Arts contest open to aboriginal youth across Canada

Canadians of aboriginal ancestry - status, non-status, Inuit, or Métis - have the chance to take part in a contest until the end of March. The Aboriginal Arts & Stories contest, by Historica Canada, invites youth ages 11 to 29 to submit a piece of writing, or a piece of art about a moment or theme in aboriginal history and/or culture.

Nicole Paul, a 23-year-old from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, heard about the contest online and submitted a piece of art in 2014, and ended up receiving one of the first place awards. Paul won a trip to Ottawa for herself and a guest to accept her award, as well as $2,000.

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Her two-dimensional piece titled Keeper of the Voice, was inspired by another piece she was commissioned to make memorializing and honouring those affected by residential schools. “In that time I met with many elders and knowledge keepers from my community where I was able to listen to their accounts of their time in residential schools. One thing that they all stressed was the importance language was to them and how losing that affected them.” Paul went on to explain the use of colour in her art. “In an effort to deviate from perpetuating visual tropes found within aboriginal art, while simultaneously maintaining my own artistic style, I chose a more subtle symbolism for my piece.  As my painting Keeper of the Voice is about the need to restore and rehabilitate dying aboriginal languages I used colour to highlight the throat and mouth area.”

For Paul, winning this competition has encouraged her to continue on with her art, and also to bring awareness to aboriginal issues. Although Paul won in 2014, this was not the young woman’s first shot at the competition, and Paul wants contest participants to not give up, even if they don’t place during their first try.

“My advice to somebody wanting to pursue art is to not give up, there are times when it can be incredibly frustrating but if you work through it and keep trying the end result is almost always a success and you will feel incredibly accomplished and proud of yourself for trying. If you don’t try, you’ll never know where it can take you and if you don’t practise you’ll never know what you’re capable of.”

Nicolas Bonin, an 18-year-old student at the University of Ottawa and originally from Winnipeg, submitted a poem for 2014, and ended up coming in third place. Bonin won $500, which has helped him financially starting his post-secondary education.

His poem Earth Story speaks about his own heritage as a descendant of Métis people, and from different information Bonin gathered about aboriginal culture in school. “It symbolizes the verbal nature of the stories, and the fact that traditionally, many aboriginal peoples did not write their stories, but passed them along verbally from generation to generation. This, for me, has such a sense of intimacy and closeness that I find sometimes lacking in the hustle and bustle of daily life. For me, it represents a simpler time when family and one-on-one communication were highly prized.”

Bonin says the most important thing about entering this contest is to write about a specific element or aspect of aboriginal life or culture, which can resonate with a writer and a reader.

Both Bonin and Paul have not entered the 2015 competition, because they’re busy with university work, but encourage any and all eligible people to take part in the great opportunity.

The deadline for Aboriginal Arts & Stories is on March. 31. Hopeful writers and artists can submit their work online or by email, mail or fax. For more information visit www.our-story.ca.

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