Started in 2018, the Indigenous Artist Spotlight series is intended to foster greater awareness and understanding of the strength and diversity of Indigenous art available in Ontario and beyond. Find all of our past Spotlight interviews here. This month, we spoke with actor and storyteller Cherish Violet Blood.
Actor, storyteller, and activist, Cherish Violet Blood is a proud Blackfoot woman whom hails from the Kainai Nation, or Blood Tribe Reserve #148 in Treaty 7 territory located in southern Alberta. Currently residing in Toronto, Ontario, Cherish is a professionally trained and well recognized performing artist with active followings in the national Indigenous and international theatre communities. As a natural comedian Cherish has hosted many album release parties for artists such as Iskwe, LAL, and Fiver, as well as for community events and numerous fundraisers.
Listen to the interview here!
Transcription of the Interview:
Kiera: Hi, everyone. My name is Kiera. My pronouns are she/her and I’m the Communications Coordinator at Ontario Presents. I’m a white woman with long brown hair and I’m currently wearing a white knit sweater. For this month’s Indigenous Artists Spotlight I am joined today by the incredibly talented actress and storyteller Cherish Violet Blood. Before I begin the interview, I just want to remind everyone that captions are available for this interview and you can find the transcript of this interview on our website link in the description box below. Cherish, welcome and thank you so much for joining us today for our Indigenous Artist Spotlight.
Cherish Violet Blood: Thanks for having me.
Kiera: We’re so happy to have you join us. So to start us off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
Cherish Violet Blood: Well, that’s really… depends on where I decided where I started. Back in kindergarten [laughs] um basically no it’s not even a lie. Like my mother, my mother is a writer and an actress and she’s the reason I even kind of got into performance. I started out at the age of like, around 12 years old doing standup. And then around, I don’t know 19 or something like that I got really, really bad stage fright, where it’s when you start doing performance and then you’re not really given the tools to start to figure out how you feel is important in the work that you’re doing. And if it doesn’t feel right, then maybe you should be trying to figure out how to maneuver those feelings. So I went to theater school, but yeah, I was doing a lot of different plays, like through community. My mom would do community arts. So I have a younger brother and two younger sisters. I’m the eldest and my mom would write plays about our trickster Napi, the Blackfoot trickster, and we would basically do her plays and I played the narrator. So that’s how I started out doing performance and then just watching my mom like my whole life growing up. I’ve basically been raised by artists, which is really fortunate because when you’re growing up on the reserve, there’s not a lot of that.
Yeah, and so now my work it’s, I do a lot like if it’s my own work I do a lot of storytelling, but it’s comedic storytelling, but it’s truthful. So it’s storytelling that’s gonna bring you on like, it’s gonna bring you on like an emotional ride because I feel like if something is going to be really dark, well, usually it’s dark because I’m an Indigenous woman. There’s dark parts. But in order for it to pull people out and not leave them there, then there has to be the comedic thing and I just happened to be funny. So, and I think that’s all part of like, just native people are some of the most funniest people I can know. And you know, because it’s like the darkest things, we can find the funny. So throughout my life I’ve done that and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of different people throughout my career. I was with Spiderwoman for a while and I got to work with them. I’ve worked with like several different people. Tara Beagan has written, Deer Woman, a lot of the plays that I’ve done, which is funny because people will come to my place thinking that they’re going to be funny, and then I have to tell them no. It’s not that show.
But yeah, I just do the work that is basically, not given to me, but brought to me. And so it’s like I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to say no, and do the projects and work with people that I want to and so that I don’t ever feel like I’m forced to do something that I really don’t want to do. Like there’s certain kinds of work that are just not for me. Like I’m not going to be like Native wife number one standing by like some, you know, Viking husband or anything like that, because I got one of those scripts before. But yeah, it’s like I like storytelling that means something and that’s going to make my nieces think and think for themselves.
Kiera: Yeah, that’s excellent. I think that’s a very great journey. It’s so nice when you can like start very young and really feel that sort of uplifting from your community around you.
Cherish Violet Blood: Yeah, it’s a total learning process because for a long time, like and I think it’s just it might be just like my age group or whatever, but we were not really given the option to be able to say no, a lot of the time like we especially like within our training like we’re trained that it’s like “Yes, let’s” “Yes, let’s”, always say yes, you know, be able to do what they ask of you and it’s just like after a while, it starts to feel abusive and weird. And then you start to not like yourself. So then just being fortunate enough to have the opportunities to be able to create my own work and to understand that my voice is valid. And to be able to tell stories that I find interesting and talk about the things that I find interesting is yeah, it’s a gift, it’s fortunate.
Kiera: Yeah, totally. Well, I would love to ask you about a recent project you did, the film Scarborough, for which you were awarded the Canadian Screen Award for Best Supporting Actress. Congratulations. I know it was in 2022 but still.
