My project topic was the recovery of and reconnection to Indigenous heritage. My subject, Vernie Clement, is a supervisor at House 5- the Indigenous student resource center on TRU’s campus. Vernie is from a very small and isolated community from Lheyidli, which is close to Prince George, BC. He then moved to Kamloops to attend TRU. Vernie explained that he chose to come to Kamloops because he had a friend who lived here and spoke their Indigenous language, and it would be easy for him to stay connected to his heritage and culture.
Once settled in Kamloops, Vernie explained that he felt alone and disconnected from his family. But he began to participate more and more in traditional activities such as sweat lodges, powwows and took many steps in this way to strengthen his connection to Indigenous heritage. With this photo essay, I wanted to show his reconnection to heritage. I aimed to do this through photographing Vernie in traditional clothing, participating in traditional activities, and connecting with his family.
The biggest obstacle I faced with photographing Vernie and choosing this topic was demonstrating the path from the disconnect to recovery, specifically showing Vernie during a time of disconnect. We discussed pictures from his past, during a time when he was partying too much as a young adult- a time in his life that he explained as being when he was least connected to his heritage. We had no luck using such pictures, so I had to improvise and change my picture ideas.
The most important lesson I learned was that no matter how different and individual each person’s disconnect is, there are many similarities. Listening to Vernie talk about how residential schools affected his family, how substance abuse had taken loved ones too early and how he was the first person in his family to attend post-secondary made me realize how much he and I actually had in common.
It was comforting and an honor to listen to Vernie’s story and to discover that as an Indigenous university student I am not alone in those experiences. Vernie gave me permission to share this photo essay and the news video to my blog, so I hope that any young Indigenous person who reads this will feel the same way.