The freelance life of Jenessa Joy Klukas

Given the 24-hour global news cycle, we’re living in a time of rapid media consumption, but freelance writer Jenessa Joy Klukas is finding success by keeping her focus tight and building relationships one story at a time.

A recent Department of Writing graduate, Klukas, BFA ’21, finished the final year of her degree by interning at independent media outlet The Tyee as part of the Indigenous Reporters Program with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), followed by a short posting at the equally independent IndigiNews as an education and child-welfare reporter.

Now freelancing for a variety of outlets—including expanding her work with The Tyee and IndigiNews, but also publishing with the likes of the Watershed Sentinel—Klukas has had no trouble keeping busy. “It’s been very steady since I graduated last year, but I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with freelancing: it allows me to take on stories I’m really passionate about,” she says.

Developing a beat

Of Xaxli’p and Métis descent, Klukas grew up on the land of the Haisla Nation in Kitimat before moving to Victoria and transferring from nearby Camosun College into UVic’s Writing department, where she focused on creative nonfiction. She’s managed to develop her own beat by focusing on stories about child welfare, education and Indigenous issues, and has also maintained ties with JHR through their Indigenous Media Collaborative.

“Because of these connections, stories are finding me a lot faster than I was anticipating—specifically in terms of Indigenous stories,” she says. “I find I get a lot of outreach on those.” Case in point? Her recent Watershed Sentinel story about Tea Creek Farm—an Indigenous-led, culturally-safe, land-based Indigenous food sovereignty and trades-training initiative located near Gitwangak in Gitxsan Territory (near Hazelton). The group reached out to her for coverage.

“Agriculture isn’t something I’ve really written about before, but because it was specifically Indigenous agriculture in a specific location—northern BC, near where I grew up—they felt I was the right person to contact,” she explains.

 

Another similar story focused on cultivating kelp resurgence in W̱SÁNEĆ waters via a partnership between the SȾÁUTW̱ (Tsawout) First Nation and the Cascadia Seaweed commercial farm. And Klukas is currently researching a story about how asthma is affected by climate change, specifically looking at the impact of wildfires. “With our changing climate, we’re seeing a real uptake in wildfires and it’s having a significant impact on people’s health,” she notes. “I’ll be taking a deeper look at how ceremonial burning can have a positive effect on wildfires.”

Klukas is grateful for the support of JHR’s Indigenous Media Collaborative to develop stories like these. “It’s a funded initiative that allows journalists to take the time to invest in stories,” she says. IMC’s reporters are focused on solutions-based journalism and can pitch any media outlet as they develop their concepts into whatever shape best suits the story, be that a one-shot, longform or a series. “Since it’s funded, they help guide you through the process of getting your stories out into the world.”

Stories that matter

Given the societal changes that coincided with her degree studies—including reconciliation, COVID, the rise of recent social-justice movements and the continuing climate crisis—Klukas feels the time is right for her to tell stories that matter.

“I came into journalism at a good time to have my voice heard. In Canada, we’re at a point in history where people are more accepting about creating space for Indigenous voices—which, in the past, didn’t happen very often.”

—UVic writing grad and journalist Jenessa Joy Klukas

Klukas pauses and offers a wry laugh. “Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone is always receptive to it.”

This deepening of voices is indicative of a cultural shift that she’s proud to be part of. “I would have really valued seeing Indigenous voices in journalism when I was a teenager—that representation would have meant a lot to me—so I’m totally willing and available to write stories on Indigenous matters,” she says. “It’s incredibly valuable to have Indigenous voices in the media space, not only for the average person to hear but also for Indigenous youth.”

But Klukas does admit that there’s a fine line between representation and tokenism in mainstream media. “Indigenous people shouldn’t be delegated to write only Indigenous stories if it’s part of a beat they’re not wanting to take on. As with any journalist, I always consider if this is the right story for me—I mean, I’m happy to cover Indigenous stories, but it’s important to have boundaries.”

Boundaries are especially important for her when writing about sensitive issues, like Indigenous child welfare. “It’s a passionate topic for me, so I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about it—but it can be difficult to not feel overwhelmed,” she says. “There’s a heaviness that comes with it that can be emotionally draining. But that’s one of my favourite things about freelancing, spacing those stories out with a variety of topics: it helps me take care of my mental health.”

Another way Klukas keeps herself in balance is by having at least one creative project on the go, whether that’s “dabbling” in fiction via short stories or screenplays. “It’s important to have something for myself, just to keep flexing my creative muscles.”

While she’s still relatively new to the world of freelancing, Klukas feels she’s found her niche. “It takes a lot of initiative to be a freelancer, and it’s a constant process of learning something every day. That’s something the Writing program taught me: it’s important to pitch everywhere, send those emails in and just follow up. It can be scary—some days I feel very confident, while other days I have total impostor syndrome—but that’s very normal… writing is a very secluded endeavour, so it’s easy to fall into the ‘why am I doing this?’ mindset.”