Cherish Violet Blood: No still, I’ll still take it. In COVID, it was one of these things. This is how I went through the award ceremony. It was like really like…
Kiera: Well, could you tell us a bit about your process and developing your character Marie and your experience working on that film?
Cherish Violet Blood: Yeah, that was um, that film had so many struggles, and not because of the company or the people that I was working with because they were all amazing. Every single person that was working on that film’s awesome. And everyone was like giving, giving, giving, right? So it was like it was gonna happen. It just, you didn’t know when. So when Catherine, the writer Catherine Hernandez had approached me and said, well, had asked if I would audition for the part of Marie because she had told me that when she was writing it, and possibly because we’ve like we’ve known each other throughout like, since I’ve moved here. I moved here probably I want to say about 17/18 years ago now. That’s how long I’ve been in Toronto. So basically when I was 17 [laughs] Just kidding. No. And so she approached me and told me that she had this project and so I went to the library and I got the book Scarborough and I read it and I was like, wow, this is pretty like hardcore. It can be a hard read but I don’t know, it’s most of the things like I had already said before, like, these are the characters that I get. And I found Marie to be like, a really powerful character in the fact that she- the things she does for her family. Where it didn’t make her, in the end she didn’t become like some kind of like victimized Native woman where there’s like, everyone’s like, Oh, poor Marie. It’s like she actually like goes through all the motions and then accepts help when that’s like really hard because usually um and in like social cases like that it’s like not a lot of Indigenous women will accept help from like, government agencies and teachers because our kids are like the highest group of children that are apprehended. So it’s like just in the story itself, I was like okay, and so in doing the character itself and reading it, I looked at women that I admire, like so my mother, my aunts and different women that I’ve worked with because I worked a lot in the community and I see a lot of women and their struggles and their fights to just do the best that they can for their families. And so I’ve seen a lot of that, in developing Marie yeah.
Kiera: Yeah, that’s great. That’s very excellent. Um, you mentioned your work with Tara Beagan earlier, but I would love to hear about your experience with Deer Woman. Some of our audience probably won’t have had the opportunity to see that piece. So I would love for you to tell us a bit about the work and your experience with that.
Cherish Violet Blood: Oh, yeah, that’s wow, that’s a big one. That’s like a… yeah. There’s so much, there’s so much in that, um, I guess I was working, I got asked to do a reading at Alberta Theatre Projects, I think it was, and it was for another play that Tara had written called Honor Beat. And so I went to the reading and I did that reading but during that reading, she said that she was working on something else and she wanted me, she wanted to know if I wanted to like read it, take a look at it and read it. So basically her, she was, Tara said that her and her partner Andy were on a road trip. And she was writing this play called Deer Woman. I don’t know if she knew the title or whatever at the moment, but she was writing it and then she got to a certain part like we all do, like where it’s like, how am I going to finish it or how do I start it? You know, like if you already have, sometimes you just have, there are certain parts you’ll either have the end or you’ll have the beginning or you’ll have like the middle but there’s a part that’s missing. And you don’t know how you’re gonna get there, right? So she read the, she read what she had. She read the play to her partner. And then Andy I had worked with for years like me and Andy are like, when I first moved to Toronto, he had a company and he hired me to work with him during my, when I was in theater school here. So he went and told her he knows who could possibly- who could play Lila, and that’s the name of the character Lila, and she was like who and he’s like Cherish Violet Blood and she’s like right and then so she said she was able to finish the play after she had like an idea on who might be the person playing Lila, right? And so the journey began.
Yeah, so we went and we did a reading. We did a reading first at Weesageechak and that’s the festival at Native Earth here in Toronto. It’s a festival of new works. We did a reading there and it was the first time that I’d ever read or performed a play where at the end no one did anything. It was like that, like no one clapped. No one like- it was so quiet at the end of the play. Like I just kind of like retreated back to the dressing rooms because I think it was such that the play is written in a way where I think everyone was more shocked at the fact at the power of this woman where she’s not the victim in the play. So it was a weird thing for people to wrap their heads around, you know? There are very tragic moments in it. It is like it can be a hard watch for people, it can be triggering, but at the same time the empowerment and the way that it makes certain people… everyone gets a different feeling from the play itself, right?
And so we did that reading and then we went to New Zealand and we did it there at the KIA MAU Festival at BATS. And that was awesome. Like, I think it’s just… it’s one of those plays where it depends on who I’m performing it for what the reaction is going to be. Because we did do it in Edinburgh. Which was really ridiculous because I was doing Deer Woman at 2pm every afternoon in Edinburgh, Scotland or Edinburgh however they say it. And there’s, but it’s like the audience’s there are they’re like older white theatregoers, right? So, it’s like they’d be in there but also it’s like my show’s at two o’clock and it’s a really heavy show. And if you can’t handle that kind of thing, especially after your lunch, don’t come to my show, just kidding. Because there’d be people sometimes like old men like falling asleep in the front row and like, dude you got some issues.
