This blog post has been a long time coming! I’ve been looking forward to working with Anchored Warriors for months now. I first heard of them a number of years ago and their mission struck close to my heart. Their main focus is to work with Aboriginal youth to help them reach their full potential, as they put it:
Anchored Warriors longs to see Aboriginal youth rise up to become strong leaders who are equipped to build, mentor, and disciple youth in their own communities.
This is a very grassroots, “hands on approach” organization. Relationship building takes time and commitment and this group’s focus is meeting these youth where they are at, on the reserve or in the city. They are a part of a number of events each year: youth nights, Native Youth Conference, and leadership retreats. They also focus on having one on one moments just hanging out and being present for these kids. Their reach extends throughout Native communities in British Colombia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The organization (and this painting) really started with one promising youth whose life ended too soon. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon story on reserves. When he died, it was a huge wake-up call that that these kids who have big dreams and could use a little help to build momentum and realize their full potential. The crux of this piece is about moving forward and the ones ahead are trail blazers who make the path for those behind a little clearer and easier to navigate. This painting reflects the diversity within the Native community running the gamut from jingle dresses to contemporary jeans and hoodies – these youth have a foot in both worlds.
In this picture, everyone is a learner and a teacher - everyone is equal. This is reflected in the curved landscape (an implied circle that we are only seeing a part of), all these youth of varying ages are on a journey together. In some ways this picture celebrates the youth stepping into their future but there is a definite sad undertone in acknowledging that some of these kids left far too soon. I kept thinking about the final book by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia series, The Last Battle:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
This circle is also about time, seasons and eternity. This piece, Trail Blazers, is about moving forward, a link between the past and future.
I thought about this painting a LOT before committing to the preliminary sketch. The timing of this piece was very interesting to me on a personal note. My grandfather was Ojibway (originating on the border of Michigan/Sault Ste. Marie Ontario area). My father and his brothers were born at a time where having Native blood was not considered an asset in the Anglo Saxon environment they were raised in. There was a very real threat (especially to my father’s older brothers) of being sent to a residential school. Our family has been watching the tide turn with great interest as the Truth and Reconciliation process unfolds in Canada. It is a relief to see our heritage is not only legitimized, but celebrated. In the meantime, our family have lost these connections due in part to society as well as our ancestors crossing what is now the Canada/US border. Without being tied to a band, we have not been eligible to receive Native Status nor have we had the opportunity to soak up culture and customs of our blood line.
Most of my work has deep personal symbolism buried within the subject and structure of the piece. I don’t always share those motifs out loud. I also like to borrow heavily from the Western canon of art to express symbolic ideas because, through my schooling, it is the language I am most fluent in. As I approached this piece, I wanted to be very, very respectful of the different bands represented within Anchored Warriors. I want to say upfront that while this is definitely an Aboriginal story, I wanted to be very careful to not take a “one size fits all” approach to a culture that I was not steeped in. So while there are definitely First Nations ideas and symbols being shown here, I stayed mostly on the surface by depicting cultural and environmental images and incorporating some Western symbolism that allows me to express my meaning better. This is a European - Native hybrid, kind of like me.
This painting was an absolute awakening for me: I’ve been playing around with twisting representational landscapes and mixing in a little surreal dreamlike storytelling for a while and it is really growing on me. This series of paintings for Encompass Partnerships has been like a playground of creativity as I collaborate with new partners each month. I feel my work growing and stretching by the day, and I felt emotional more than once during the process of developing this painting. Being able to tap into and express my heritage was a huge blessing. My hope in the future is to find some collaborators in the Native community that can give me some guidance on this path, this is definitely an area where I’d like to become more involved and build relationships.