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SOI educator Jaime Koebel reflects on expedition art projects

The land is truly beautiful. In a place where mountains test the limits of the sky and the ocean spans every corner of one’s eye, the tiniest of vegetation nestles itself into small divots, cracks and crevices. Moss and vines spread themselves across the rocks and shrunken flowers adorn the ground with their delicate beauty. Some favourite parts of the trip include getting close to the ground and examining the plant life using a magnifying glass with students and botanist Paul Sokoloff from the Museum of Nature. This activity allowed me to appreciate intricate details found in very tiny and inspiring patterns on stems, leaves and petals to be replicated in pencil and ink drawings.

A challenge of my skill level while on the trip has been to draw people’s portraits on the land. While in Uummannaq I asked permission and took a photo of a young Inuk child named Amy and dedicated some time to drawing the details of her face, clothing and background. During my time at the National Gallery of Canada during the Sakahàn exhibition in 2013, there were a few pieces that stood out for me by Indigenous artists Kent Monkman and Danie Mellor. Those pieces drew upon the idea of creating art in Indigenous territory through a colonial lens that has historically built upon the notion of terra nullius or “empty land.” My goal in drawing people situated in their own land is a way of recognizing the original inhabitants of the places we visit and to recognize others as visitors to the land.

As each day passes there are more and more opportunities to get to know the students and I have been able to pinpoint the ones who have a love for dance! In an impromptu dance party on the deck of the ship, fiddle music from a speaker that I brought along on the trip attracted a good crowd of eager dancers where we implemented Métis jigging dance steps that I taught them, into traditional fiddle songs and then we incorporated those same steps into contemporary dance music from a Tribe Called Red. The best part of dancing on the ship is the energy that fills up a space and lifts the spirits of the people in the room. Through dance comes storytelling and the importance of active storytelling is a good link to understanding how Indigenous peoples’ cultures, contribute to the overall knowledge of the land. I know we’ll be doing more dancing, right up until the end of our time together.

During downtime moments, I pull out bits of birch bark and teach both students and staff about how birch bark biting can create beautiful flowers and about how the vitamins from birch bark help our bodies.

During our walk through Pond Inlet yesterday we stopped at the local cultural centre where I was able to examine some of the traditional flower beadwork on Inuit clothing and compare it to Metis beadwork. Before the end of the trip, I’ll be giving a workshop on beading and share with the students how both Inuit and Métis beading is similar but also show them some of the differences in styles.

While in Pond Inlet, we were also greeted with a wonderful cultural presentation of dance, song, story-telling and skills of strength and agility. It became very clear that the work of Elder Elisapee Ootoova has had a profound effect on the community in terms of reintroducing special cultural activities from Pond Inlet.

With only a few more days to go, we have much work to do on the student art exhibition and our collaborative design for the kayak. Stay tuned!

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This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.