My father and his siblings were all stripped of their language from a young age. It was during the time of residential school placement that many indigenous children, like my father, were separated from their families and forced to assimilate into Eurocentric ideals. The inspiration for my painting “Keeper of the Voice“ originated in the summer while I was privileged with the opportunity to meet with elders and survivors from across Canada to hear their testimonies of their experiences at residential schools. One thing they all stressed was the impact that losing their language had on them. After hearing their tragedies it inspired me to respond with an attempt to bring awareness to the assimilation of both culture and heritage.
Language is the epicenter of any culture; it gives the ability to pass down knowledge from generation to generation. A strong example would be the Indigenous cultures in Canada. Without our native languages it becomes a challenge to connect with ourselves and create a positive Indigenous identity. It is strongly believed amongst the elders and knowledge keepers that the Creator speaks to us in our mother tongue and without the ability to understand it, we lose our connection to the spirits. The embodiment of aboriginal culture is our connection to the earth and the spirits; without that bond we lose who we are.
In an attempt to deviate from the perpetuating visual tropes found within aboriginal art, while simultaneously maintaining my own artistic style, I chose a more subtle symbolism for my piece. Painting is what has allowed me to express the urgency I feel is needed to revive and restore our disappearing languages. By combining both painting and drawing media it gave me an opportunity to represent an often overlooked issue within our heritage.
With this painting I am challenging the institutional racism and ill effects colonialism has had on the people of my heritage. I hope to bring a voice to those who are no longer able to speak. I want my piece to inspire and motivate people to preserve and bring our languages back to life. Histories and legends are all passed down through tales and this is the beginning of my story.