By Kim Boucher Morin
Project Coordinator, TakingITGlobal
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017
On Wednesday May 9th, over 200 people gathered in person and connected via live stream for the launch of the Connecting With Our First Family exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Developed by Indigenous artist Nyle Johnston at Miigizi Creations, in partnership with TakingITGlobal’s Connected North Program, the artwork features different line drawings of animals, birds and insects exemplifying our connection to the land and one another. The AGO, who launched a distance learning series with schools in remote and rural parts of Ontario in collaboration with TakingITGlobal this past year, is hosting this exhibition to facilitate learning experiences until September 30th 2018.
Indigenous artist, Nyle Miigizi Johnston, comes from a Story Telling background and has apprenticed with different Elders from a young age. He feels a responsibility to continue this legacy for the healing of his own people while connecting to the broader world, which prompted the collection of images found in the exhibition. In addition, the drawings were then transformed into an Ojibwe language and education resource kit to support students and educators in the process of understanding the Anishinaabe Nation. This resource aims to support the strengthening of Indigenous identity and culture as well as encourages Ojibwe language revitalization and community development.
During this incredible evening, guests were greeted by DJ Ojibwe’s music as they walked through the community gallery where Miigizi’s art was displayed. They were then welcomed by the artist’s traditional drumming and Eagle Song, followed by an explanation of the inspiration behind his drawings where he expressed his hope that messages of love, kindness, fairness and care for Mother Earth will be carried through them.
Audrey Hudson, Manager of School and Teacher Programs at the Art Gallery of Ontario, subsequently explained the origins of the project and partnership, with the AGO being a content provider for TIG’s Connected North Program. In her words, she was immediately “wowed” when she first saw Miigizi’s art and suggested the community gallery as an exhibition space. Audrey emphasized that this collaboration is a “special moment for learning about and with Indigenous communities”.
Jennifer Corriero, Executive Director of TakingITGlobal, then introduced the different educational resources created from Miigizi’s drawings including cards, calendars and learning activities among others. These resources, she explained, aim to promote and facilitate “interconnected and interdisciplinary learning”. Following this, Miigizi presented a few of the drawings and explained why he drew each animal the way he did. The deer, for example, was drawn with its head tilted back and looking upwards at the sky, “It is acquiescent, it knows it has an important role to play in providing resources for other living beings. It accepts its purpose” he shared.
As the evening continued, many others expressed their gratitude and support of the work being done. Joining briefly via an audio connection, Heather Campbell, Director of Education from the Rainy River District School Board, thanked TakingITGlobal for creating the educational resource kits as they will “help students learn about culture and stimulate their enthusiasm in the classroom setting”.
Manitobah Mukluks Brand Ambassador Sarain Fox ensuingly commented on the meaning behind the imagery saying “we believe in storytime. It is a not a story, it is our history. They are one and the same, and we are all part of the creation story”, after which Jennifer Corriero invited influential members of different communities to share their thoughts on the artwork and project.
Waukoman Pawis, part of TIG’s Connected North program, talked about the ways in which Miigizi has inspired and continues to inspire youth in other communities, notably through facilitating sessions as a content provider. “When he speaks, students listen. His work is a legacy.”
Karen Restoule of BOLD Realities discussed the importance of his artwork in navigating reconciliation relationships. “Initiatives like this will help us build a better country. The power of art lies in its ability to compel human emotion.”
Youth Leader, Wentanoron Roundpoint, from Akwesasne explained why she had wanted the resources kits to be made available in Mohawk, saying “I wanted to bring this back to my community because I saw it as a step forward in the revitalization of my culture”. She also expressed how honored she was that her grandfather was able to provide the translations for the project.
Following the comments and statements made by the above group of inspirational speakers, the Toronto-based indigenous band, The Handsome Savages, performed a dynamic musical performance. Guests danced and mingled to the garage rock songs before exiting the AGO onto the busy streets of downtown Toronto, officially bringing the event to a close.
If you would like to visit and experience this incredible, Community Gallery exhibition in person, it will be open until September 30th. For more information please visit the website.