I volunteered to help lead a week-long, youth art camp this past summer (2019), at Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, which is located 40km south of Fort McMurray. We had six terrific kids, 8 Elders, 2 youth coordinators, ConocoPhillips Canada representatives, 2 videographers, and many visitors from the Nation and Band Office.
Three of us were able to head north to Fort Mac because a wonderful woman names Sandra Rexilius, who spearheaded the project and gathered funding support from the Nation and ConocoPhillips, which made it possible to pay for all the supplies and expenses of this undertaking. Sandra is a grant writer and facilitator who works on many community and economic development projects with the Nation and without her this project would never have happened. She needed some help to run it though, so she recruited a friend of hers, a grade six school teacher from Calgary, who recruited me as the lead artist, to join her.
Sandra met with the Elders ahead of time to develop a theme exploring traditional knowledge and spiritual significance of plants and animals. Consultation with Elders created solid connections to the community and because of this we were able to work collaboratively and easily with some pretty amazing people from '468'. I wasn't sure what it would be like and was pretty nervous about not messing up.
We had a pretty ambitious project to finish over only five days. We wanted to complete eight, 3x3 foot canvases as well as have each youth (ages 11-13) work on their own test canvas – to get familiar with the many painting techniques. The final paintings were hung in the newly built community centre as a public art installation for the entire Nation and its visitors to enjoy. This educational and emotional collaboration between the kids and the Elders was only supported by us through painting techniques and practices, with them leading the way on imagery, colours, language, and textures.
This was an amazing week full of new people, new ideas, artistic exploration, focus, resilience, communication, commitment, and growing trust. It was an absolute honour to work with our students and the Elders in this supportive environment and I was completely blown away by the experience. I sincerely hope to do more like it in the future.