Heart to Spirit to Hand
Since I was a child, I have drawn from my imagination and from the world. Like breathing itself, perhaps, I would cover whatever spare paper I could find with images and visual stories. Heart to spirit to hand, this just came naturally to me. The drawings were how I would see the world around me, a way of speaking to that world, and slowly over subsequent years, a way of speaking about it.
A chance encounter with writer Tomson Highway, while working in Cochrane—where he admired some of my paintings that I hung on my office wall—brought me back to Toronto, where I took on a position with the Ontario Native Council On Justice, addressing the needs of First Nations inmates in and out of Ontario prisons and jails. The work, after being specifically approved for the position by the Native Sons group at the Guelph Correctional Centre (formerly known as the Ontario Reformatory), involved doing research and interviewing First Nations inmates and former inmates throughout Ontario, in detention centres and prisons, in district jails, community resource centres, and even at a logging camp out in the bush. The project was part of what is still an ongoing process of addressing the destructive relationship between First Nations communities and the criminal justice system.
This work began to sharpen my sense of purpose as a First Nations woman, residential school survivor and, slowly, as an artist. I began working with established artists, developing and refining my skills and my vision, always with a clear sense that whatever the work I was doing, it was about building a healing community for my peoples and all the communities they belong to.
In March of 1980, I had my very first solo exhibition at The Thompson Gallery in Toronto (now closed). Since then I have exhibited across Canada and the United States. My work is visionary in its embrace of resilience and cooperation, and demonstrates a deep commitment to the spirit and history of my people and of all peoples.
But it has not been art alone that has sustained me and guided my work. Art has been a tool for a broader and deeper engagement with the issues most pressing for all of us.