When my mother told me that she suspected that we had native blood because her grandmother used to wear native hide dresses, I went through a succession of feelings: surprise, because I didn’t think any of us really looked native. Excitement, because I had always been interested in indigenous people and our Native Canadian Art and then disappointment because we were so disconnected from my mother’s family.
How was I going to learn about my roots?
Over the years I met a few indigenous people but they seemed to enter and leave my life quite quickly. When I started working in developing countries on water projects in the back of my mind I always thought I would one day help my people. I tried to make connections to work on water projects on reserves but it never seemed to pan out. I was bored with my engineering job and started looking for creative things to do as a hobby and started also looking into publishing books as I always loved reading and learning new things.
Then one day in the spring of 2016 when there were adult colouring books being sold everywhere I woke up having had a dream that I should make a series of colouring books with each book focusing on one nation’s Native Canadian Art. I would work with an elder on each book and artists from that nation to make sure that the book was authentic. They would get royalties from sales and I would also give back a portion of the sales to grassroots indigenous projects to help support the community.
That’s how the name “Colouring It Forward” to promote Native Canadian Art came about.
Two years later, I have published 4 colouring books of Native Canadian Art, 2 yearly calendars, greeting card box sets, orange and red shirts. The colouring book series spans 4 nations including the Blackfoot, Dene (Northwest Territories), Cree and Ojibway (Anishinaabe) nations with two of them also being translated into French.
I’m proud of having worked with the elders to provide teachings and stories in the books alongside the beautiful artwork. The 2017-18 and 2018-19 Indigenous art calendars include Native Canadian Art by 14 artists from different nations, some translated pieces into Indigenous languages and educational pieces for reconciliation.
Where do the donations go?
I have provided donations from the colouring books, calendars, orange shirts and Christmas card box sets to Children are our Sacred Bundle conferences, Indspire and the BRICK Learning Centre. I feel happy when I think of people reading the stories and enjoying the artwork, hopefully leading to them feeling more connected with Indigenous peoples.
Two of the realizations that I have had over the past two years have been:
1. That teachers need more support to be able to teach Indigenous culture and Native Canadian Art.
2. We need to produce a lot more tools to help people to learn Indigenous languages and Native Canadian Art.
The future of Colouring It Forward and promoting Native Canadian Art
In 2019, I hope to produce teachers tools and to do more work involving my not-for-profit organization, CIF Reconciliation Society. The Society aims to foster reconciliation through the arts. I hope to work in collaboration with youth groups and Indigenous elders to strengthen their ties as well as to create more opportunities to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together.