Indigenous artwork showcased at G7 summit

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While the recent G7 Summit of world leaders in Charlevoix may be best remembered for Donald Trump’s parting shots at Justin Trudeau, some commentators lauded its achievements in promoting gender equality and ocean protections.

Indigenous leaders hoped that the global spotlight on Canada would help reshape old stereotypes and bring important environmental and equality issues to the forefront. Regardless of its success or failure on these goals, the expensive meeting did serve to showcase the excellence of Indigenous artists and the vibrancy of First Nations cultures.

It was impossible to miss the artwork displayed throughout the hotel where the meetings took place, and at the International Media Centre in Quebec City, which 2000 journalists passed through each day. The content consisted equally of Indigenous, English and French creations, selected to represent both their nation and the event’s primary themes.

“We were extremely happy when we received the call from the organizers of the G7 media component,” said Nadine St-Louis, the Executive Director of Sacred Fire Productions, which supports Indigenous artistic development while expanding market exposure.

Sacred Fire launched the cultural and economic incubator, Ashukan, in the heart of Old Montreal following the success of the 11 Nations Exhibition five years ago. It exposed more than 30,000 visitors to the talented First Nations artists working in Quebec today.

“That’s basically how the people in charge of the G7 heard about us, asking us to help bring the works centre stage of the G7 and media room for all the leaders who were invited to join this incredible gathering,” St-Louis said. She jumped at the opportunity to put 11 artists on the world stage as ambassadors of their respective nations.

“It was a wonderful education platform for those coming from elsewhere to know that we have 11 distinct First Nations and Inuit nations in Quebec. It was absolutely beautifully set up inside the media room. You have to imagine this: the ceilings must be 45 to 55 feet high – it’s huge!”

A room full of Indigenous art preceded the food tables at the International Media Centre, and attendees were invited to take a complementary copy of The Indigenous Art Collection: Selected works 1967-2017. Indigenous ingredients inspired catering and much of the music in the dining hall consisted of contemporary Indigenous compositions.

“They had wide screens on the floor when you were walking in showing Indigenous activities and landscapes,” noted St-Louis. “These were the first images that we saw when we entered the building, so it’s putting in the forefront Indigeneity before you enter into the conversation of politics and global warming. You walk away from that little setup and go to meetings but those are the images that are left embedded in your mind, which I thought was brilliant.”

St-Louis was also impressed that journalists were offered pre-stamped postcards portraying images from the 11 First Nations being featured, enabling the artists’ work to circulate around the world. “Who knows,” she wondered, “where Tim Whiskeychan’s work is being seen right now?”

Whiskeychan is the award-winning Cree artist from Waskaganish who has worked with St-Louis for nearly a decade. His colourful depictions of the traditional Cree way of life are featured in galleries and private collections throughout the world, including a collector’s coin produced by the Royal Canadian Mint.

“I can’t say that the G7 will make me very well known, but there’s always that side of me saying I can do better,” Whiskeychan told the Nation. “I came across a lot of leaders, MPs, corporate people. I even had some photos taken of me. It was my first time at that level. It was good because it’s not just all about me, it’s also about my people.”

St-Louis believes that creating frameworks for Indigenous inclusion and economic equity in Canada’s cultural industries has a vital role in achieving social balance and reconciliation.

“I’m an advocate for building fair trade economies for our artists, making sure that our Elders are able to transfer their intergenerational knowledge to the youth so we don’t lose our practices,” she said. “The people like Timmy Whiskeychan who speak their language, who know the legends, who know the stories of the land, are essential to transmitting to that next generation of young people that are going to be the leadership of tomorrow.”

St-Louis is now working on many of the 70 or more events that Sacred Fire produces each year, including an upcoming Cree exhibition in the fall/winter of 2018-19 called NISK, and Stories from the Land, with Whiskeychan as the lead artist. She encourages members of the public and private sector to visit to support Indigenous arts.

“We can be proud of the Cree Nation and all of the artists who were there,” she concluded. “They stood proud, as they should, because they are fabulous ambassadors for their culture. I believe that artists are the gatekeepers of our past and the bridge-builders for our future. They are the backbone of healthy cultural communities.”


Photos by Dominique

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