Soft cedar strips are tied tightly together to create a headpiece adorned with colourful feathers. To many, it might appear as a simple idea but to Brandon Gabriel, it’s representative of much more.
From the Kwantlen First Nation, Gabriel (ancestral name Kwelexwelsten) was chosen as the featured artist for Fraser River Indigenous Society’s (FRIS) official event to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day (NIPD) on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Read: National Indigenous Peoples Day: An invitation to listen with open minds
After winning the orange shirt competition for FRIS, he was given the opportunity to design their official event artwork.
An amalgamation of Indigenous art and gender identity
It’s an illustration called st̕ə́miyeʔ (pronounced- Stuh-mee-uh) which represents half male, half female or gender nonconforming, Gabriel explained.
The artwork may appear simple but it addresses important social issues such as the residential schools and the role they played in suppressing gender identity.
“This artwork looks at the legacy of Canadian Residential Schools. For centuries LGBTQ2S+ identifying peoples have been cast out of ceremonial practices because of state and church oppression of gender identities. This is unacceptable and unjust,” he said.
Honouring and supporting LGBTQ2S+ peoples while recognizing NIPD, this illustration combines a feather bonnet worn by Coast Salish men and a cedar headband worn by women, with feathers in Pride colours.
“From the oldest petroglyphs, and ancient rock paintings. Stories of transformation from one spirit into other spirits, male and female, human and non-human, are all celebrated, and are a cornerstone in our Coast Salish art expressions and ceremonies and have been since time immemorial,” he said.
NIPD an opportunity to unlearn
Gabriel is a contemporary mixed media artist and works with modern techniques to tell stories.
But this isn’t something new.
In fact, he shared that Indigenous artists have always used the latest technology of their times to narrate their experiences through art, something that has been evident since the first visual depictions found on this land.
He shared that National Indigenous People’s Day is an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to unlearn the myths they have been carrying forward for centuries and learn the reality of Indigenous history.