It all started as a social media project.
Little did Paul Seesequasis know it would eventually lead to a book deal and a visual exhibition.
Five years ago, around the time Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 Calls to Action, Seesequasis, whose mother is a residential school survivor, wanted to create a visual record of a positive look at Indigenous life.
Seesequasis started going through photos in archives, libraries and museums, collecting photos from the 1920s through the ’70s.
Historical photos of everyday life in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.
Shortly after sharing them on Twitter and Facebook, people started commenting and recognizing family members and friends.
“It was tremendously rewarding,” says Seesequasis, a Cree writer based in Saskatoon.
“What began to happen was a narrative – an oral narrative – even though it’s on Facebook or Twitter,” says Seesequasis.
“It’s not just the naming, but people began to share the stories behind that photo. What was happening in the community at that time.”
The idea gradually evolved and caught the eye of a book publisher.
Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun: Portraits of Everyday Life in Eight Indigenous Communities was released in 2019.
Seesequasis made an effort to search out photos taken by Indigenous photographers or photographers who showed an element of ease with the subjects.
Many of the photographers and those in the pictures have since passed on, although Seesequasis was able to conduct interviews with some of them just before they died.
“It was a privilege to talk with and get to know that person and share their stories,” says Seesequasis.
A unique option on Seesequasis’ website allows you to purchase a copy of his book for a prisoner.
“The percentage of Indigenous men, women and youth in institutions is so out of proportion with our percentage of the population,” says Seesequasis.
“I wanted to do something that at least gives something back to people in prisons. So, I set up this thing where people can purchase ‘Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun’ and have it sent to people who are currently incarcerated.
“It provides them, I hope, with not just an educational read but a book and a read that gives them hope and gives them comfort.”
Seesequasis, like so many other artists, has seen exhibitions and events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has meant a financial hit but he knows there are others who are in tougher situations.
“Being an artist for 99.9 percent of us is a precarious existence to begin with so once you cut off that flow of income that you have, it really is a shock,” says Seesequasis.
“What I am encouraged by is the way artists, and Indigenous artists are coming together online through performances, through shared readings, on social media.”
Seesequasis believes the most important thing right now is not to despair and to keep finding ways to be creative until the pandemic passes and life gets back to some form of normalcy.
He is currently working on a new book that is once again based on images.