FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Tanya Roach
FUTURES/forward Mentee, Tanya Roach — cohort #4, November 2021 to May 2022 — mentored by Inuksuk Mackay
Community-engaged arts project in collaboration with the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) — a series of Indigenous-inspired sculpting and music workshops for multi-generations that facilitated conversations around the impacts of colonization, residential schools, and mining/resource extraction – all through an environmental lens of reconnecting with the land as central to healing.
TANYA ROACH is a writer, Inuit throat singer and Executive Director for Yellowknifemiut Inuit Kattujiqatigiit organization. She has written for magazine publications like Up Here, the Writer’s Union of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. She was a cultural consultant for the TV series High Arctic Haulers. With her traditional Inuit throat singing she has performed for Canadian music festivals, museum exhibitions and television productions. As a proactive member of her community she looks to revitalize traditional Inuit art forms in a modern context.
Mentorship as a part of learning process
Planning, coordinating, and running the arts workshop training was a new, challenging and rewarding experience. Opening the concept of Indigenous-inspired workshops with sculpting and music challenged views on cultural preservation and progression within the frame of modern times and incorporating diverse groups of people.
In the north, our population is smaller compared to metropolitan areas. Running the workshops with the intention of checking off boxes was the plan although the process challenged me to gauge and redirect participants back to the premise of environmental awareness.
Having Inuksuk Mackay as a mentor was exceptionally helpful with her experience conducting workshops specifically for northern youth. Throughout the 4 workshops, families with young children attended as well as homeless youth, counsellors, and program leaders from Yellowknife’s Home Base Youth Centre. In hindsight, it was profound to observe the contrast in participants – small children supported by attentive parents and teen youth/young adults who are homeless, in the foster care system, or avoiding turbulent homes.
What started out purely as an environment focused workshop series turned into a family-social-welfare space that focused on art and included a diverse group of people just interested in a calm, safe space to express creativity. Discussing difficult topics is easier to understand, process and digest when you channel thoughts and emotions with paint, clay, and music. I learned from a dear friend that oftentimes just following your passion will assist in the process of healing. Youth from the shelters were able to create inspiring, elaborate, and therapeutic paintings, which in contrast, they are not able to explore or do in their private lives. It was incredibly humbling to observe participants to be vulnerable and to express aspects of their personalities they may not be afforded to express outside of the arts space.
Environmental awareness and preservation are fundamental/core concepts to Indigenous values and principles. And while the idea of reconnecting with the land is central to healing, it also includes recognizing the impacts of colonization, residential schools, and mining/resource extraction. These aspects are difficult and important to process, especially for youth, so the act of using your hands with natural materials to create something is a small and important step towards land and cultural reconciliation. Conversations that transpired included honest and vulnerable dialogue about current living conditions and aspirations for a healthier life. Assisting in cultivating a safe space where people could be themselves was an incredibly rewarding experience and reaffirms the necessity to continue with community arts programming.
Through the FUTURES/forward mentorship program I have learned the impacts and legitimate necessity of arts-based therapies within a professional and socially aware frame. Arts therapy can be overlooked but I’ve seen firsthand the positive impacts it has on the individual and community level. The conversations Inuk and I had broadened and deepened my understanding of the ingrained system frameworks and cultural circumstances of northern individuals in an informed way that encouraged me to be more open-minded, flexible, and understanding to the individuals attending. Inuk was excellent moral support when I was overwhelmed orchestrating the workshops while dealing with life. Preparing, transporting, and storing materials is a lot of work for one person, so having Inuk available to be an ear after an eventful weekend was greatly appreciated.
I learned that “if you build it, they will come”. I had a lot of anxiety before and during the workshops because I had not done a project quite like this before. Lacking formal experience contributed to the fears I had, but when the workshops were going on I found that people gel into the experience and the communal flow will organically occur. Just providing the space and agenda of creating arts and crafts with each other, people will bring their own stories and personalities that light up the space.
In the past, I have overlooked the power of art, in part, because of my childhood upbringing and education. Technical trades education, science and math were valued more than creativity in my household which hindered an unrelenting desire to create art. While science and trades are important and worthy areas of study, I also knew deep down that art enriched my life and I longed to be a part of music and art classes throughout my youth. This would not be possible until I reached adulthood where I gravitated towards employment in art galleries and studios.
With the success of these workshops, the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) has supplied an official arts-based office for me to continue working and playing with anything arts-related.
The families and youth that attended these workshops have asked for more programming in the future. And with the generous financial support provided by ICASC, there are still enough materials and tools for arts programming to continue. With the creative spark started in this mentorship, I’ve gained tools and enough experience to continue this environmental and cultural awareness for a longer period of time. Both the experience and the results participants have made has made it all worth it.
We wish to thank NACC for this collaboration with artist/mentee Tanya Roach! FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Tanya’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Judith Marcuse Projects.