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Supporting Indigenous Artists: A lesson on showing care, recognition, and reconciliation

Imagine you’re sitting in an art class and you’ve worked incredibly hard on your project, only to look over and realize your friend has copied your work from top-to-bottom. As the teacher comes over, she comments on how marvelous your friend’s work is and they get all the credit for your ideas while you get no recognition.

 A large collection of Roy Henry Vickers’ books   with his captivating illustrations can be seen and borrowed   from the Meadowridge Library, including the very books   used to  inspire Mrs. Clement’s art class. 

How would you feel? Hurt? Sad? Probably confused as to why someone would do that to you.

Art teacher Mrs. Marie Clement started off her Grade 2 and 3 classes with this thought-provoking discussion question.

“Would it make you feel less sad if they said ‘sorry’?” Mrs. Clement asks the class. “No.” The class replies. “Would it make you feel less sad if they said that it was your idea and that you’re the one who inspired their artwork?” The class nods to Mrs. Clement.

“This is the reality that Indigenous artists deal with regularly. Art is central to Indigenous life and culture and plagiarism is a problem. One way to support Indigenous artists is by giving credit and recognition to them when you use their work.”

And with that, the class was introduced to their creative muse for the day – artwork by First Nations Artist and Author, Roy Henry Vickers. Mrs. Clement tells her class about the artist, his use of layers and colours, and how he incorporates nature and the Canadian environment into each of his pieces.

Hello Humpback and One Eagle Soaring, books by Vickers, make their way around the class as students study the art showcased inside. Minds filled with inspiration from Roy Henry Vickers’ talents, Grade 2 students eagerly line up for strips of vibrant construction paper, a stick of glue, and a pair of scissors, while the Grade 3s get the added challenge of only using markers for their projects. The transformation unfolds as each piece of paper and marker stroke becomes a layer across the horizon, showcasing the sun’s diverse colours. Hues of yellow, orange, and red fill their papers as they mimic sunrise. Where the horizon ends, blue water calmly blankets the rest of their canvas, as they finish off with dark silhouettes of flying birds, diving orcas, ancient trees, floating canoes, and nearby islands.

The students proudly showcase their unique reproductions to each other and to Mrs. Clement. She continues her lesson and explains the effects of colonization and residential schools on Indigenous Peoples and the imbalances and challenges that now remain. She highlights the importance of reconciliation and celebrating Indigenous culture and art because in the past it was not allowed.

“Reconciliation is about showing you care by taking action while working towards making things better. To show we care, we use our actions and not just our words. We show we care by celebrating and supporting our Indigenous artists by promoting their art, using their pieces with permission, buying their art, and recognizing and crediting their work when you are making inspired pieces like these.”