Métis artist says visual storytelling gives people a voice

Dorion was creating leaf painting art on-site during the Waskesiu Lakeside Music Festival this weekend in Prince Albert National Park.

Art can preserve and at the same time bring about change, artist says

Leah Dorion's piece "Land of Tamarach and Spruce." Dorion was on hand at the Waskesiu Lakeside Music Festival this weekend in Prince Albert National Park. (Courtesy of Leah Dorian)

"The symbol predates Canada."

That's how Métis artist Leah Dorion responded to a question about why she chose to use the symbol of the maple leaf amid mixed response from indigenous people regarding the nation's 150th birthday.

She was creating leaf-painting art on-site during the Waskesiu Lakeside Music Festival this weekend in Prince Albert National Park.

"I've been working with the maple leaf symbol in my art practice, beyond a symbol of Canada, and really enjoying the beauty of that keystone species that has been so significant to the indigenous people in where it grows."

Others had a chance to try their hand at leaf painting at the festival, as well. Participants were given a pattern to trace a maple leaf and "kind of tell their story of what they love about living here in Canada," Dorion said.

An Métis perspective

As a Métis woman, she said her people have a huge role to play in building relationships in a time where people really need to come together and learn to communicate. Especially, given their history and all the stories they have to share. 

Dorion feels sharing stories is great way to get a social connection going around art.

Her own desire to preserve her Métis heritage and her desire to share her "little window or point of view" has led her into not only visual art, but also writing and filmmaking.

"I think I do it so that the kids can learn," she said. "First Nations and Métis roots are at the heart of my artistic practice and the work that I do."

Leah Dorion is a Metis artist who believes that art can give a voice to those unable to speak. (Courtesy of Leah Dorion)

Women in the balance

Her work also seeks to honour women in indigenous culture, she said.

"The women are so important in transferring knowledge."

"When you want something done, and you get those women going, it gets done," she added with a chuckle.

Male-female balance is incredibly important, she said, noting that "we all have a male and a female energy side."

Maintaining that balance takes work, she said, but she enjoys sharing some of the philosophies and teachings she's learned from elders.

"It's always work in this world we live in — this fast-paced world." she said.

"I think the art is just a way that I've always been able to keep that meditative centre, honour the feminine."

Leah Dorion's piece "Infinite Heart." Dorian, who grew up in Prince Albert, says she sees a great need for change in regard to how people view the place of indigenous women in society. (Courtesy of Leah Dorion)

The need for change

The role that indigenous women can play in society is just starting to be talked about she said. Growing up in Prince Albert, she saw "such a need for change."

"Change is always hard," she said, "but it's going to happen."

She's hopeful that art can help bring change.

"When you make something you don't need words," she said. "It can just speak for itself."

"Some people aren't able to speak, but their creations give them that voice."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend