CANMORE – Îethka Voices is Chey Suwâtâgâ-Mu’s cat, Louis Riel, cleverly drawn on an Indian status card. It’s Shawn Abraham’s stirring graphic novel-like illustrations. It’s the intricate beadwork of Loretta Simeon.
The brainchild of the Nakoda AV Club, the show is a coming together of emerging Îethka (Stoney Nakoda) creatives at Canmore’s artsPlace.
“I want to celebrate the Nakoda artists that we have, see them express their individuality and what makes them make art,” said Suwâtâgâ-Mu, curator of the month-long exhibit.
The show focuses on the importance of storytelling in art and the role artists play within a traditional Îethka society.
“Our work as artists is to restore the practice of a storytelling society to our community, and to take on the responsibilities associated with that. Storytellers help contextualize the world and guide the development of values and morals,” said Suwâtâgâ-Mu.
Through art, whether it be painting, photography, filmmaking, digital art or music, those stories can and should be transmitted in unconventional looking ways, they added.
“What I notice in Indigenous art is it often talks about Indigenous stories.
“I wanted to have the artists who are showcased here be able to express art in their own way and tell those stories, but it doesn’t have to be or look Indigenous – it’s their own work.”
Suwâtâgâ-Mu is from Bearspaw First Nation and is self-taught in painting and other visual art forms. They, along with eight others in the AV club, will have various works on display in Îethka Voices, including paintings, beadwork, graphic art, photography and potentially videography.
“Some are first timers submitting a piece to a show, so this is really the start of their careers, hopefully,” the artist said.
It was around 2015-16 that the Nakoda AV Club – an arts production and storytelling collective – was founded by students at the Mînî Thnî Community School and forged a way forward for Suwâtâgâ-Mu and other originating members.
“It was a high school experience and then all of a sudden it grew into careers. It was like a little seed that sprouted and just started growing, and now all of us artists are doing different things like digital artwork, filmmaking, music,” they said.
Suwâtâgâ-Mu hopes the show at artsPlace encourages Îethka youth in Mînî Thnî, Big Horn and Eden Valley to practice in art and see it as a viable future to make a living.
“There’s a lot of different careers and opportunities in art and I want them to see that and make that fun for them,” said Suwâtâgâ-Mu.
Îethka Voices, which opened Sept. 1 and runs until Oct. 2, showcases the work of Suwâtâgâ-Mu, Abraham, Simeon, Sally Twoyoungmen, Giona Smalleyes, Bodeen Twoyoungmen, Jarret Twoyoungmen, Katana Baptiste and Brandon Chiniquay.
Members of the Nakoda AV Club will be available for a meet-and-greet at artsPlace Sept. 16 and 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.