My Vision Quest series had been going well until someone commented about me not being of First Nations descent. I tried to brush the comment off, but something got under my skin. Then I started hearing other negative comments. People were quietly questioning if I was guilty of cultural appropriation for painting these images, which made me question myself. A long dry spell resulted.
The last thing I wanted to do was insult the people I was trying to celebrate through my paintings. I talked and listened to some other non-native artists who were representing First Nations people in their art. They all seemed to have a relationship with a native person. Some said I needed to seek approval to do my work, so I set off to do this, not having a clue how to actually do it.
I spoke to one artist who said I needed to consult with an elder. So I sent emails and tried to make phone calls to find out how to get in touch with an elder. Those efforts all lead nowhere. Calls and emails went unanswered. Finally I talked to another artist who volunteers with our historic park, which hosts an annual pow wow. I figured he might know of someone I could talk with to find out how to find an elder.
The name he gave me lead to a person who worked at a local friendship centre, but she’d quit the day before I called. However I explained my situation and they gave me the number for another organization in town. Finally success. I was able to make the arrangements to meet with an elder.
I was so nervous of how my work would be received. I went in to their resource centre before meeting with the elder and was able to show my work to a small group of First Nations people and the centres employees. The work was so well received. I can’t even say what a relief it was.
The meeting with the elder went as expected. I had already known in my heart the answers that I was seeking. I have been given a gift and a voice. It is my story I am telling – my impressions and thoughts of First Nations people and their culture. They can not give me permission to do my work, because it is mine and they have no right to say if I can or can’t do it.
There are certain protocols which could raise concerns, such as if I were to call it Native Art, which I have never done; or if I were to copy existing work, or paint on sacred items such as drums or teepees, or represent myself as being of aboriginal descent.
I was told that those who question me are doing so out of their own insecurities or jealousy. I need to ignore them and not let them get into my head. And finally I was told how to honour and talk to the spirits so that my visions keep coming to me.
Since that time the images coming to me have been overwhelming. It is like the floodgates have been opened. I can’t paint quickly enough to keep up with the visions and ideas. And I am full of gratitude for both the gift and support I have been given. The spirits have given me, and others who have a similar calling, this gift. It is not up to me to question the reasons behind it, but to follow and honour it to the best of my abilities.