Klukas finds success by giving her attention to one story at a time.

“I’m very proud of the work I do, and I’m really happy with the trajectory my career is taking, but I try to keep the focus on each story,” she says. “In journalism, sometimes you write for quota, sometimes you write for money… there are always going to be pieces you’ll like more than others, but I feel most successful when there’s a story I’m really proud of: building relationships is one of my favourite parts of journalism.”

This story originally appeared in the fall 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine

Orion Series presents Kade L. Twist

The Orion
Lecture Series in Fine Arts

Through the generous support of the Orion Fund in Fine Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria, is pleased to present:

Kade L. Twist

Visiting interdisciplinary artist 

7:30pm (PST) Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Room A162, Visual Arts building + streaming online

 Free & open to the public

Click here for the Zoom session 

 

Presented by UVic’s Department of Visual Arts

For more information on this lecture please email: visualarts@uvic.ca

Our first Orion Visiting Artist of 2023 is award-winning interdisciplinary artist Kade L. Twist: citizen of the Cherokee Nation, professor at LA’s Otis College of Art & Design and co-founder of the interdisciplinary Postcommodity artist collective. Working with video, sound, interactive media, text and installation environments, Twist’s art examines the unresolved tensions between market-driven systems, consumerism and American Indian cultural self-determination. 

Join us for this free talk at 7:30pm Wed Jan 11 in the Visual Arts building room A162. You can also watch the talk live via Zoom.

About Kade Twist

A US Artist Klein Fellow for Visual Arts (2015) and recipient of the Native Writers Circle First Book Award, Kade Twist has exhibited work nationally and internationally both individually and as part of Postcommodity.

Postcommodity’s work has been included in the Sydney Biennale, Whitney Biennial, Carnegie International and documenta 14, as well as numerous solo exhibitions including the Art Institute of Chicago Museum, San Francisco Art Institute, LAXArt, Scottsdale Museum of Art, Remai Modern Museum and their historic land art installation Repellent Fence at the US/Mexico border in Arizona/Sonora.

Image to the right: Postcommodity’s 2020 installation, “Let Us Pray For the Water Between Us” (Minneapolis Institue of Art, courtesy of Postcommodity & Bokley Gallery). 

 

About the Orion Fund

Established through the generous gift of an anonymous donor, the Orion Fund in Fine Arts is designed to bring distinguished visitors from other parts of Canada—and the world—to the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and to make their talents and achievements available to faculty, students, staff and the wider Greater Victoria community who might otherwise not be able to experience their work.

The Orion Fund also exists to encourage institutions outside Canada to invite regular faculty members from our Faculty of Fine Arts to be visiting  artists/scholars at their institutions; and to make it possible for Fine Arts faculty members to travel outside Canada to participate in the academic life of foreign institutions and establish connections and relationships with them in order to encourage and foster future exchanges.

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.events.uvic.ca

Fine Arts makes 2022 UVic News top 10 list — twice!

Fine Arts was excited to see the continuing research and creative activity of our faculty members make it into two separate “UVic Top 10 of 2022” lists! 

Compiled by UVic News out of the many stories released across campus throughout the year, we congratulate the efforts of professors Carey Newman and Kirstsen Sadeghi-Yekta for their outstanding work!

Photo: Jessica Sigurdson / Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Witness Blanket redux

Fine Arts professor Carey Newman — UVic’s Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices — made the University of Victoria’s “Top 10 Newsmakers” list for 2022 for the new interactive website for the Witness Blanket. A large-scale art installation which stands as a national monument recognizing the atrocities of the residential school era, the Witness Blanket was created by Newman and is permanently housed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. News about the latest thread on Newman and his collaborative project was picked up by such outlets as Global TVCTV News, Capital Daily and Saanich News.

Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta (right) with participants tsatassaya|Tracey White & suy’thlumaat|Kendra-Anne Page (One Island Media)

Language reawakening through applied theatre

The continuing efforts of Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta to facilitate Indigenous language reclamation via applied theatre techniques made UVic’s “Top 10 Partnerships of the Year” list.

In collaboration with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language and Culture Society, Hul’q’umi’num’ Language Academy and other university partners, the Phoenix Theatre’s Indigenous Theatre Festival in September 2022 brought people together for performances, discussions and workshops, using theatre as a tool for language reclamation.

Visual Arts minor now Rhodes scholar

We also salute 2022 graduate Julie Levy, who made the “Top 10 Newsmakers” list for being named the first trans woman to earn a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.  

One of 11 young Canadians—and the only one from BC—to be named Rhodes scholars, Levy is a Chemistry major and Visual Arts minor who will begin a fully-funded, two-year master’s degree at England’s Oxford University in fall 2023.  The Vancouver Sun published a Canadian Press story, which was picked up by 158 other outlets, while CBC News ran its own feature story.

