British Columbia

Multidisciplinary artist Nova Weipert named VPL's 2020 Indigenous storyteller in residence

Growing up, Nova Weipert didn't fit in easily. They were Indigenous and adopted, and transgendered in a community that called them a girl. Now, Weipert is the Indigenous storyteller in residence at the Vancouver Public Library.

The Objibwe artist's latest project follows their transition from female to two-spirit

Nova Weipert is the 2020 Indigenous storyteller in residence at the Vancouver Public Library. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Growing up, Nova Weipert didn't fit in easily. They were Indigenous and adopted, and transgendered in a community that called them a girl. 

Now, Weipert, who uses they/them pronouns, is the 2020 Indigenous storyteller in residence at the Vancouver Public Library.

Weipert, who is Ojibwe, was officially adopted with their brother by their mother Connie, a white Canadian of German descent, when they was seven.

"We were both in our foster home here in Vancouver and she laid eyes on us and it was love at first sight," they said.

While their mother was extremely supportive about nurturing their Indigenous identity, Weipert said they still absorbed a lot of racist notions about Indigenous people. 

It wasn't until Weipert began an artistic inquiry around why they were adopted that they started to reach out to biological family members.

Speaking to family members opened Weipert's eyes to the effects that systemic racism and colonialism had on their family. It was like "opening a can of worms," they said. 

"I realized that they were these good people who were dealt a really crappy card in life, you know, because they were in the foster care system, because of the historical effects on residential schools and all of this," Weipert said. 

The Emily Carr University of Art and Design graduate is now taking up another sort of artistic exploration, documenting their journey to becoming a two-spirit person, which is a non-binary gender identification in various Indigenous cultures.

Weipert says they had always struggled with their gender identity, recalling an instance in their childhood where they was watching Disney's animated movie Pocahontas. 

"I just remember ... not really connecting with [Pocahontas] but then as soon as Kocoum [one of the male leads] came onscreen him with his bear claw tattoo and his long hair and I saw him with his warrior outfit and I was like, 'That's me,'" they said.

"That was the first time in my life that I saw someone on screen that I connected with."

Nova Weipert is pictured in studio on The Early Edition in Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Finding the term two-spirit has been a process of decolonization for Weipert.

"Realizing that two-spirited people were, like, revered as medicine men or women or as very spiritual people or leaders or educators, and then seeing that ... it [resonated] with me," they said. 

Weipert's residency at the library will include free events throughout April and May centred around Indigenous issues and two-spirit themes. The rest of the time, Weipert will work on their personal storytelling. 

With files from The Early Edition

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