APTN Skindigenous Mini-Documentary Series

As part of APTN’s season 2 series called Skindigenous, I was invited to participate in a mini documentary about art therapy in First Nations communities.

In our conversation, we explored the role of multigenerational trauma and the impact of cultural restoration in community health. There was focus on identity exploration and the power art-making lends to its creator to deconstruct and reconstruction what it means to be Indigenous.

Youth Reconciliation Mural

Between November 30th and December 1st, I facilitated a 12 hour mural weekend workshop to help a group of youth envision and create an image to reflect their conversation about decolonization.

Beginning with an open studio art-hive approach, the group was invited to visually and symbolically explore their experience of privilege, decolonization and reconciliation. As a collective, we co-created a unified image that reflected each voice within the process. Through this project, it was evident how the creative process can support individuals to process challenging social, political and person content as well as build a sense of community.

Thank you CRE Youth Reconciliation Initiative, Press Start, Concordia’s office of community engagement and the Montreal Indigenous Community NETWORK for inviting me to build a creative community with these young change-makers. This mural can be seen at Batiment 7.

Decolonizing Consent

On September 24th 2019, I was invited to facilitate an arts-based workshop on decolonizing consent; reclaiming land and body for McGill University’s consent compaign. With support from the First People’s house and McGill’s response, education and support for sexual assault initive, this evening was made possible. Through an immersive experience,  participants were invited to create art and dialogue about environmental justice, multigenerational trauma and indigenous ways of knowing.

We, as a community, may not have change the system, extraction industries and commercialism, but we have changed the ways we have come to understand our connections between the land and body.

The Art of Art Therapists

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Between now and the end of September, an exhibition is being held at the La Ruche D’Art Art Hive. The Art Hive is a community art studio where individuals and groups are invited to freely create with the materials available, free of cost. This studio increases accessibility to community building, creativity and mental health support through the visual arts.

The current exhibition features both art therapists and art facilitators as they explore their own identity as professionals in the field. The artworks I have included in this exhibition are for sale. If interested, please contact me via my contact page to set up an e-transfer or visit the exhibition.

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Cellblock Mural

In July, the elders and I organized a mural project for ten Indigenous male inmates as part of their group work towards holistic and culturally safe healing at a federal prison. Together, from drawing the concept to its final realization, we spent two weeks co-creating a wall mural that extended throughout their cell block.

It was a moment of positive social exchange and teamwork as well as a moment of self-reflection and building cultural identity. It was access to cultural safety, identity and self-expression; it was trauma work.

There was both laughter and seriousness as we spent time in candid conversation, casually painting. There were moments of focus, contemplation and the delight of mixing colours. There was pride and courage to try something new as well as unconditional support when self doubt spoke too loud. There was joy and there was gratitude. Overtime, the wall began to transform into a change of seasons that blended each of their traditional territories, mirroring their own growth as people.

On the surface, what we created during those two weeks was a large colouring painting but what we really did was make social change

 

Mural for Champlain College’s Indigenous Awareness Week

In March 2019, the following artwork was commissioned as part of Champlain College’s (QC) Indigenous Awareness Week. The goal was to create an image that reflected on traditional knowledge, colonization and trauma as well as the multigenerational resilience of Indigenous people.

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“Multigenerational Resilience” (2019). Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte. Acrylic on un-stretched canvas

Taking a Mohawk First Nation’s approach, the painting was constructed through narrative, contained in the symbol of a wampum and spread across a 3ft by 8ft canvas. The two-row wampum, to provide some background to this symbol, was a historic treaty agreement between the First Nations people and the Crown that stated that each nation was of its own way of life, living side by side.

The imagery within this symbol was meant to timeline the role of colonization and its impact on Indigenous wellness, including how genocide, missing and murdered Indigenous women, legislative violence and Residential schooling led to multigenerational trauma as well as outstanding socio-economic marginalization. The  wampum symbol within the current societal context thus reflects the social commentary on the poor state of ‘nation-to-nation’ dialogue with Indigenous communities. The mural also acts to reflect the multigenerational wisdom and resilience of Indigenous people through the ways communities have adapted to cultural safety and that ways nations stand in solidarity against injustice to land, body and culture.

This mural now permanently resides at the Champlain College in Quebec as a conversation piece among its students. Reconciliation begins with dialogue.

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Mural displayed at Champlain College.

39th Canadian Art Therapy Association Conference

“Mending what is broken between us” was the title of the 39th Canadian Art Therapy Association Conference held at Concordia University this past October, where over 250 art therapists and allies from across Canada attended to share their knowledge and practice within the field, from research on certain intervention strategies to the ways the profession is carried through different populations.

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Pop-up art hive at Concordia university. Photo by: Caroline Campeau

Art therapy, in a nutshell, is a form of expressive therapy that combines psychological knowledge with art media knowledge to tailor services for individuals to work through their challenges in visual and often non-verbal means. As many of us may know, talking about what makes us afraid or hurt can be difficult and art can often be a way of expressing what cannot be said. The creative process, in this manner, is a place to deconstruct and reconstruct the self or an experience on both a psychological level and through the materials themselves in often surprising symbolic ways.

The role of the art therapist is to guide these individuals through their internal and creative processes using their extensive knowledge of psychological development, disorders, cognitive and affective functioning as well as a grounded knowing in how to use art media to reach psychological goals. Art therapy as a practice is thus as diverse as the colors on a pallet in the ways that it can be used, which is what tickled my curiosity as a new art therapist.

In working with Indigenous children within the school system as well as Indigenous male inmates at medium security prison, I was curious about the ways innovators were using art to create both personal and social change within the needs of Indigenous populations. Including sharing my own perspective through the presentation of my research, where I explored how multigenerational trauma impacts the identity development of Indigenous people.

Or in other words, how colonization affects how we see ourselves.

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I conducted the opening and closing ceremonies as well as presented my research. Photo by: Caroline Campeau

I found, through art material, that we exist on a spectrum of Indigenaiety (similar to acculturation in the psychology fields). This means that parts of us both accept and reject our own culture as well as the culture of on the outside because of the shame or fear or feeling not good enough (or native enough) we inherited from residential schools, family upbringing or being on a wrong side of a stereotype. Many of us have been there because many of us do not look like Pocahontas and many of us also like going to the movies, driving a car or going to university in a colonized institution.

So how we meet in the middle was what I wanted to explore.

The research I then presented was on how art materials and the creative process can act as the meeting ground for all those parts of the selves to coexist. Art-making can be the way that we can embrace two ways of knowing.

This concept, whether by chance or through social change, became the theme of “mending what is broken between us” not just in terms of our own personal struggles, but as a dialogue around reconciliation. I met with other indigenous art therapists across Canada to create a circle and dialogue that can work towards decolonizing our practice so that Indigenous people have a culturally safe place to explore themselves and have access to culturally appropriate tools—tools that may blend therapy techniques with cultural knowledge.

But decolonization rarely occurs on just one level; it has to be all levels and in this sense also involves creating a space within the profession to educate others on the impacts of multigenerational trauma and colonization on wellness so that relationships can be built to better service communities. This entails changing curriculum in our programs and educating service providers, policy makers, associations and orders and others.

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Building framework for decolonizing the art therapy profession. Photo by: Caroline Campeau

Through building a community of Indigenous art therapists and allies, we are taking the steps to make change and by using our gifts of blending the creative process with psychology to “mend what was broken between us”.