Kiera: I was going to ask you- that was my following question about how the different audiences sort of felt and experienced or understood the work bringing it like outside of Canada.
Cherish Violet Blood: Yeah, that’s like, so right after Edinburgh we went to Melbourne like right after like, as soon as we’re done Edinburgh like two days or the next day later, we headed out and we went right to Melbourne. And just to hear Indigenous people laughing and getting the jokes because there’s humor in it. She’s quite- it’s funny. There’s funny parts and there’s like trickster, little bit of trickster parts in her because she’s one of those characters… She’s a great character, I love her. But yeah, just hearing the difference in audiences. I feel like when I was doing it in Edinburgh, although I love the play, I love the work. And I love who I was working with. It was still a struggle to the point where it’s just like, oh my god, I’m just talking to like, I feel like an empty room. When the reason that I love theater in the first place is because of the energy transfer, right? And like that, what is it called? Instant gratification? Because it’s like film, like you could do a film and then you forget that you even did the film because you did all this other work in between and then you’re like, oh, yeah, the film.
Kiera: Mhm, right.
Cherish Violet Blood: But yeah, so then we did that. And then we went to Australia. We also did it at, before that we did it- we performed it at Sydney Fest. And then we went to Edinburgh. I think that’s how it went. And then we went to Melbourne, so we’ve been to Australia several times. And then we were supposed to go to Columbia which I was like “Woohoo, I’ve never been there.” And then COVID hit. And at the same time is that, that’s the same time that Catherine was trying to get me to read for Marie. And so I was finally able to be back in the same city. So I read for her and then all of that stuff happened. So all of these projects kind of went like on like a hiatus, right? And so then Andy and Tara, their company Article 1, they wanted to make it into theater that people can view online because you know, everyone was doing like the whole zoom thing and all that kind of stuff. Which is- I don’t like it. It’s really- it’s so different. It’s not difficult. It is difficult. It’s difficult in a way that it’s like, it’s not the same. It’s not the same thing that you’re used to like the art form where you’re transferring energy and that’s why you’re doing it and it’s like and that’s the thing that carries you through the hard parts right? So yeah, when we went to like those different places and when I perform it for indigenous people, because like, if you really look at it like hello colonization, we have a very shared experience like worldly. So it’s like they just understood it. So it was just it was almost not easier, but more enjoyable for me if that makes sense. Like not enjoyable to the point of like what the play is about, but enjoyable for me to understand that they understand what I’m talking about.
Kiera: More rewarding almost.
Cherish Violet Blood: Yeah. And I don’t have to explain myself after. Like, that is the worst.
Kiera: Yeah, absolutely. I can imagine. Okay, well, thank you so much for sharing those thoughts. Is there any work that you are currently working on that you’d like to share that myself and our audience can look out for?
Cherish Violet Blood: Um, I did just what? There’s a film right now and it’s in festival circulation. I did a short film directed by John Elliott. And it’s called Little Deer. It’s in- they have it in like, I don’t even want to say what the language is because I’ll probably say it wrong. But I guess Mohawk, would be in Mohawk. But there’s six nations over there so I don’t know maybe it’s one of the other ones. But anyways the title is in that and I still haven’t been taught how to say it, but it’s called Little Deer and it’s about these young girls who are at The Mush Hole, and that’s the residential school that is located in Brantford, outside of Brantford, which is basically supposed to be Six Nations anyways, but anyways. So they leave. They take off from that school and like the middle of winter, these two girls, and they cross the Grand River. And I play the mother of one of the girls who meets them on the other side of the river after they’ve crossed. So it’s a short film. It’s really- it’s a beautiful little film. I’m really proud of it. I really enjoyed working with the people that I worked with on that and that’s the thing that’s what makes the work matter and worthwhile. When you’re working with people that you really want to. You know? And it’s not like you’re like, oh god here we go again, like you know, I gotta go do this. I also did a film directed by Kaniehtiio Horn called Seeds. I’m not sure when that release date is. I’m pretty sure it’s like within this next year sometime. We filmed it before- we filmed it like in the fall? No, I don’t know. Things mush together, especially after COVID. And just working on my own projects. I’m doing a show in New York. In May, I’m returning to stand up comedy slowly. Yeah, it’s one of those fears where you just gotta like all right, I’ll do it again. See what happens.
Kiera: Well, that all sounds very exciting. Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and participate in our artists spotlight for this month. You can find Cherish’s social media channels in the description box below and at the bottom of the transcription for this video. Thank you so much for watching this video and we look forward to seeing you at our next Indigenous Artist Spotlight.
Keep Up with Cherish Violet Blood