This year has had some really hard real-life moments, like hospital-type moments that came at me fast and left me with no choice but to expose a vulnerability I work very hard to protect. I met up with Leila during one of those times with the intent to do this shoot. She welcomed me into her shared woodworking studio where she is currently making her own bass (BOSS). I was able to escape worries for a minute and engage in the super magical process of shaping and cutting wood into perfect and perfectly flattened proportions. Most importantly, I was able to spend time with Leila, also magical and warm.
The funny thing is that Leila and me have probably been acquaintances for almost 10 years. However, most of those years were spent posturing (by me) and worrying about what people thought (also me) instead of asking for friendship, for help. Distance had to happen to get all that stuff sorted probably. But even in distance, I’m here to cheer Leila on. She’s currently in the midst of putting on a festival in Amiskwaciy (Edmonton) as part of the Brown, Black and Fierce collective. The festival takes place on November 7 (full festival program here), and seeing all the amazing workshops and events announced makes me feel so hopeful for the future of Indigenous people and people of colour in Amiskwaciy. I think this collective and events are blessing the city with a knowledge and energy that it hasn’t ever seen before—you the real MVP, BB&F.
Get to know Leila and then ask for her autograph at the show.
What drew you to woodwork? Is it part of self-care?
My day job is in palliative/end of life care. My patients are so gracious and some have given me advice based on their personal reflections so close to death. They all say the same thing; “enjoy your life. If and while you can, do the things that nourish and fulfill you.” I see self care as a way to not only honour myself but to honour each of them.
Woodwork is totally self care; I’ve always liked building or making things. I had the opportunity to informally apprentice under my mentor, Brad, who is am amazing craftsperson.
He’s taught me that fine work is all about relationships;
The closer the relationship to our hands, our tools, our material, the better the piece.
So much care goes into it and somehow it feels like a full circle with palliative care.
You must deal with a lot of bureaucracy and shortcomings of our health system. How do you not get discouraged with all that? What keeps you going?
It’s really difficult sometimes to see the shortcomings in our healthcare system, especially to see the strengthening relationship between private business and public health, despite our governments claiming to have universal health care.
Let’s be real, part of what keeps me going is needing to make a living. But it’s also knowing that this work is important and needed. It is a well kept secret that palliative care is actually really joyous and fulfilling, not scary.
So many people are afraid to work in palliative care because of our cultural aversion to death.
I feel like the more of us with a passion for it, the better! I try my best to be honest with my patients and to fight hard against bureaucracy to get people what they need.
There was a story this year about young and white-owned businesses not feeling safe operating within the LRT stations (public light rail transit/train stations). You wrote a really great response about your own father working a similar job for many years and the sort of hypocrisy that comes from this group of people wanting to take up space/make money but somehow wanting to curate their clientele. I would consider you a pretty private person; what about this scenario made you share so much of about yourself and your family?
I mean, my whole life I watched my family struggle to support us. It was a pretty classic story of both my parents working really hard and not being credited for their skills and effort by their employers. My dad especially has worked really tough jobs all his life. His best job was in a warehouse for the Alberta government but he got laid off with the Klein government in the 90’s. After that, my mum and him started the first LRT kiosk in the city and worked so hard to figure it out and get it off the ground. That kiosk supported our whole family, for 20 years. Not only that, but the shop afforded my dad the opportunity to build long time friendships with customers that he values so much. When I heard this young entitled white boy complain about poor people wrecking his business, I was in my family’s home, I was eating lunch and feeling the same comfort and safety that their hard work has always afforded me.
Ultimately, I shared so much is because I am so proud of my dad and so grateful to my family.
The previous question addresses the kind of changes that are happening in Edmonton these days. How are you feeling about the future of Edmonton? What do you hope to see?
I’ve been seeing the occasional news article about Edmonton becoming the next “it” city and they always make me chuckle. But there are folks in in this city, even though they scoff at those articles too, that see Edmonton as the next cultural hub and are really going for it. Unfortunately, all of their work is based in and around white communities of up and comers and the whole thing ties uncomfortably into gentrification.
A while back my pal Zoe Todd posted a Manifesto to the Edmonton Arts Scene and spoke to all this stuff far more eloquently than I could. I think it was really hard for some people to read, especially folks that started out kind of young and grassroots or whatever but now are getting older and getting jobs that put them in positions of more power and legitimacy as artists and give them more access to a voice and funding.
I posted this question to a group of IBPOC artists and it sounds like folks are feeling more optimistic. My pal Mari said “the pushback means that people who were never challenged are now being challenged”. And I think there is a lot of hope in that.
I hope to see Indigenous and racialized communities continue to come together and to build things outside of white supremacist institutions.
And I hope to see white allies recognize the importance in that by supporting it financially and by doing thankless work (childcare, cooking, driving, photocopying) in order to make space for IBPOC to do what they need to do.
How did you get involved with Brown, Black and Fierce?
My friend Ruby asked me if I wanted to be involved in a small festival or something… I honestly didn’t catch a lot of what she said because the cafe we were in was super loud. All I really gathered was that it would be IBPOC organized. I just thought about the opportunity to be with friends, eat together, work on stuff, share ideas and I didn’t really care what the outcome was; I knew the process was exactly what I was yearning for.
Of any organizing I have ever done, this is by far the most nourishing. The collective is this incredible balance of supporting and loving each other, smashing white supremacist institutions and getting stuff done.
The events look incredible. It’s obvious that so much thought and heart has been put into the planning of this festival. I think this has already made and impact and will do so beyond the events. I think this will inspire many so I want to know who are the people that inspire you?
I’m inspired by folks who are resisting colonialism and preserving their integrity and dignity in the ways they can.
Those who are defending their land and water, those who are working hard to re-learn lost languages to reconnect to family, community and ways of being, those who are learning to cook their cultural foods despite growing up being ashamed of it, those who are learning to love their dark skin and letting their black hair grow all over if they want to. I’m inspired by communities of colour who are working together against anti-black racism and showing up for Indigenous solidarity.
What’s it like to be in brown love? Loving/being loved by another person of colour?
Hahahaha you’re right! I am a private person 😉
It feels like home.
Photos and interview by Karen Campos Castillo