Interspecies Communication

Cheryl L'Hirondelle on her work Nipawiwin Akikodjiwan: Pimizi ohci

Cheryl L'Hirondelle presents the process and ideas behind her new work Nipawiwin Akikodjiwan: Pimizi ohci, shown for the first time as part of our Entanglements exhibition. The work is a immersive AV installation about (and with) the eels and their challenges in the context of our local hydroelectric dam on the Ottawa River. L'Hirondelle discusses how her relationship with the falls evolved as she discovered the existence of eel ladders designed to help the endangered animals on their journey through the river.

As part of our exhibition project, Entanglements, we invited Cheryl to visit the Artengine Studio to provide insight on this brand new work.


This is Part 1 where Cheryl presents the core ideas of her work. In Part 2, Artengine’s Artistic Director, Ryan Stec, have a more in depth conversation about her work, the context of the show, her communication with the eels and the challenges of working in the climate crisis.


Nipawiwin Akikodjiwan: Pimizi ohci is a multi-channel audio video installation about eels, hydroelectric power and the Chaudiere falls or PipeBowl falls. The work involves placing you within the context of the falls as they stand now and consider the near planetary journey of the eels as they gather from across the globe to reproduce in the Great Sargasso Sea.


When we initially invited Cheryl to produce a work for the Entanglements show, she was drawn to the area around Victoria Island partially because of its particular significance to both local and international Indigenous people. She was thinking about Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and the Idle No More movement, but as she began to hear more about the falls and the infrastructure around it she was drawn to another idea.


An eel ladder built into the dam facility on Chaudiere Island is meant to assist the endangered American eel to find its way back up river after its journey to reproduce out in the sea. This notion of a ladder for eels lead L’Hirondelle into a process of creation situating the plight of the eel through her own research and collaboration with an inter-species communicator.


Listen to the talk to here more of L’Hirondelle’s creation process and her collaboration with the eels.


More information


Check out Cheryl’s artist site


Read about the eel and the Sargasso Sea here.


Find out more about The Ottawa River Keepers


Learn more about Idle No More


More about Cheryl L’Hirondelle


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.



Eels have been discussed for thousands and thousands of years, the Egyptians thought that eels actually were created in the mud of the Nile, and Pliny the elder thought that the skin as it rubbed across the rocks is what created new eels … and Aristotle would ponder about how did eels know how to go back to their place of origin, knowing that they all mate in one place and they all go back to their place of origin. So it’s been something for thousands of years that people have been sort of wondering about these eels.

And the eels I asked them, I said, do you want me to say pimisi, which is the Anishaabemowin word for eel? And very cleverly, they said why don't you look and see how many human languages have a word for us.

Some excerpts

On the word for eels

[The eels said even look at] languages within languages.


…I’m working on a PhD and I’m looking at actually small sound shapes like morphines and phon names in two languages and in relationship to land. And so I thought it was very interesting that they said languages within languages.


And I went, oh, okay. They’re speaking to me.


So I did some initial research, not exhaustive by any means, but I found 140 different languages that have unique words for eel. And so the soundscape that’s in the exhibition is by Nick Schofield, and he contributed, or I commissioned him to create the sound design. And it was really wonderful.


When you go into the gallery, you’ll hear some of the sounds actually almost sound like they’re underwater, and some of the sounds are more present in the room, and I have to say that I was really delighted that all of the indigenous languages that are part of the sound design, they’re actually old people speaking as opposed to all of the other languages [that are made with] AI… so it’s artificial intelligence that has produced the sound. So, so there’s an interesting interplay going on there.

On interspecies communication

I had written a song where I actually, and this is part of my practice as a singer songwriter, is to listen to nature and I listen to birds. I listen to trees hitting other tree branches. And from that, I can intuit. Start to hear melodies, phrases, rhythms, and I compose songs that way.


And so I had composed a song where I was listening to birds, and I was also listening to plants because I had read Robin Wall’s book, operating Sweetgrass. And in the book she says, the plants have their own stories and they have their own songs.


And for me, that was, you know … I was kind of gobsmack when I read that.


So I was singing at this interspecies communication symposium was quite an amazing moment for me. It was online, but there was this incredible feeling like all the people that were attending were all these interspecies communicators, and it was this amazing kind of attunement.


Like you could just feel everyone was listening to every, everything, and then they were listening to what couldn’t be heard as well, you know, they were listening to everything.

Game + Community Design

Dames Making Games (DMG) founder Izzie Colpitts-Campbell speaks with us about her art and design practice and how her role as a community organizer influenced her contributions to the DEL. In this conversation we discuss her new DMG project Damage Labs, similarities between game design and community organizing, and how artist solidarity can be provoked digitally.