As we walked to a quiet place to talk, three people stopped photographer Patricia Bourque—each to praise her episode of Postcards from the Island, a video series featuring PEI artists and their work, produced by the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
She was insecure about the filming but overwhelmed by the result. “I was nervous all the way to Summerside,” she recalled. There, a nine-person crew was waiting for her. “I was even crying, and I thought, what is this fear? I knew everybody on the crew…” When she arrived, she realized, “All those people were there for me—it was the most humbling experience.
“Music and photography fill my soul,” Patricia said, “and when I saw my images with my favourite music,” (she chose Tara MacLean’s song “Beneath the Path of Crows”), “I felt like I was looking at them for the first time—and they were pretty good!”
A Mi’kmaw survivor of the “sixties scoop” that saw infants stolen from Indigenous parents and adopted out to white settler families, Patricia said taking photos “was the great escape” for her. Patricia says the woman who adopted her and eventually raised her on her own “didn’t show a lot of love.” She remembers, “I had such a sheltered life, my home life was so suffocating… Any time I could, after I got my (drivers’) license… I got to explore PEI.
“I would grab my camera, not so much for taking the pictures, but for remembering the moment—the moment of seeing PEI for the first time. There’s a magical beauty here.”
The magic of seeing PEI for the first time is still what she seeks to capture today, Patricia says. “In stressful times—I am still looking for newfound dirt roads, working out problems in my own head, out driving. When I have a-ha moments, out walking and hiking—I can release all the stress and oppression and day-to-day fears. When I am out there and find euphoria, exploring that feeling, I just want to share it when I get home—I want to share the happiness I found, and maybe somebody missed.”
The photography, she says, “has been a long journey, but that path has always brought me the teachings I needed.” She attended her first powwow about 20 years ago. A few years later, she was working for Abegweit First Nation in what she calls “my office job.” She says, “When Abegweit began hosting its own mawi’omis (powwows), I got to be in the front row. Taking pictures, I got to meet all the dancers, and to learn very quickly the etiquette.”
“It was that time 15 years ago I met the community in a professional way—and most are my family, but I was still learning that. There was powwow family, and family family, and community family. I got to meet people at such deep levels,” she recalls appreciatively.
“Because what I was being taught was hands-on,” Patricia says, the focus was on “the respect that elders and dancers and drummers have. They show you how sacred it all is—from the lighting of the fire to the grand exit, is all sacred ceremony.” Photographing regalia and people wearing it, “The first teaching I received is that there is sacredness in everything, living and non-living,” including the regalia itself.
“I really hold on to those teachings—
I carry it with me when I do portraits, whether of regalia or not…
“When I do photos, I start it with ceremony. I offer tobacco. I do prayer… I am so grateful to have all these teachings.” She continues, “I need to be in my own good place. I need to make sure to respect others, my own family and my community, to bring no harm to them.”
Patricia reflects, “I think people want to know why people feel the way they feel when they see my images—and I think it is what I put into it, preparing to take the picture…”
She says, with great humility, “Love and respect, I think, are what people respond to when they see my photos.”