Indigenous

Indigenous poet aims to express healing through art, foster community

Victoria Redsun, a Winnipeg-based artist, reflects on the role of poetry, mentorship and land protection in her life.

Winnipeg-based artist Victoria Redsun reflects on the role of art in her life and community

Victoria Redsun performs with Winnipeg hip-hop band Super Duty Tough Work at Nuit Blanche 2017. (Emily Christie)

Winnipeg-based spoken word poet, performer, and filmmaker Victoria Redsun is working to create artistic opportunities for young Indigenous people to learn about and share their roots through storytelling.

The 20-year-old is Denesuline and Woodlands Cree from Brochet, Man. 

Redsun and the band nêhiyawak from Edmonton are working on a music and spoken word project inspired by the friendship between Redsun and nêhiyawak's singer and guitarist Kris Harper. 

The pair had long discussions about the land and different teachings which had an emotional impact on Redsun. She felt that she needed to express these experiences through poetry. 

The poetry collaboration is about violence and abuse against women, the role that men play in the equation and fighting this form of oppression with storytelling, art and poetry. 

That collaboration is projected to be released in late 2019. 

Artistic roots

Redsun, who works as a multimedia creator, a community outreach worker and a multifaceted artist, grew up in areas like Churchill, Man., and Fort McMurray, Alta. 

Moving around a lot during her childhood was something she thought of as normal. Redsun describes this journey as "nomadic" because no single place ever felt like home — she'd seen her homes be taken away or filled with drugs, alcohol and violent behaviour. 

Redsun felt unsettled, alone and disconnected as a young person, so she turned to art, writing, and storytelling to help her cope.

"When I was alone, I needed stuff to do and that was poetry and storytelling. I would write books by myself about just how displaced I was as a young person," she said.

Redsun describes writing as her therapy because it turned out to be a positive outlet for the frustrations she felt.

Turning creativity into a career

In December 2017, Redsun got an opportunity to compete in the local finals for the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam. This was her first-ever poetry slam and the first time she had competed. 

"I signed up and got my poetry ready and I just went with it," said Redsun.

She received the highest scores of the night and won the competition.

As the winner, Redsun got to go to Vancouver the following spring to compete at the Poetry Slam as the national representative from Winnipeg. 

While competing in Vancouver she performed her poem Who we are, another poem related to domestic and physical abuse against women and how "our bodies as women are treated as punching bags for oppressors and men," said Redsun.

Domestic violence is a recurring theme in Redsun's poetry — an expression of pain, love, and healing. 

"Once you have all this pain that sits inside you, and all this love sits inside you, there needs to be a way to get all of that out," she said. 

Redsun's poetry also details her feelings in her Indigenous language, Denesuline. She said this allows her to recognize her ancestors and the process of healing. 

"I like incorporating my own traditional language into poetry because it's special and it makes it my own," said Redsun. 

Communicating through art the social and political hurt that has been felt by generations of Indigenous people is important, said Redsun, because art is an accessible form of creativity.

"You can put [meaning] into art and help heal our people. Instead of yelling at the oppressor, we're working on our own community through arts and culture," said Redsun.

Although sharing trauma is an emotional process for Redsun, she said, "it's why we do what we do, to heal our people through creative expression."

Redsun participates in land and water protection through a screen printing outreach in Peguis First Nation in 2018. (Green Action Centre)

Guidance to grow

In 2017, Redsun began working at Winnipeg's video pool and joined a mentorship with multidisciplinary visual artist KC Adams, who taught her about performance art, experimental film and collaborating closely with Indigenous cultures.

For Adams, mentorship is a two-way street, "I'm their peer, it's about boosting their confidence so they can succeed and do great work," she said.

Adams, who described Redsun's energy as "lyrical and beautiful" encouraged the young poet to apply for an Indigenous spoken word residency at Banff Arts Centre in 2018. 

The residency program offers students like Redsun an alternative form of education where she received credentials as a professional artist. Redsun had previously rejected the notion of attending "colonial" education systems. 

The program, which is a two-week course, gave Redsun the opportunity to be surrounded by other Denesuline artists, some of whom have become her closest friends. 

She was able to comfortably learn and share her story in an environment where she knew she wasn't being tokenized or appropriated. 

"I knew [my story] was going to the hearts of other people who'd been through the same thing as me," she said, which greatly empowered her. 

The most important part of reconciliation is for Indigenous Peoples to have the opportunity to tell their stories, said Redsun. She suggests that societal problems in Indigenous communities would be solved through uplifting and supporting stories and voices. 

"That's how we heal, is being able to tell our story," said Redsun. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelsey Mohammed is one of the 2019 recipients of the CBC News Joan Donaldson scholarship. She has experience reporting at CBC Toronto and Winnipeg.

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