Saber series: Elk
Performer Chasya Hill
Land collaborator Lake Street, Dahkóta land
Photos by Maxwell Collyard
Antlers by Elle Thoni
"Death taught us how to be alive again
What has it taught you?"
"Perhaps resilience is as simple as being here now, and extinction flips the sign to say: 'you may look for me but you won't find me. I am gone with no others to pick up where I left off.'"
~ Chasya Hill
All I have to say is: Chasya is a badass. She walked a mile in August heat before we even began this photo shoot, meeting us at the intersection of Chicago & Lake Street in Minneapolis - about eight blocks from where George Floyd was murdered by MPD police officers. During the uprisings that followed, our beloved Lake Street, one of the most vibrant cultural corridors in the Twin Cities, raged with fires as the the people sought justice while protecting each other from out-of-state white supremacists trying to take advantage of our pain. A haunting reflection of the original tragedy, the smoke made the air hard to breathe for days.
That particular day, though, the skies were clear, contrasting sharply with the heaps of rubble that lay beneath: a row of several burnt down family businesses and yet another across the street. I was the only one of our group who had failed to wear proper shoes; I stared down glumly at my sandaled feet as the three of us - Chasya, Maxwell (our photographer) and I - stood at the edge of the destruction. Chasya didn't hesitate. Even in heels, she strode boldly into the wreckage, a portrait of resilience, leaving Maxwell to dart after her. A month later, I would see a herd of Elk move similarly in Rocky Mountain National Park, right before it too, burned.
Wait, there are Elk in Minnesota? Yes. A few. Elk herds used to roam throughout the majority of Minnesota. Unsurprisingly, overhunting led them to near extinction in this bioregion. Reintroduction efforts have been made over the decades, but they've been slow to take hold. Destruction is much faster. There are two herds of Elk that come down to Northwestern Minnesota during the fall rutting season from further North, and - also unsurprisingly - the Elk hunting season has also returned.
Seeing these deer kin is an unforgettable experience. Particularly when they're looking for a mate. Bull Elk make the most haunting call, called a bugle, to assert their power. To name their strength. To take up space. Like the call to #defundthepolice to seek justice for Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives, it cannot be ignored. Elk bugles awaken the parts of you that are always tracking the sacredness of life. If these deer kin can make a resurgence after so much violence and destruction at the hands of white settler colonialism, so can we. So can Minneapolis. So can Lake Street. If we're willing to change our conditions, to create alternatives to policing that truly keep us all safe, then we we will be that much closer to our collective liberation.
For more Minneapolis-based abolitionist resources, we recommend @mpd150, @reclaimtheblock, and @blackvisionscollective.
In honor of Chasya and Maxwell's collaboration on this Elk photo shoot, a donation was made to the First Nations Development Institute. We encourage you to follow and invest in their work!
Special thanks to Alison Heimstead and Dillon Sebastien for antler fabrication support!
"Elk" is an excerpt from the upcoming Saber, MN audio play, featuring an original score by Carlisle Evans Peck - released 12.21.20. Stream on this site for free or contribute $5 or more to download. Proceeds are spit between Saber artists and Native-led Line 3 resistance.