Carey Newman

Fernwood artist honors First Nations’ strengths

First Nations artist Carey Newman has always used art as the vehicle to deal with serious personal and cultural issues.

First Nations artist Carey Newman has always used art as the vehicle to deal with serious personal and cultural issues.

He was 38 years old before he heard the horrific accounts of his father’s experience in residential schools as he testified at the truth and reconciliation commission — an experience that affected him profoundly.

Already an artist following in the tradition of his Kwagliuth culture, he was called upon to create a commemorative national monument to mark the work of the commission.

He gathered residential school-era artifacts from across the country and wove them into a large-scale installation called the Witness Blanket inspired by the traditional First Nations blankets — an important cultural symbol of recognition, strength and protection.

Newman also decided to include material from traditional structures such as teepees, friendship centres, and sweat lodges, as well as material from churches and government buildings of the residential school era.

The final work — a 12 metre-long structure featuring 887 objects gathered from 77 communities across Canada, is currently touring across Canada.

Newman hopes it finds a permanent home at the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba after it finishes touring.

“It was an extremely difficult project,” said Newman, who lives in Fernwood. “It was one that I undertook with a lot of pride. It spoke to the resilience of my people.”

Now Newman has completed another project to celebrate First Nations strength and resilience.

His work, Equilibrium, is an award that was specially designed to honour aboriginal youth who have been chosen to receive the Premier’s Awards for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport.

“It was a challenge to find an appropriate image that captured the balanced approach to life that these athletes need to have in order to receive the award,” said Newman.

“I was looking for something that reflected the strength and perseverance that these young people needed to excel.”

The four animals incorporated on the award are the raven, representing creativity, the salmon, representing hard work, the eagle, representing the need to look to the future, and the frog, the grounded and humble part of a person’s character.

The four animals have a gold ring weaving between them, linking their strengths into a single whole.

Newman believes it’s only when all these elements are in balance that success can be found.

His work is well-known in Victoria and across the country in the Blue Raven Gallery where he displays work that reflects his unique contemporary approach to First Nations art and showcases the work of his father, Victor, and his mother, Edith.

“I’m thrilled that I can use my art, not only to preserve the traditions of my people, but to find new ways of honouring and commemorating both our history and our future,” Newman said.

The award will be presented at the Gathering Our Voices national aboriginal youth conference at the Victoria Conference Centre on March 21.