About Brittany Andrew, the photographer behind the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and 2 Spirit People photo project

Back in May, Brittany Andrew and I had a “conversation.” United by a desire to know each other better and to share her work and advocacy for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and 2-Spirit People, while facing the realities of life as working moms through COVID, I sent her questions, and she answered them in voice memos, when she could glean moments of free time to “chat.” It felt so deliciously conversational. *Almost* as good as real life.

I was inspired to connect because I’d been following her instagram account and I loved the way her portraits actually reflected my community, the place where I live. All kinds of families. All kinds of people celebrating love. Indigenous people. Settler folk. Mixed race.

When the Winds of Change began its work, with a small gathering of community members, back in the spring of 2003, long before I was involved at all, the people who came to the table together, in what I think could fairly be called an overtly racist time-and-place with pretty defined divisions between postal codes, they looked for where we can find common ground – between Pemberton and Mount Currie, throughout St’at’imc territory, across the SLRD. I am living so many years downstream of their work, I think it’s easy to underestimate the significance of their effort, but I think of them now as weavers, weaving together a living bridge… I need to go re-read the entire report, but for this moment, this is the galvanizing statement that I love, and that Brittany’s photos remind me of: We are all doing our best to find safety, to be well, and to provide that for our children and our families. Sometimes, our ways are maladaptive, sometimes they’re trauma-responses, sometimes they mean we hurt others to get our needs met. But if we peel away the surface stuff, I think we come down to this fundamental truth. We are wired for connection. We want to feel that we belong. We need to feel safe in order to be well.

“We are neighbours, friends and relatives working together to reduce the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on our communities. We respect our differences and find strength in the common goal of a healthy and safe environment for our children and families.”

On May 5, she posted this:

Yesterday, we shared some of the images Brittany created to acknowledge May 5.

Today, meet the photographer behind it.

This has been edited for brevity.

First, can you help us situate you, in the community… Who are you? Where do you live, where do you come from, where are your grandmothers from, what strengths and gifts do you carry from the women in your lineage?

My name is Brittany Andrew. My maiden name is Brittany Boulanger. I married Joey Andrew in 2017. We have been together since 2015. We live on Seymour Road in Mount Currie. We have two kids, Peyton is three and Callun is two. I was originally from Windsor, Ontario, the most southern part of Ontario. I moved up here in 2014 and I briefly lived in Pemberton before I got with Joey and since then I’ve lived in Mount Currie. I was born and raised in Ontario. 

I have family that live in southern Ontario and my dad’s side of the family live in northern Ontario, so we spent every summer with my dad’s side of the family. Some of them lived in the bush and some lived in a very small town called Mattawa, smaller than Pemberton. It’s kind of like Mount Currie, where everybody is somehow related to everybody because it’s such a small town. Our family is well-known in that town because my great grandma started a chip stand, right in downtown Mattawa and it’s been in our family now for 76 years. Every summer, I’d always hear people comment how much I look like my grandma. I grew up with that. At 12, thanks, I look so much like my grandma!

My mom is the best mom you could imagine. If I could be one ounce like my mom, I would be amazing. She’s definitely someone I look up to, and wish I could raise my kids with the amount of patience and love and attention and caring she gave us. She was the best mom. She still is the best mom. Every time I call her, no matter what she’s doing, if she is in line at the grocery store, she will pick up her phone. Doesn’t matter. She will pick up her phone. And I literally call her everyday, too. So she picks it up every day. 

Tell us about this shoot.

It was a way for me to be creative, do a photo shoot that wasn’t the norm, and talk about something and bring awareness to something that was close to my heart.

So it started off as a small idea. And then that spark got a little bigger when I got immediate responses and actually had to turn people away, which gave me a little bit of confidence, okay, people want to do this. And when the girls were offering suggestions and excited and involved, that made the spark a little bit bigger. And then when we got there, the girls putting the paint on themselves, the spark was a little bigger, these visions coming to life. 

When we started taking the photos, the girls knew exactly what to do without me telling them.  As a photographer, people get in front of the camera and they don’t know how to act, you’re constantly directing them. But these girls just got in front of the camera and they knew what to do, and they had the emotions in their face, so I didn’t have to direct them. 

Afterwards, going through the photos and editing them, I saw that the things I was imagining in my head happened exactly how I wanted it to happen. I got every photo I’d planned in my head and more, so that made my fire ignite a little bit, and then sharing them with everyone, and everyone liking them, and the fact that people who weren’t even the girls, their families were sharing them an talking about them and bringing awareness to it, and even I was walking to the grocery store one day and someone was like, hey I really liked your photos! I was like, wow, that is my fire just raging. 

We did bring awareness. People were talking about it. People saw them. It started as something small and got big. And I hope it continues to get big and grows, because it really does mean a lot. I think it means not only a lot to me and the girls, but also to the community, because these girls are part of that community. 

What was the vibe of this shoot? What was the process of marking each other with the red hand like? My experience of being a girl among girlfriends and marking myself up, was getting ready to go out together, all leaning over each other to get at the mirror, trading mascara and lipstick and borrowing clothes. It was a lovely relaxed safe intimacy. This memory comes up for me, when I see the girls in your photos – and it contrasts so starkly with the image of being pulled away from your pack/community/support to be violated and killed and disappeared… 

We all had a meeting place, under the bridge. I brought red paint. They realized quickly the best way to do it was paint the paint on their hand, instead of sticking their whole hand in the paint. They were all giggly and looking in the mirror and in the windows of my truck to fill in the handprint, with a little paintbraush. And asking each other, “does mine look good?”

And then we all walked up to the road, and people would drive by. We were joking, “what do they think we’re doing?” But then at the same time, I think it was empowering, and made them feel proud of themselves. 

And it was empowering for me, because of the community’s reaction, because I felt like I did something to bring awareness.

They were nervous. Any time anyone gets in front of a camera, they’re nervous. But they knew what they had to do. I didn’t have to tell them, “this is a serious thing, you’re not going to smile.” 

Apart from showing the viewer something about these women, what are you hoping these girls will see in themselves? (I find that one of the powerful things about family portraits or professional portraits is that you’re gifted the opportunity of seeing yourself differently, seeing yourself as way more put together than you normally feel… 

I think the girls volunteered before they even knew what we were doing. So I’m hoping they were a little bit empowered by this. A lot of people are nervous and self conscious in front of the camera and then they see the photos after and they are in love with them. It’s different to see yourself through someone else’s lens. I know they love them because they all shared them and told me that they loved them.

I think they were all for it. When I told them about the project and what I wanted to do, they didn’t back out. I hope they got a little bit of power back. I hope they took pride in who they are and where they come from and their ancestry, and I hope that they got a little bit… I don’t know if power is the right word, but got a little umph to stand up, stand up for other people, stand up for other indigenous women. I hope they got a little bit of that motivation to do that. I hope they felt that they looked strong in these photos. I hope they felt that, because I feel like everyone else felt that. I hope they felt how strong they, and how strongly they conveyed themselves. I hope these photos made their moms and their grandmas proud of them, because I know sometimes getting the younger generation to go to powwows or be interested in anything cultural can be difficult. So I hope this not only brought pride to them, but pride to their families as well, to see them standing up and see them taking part in this.

What intention is behind this project? What do you hope it might achieve? 

The intention of the project was to bring awareness in a different way – something that’s not just a computer made poster with some black and white picture of a native girl on it. It was to bring awareness and use real people, so it is more real. And what do I hope it might achieve? One: I hope it brings awareness and it gets people talking, and maybe the government steps up and starts actually paying attention to these cases of MMIW and give them some attention and help solve them, help stop them.

I want everyone to see these photos. The more people who see it, the better. 

I’d like them to show up everywhere. Newspaper, news, facebook, anywhere, wherever. 

I hope they awaken enough emotion that people feel obliged to do something or say something or look into it, research it, talk about it. I hope they just get emotional about it for real. And I hope it awakens some anger, maybe, for some people. Anger that this is happening and nothing is being done about it. Or anger that it’s happening and the police aren’t investigating it as much as they would any other missing cases. 

I hope a lot of things… 

Follow her on instagram, show her some love, book her for a shoot, and stand with Indigenous women. 🙂

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