Adrian Stimson proclaims that after living between residential schools in his childhood, art has gifted him fulfilment and happiness.
“A lot of the issues I deal with are very heavy,” says Stimson.
“They’re heartbreaking in many ways, yet I’ve lived through them, continue to live through them, and at this point in my life — I have a pretty good life. A part of that is due to art. In many ways, art saved me.”
Hosted by the University of Calgary’s Nickle Arts Musuem, Stimson’s art exhibit is a collection of works that reflect varying events of his life. During this year’s Truth and Reconciliation Day, Stimson gave a guided tour of his artworks at the university, which includes paintings, sculptures, and textiles.
Stimson says that art plays a significant role in unraveling the truth of his life experiences as a Blackfoot individual.
“Art is an excellent expression [of truth] because viewers can look at it for themselves. They can absorb and understand for themselves what that word means to them. Art also has an interesting impact on people. It’s part of our human condition throughout time. For me, it’s another way of storytelling.”
One half of Stimson’s exhibit showcases his early life in residential schools. One of these paintings represents his parents who, like him, were victims of the residential school system.
Canada’s dark history
According to Stimson, many of his experiences were similar to victims of the residential school system. This included psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.
Indeed, these traumatic experiences were experienced in Johnny Youngblood’s family, who are a part of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. His mother spent 11 years inside a residential school, and is deaf in one ear due to being constantly slapped by teachers.
“She was taken away from her family at the age of five— five years old! Can you imagine? They cut your hair, and they slap you when you speak your own language,” said Youngblood.
Paul Kuster is a journalist and teacher from Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. He said that a friend of his was forced to face the wall and kick the brick for speaking Cree, often until toes broke.
Moreover, Kuster noted that Canada is still in the early part of the ‘truth’ phase, and is nowhere near reconciliation.
“We’ve just opened the door; we haven’t even stepped out onto the front step. We just opened the door and said hello,” said Kuster.
A path to reconciliation
Beyond 94 stated, as of July 26, 2022, that 13 of the 94 calls to action have been completed by the Government of Canada. 32 of these actions are in progress, 30 have been officially proposed, and 19 have not been initiated yet.
Canada Council for the Arts to establish a strategy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects is one of the calls to action that was completed.
Stimson believes that action will be the connection that bridges truth to reconciliation, and that artistic expression will play a major roll in that.
“Art is a way to tell those stories and actively engage people. Hopefully within that, something will click and cause a transformation. It doesn’t have to change the entire world; there are little things that people can do,” said Stimson.
Therefore, creating and engaging in works of art is key to finding empathy, according to Stimson. He hopes this will encourage people to learn from Canada’s dark history.
“It doesn’t have to change the entire world; there are little things that people can do.”Adrian Stimson
Stimson is a multidisciplinary artist and beekeeper. His works are locally and internationally recognized. The British Museum purchased some of Stimson’s pieces and displayed them in the North American Indigenous collection in 2016.
The journey to reconciliation may take time, but Stimson believes that putting one’s self in someone else’s shoes is a good starting point.
“Hopefully that can be the impotence for transformation.”