Being Skidoo (video still)
by Jeneen Frei Njootli
Women & Performance
Screen Share: Access and Collaboration in the Video Archive
Commissioned writing for the Women & Performance Journal's Fall 2020 Mixer. This piece of writing is a video description and recording of Jeneen Frei Njootli's Being Skidoo, a film originally curated by Tania Willard/commissioned by Partners in Art LandMarks2017.
About Being Skidoo
Filmed in Vuntut Gwitchin, Being Skidoo honors Northern community modes of transportation, the importance of the ski-dog, and the ski-doo as Indigenous technology. Intimately connected to Jeneen Frei Njootli’s home community of Old Crow in the Yukon Territories, Njootli’s creation process included working in relation with community members, cultural consultants, and family members. After researching traditional Gwitc3hin sled-dog blankets in archives and museum collections, Njootli and community members designed blankets adapted for the ski-doo, the technological ancestor of the ski-dog. These blankets were then gifted to elders and community members. Njootli’s experimental film traces the motion of sewing across fabric and landscape, emphasizing a deep history of practice-based, reciprocal connection with land that challenges romantic and extravist settler-colonial logics.
Jeneen Frei Njootli is a 2SQ Vuntut Gwitchin artist working in performance, sound, textiles, images, collaboration, workshops and feral scholarship. They are now living in the ancestral, unceded territories of the Musquean, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples and teaching at UBC. A co-creator of the ReMatriate Collective, they are invested in Indigenous sovereignty, decolonization and are concerned with the production, dissemination and embodiment of images. If you are interested in learning more about Jeneen’s work, please check out their book, auntie bought all her skidoos with bead money, available through the Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver) bookstore.
Video Description Written & Voiced by Kristen Kelso
Recording & Mixing by Eshé Hues
Video Description Transcript:
Jeneen Frei Njootli
On a rectangular piece of caribou hide,
Long, tan, soft and
Textured like snow laying softly upon the earth
A hand writes deliberately:
M, a, d, e
We are swept up into an aerial view of the spruces
Cross-stitching our way above the trees
The shadows of the spruces intersect with the skidoo tracks,
with the tracks of wildlife left in the snow,
ephemeral marks laid bare,
infinitely intertwining, dancing with one another.
We are brought in close
The trees are immediate, urgent, and trembling
In the first blush of light
Moccasins stand atop a bed of faded green spruce needles.
We are brought in closer, taken on a journey of many colors,
Red and blue ribbon connected to
Pink, green and blue tassels
And even closer,
the blue and green woven tassels descend like tiny tornadoes,
their strands woven tightly together
and still, soft. Blurry.
Into focus, a tiny golden bell.
A sewing machine in motion and then,
The bell is taken on its own journey,
Stitched atop a thick layer of fabric,
Strong, tattooed hands guide the way,
Outside, a black pot filled with snow sits on a tree stump – the wood steams.
A fire burns
Another set of hands, a father’s hands, sharpen the hunting knife,
And the tattooed hands return to untie the thin, yellow nylon rope
From the tree – they release the red gas cans.
The skidoo sits in the snow, steaming in preparation.
Back and forth we are taken inside and outside,
Outside the skidoo, ridden by two people, glides through the snow
We only see its shadow,
Inside the sewing machine continues in motion,
Up and down, switching speeds,
The needle punctures the fabric
The skidoo engine trembles in the snow
Both technologies pulsate, both rumble forth with abandon.
Pulled in close, we see the steam from the skidoo rise
Over the snow-crusted blanket
The tassels vibrate over the skidoo’s rumbling body, the bells might jingle
The tassels tremble in the wind
The artist ties the blanket around the front of the skidoo
The blanket, we finally see, is black
With beaded flowers decorating the front -
A rose, two purple crocuses, and small white flowers
Flanked by two sets of antlers -
Which will face the wind directly when the skidoo barrels forth
On the caribou hide, the hand continues to write,
“b,y O,l,d C,r” where it will eventually read,
“Made by Old Crow Community ”
And we’re in motion. The wind whips, the snow skips through the air, the sun glints off white ground,
on this bumpy road, the skidoo drives unrelentingly up the mountain and then,
The skidoo rider waves
The blanket proudly adorns the skidoo as it glides through the snow
Offering protection and warmth in the frigid Yukon
The snow blurs our vision; the film shifts in and out of focus, unsteady,
and still beautifully in control
as we continue up the mountain,
looking back at the rider and then,
the skidoo glides to a stop.
We are above the trees, again being taken back and forth, looking down at Vuntut Gwitchin territory heading toward Crow flats,
Stitching our way through the spruces,
Tracing the tracks below,
Until the ephemeral marks disappear and all we see is snow.
We end with the blanket, up close in the woven technology of the fabric,
a blur of colors.