Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEALs Indigenous Art Award recipients

Susan Aglukark sings with the NAC orchestra Sept. 20.

On May 22, what is believed to be the largest gathering of Indigenous Canadian artists ever, will assemble in Winnipeg to celebrate the REVEAL Indigenous Arts Awards.

The project was started by the Hnatyshyn Foundation about 18 months ago. The foundation was founded by the 24th governor general, Ramon Hnatyshyn. His widow Gerda leads the foundation today. It is “dedicated to promoting and funding emerging, developing and mid-career artists and curators in Canada. Normally the foundation hands out about $180,000 a year to help these artists.

But this year it is adding something special.

The REVEAL awards will give 150 indigenous artists from a wide range of disciplines an award of $10,000, says Victoria Henry, who chairs the foundation and was actively involved in the REVEAL awards process. The awards are a one-off, Henry says, making the effort that much more significant.

To be considered the artists submitted reasons why they should be given the award. The applications were then vetted by a jury. And now the final list of artists awarded has been unveiled. (To see the full list go here.)

For Henry, the former head of the Canada Council Art Bank, “the best part of the whole story is the breadth of the indigenous arts community that we have been able to reach. There are artists working in music and theatre and visual arts and dance. There are women who have revived traditional art practices and are now teaching it in their communities and there are international stars like (the visual artist) Kent Monkman.” Funding for the awards has come solely from private donations.

The number 150 is everywhere these days, but in the case of the REVEAL awards, it’s not symbolic of the sesquicentennial, Henry says.

“The Indigenous community doesn’t really want to celebrate the 150th so we … are looking at the next 150 years.”

Winnipeg was chosen, in part, she says, because “everything happens in Ottawa” and the foundation was looking for another location. The Manitoba capital worked because it’s in the centre of the country.

REVEAL recipient, cellist Cris Derksen, from northern Alberta will be appearing at Chamberfest this summer.

The artists are from right across the country, Henry says: 11 are from the north; 40 are from British Columbia; 26 are from the three prairie provinces; 50 are from Ontario; 18 are from Quebec, and five come from the Atlantic provinces. There were 430 submissions in all.

Many are well known, such as the Inuit singer Susan Aglukark, but many aren’t.

Henry says she has been very taken by some of the submission statements

There is this one from Cris Derksen a musician from the North Tall Cree Reserve, Treaty 8, in northern Alberta: “I think this is a compelling time for Canadians as the lens towards First Nations folks has begun a shift towards understanding the colonial impacts our collective history shares.”

Or this one from Keith Whiteduck, a classical pianist who is Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi, in West Quebec: “I went into school as a rock and roll guitarist and by the time I finished that particular program I came out a classical pianist.”

Keith Whiteduck is from Kitigan Zibi, about 100 klometres north of Ottawa.

“Canada needs to hear these voices,” Henry said. She believes these artists will help the process of reconciliation and understanding that is now under way.

Each of the artists honoured will have their portraits taken by Metis photographer Rosalie Favell.

The REVEAL jury was made up of Henry; visual artist Barry Ace; Denise Bolduc, a creative producer, programmer and arts consultant; Christine Lalonde, curator of the Inuit collection at the National Gallery of Canada and an art historian; Daniel David Moses, a poet, playwright, author and teacher and the composer and performer Florent Volant, who was part of the Innu duo Kashtin.

Dignitaries at the event on May 22 will include the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, the mayor of Winnipeg Brian Bowman and the CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts Simon Brault.
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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.