Orange Shirt Day 2022

Artist Carey Newman Hayalthkin’geme (Kwakwaka’wakw/Coast Salish) on “Hearts and Hands”
UVic is committed to reconciliation. We’re working to foster truth, respect and mutual understanding with all Indigenous peoples and communities. You can partner in the work of reconciliation by listening, learning and sharing on Orange Shirt Day.

The theme of this year’s Orange Shirt Day event is resurgence. Resurgence means to reclaim, regenerate and reconnect one’s relationship with Indigenous homelands, culture and community.

Faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members are invited to attend campus Orange Shirt Day events on Thursday, September 29 in the quad. You are welcome to drop in and stay for as long as you are able.

The university will be closed and the university flags lowered on September 30 to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a federal statutory holiday to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

Schedule of events

Emcees: Dr. Jacquie Green, executive director, Office of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement, and Mercedes Neasloss

9 a.m. Lighting of the Sacred Fire

9:30 a.m. Opening remarks
With Eugene Sam and Christine Sam, Songhees Nation

  • opening blessing
  • welcome to the Territory
  • singing and drumming
  • calling of the Witnesses

9:50 a.m. Significance of the Sacred Fire with Ry Moran, associate university librarian, Reconciliation and co-chair, Orange Shirt Day committee

10:05 a.m. Survivors share their reflections
Speakers: Eddie Charlie, Karla Point, Mark Atleo and Laura Manson

11:45 – 12 p.m. Witness reflections

1 – 2 p.m. Open dialogue on resurgence

  • moderator: Dr. Heidi Stark, associate professor, Indigenous Governance and director, Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement at UVic
  • panelists: Dr. Sarah Hunt, assistant professor in Environmental Studies & Canada Research Chair; Dr. Sarah Morales, associate professor, Faculty of Law; Dr. Gina Starblanket, associate professor in School of Indigenous Governance; and Andrew Ambers, 4th year Political Science and Indigenous Studies student

2 – 2:30 p.m. Closing remarks and closing prayer

About the design

The design for the t-shirt was created by Fine Arts Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices Carey Newman Hayalthkin’geme (Kwakwaka’wakw/Coast Salish).

“This design was made to honour the children who died in residential school. The hearts express love for all those in unmarked graves and compassion for the families and communities who waited for them to be found. The small and colourful hands remind us of the uniqueness and beauty of every child. Taken together, they represent our commitment to listen to our hearts and use our hands, to do the work that needs to be done,” says Newman.

“The visceral confirmation of Survivor accounts that has come from locating these graves has affected many of us on an emotional level. It has changed the way that many people think and feel about our histories and current realities in Canada.”

If you would like to support Orange Shirt Day initiatives, please consider making a $25 donation directly to the Elders Engagement Fund, Witness Blanket Project or Orange Shirt Society.

 

Indigenous Theatre Festival focuses on language reawakening  

The cast performing Jealous Moon(Credit: One Island Media)

As Indigenous Elders pass, how can younger generations best learn and increase their fluency with traditional languages? Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta believes applied theatre techniques can be an important part of the language-learning equation, and this month’s Indigenous Theatre Festival Reawakening Language on Stage offers a glimpse into how performance can powerfully augment classroom education.

Running at the Phoenix Theatre from September 16-18 in collaboration with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language and Culture Society (HLCS), Hul’q’umi’num’ Language Academy and other university partners, the festival offers a weekend of performances, workshops and discussions aimed at exchanging research-based knowledge on the best practices for using theatre as a tool for this essential project.

“Language revitalization is the most important thing,” says Hul’q’umi’num’ speaker and Cowichan Tribes member Tara I. Morris, a PhD candidate in theatre and linguistics who is working with Sadeghi-Yekta on the festival. “We’re fighting for our language—we don’t accept it to be extinct—so we’re organizing and preserving and revitalizing with the younger generation. This festival offers a beautiful way to create space and help keep the language going . . . people need to know how hard we’re working.”

Sedeghi-Yekta (right) rehearses with community participants tsatassaya | Tracey White and suy’thlumaat | Kendra-Anne Page (Credit: One Island Media)

 

A different way of learning

Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta has been engaged with this project since 2015 and her work has been supported by a number of SSHRC grants, including a new three-year Partnership Development Grant with UVic linguistics professor Sonya Bird as co-lead. “[This festival] is about inspiring other communities who are struggling to maintain their languages,” she explains. “We’re hoping to offer a spark for people to see that it’s possible to learn traditional languages through alternative ways—it doesn’t only have to be in classrooms.”

