I have been interested and intertwined with indigenous culture my entire life. Part of what has drawn me to this culture is the stories and reverence for the animals and the spirit realm. The sophisticated stories of how man, woman and the world came to be are surrounded by shared experiences with animals. In these stories humans and animals shared the ability to transform and learn from one another. There is often a balance that is obtained or a truth that is learned, and there is an understanding that everything is respected, no matter it’s deviance. From many of these stories and legends groups of Indigenous people obtain their clan names, which often depict animals like the wolf, orca, raven, bear, otter, marten….and many more.
Presently I work as an Indigenous Infant Development Consultant and have had the honor to meet and work with many amazing Indigenous survivors and warriors. I have come to understand the lasting effects of displacement, cultural genocide, trauma and many other terrible things that have happened to the Indigenous people. I think I am drawn to the Indigenous field because of the spirit of the people and the respect I have for those that persevere in the face of adversary. Despite all the injustices these people have had to endure, their culture is alive and thriving, just like the people.
In this present painting I chose my subject, Gabby, for her strength and her tie to the Lax Gibuu (wolf) as this is her Gitxsan clan. I met Gabby last year and eventually got to learn her story, which left me inspired. Gabby is just one of many indigenous people who have been affected by residential schools and the 60’s scoop. She was apprehended as a young child in downtown Vancouver and spent much of her life in different foster homes. Despite these early life traumas and struggles, Gabby was able to grow into a very strong, intelligent and beautiful women. Not only was she able to overcome traumatic experiences but she grew and flourished.
In this piece I paint Gabby with her clan symbol, Lax Gibuu. In addition, the two wolfs are symbolic of a Cherokee legend. It goes like this:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “There is a fight going on inside of all of us” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – his is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Although this painting draws from this Cherokee legend, I also see the two wolves acting as a balance between opposing psychological desires. This is akin to dualism, the Chinese philosophy of ying and yang or Freud’s id and ego. We need to have opposites in the world to fully appreciate what is good and what is “bad”.
There is a lot more going on in this piece, but I think it’s best to allow for some amount of individual interpretation.
Thanks for viewing,