Celebration of Self is a collection of artwork made by Indigenous youth of the Indigenous Youth Residency, each artist portraying how they celebrate themselves and practice self-care despite living in a colonial world. We believe it’s important to embrace identity and to humanize and validate our existence as Indigenous people of Turtle Island. With the current pandemic causing our lives to change drastically, the purpose of this exhibition is to highlight each artist’s self-expression and strength during a period of self-isolation, navigating new avenues to stay connected, and finding new ways to practice self-care. By transitioning from an in-person residency, to utilizing the accessibility of video conference calls, we’ve been able to continue the Indigenous Youth Residency Program digitally and safely.
This online Indigenous-led exhibition is an opportunity for us to address the ongoing effects that colonialism, physical displacement, and erasure has on Indigenous Youth in Northwestern Ontario, particularly in Thunder Bay. Amongst the systemic racism, veiled racism and microaggressions in Thunder Bay, Indigenous Youth are left to navigate colonial institutions such as child welfare systems, a faulty justice system, and an education system that disregards and silences them. Some work to heal themselves and take the time to connect with their roots in their family, culture, and language in order to thrive. Each journey is different and worthy of celebrating. The exhibition is intended to provide an accessible safe space to discuss settler colonialism in an Indigenous context and uplift Indigenous voices, as we are often subjected to predominantly white-led initiatives and panels.
As we began the program we all met at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery twice a week, but as news of COVID-19 and the closure of non-essential programs and businesses, we were in a limbo… where do we go from here? When creating this exhibition, post-lockdown, we asked ourselves, how can we stay connected? How can we integrate our teachings in a modern, digital context in a meaningful way? How do we care for and learn from each other?
Celebration of Self is a culmination of the answers we needed.
Loving oneself is a process, one of healing and transition, which is why we chose to integrate the teachings we have about the Medicine Wheel. As Ojibwe, Cree, and Oji-Cree Indigenous creators, the Medicine Wheel holds many teachings and knowledge we commonly share as a group. As we know, yellow is the colour of the Eastern section of the Medicine Wheel. The teachings of the East of the Medicine Wheel are symbolic of childhood, spring, renewal & spirit. Surely, childhood was not easy, it is where some of us birthed our first memories of pain, loss, and confusion. Despite the hardships we continue to share with our grandmothers and grandfathers, our spirits have remained resilient enough to carry us here today. We utilize this space to honour and celebrate our young indigenous brilliance through artistic expression.
Yellow, also represents the sunrise in the East; a new day ahead of us that brings new beginnings. Celebration through caring and loving oneself is a radical act, caring for one’s body, spirit, and connections to others is an act of healing and resilience.
We think it’s incredibly important to be able to embrace what makes Indigenous Youth in Thunder Bay who they are. With the constant reminders of how white settlers in Thunder Bay see us in the media, in the comment sections, polls, (and even entire Facebook pages!) it is almost entirely impossible to escape the constant scrutiny and racism we face, even in our own homes.
With Celebration of self, we make room for ourselves, our art, and community by creating new connections with each other, and the irreplaceable knowledge each and every one of us, Indigenous peoples have are held sacred and should be celebrated.