Listuguj artist Tracey Metallic sees her work as a source of healing
Rediscovering her creative side helped Metallic emerge from her darkest moments
"Try this drink out. You're gonna love it."
Tracey Metallic's partner Justin Lavigne hands me a cup of fresh fruit juices and other natural ingredients. It's an energy drink from Ki' Juice Listuguj, one of many business ventures the two are involved in.
I take a sip from my extra large cup, and indulge in strawberry and watermelon flavours in an iced tea that is out of this world.
"We don't mess around," says Metallic. "In anything we do."
Metallic is from the Listuguj Miꞌgmaq First Nation, the community about 500 km northeast of Quebec City and bordering New Brunswick. It's the community where she raised her family and based her businesses.
She's been a social work counsellor and a representative of her First Nation council. She's a proud mother of three children and more recently an artist whose work is displayed across Canada.
"I believe you should always give back. Try to help the people that need it most," she says.
With a sigh, she adds, "I know I was there at one time, when I needed help."
Metallic had an interest in art from a young age. She remembers how it felt to see an uncle be impressed with one of the sketches she drew at age 13.
"He was so proud of what I did … my self-esteem went through the roof!" she says. But after a few more sketches, she stopped drawing.
Metallic was still in high school when she had her first child with the man who would later become her husband of 30 years. She had two other children from the union. But she says that relationship was skewed almost from the beginning.
"My ex-husband was very jealous of me and he made a point of letting me know that," she says. Metallic says things became toxic, and the only life she knew and trusted crumbled beneath her.
Metallic was bearing trauma that crossed through generations in her family, and felt she had nowhere to turn. In the 2000s, she decided to go to university, first completing a bachelor's in human rights and Native studies and then a master's degree in social work.
"I pushed myself as hard as I could to better myself, for me and my children's sake," she says. She then worked as a life skills coach at the Listuguj Mi'gmaq Development Centre.
By 2014, as a way to occupy her time, Metallic started drawing again — making small pictures for her grandson and some family members.
"I remember I drew a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for my grandson. Other people saw the drawing and asked me to draw them pictures, too," she says.
When she started taking orders to make paintings for friends, she didn't see it as a new career — but a way for her to heal her soul and find purpose within her daily life.
Then, after years of heartache and hardship, Metallic's husband ended the marriage in 2016.
"I fell into this dark place. And I didn't know how to get out of it," Metallic says. So she practised what she preached, and took time off to get out of her depressive state.
Metallic spoke with her elders and wrote down childhood memories of rejection to help her process things. While she now sees her ex-husband leaving as a good thing, it was hard to handle at the time.
A friend encouraged Metallic to come on a trip with her to a conference in Fredericton to get her out of her house. So she packed a bag and joined. As she spoke with conference attendees, her friend showed off pictures of Metallic's art saved to her phone. From there, she gained the confidence to show her work in galleries.
"I was completely shocked. I kept saying to myself: people want to see my paintings?" Metallic says.
Since then, Metallic has expanded her brand to include handbags, textiles and lip gloss, to name a few. And a piece that she had made for a fundraiser at St. Francis Xavier University was even reshared by Ryan Reynolds.
She shows me her small but spacious kitchen that doubles as her studio.
"Look, there's paint all over the place," she says. "But we don't necessarily have the space in the house for an art studio.… That's going to come soon and I can't wait!"
Lavigne is Metallic's biggest supporter. "From the first time we spoke, she said she was an artist.… The colours she uses, it brings happiness. It's bright and inviting," he says.
Metallic is still on her path to heal and help those who are on their own journey. As a form of motivation, she keeps a picture of herself when she was a toddler nearby.
"I would talk to her, I would tell her how precious and beautiful you are," she says. "It was a way to reaffirm my focus … and to reassure that everything was going to be OK."
It's a theme that appears in her artwork, like her Sun Catcher painting.
"It means a rebirth of me. Intense healing. Out from the dark, into the light," she says.
This story is part of CBC's community bureau in Listuguj, Que.
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Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
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