Looking up at the night sky I’m happily greeted by twinkling lights; I can’t help but admire their beauty. When I see the colourful lights join the stars in painting the night sky, dancing like many of our peoples do, my spirit soars. As an Odawa and Potawatomi person from farther South in what we now call Canada, the Northern Lights are something I’ve wanted to see for so long – there’s just something about them. Despite not being from the Arctic, there’s always been a part of me drawn to the area and the many beautiful Indigenous cultures there. We may not be the same people, but we are all connected and there is so much we can learn from each other. 

   I’ve seen the parallels between our cultures across the world; from the similar traumatic experiences forced on our peoples to the beauty of our cultures and perseverance. We are still here despite the many attempts at erasure and assimilation of our diverse Indigenous nations. Although not everyone has made it or will make it – may all of their spirits have a safe journey to the spirit world – we as Indigenous peoples around the world are here and are still capable of seeing the beauty in life despite our adversities; that in itself is a beautiful thing. 

    There is so much in our world to be seen, heard, and experienced: from life itself to the photograph capturing it, or the story of that adventure to the painting recreating it. These experiences are so impactful that we want them to last forever; we want to capture them within various products of creativity. On the other hand, our experiences can be difficult, confusing, or traumatic, and this creativity gives us the opportunity to process our feelings, self-soothe, and connect.

 Heidi Zilmer, a Danish visual artist and designer featured on the Arctic Youth Wellbeing Network (AYWN) webinar series, told us that during a community project, her team gave the students space to do the work themselves by stepping back because “that is where you find the pride in the work that you do.” 

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By giving them that creative freedom, they were able to experience the artistic process from start to finish – from having ideas to bringing them to life. There’s just something magical about being able to explore your identity and breathe life into your ideas and feelings through creativity. 

   As one of the most powerful and effective tools for self-expression and healing, art is something that we all use in one way or another but oftentimes take for granted.

Whether we’re listening to music, practicing forms of traditional art, watching a movie, or sketching out a design, this utilization of our creative minds helps us handle and work through our experiences by connecting us to ourselves, others, and the land itself through our use of materials and inspiration. 

“Music became a…tool needed to explore my Sámi identity even further…and to have good relationships and to communicate with…people all over…Sápmi,” says DJ iDJa, a musician fusing electronic music with Sámi yoik. His form of art and expression has allowed him to reconnect with a major part of his identity and community, reclaiming and modernizing traditional practices despite the continued processes of colonization. This is similar to groups such as the Halluci Nation, a DJ duo fusing electronic music with music of Indigenous cultures in Canada. When this parallel was brought up during the AYWN webinar on June 17, 2022, DJ iDJa mentioned being a fan of the group, noting their similarities and reminding us of the connections we share with nations outside of our own. 

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In addition, art is commonly used as a method of communication when it is difficult to express yourself or say what you need to say in the way someone else is expecting you to. For example, Lisa Boivin, a Dene interdisciplinary visual artist from the Northwest Territories, indirectly talked about her experience with this in one of her university classes.

“I just couldn’t articulate what I was saying in print…and so I asked her if I could hand in…an assignment as an image,” she said in class to her professor. 

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Thankfully for Lisa, she shared that her professor was understanding when she asked. The unfortunate reality is, however, that most people are not understanding.

This shows us that art is not only a form of reclamation and connection, but it is also a form of accessibility in communication and expression. 

No matter where you are in the world or in what way you use art, it remains a powerful way to connect, communicate, and heal both as an individual and as communities. So the next time you look up at the night sky and see those beautiful lights dancing among the stars, or the next time you’re listening to music or creating something beautiful, just remember to take a moment to honour and recognize your connection to self, community, and other Indigenous communities outside of your own. 

We are here and we are strong. Incredibly, we are still able to experience and create beauty in a world where others are trying to take that away from us. 

About the Author: Caeley McLean Genereux

Aanii! Boozhoo! Ozawa Giniw Kwe indizhinikaaz mkwa dodem Sheshegwaning indoonjibaa. My name is Caeley or Yellow Eagle Woman, I'm a bisexual two-spirit female who's Bear Clan from Sheshegwaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada. I graduated in June 2022 with my Honours Bachelor of Science Specializing in Mental Health and Minoring in Sociology where I co-lead an Indigenous Student Association. I've been working at the Arctic Youth Network for over a year now but recently changed positions to Communications Officer. I'm working in my community as the interim Community Support Worker and as a co-founder/team lead of the Land First Youth Initiative. My biggest passion is reconnection to our emotions through art and culture and I strongly see the value in cultural exchanges across nations!

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