Tenille K. Campbell is a Dene and Métis storyteller and photographer who recently published a book, runs an online collective blog, owns a photography business, is a mother and still finds time to work towards her PhD at the University of Saskatchewan.
Campbell published her first book, a collection of poetry called #IndianLovePoems, in the spring of 2017, and it was shortlisted for two Saskatchewan Book Awards nominations in February of this year. The book features humorous stories about love and sex and is told from an Indigenous woman’s perspective, something Campbell feels is lacking in Indigenous literature.
“It’s a book about Indigenous erotica, humour, love and laughter mainly told from an Indigenous woman’s point of view for Indigenous women,” Campbell said. “The book itself is a collection of intimate stories. It was important to me once I realized how little Indigenous writers actually talk about sexuality and sensuality, especially from a woman’s point of view.”
Although her writing may stretch boundaries around intimacy for some people, that was not Campbell’s intention. She wrote the book so that Indigenous women could move past the limitations put on them regarding their own sexuality.
“I wanted something that women could connect to and laugh with. I wanted that engagement, and I wanted that barrier lifted off this discussion,” Campbell said. “I want to be able to sit with my friends around coffee shops and talk about sex without feeling scandalized or ashamed. The fact that we’re Indigenous women talking about it — we have to deal with all this colonial bullshit while expressing our sexuality.”
Campbell has received a diploma in creative writing from St. Peter’s College, a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in English from the U of S and an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Now, she is back at the U of S working towards her PhD in English, focusing on Indigenous literature.
“My thesis, in its raw form right now, is about kitchen and family stories on my home reserve, English River First Nation,” Campbell said. “I want to investigate the stories that we tell around the kitchen table on Christmas and Thanksgiving — the ones that are repeated that we know about our ancestors, as opposed to the creation stories that we always hear in the news and whatnot.”
On top of all of this, Campbell owns and runs sweetmoon photography, primarily photographing portraits, families, weddings and graduates. She focuses her photography, much like her writing, on the Indigenous experience. She also spends her time working on an online collective blog that she created with a friend.
“Myself and Joi Arcand — she is a Cree artist out of Treaty 6 Muskeg — we created this blog called tea&bannock two years ago. It’s an online collective of Indigenous women photographers — there’s now eight of us throughout Canada. It’s just about breaking down visual barriers and story barriers, telling our own stories in our own words [and] reclaiming our stories and our images.”
When she is not working on these projects, Campbell still finds the time to be a mother, and she says that she would not be able to do everything that she does without the help of her community, family and friends. While Campbell has a full life, she also has a happy one, and she hopes that her work will help to create an even better future for her daughters.
“It’s important for me to do this, because as a mother, I want these discussions already open, so when my daughters grow up, they’re not still pushing through these barriers.”
Lyndsay Afseth / Staff Writer
Photo: J.C. Balicanta Narag / Photo Editor