow pants, a red jacket with long tails, and a big red top hat. Our characters had a love affair in the show, and I really loved Michael — I was so intimidated by his massive talent, and so comforted by his warm heart and generosity.

I regret never having reached out as a healed adult to thank him. Oh, call or e-mail someone who changed your life right now and thank them. You’ll be glad you did. /Chrystene Ells, artist and filmmaker

Lacy Morin-Desjarlais

In her last week, I had the opportunity to see Lacy a few times. She took Janine Windolf and me out for dinner to thank us for helping her on her short dance film, Dancing the Space Inbetween. It was completely Lacy and Michele’s vision. They choreographed and rehearsed for a month before shooting. Janine and I were honoured, but felt we hadn’t really done much except link arms and try to form a protective barrier, so they could create in peace. We just offered the support we could. She made us feel like secret celebrities and these hidden gems that only she knew about.

Friday night, as I photographed Curtain Razors’ Small Boy Dreams, I looked out the window from where I was shooting down at the audience and saw Lacy. I was happy that she looked so happy, peaceful and content. I also saw her Saturday night at Mispon’s screening at the Norval Morrisseau exhibit. Lacy was there to interview me for RezX Magazine — her last story — but she would have been there anyway because she went to everything related to indigenous art, dance, film and video. Sunday afternoon, for her New Dance Horizons Blueprint show, she screened her fine cut of her film and performed Raven Caught in the Rain. She danced backwards around her nest. The way it was lit, there were three shadows of different colours on the wall dancing behind her. It was incredibly beautiful and haunting. It was her. Strong, beautiful and fierce, but fragile and vulnerable at the same time.

I feel like the world should have stopped. I want to say, “Do you have any idea what the world has lost?” But I know they’d all want us to keep creating, keep working, keep moving forward. I will miss you, Lacy, my strong warrior woman. /Trudy Stewart, Artistic Director, Mispon

Michele Sereda

Michele Sereda was a great friend, collaborator, and one of my greatest supporters. So cognizant of the importance of building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, she worked with several First Nations communities and artists across Saskatchewan, and was a frequent co-presenter and supporter of the work that I initiated and curated at Sâkêwêwak Artists’ Collective over the several years that I was director there. We loved talking about our time growing up in rural Saskatchewan, frequently sharing Indian and Ukrainian history, traditional knowledge, and food with one another.

When I left Regina for Toronto, she said she would take care of my mom, and she did – taking her grocery shopping, to the doctor, and other errands.

I thank her for both supporting and challenging me, making me go places I could never and would have never gone on my own — as an artist and as a human being. We talked about collaborating more on some performances, and I am sad that those won’t happen. Her last words to me, in a note she sent in the fall were “Thanks so, so much beautiful one.” I will always remember her beautiful soul, big smile and crazy laugh. Rise in power, my dear friend. /Elwood Jimmy, curator and artist

A celebration of Michele Sereda’s life will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015, at 1:30 p.m. at the Mackenzie Art Gallery, 3475 Albert Street, Regina.