Sadeghi-Yekta was originally invited to participate by HLCS language specialist Joan Brown (now executive director of the Snuneymuxw First Nations) and SFU linguist Donna Gerdts, who were looking to find new ways to revitalize the Hul’q’umi’num’ language—which was traditionally spoken across a wide geographical area, ranging from now-Washington State and the Fraser Valley to the Gulf Islands and south-east Vancouver Island.

“Joan thought using theatre was a fantastic idea,” recalls Sadeghi-Yekta, a multi-lingual applied theatre practitioner whose international experience working with different cultures was ideally suited to this project. Given that performance has always been an integral part of Indigenous communities, theatre seemed an ideal fit for this project. “There was a steep learning curve on both sides to understand each other—both cultural protocols and the language of applied theatre—but the beauty of live theatre is you always start with your body, so we began by finding ways for participants to move past the discomfort of performing.”

Combining theatre techniques with community storytelling

Currently working with about 60 participants, Sadeghi-Yekta combines theatre-based techniques with community-inspired storytelling to help participants increase their fluency, focusing on nourishing a sense of excitement in speaking and performing only in Hul’q’umi’num’ . . . so festival audiences shouldn’t expect any subtitles.

“The whole point of the festival is that we want to celebrate Indigenous languages without translation,” she notes. “If we provide subtitles, the concentration towards Hul’q’umi’num’ could easily be gone. It’s a very complex language to learn.”

PhD candidate Morris—now co-director of the featured play Jealous Moon—has been involved with the project since 2019 in a variety of roles. “It’s been interesting being a student, learning the Hul’q’umi’num’ vocabulary for the play, acting it out and now helping teach and direct it,” she says.

Ironically, Morris’ grandmother—the late Theresa Thorne—helped create the Hul’q’umi’num’ dictionary and actually worked with SFU’s Gerdts years ago. “It’s such an honour to now be involved at this level,” she says.

kwustunaat rehearsing the role of Owl in Jealous Moon (Credit: One Island Media)

Engaging younger generations

Sadeghi-Yekta estimates there were over 50 fluent Hul’q’umi’num’ speakers when she began this project—a number that has now sadly dwindled to less than 30 over the COVID years.

“Our Elders are passing so quickly that we’re trying to make sure we find ways to expedite the process and engage the younger generations,” she says. “The great thing about this project is that it inspires specifically younger participants to commit to the learning of the language—and to feel confident in speaking it—which is where it all starts.”

Given that the festival has been twice-delayed due to COVID, she is excited to finally bring Reawakening Language on Stage to campus. In addition to the performances and workshops, the festival will also include important life lessons about persisting, building confidence, overcoming adversity and helping others. Expect heartfelt messages of sorrow and reconciliation, loss and hope, and the realization that Indigenous languages are not just an object of study but a means of artistic expression—with the ultimate hope of galvanizing a new generation of Indigenous performers.

A full weekend of performances

As well as a September 16 full-cast performance of the original play Jealous Moon—written by Hul’q’umi’num’ community member Chris Alphonse—festival participants include Dene director and playwright Deneh’Cho Thompson (USask), Education Leadership master’s candidate Yvonne Wallace of the Lil’wat Nation (UBC), indigenous/Xwulmuxw studies professor Laura Cranmer (VIU), indigenous education, Victoria’s Visible Bodies Collective, plus theatre PhD Lindsay Katsitsakatste Delaronde (UVic) and Fine Arts Indigenous Resurgence Coordinator Karla Point.

“Participants always tell me that they’ve learned to play again through applied theatre, that it’s one of the few times they can laugh again without focusing on other worries, ” says Sadeghi-Yekta. “They say that it’s brought the community more together as well—and that’s a huge compliment for the art.”

Awinakola: Tree of Life public discussion

How can art help develop strategies to heal the planet, heal the people and change culture? Find out at this free public talk by the Awinakola: Tree of Life Research Group from 3-4:30pm Sat Sept 10 in room A162 of UVic’s Visual Arts building.

This community presentation & discussion is in conjunction with the exhibition Still Standing: Ancient Forest Futures, running to Sept 17 at UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery downtown.

Join exhibit artists including MFA alum Rande Cook, Visual Arts professors Paul Walde & Kelly Richardson plus forest researcher Suzanne Simard (author of Finding the Mother Tree) & Ernest Alfred, Hereditary Chief of Tlowit’sis First Nation, elected leader of the ‘Namgis First Nation and leader of the Swanson Occupation. This discussion will be moderated by Still Standing exhibit curator Jessie Demers.

Awinakola: Tree of Life is a research group comprised of Indigenous knowledge keepers, scientists and and artists brought together by Makwala – Rande Cook, an artist and Hereditary Chief of the Ma’amtagila First Nation. By sharing cross-disciplinary research practices, the group seeks to develop strategies to heal the planet, heal the people, and change culture—starting with regeneration and preservation of threatened forest ecosystems in Kwakwaka’wakw territory through the confluence of Indigenous knowledge, scientific research, and the arts.