Indigenous artists living in poverty “show and grow” their talents

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 10:33pm


Image Caption

Norbert Dumais poses with one of his pipe blankets. Photo By Paula E. Kirman


By Paula E. Kirman Contributor


The Indigenous Circle was present at the National Aboriginal Day activities in Victoria Park today June 21 with EndPovertyEdmonton, which seeks to help Indigenous artists experiencing poverty.

Several artists showcased their paintings, drawings, beadwork, and other arts and crafts that were for sale, with 100 per cent of proceeds going directly to the artists. There was also dancing, drumming, and singing as part of the event.

From the start of EndPovertyEdmonton (EPE), a goal was for Indigenous people to help other Indigenous people find their way out of poverty.

Indigenous voices were part of the shaping of EndPovertyEdmonton since its beginnings as a Task Force by Mayor Don Iveson three years ago.

The first goal of EndPovertyEdmonton’s Roadmap, is “Toward True Reconciliation,” which has five starting point actions.

The forth one is for Indigenous people who are experiencing poverty to “show and grow” their talents, and to find safe opportunities for this to occur.

“The National Aboriginal Day celebration in Victoria Park seemed like a perfect opportunity to pilot some of the work we’ve been doing to help support our city’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Shannon Hebden, EndPovertyEdmonton Indigenous Circle Co-Chair.

The artists who took part were very involved with the event and how their work was presented.

“We really wanted to make sure that people, who were living in extreme poverty or surviving homelessness were aware and included in this event, from which they otherwise would likely not have the opportunity to show their work and create income,” says Hebden.

“Members of our EPE Indigenous Circle made an effort to reach out to people they knew or worked with through a variety of inner city agencies and community groups. The artists were also invited to come and give voice and representation to their work, as well as contribute to the interactions around sales. We really envisioned and wanted to encourage confidence, inclusivity, and creativity for everyone involved.”

One of the artists was Donna Robillard, who creates stunning beadwork earrings and medallions, as well as drums, dreamcatchers, and hair bands.

“I've been clean and sober for almost eight years and I've always loved crafts,” she said. “My daughter taught me about six years ago and I just got the hang of it and I just kept doing it. Everybody likes my work.”

Norbert Dumais makes pipe blankets, feather cases, and general artwork. He lives at Ambrose Place, a building of social housing for Indigenous people who have lived on the streets.

“Home of the homeless, I guess,” he says, laughing. He became involved with the event through Ambrose Place and Boyle Street Community Services, and “was asked to come and put my wares out.”

“Creating avenues for inclusivity and showcasing the amazing talent of Indigenous people in poverty, who are often overlooked, is very important to us,” said Hebden.

“Providing safe, supportive and comfortable opportunities for people to really know and feel like their talents are recognized and appreciated offers huge hope, as well as empowering our people who are experiencing poverty to generate income from what they love to do – to 'show and grow' their talents.”

Other Indigenous Circle participants were at the event helping out.

Johnny Lee is a member of the Indigenous Circle who helped out on National Aboriginal Day selling beautiful prints and drawings for artists who could not be at the event themselves, as well as give information to the public about EndPovertyEdmonton.

He became involved with the committee when, “I was invited to add my opinion as a lived experience, as an advisor for ending poverty.”

Hebden said “the EPE Indigenous Circle is still fairly new, but deeply committed to working with the of EPE’s Roadmap actions that resonate most closely with Indigenous peoples.

We start each of our meetings with sincere acknowledgement that we are on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional meeting ground, gathering place, and traveling route to the Cree, Saulteaux., Blackfoot, Métis, Dene, and Nakota Sioux. We have more ideas that are in the works,” she says.

The EPE Indigenous Circle meets monthly, and welcomes all Indigenous people who have in interest in working together towards a poverty-free future. For more information, visit: