Interview with Seven Visions Elder, Gayle Pruden

What is your name and pronouns?

I like introducing myself with my spirit name which is Dancing Bear and my clan is Black Bear. My name is Gayle Pruden, I am transgender, and I prefer to be called she.

What does 2spirit mean to you?

I don’t know why we all need to be under labels, we should be who we want to be regardless of gender, this is why we’re here, to be yourself, not to be labeled. But 2spirit for the Anishinaabe people is another word for being gay or whatever the other way there is to describe our being. You walk with the 2spirits of a woman and a man on two sides of you and it’s up to you what life you want to live.

What is your role on Seven Visions?

Well first of all I was shocked when I got invited, they invited me to sit on as their knowledge-keeper. I am 56 now, I am not saying I know everything, but I know enough to share. What I understood was that they went to these youth centres to collect data to find out what the children/youth know about reconciliation and effects of residential schools.

They named it Songide’ewin which in translation means strong heart, which is what was needed to put all this information together. So, when I got there, I sat in a sharing circle with the youth and I was blown away by how knowledgeable they were. The youth are so brilliant, they are great big shining stars who are ready to burst. In my era, we were never able to talk to elders or adults, we were always chased away and told to be quiet because it’s impolite but to see these children be so comfortable and speak from the heart, it’s great to hear them and work with them.

I sat there, I got my beadwork, and got my hair done just to show that we are beautiful people, we have a beautiful culture and we can dress well. They really liked what they saw when I walked in because I wore my ribbon skirt and I was just myself; I think they were very comfortable around that. Hearing what they had to say (about reconciliation) was so mind-blowing to me because I don’t know the effects of residential schools and it was a learning process to me to hear their stories to hear what they thought and what they knew about residential schools. So that is how I became involved and with this play.

Also, I speak my language (Ojibwe) fluently which I’m really fortune and very proud. It was the only language we spoke in my household, it was so hard for me to speak the English language but it has to be spoken in order to live in this world, but I prefer Ojibwe language always but (laughs) what can we do right? I do have a lot of friends who are fluent so it’s like I practice my language every other day and them too loved hearing me speak my language. I said Creator gave us a beautiful gift of language and this tongue was given to us to use, same with our other languages in our nations, it’s a powerful tool to have language, I speak it as often as I can.

Back to the play, they gave me a script to read, I read it, but I always speak from the heart so I got the idea of what they wanted me to say and every time I would speak it in a different way. Speaking the (Ojibwe) language, some of the youth said that they felt what I said, even if they didn’t understand, because it’s such a beautiful language. I loved it so much, I speak the language, hold my feather proudly and speak on their behalf to Creator and pray (which I usually do). I really had a great time being with them and meeting other people. There is so much to learn within our people.

Can you tell me more about jingle dancing?

I’ve been dancing jingle for close to 20 years now. I’m a 2spirit jingle dress dancer, and a lot of the women didn’t know (that I was 2spirit) until they saw my video on YouTube CBC 2spirit dancer. When they found out that I’m 2spirit in a jingle dress, it was so positive, some of them came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know but you’re my sister and I still love dancing with you”.

I am from central Manitoba, this was where I was raised, but a lot of my teachings come from Lake of the Woods in Ontario because I have so many Elders whom I look up to and I get all my teachings from them. The Jingle Dress came from White Fish Bay and that’s where I get the teachings on the Jingle Dress, which is a very important healing tool that creator has gifted us. The dress itself is a healing tool.

It started off where a medicine man was very concerned of his sick dying little girl and he asked creator what he could do and he had a dream about this dress and four women dancing by and he told his wife about his dream and his wife got community members together to make this dress. When the dress was done, he was showing which way to dance. They picked up their little girl, where she was laying sick, and took her to a ceremony and brought these four women and the jingle dress and he told them about his dream of how he plans to save his daughter. So, they went to the ceremony, gathered around the sacred fire, the women in came in dancing as the girl laid there, I guess you could say in her death bed, as the jingle dress came by, she opened her eyes and she could see.

There are different stories around the jingle on the dress and what the jingle’s sound like. All I know is it invites the grandmother and grandfather spirits and all kinds of spirits and that’s where the healing starts. Some people say it’s the sound of water, but for myself, it sounds like great big eagle wings. If you ever listen to a lot of jingle dresses, you’ll hear the sound and that is when the healing starts.

So, the first round the sick little girl opened her eyes, the second round the women went by and she got up and started looking at them and you could see the healing taking place. The fourth round she got up and started dancing with them and this is what healed her and brought her full life back. In the jingle dance, when you go to a Pow Wow, you’ll see the jingle dress be requested to come in and to heal whomever needs to heal. Normally it’s for the community or mother earth, or someone who is sick, or even yourself. Because this is our communication with Creator asking for the healing and this is when ancestors come in to take care of what they need to care of. So, this is a really important dress.

Seven Visions is a Forum Theatre piece about reconciliation – what does reconciliation mean to you?

Reconciliation is getting the world back together. For myself, I have different pain as a youth and it’s going to stay there regardless of what counseling there is or how many times you talk about it. Because it’s so instilled in your heart there’s no way you’re going to heal but you can live the best you can for the time that you have. This is what I’ve been learning from when I hear these stories (from the youth), they are so outrageous and so evil for anyone to go through what they’ve been through. With reconciliation it’s really being brought out into the open and people need to help one another and it’s going great, and the work that is being done out there, you can see it, but there needs to be more. Just keep at it.

What is your hope for Indigenous youth for the future?

Oh my god, what a good question! I love the youth so much! We need to support them, the best we can, as much as we can. Regardless of the drugs that are out there killing our youth, but there are good youth who can speak, and we need to idolize these youth and give them the strength to continue their good walk that they’ve been through so far. Encourage them, be there for them, they are our future. The youth is going to be speaking for us, on our behalf, and also, they will be the ones leading us and taking care of us and so now is the time we need to give them full support and guide them to the best we can and let go of your own past and let them make one for themselves regardless how bad or good it is just be there as support.

I hear about a lot of Elders who don’t listen, that is one of the most important things for an Elder to learn is to listen, right to the bitter end, doesn’t matter how awful the stories of whatever this child is talking about. Sit and listen. We don’t have all the answers, if someone comes up to me and talks to me about knowledge, I tell them I don’t have the answers but I’m here to listen and I’m here to guide you in how you can get your answer. It’s really important to sit and listen, especially with what our youth have to say because they’re so brilliant and so beautiful and I just love being around the youth and I know they like being around me because I like to joke (laughs) sure life is serious but I don’t take it too serious you need to have you need to laugh once in a while, let go of your ego, on this earth we are all equal in Creators eyes, regardless how much money you have or how beautiful you are, in Creators eye’s that means nothing we’re all equal and the youth needs to know that. They are so important. 

 Seven Visions Digital School Tour runs from November to the end of January 2021. For more information or to book a performance contact info@sarasvati.ca or call 204-306-5303. To learn more about the process and the larger creation story check out an overview on our website.