TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Sakahàn at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Group of children Tlingit / Aleut artist Nicholas Galanin (top right) with some of the kids of the Sakahàn Youth Camp.

Sowing the seeds of change in programming for youth.

All of us have a story or two about a moment that was magical and breathed life into the parts of our mind that weren’t aware that we could dream so big.

Ottawa based Anishinaabe artist Melody McKiver tells of her mother, as a teenager, meeting Daphne Odjig – one of Canada’s great artists. Her father had taken her to an exhibit in Dryden, in the mid-70s. That chance encounter, although short, was powerful and pivotal in her mother’s life because she never knew that a Native woman could aspire to what Daphne had become.

If you can’t locate yourself in the faces of the makers of culture it may be impossible for you to know that the light inside of you has the potential to shine bright. Which is why programs like Sakahàn Youth are so critical. We won’t understand the full generational impact of Sakahàn on the Canadian cultural landscape  for a long time but I don’t doubt it will be pivotal for this country.

Left to Right: Some of the members of the Junior Curator Program. Children from the Summer Camp Program all at the opening night of Nigi Mikan / I Found It: Indigenous Women’s Identity at Fall Down Gallery, Ottawa. Curated by the Junior Curators.

Sakahàn – meaning “to light [a fire]” in the language of the Algonquin peoples.

Artists working outside on rock carving with machines for cutting into stone. Tlingit / Aleut artist Nicholas Galanin and assistant working outside of the National Gallery on his piece “Nature Will Reclaim You” just one of the many outdoor works.

For Melody, also a co-organizer for Niigaan Treaty Workshops, it is the first time in her lifetime she has experienced Ottawa engaging with Aboriginal artists in such a meaningful way and she is encouraged by the positive change. The exhibit also engages the people of Ottawa as it extends out into the city in many different venues and events – inside / outside, Government institutions as well as artist-run centres, university campuses, & urban powwows. The exhibit even extends beyond the city to include Decolonize Me currently on at the Art Gallery of Windsor and shows like artist Jeff Kahm at Urban Shaman, Winnipeg.

Melody goes on to say that because of  “the way that Sakahàn is set up it commands a different level of thought and introspection than other exhibits of this scale.”

And it is this insertion and inclusion into so many spaces that repeats an important motif across the Nation’s Capital – that contemporary Canada includes strong Indigenous voices.

Woman standing in front of an art work at a gallery speaking to youth sitting around her on the floor.

Photo by Patrick Doyle of the Ottawa Citizen

Métis artist and the National Gallery’s Sakahàn Educator Jaime Koebel relates this story:

LARA – “She was a young girl who had participated in the Sakahàn summer camp tours. I explained to the youth about “Āniwaniwa” and how a building that the community had a special connection to was overtaken by a flood. This flood was created by industry people in New Zealand who needed a hydro-electric dam to produce energy for the diamond mine they were putting in. She cried because I related it to losing Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health or the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and having love for a building. [The loss of that building would mean] not being able to practice your culture or traditions or have community gatherings anymore “because, what if the Ottawa River covered it all?” like the Waikato River in Hora Hora did? It was an example of how much this can affect our next generation. The very next visit, she was explaining to a new summer camp youth about Brett Graham’s “Āniwaniwa”  piece – she was confident and she wasn’t crying, she was participating and had learned a little piece of Indigenous history.”


Aniwaniwa
from Tony Clark on Vimeo.

Maori artist Brett Graham’s “Āniwaniwa”  is one of the moving installations at the National Gallery that communicates, in an aesthetically stunning way, a painful memory. I doubt that there is a single work included at Sakahàn that doesn’t touch on deep pain but with 150 pieces by over 80 Indigenous artists from 16 countries it is clear that there is a growing global movement to express and explore the best way to communicate the legacy of trauma to audiences of all backgrounds.

While visiting Ottawa from New Zealand Brett Graham had a chance to lead a workshop with the summer camp kids. With incredible experiences like this, where the youth are up-close and personal with some of the leading international artists of our time, they get the chance to have many magical moments.

The spark created by Sakahàn will give our youth the chance to go on to create a new cultural legacy for this country. It’s going to be amazing to see the artistic fruits that these children grow.

Can’t wait!

Logo for Sakahan Youth


Trailer by filmmaker Melody McKiver for Sakahàn Youth‘s Junior Curator project – Nigi Mikan / I Found It: Indigenous Women’s Identity

SAKAHAN CLOSES THIS LABOUR MONDAY, SEPT 2. DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE TO SEE THIS GROUNDBREAKING EXHIBIT!

Sakahàn’s Youth Programs through the National Gallery include:

Youth Tours
Junior Curator Program
Sakahàn Youth Ambassadors
Our Ways; Our Stories
– a lecture workshop series

As well as partnership programs with the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition:
Sakahàn Youth Summer Camps
Concentric Circles – Artists stay at 3 local reserves (Kitigan Zibi, Pikwàkanagàn, Akwesasne) for 1 week
Sakahan School Programs – this program will continue past Sakahan’s closing date of Sept 2 into the school year.

Follow  Sakahàn Youth on Facebook and twitter @Sakahan_Youth.

Also check out the CBC’s Waubgeshig Rice’s coverage of the Sakahàn Youth program
Teaching through aboriginal art camp: Children in Ottawa are learning about the First Nations culture through the Sakahàn camp”

Poster for Youth programming for Sakahan with image of a stone carving of two hands joined by a lock.