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February 1, 2022

SkirtsAfire Feature – Teneil Whiskeyjack – Ayita creator and playwright.

Tansi/Hello, 

I’m Teneil Whiskeyjack. I am originally from Saddle Lake Cree Nation and a mother of 2. My daughter is 17 and my son is 7, both at different stages in their lives. As a single mother and working artist, the demands of career, life and our own autonomy in systems that can make us feel depleted, it can be challenging to find the balance in it all. The expectations we put on our ourselves as mothers, always asking “am I doing this right?” Truth is, there is no manual to parenting and parenting looks different for many in terms of culture, values, family traditions and beliefs. Becoming a mother for the first time at such a young age, I admittedly didn’t know myself well enough to give reverence to a tender, compassionate, and patient relationship that I needed within myself. As time moved forward, I wanted to find peace in my journey and the grounding my children and I needed and deserved. I looked at the both of them and wanted them to see a mom that was vibrant, strong, present and healthy. As women, we are taught to put others before ourselves, leaving no room for our own curiosities, or relationships to our bodies and spirit. Going back to my culture and ceremony as an Indigenous woman meant going back to land-based practices, asking myself what it means to me to be a nehiyaw iskwew (cree woman) today, learning to ask for help within safe spaces of community and kin and reminding myself that parenting is one of the most sacred responsibilities we carry as life givers. I believe our children choose us to be their parents before they are born.  

I was an artist growing up. I loved to tell stories in various ways. I took a step back from creating all together for many years and what was once my solace, was no longer existent as I allowed myself to live for other’s expectations of me, in the confines of societal pressures, and a life from the choices I made that wasn’t in alignment to my truth. I doubted my aspirations and capabilities until there came a shifting cycle in my womanhood where I wanted to gain deeper insight to who I was and why I walked in footsteps that no longer resonated with me or my heart.  

When I found creating again, it took on this deeper meaning. Dance, performing and writing was a way of coming back into my body, reclaiming my identity as an Indigenous woman, and reconnecting with my spirit. Art has shifted my life and brought me this sense of empowerment I knew I had buried underneath the limiting beliefs at times a sense of imposter syndrome. It opened me up to this new awareness, growth and connection to my children because I had found ways to involve them in the creative process and live life creatively in our own ways. What I am trying to say is, I believe the best gift we can give our children is our own healing and being an artist was a way of finding my own inner healer. And although the demands of life may never cease to slow down, we are worthy of a journey of peace, joy and happiness within ourselves and with our children. When we heal ourselves, we help heal our generational lineages. Our children are a direct connection to that. That is powerful. As I reminder to self as well, never lose sight of the inner child in you that loves to have fun with them, find the moments of laughter and hugs on the regular. Because it is our sahkitowin (love) that will get us through. 

Ay hiy, 

Teneil  

Teneil Whiskeyjack is the creator, playwright and performer in the upcoming play, “Ayita,” that premieres at SkirtsAfire Festival this March. Tickets are available now. Join us for “Her Night Out on March 9 where you can enjoy a delicious dinner at Chianti before the show with a special deal (reservation required) and enjoy live music by Kate Blechinger. Use code abmamasbogo for buy-one-get-one-free tickets that night, or code abmamas20 for 20% off your tickets to any other performance of Ayita. Group discounts, complimentary tickets for Indigenous folks, and festival passes also available. Limited capacity, subject to availability. Find more info here. 

Photos by Steinhauer Photography

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