Words Within Words

In conversation with Cheryl L'Hirondelle (who was in conversation with eels)

This is part two of Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s visit to the Artengine Studio. You can watch Part 1, an artist talk on her work Nipawiwin Akikodjiwan: Pimizi ohci, here.


In our conversation, we follow up on a number of interesting threads from her artist talk. We discuss the reality and challenges of making work in the time of climate crisis as we hope that we have laid out enough pathways for people to follow toward change, but that she never really knows what be the tipping point for work of this nature but dialogue, of the type we have recorded here, is essential to sharing the stories and ideas driving the work.


We dig deeper on the concept of interspecies communication and the role her Cree worldview plays here. We discuss the act of listening as being tuned to the energies of various things, and this is an essential part of communication. In this conversation, L’Hirondelle discusses her PhD research on language and the concept of ‘sound shapes’ and their connection to the land and earth.


This conversation was followed by an excellent Q&A. We are currently working on an edited transcript of the entire conversation. Please get in touch if you are interested in the larger document.

The project page for the Entanglements Exhibition can be found on our website here.


Part 1, the artist talk on her project, can be found here.


Read a bit more about Cheryl’s research here.


Download Cheryl’s chapter, Codetalkers Recounting Signals of Survival, in the excellent book Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art 





Cheryl L’Hirondelle (Cree/Halfbreed; German/Polish)​ is an interdisciplinary, community-engaged artist, a singer/songwriter and a critical thinker whose family roots are from Papaschase First Nation, amiskwaciy wâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta) and Kikino Metis Settlement, Alberta. Her work critically investigates and articulates a dynamism of nêhiyawin (Cree worldview) in contemporary time-place with a practice that incorporates Indigenous language(s), audio, video, virtual reality, the olfactory, music and audience/user participation to create immersive environments towards ‘radical inclusion.’


As a songwriter, L’Hirondelle’s focus is on both sharing nêhiyawêwin (Cree language) and Indigenous and contemporary song-forms and personal narrative songwriting as methodologies toward survivance. She has exhibited and performed widely, both nationally and internationally.


L’Hirondelle is the recipient of two imagineNATIVE New Media Awards (2005, 2006), and two Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards (2006, 2007) and most recently a Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts (. She holds a master’s degree in Design from OCAD University’s Inclusive Design program (2015) and is a member of the University’s Indigenous Education Council. She is currently completing a practice-based PhD with SMARTlab/University College Dublin, Ireland. Cheryl is also the CEO of Miyoh Music Inc., an Indigenous niche music publishing company and record label.

They're asking us to consider them. They did say, not verbatim in the communication, but essentially the sentiment was that... and this is kind of a mic drop... they said, 'If we go, you go'.

Being Implicated


In the talk you used the word implicated and you said it again there.


We’ve been struggling to find different ways to say entanglement, and I think that’s one that actually does turn it up even a little bit more. It’s a little less passive in thinking that it’s just a matter of us being woven together, but suggests that we are implicated in the safety or the future of each other…we are implicated in both harm and good. There’s quite a lot in thinking about how you are implicated in these things.


I wonder if we could talk a bit more about the idea that you’ve discussed in your artist statement. I think you touched a bit on it here in terms of a Cree worldview and how that shapes this piece or maybe also your practice.


So as I mentioned during the talk when the eels, very rightly said ‘Words within words’… we know that even these small sound shapes are indicative of other understandings of how we’re all related. And there’s a good word in Cree that means being tied together… And it sort of helps us to understand that we’re all tied together and we’re tied together to through for a good life, for a healthy good life… and what are we tied together to [or] how, and with …  mother earth… So that’s a basic pre understanding, that there’s this intrinsic interrelationship between us. And if we don’t recognize that we’re actually all tied together, it doesn’t matter that there’s no word in my language for eel.


You know, it doesn’t matter that there’s no word in my language for a bug that lives in the Amazon rainforest.

We all are intrinsically tied together.

I know that there’s some issues with a notion of sort of a natural order in some philosophies around the world, but from within a Cree worldview, that’s kind of a really tenuous balance that needs to be really maintained. And that’s why in northern Saskatchewan, where I live now, those ceremonies still happen because it’s that recognition that there’s things that we need to kind of do seasonally and annually because they’re part of helping the earth to keep turning.

In the same way that in a contemporary city protest is important and speaking up and understanding that our voices on mass have the ability to make change. You know?

So these are all things that are implicit in that sort of dynamism, you know?

So that would be from a Cree worldview, that notion of interrelatedness.



Could you go a little further onto, let’s say, the opposite side of this act of speaking and communicating, and talk about listening. Can you talk a little bit more about listening as it relates to language for you.


Well, I think there’s an attunement component, and that’s what I experienced with the interspecies communicators, is that they were very attuned to, to everything.

That it was more than just the words, and it was more than the sound shapes. It was also how they reverberated against the walls and how they sort of impacted the body and how they made us feel, you know?

So I think that’s an important part.


You know  we could very easily become attuned to sounds and then go make work about it, but then you have to ask, how is it making change in the world?

Or how is it contributing to regaining that balance, you know?

So I think that’s kind of a responsibility then. It’s not the ability to listen in and of itself.

It’s the ability to listen and then make that be some sort of meaningful contribution that makes that balance less tenuous.