Episode 8 of Working It Out Together, featuring Artist and Musician Rene Meshake, explores how creative arts are being used by those most severely affected by colonization to channel anger and decolonize the self.
Waneek Horn-Miller introduces this episode. “Arts are important; it’s our voice, something you create from your spirit somewhere deep inside of you. Art is an important way to express pain sometimes, and trauma sometimes, and these things have to come out.”
Arts and artistic expression were suppressed during what Rene Meshake refers to as the colonial period. It is Rene’s belief that during this period the people lost their heart. Without heart there could be no art and no truth. It was during his time in residential school that Mr. Meshake’s was denied his freedom of expression. This denial of his true being, compounded by the abuse he suffered, served to forge self hatred that manifested in alcohol and substance abuse. Suicide seemed his only option. Ironically, it was the recognition of colonized Aanishnaabmowin into mainstream culture that connected with Rene’s artistic side and led him away from his destructive path. Rene then began to channel his creativity and opened up a world of possibilities in a healthy way.
Currently, Rene is a respected elder who mentors Indigenous youth In Guelph, Ontario. He shares his experiences and his artwork in the hopes that youth today can embrace their own artist selves rather than choosing abusive lifestyles.
Isaac Murdock, a traditional Aanishnaabe storyteller, returns this week to explain the importance of art to Indigenous life. He highlights the importance of pictographs, regalia, and basketry; artwork was a part of identity. Furthermore, art, dance, and singing were all about the spiritual connection to the land. Then, at the time of initial contact, “colonialism was really hard on our symbolism. The church and the government people requested that all of the bundles, all of the baskets, everything with the symbols needed to be piled onto the ground and they would set them on fire.”
Following the closure of the residential school system, young people began to express themselves in very powerful ways. Murdock elaborates: “Those that came out of residential school knew that the spirit of the land had to be expressed through their work. So that even though it was suppressed and even though it was made to believe to be bad, people overcame those feelings because it was their way to show the world who they were, who their people were, and what they stood for.”
This was a beautifully crafted episode filled with many touching moments all demonstrating the power of art and its inherent ability to heal. It is also fascinating to learn how Indigenous art is evolving today. Rather than the static concept mainstream is so familiar with, we witness here today’s modern Indigenity. Murdock sums this up nicely: “Art is a ceremony, of creating pieces that are actually healing people and making people stronger. It goes out into the universe and it is connecting with everything. It is always the artists and the musicians that make the greatest change. There is a medicine and a code in there, a blueprint with how to walk with mother earth.”