Sumac writes and performs for Indigenous animated short film series How to Lose Everything

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Two-spirit Ktunaxa author, academic, and poet, Smokii Sumac (he/they) who grew up in Invermere,  was featured on CBC Gem as a part of the Indigenous animated short film series How to Lose Everything, inspired by Christa Couture’s debut memoir of the same name. 

“I was invited into this project by the creator and producer, Christa Couture,” said Sumac. “Christa and I have connected over grief stories many times, and I was very excited when she invited me. I think it speaks to Christa’s experiences and generous way of being, that this group of Indigenous creators trusted her with our stories. I don’t know that many of us would have signed on, if it wasn’t for our relationships with Christa, knowing that she would hold our stories and us as creators, with respect.”

The project, which began at the start of the pandemic, took three years to come to fruition. What began with Couture’s one animated film, quickly morphed into a five-episode series. There Are Hierarchies of Grief was the fourth episode, in which writer and performer Sumac reflects on the wisdom and strength of bereaved mothers, as he’s faced with the grief of waking up to a changed world.

“I wrote this piece on the day Trump got elected in the United States,” said Sumac. “As a two-spirit and transgender Indigenous person, I was worried about what that meant for our world. I felt deeply depressed. When I am feeling grief like that, I think of others who have experienced unimaginable losses. I think of my loved ones who lost children, and so I wrote it for them, to honour their strength, and to help me remember that we have survived so many difficult experiences. Even on the hard days, I’m inspired to survive, because of those around me who have shown me that it’s possible.”

There Are Hierarchies of Grief was published in Sumac’s 2018 book You Are Enough: love poems for the end of the world. Sumac recorded the performance of There Are Hierarchies of Grief at Just Music in Cranbrook, while the Ktunaxa version was recorded in Spokane, by Sumac’s uncle Christopher Horsethief, who also served as their language technician. The recordings were worked on by animator Meky Ottawa, in Montreal and by musician G.R. Gritt, in Sudbury, Ontario before ending up back at CBC studios. 

“It really takes a village to create animation and film work like this,” said Sumac. “I hope, first and foremost, that There Are Hierarchies of Grief reaches those mothers who need to see their grief honoured and held. I hope it reaches anyone that feels that need, and that it allows a moment to reflect, remember, and let the grief move through them.”

Sumac has been creating and inspiring the masses with his written works since grade eight. 

“I must acknowledge my creative writing teachers from David Thompson Secondary School. Kate Reston, and later Shelley Little helped spark my passion for writing,” said Sumac. “My favourite part of writing is the part where an audience gets to connect to my work. Whether that’s on social media, or through picking up my book, it’s been an incredible gift when my words reach a part of someone’s heart, and they share that connection with me.”

Sumac will continue to connect with others through the ?asqanaki podcast which centers on the Ktunaxa concept ?asqanaki: to tell two versions of the same story. This podcast will feature Indigenous writers and musicians like Sumac’s hometown hero Miesha Louie from Miesha and the Spanks. This project is generously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and will be out later this spring. Sumac was also recently accepted to the National Queer and Trans Playwriting Unit led by ZeeZee theatre in Vancouver.

“This has been an exciting change, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes my voice to write in characters and on a stage setting,” said Sumac.

For other creators out there, Sumac passes on the advice to write what you know and keep writing: “Your story matters and there is someone out there waiting to hear or read the words you write. You are enough!”