Transcript

Good afternoon. Bon après-midi.

I'll say hello, bonjour, and tansi to all the representatives of tribes of bands of treaties.

I'd like to say hello to the Elders. I'd like to say hello to dignitaries and all that remain.

I'd like to extend my thanks to everyone who came here to help discuss Indigenous history and promote the idea of reconciliation and I'm just so honoured to be here, to have my art represented as the symbol
for this.

My painting is here not as a means to the end but the beginning of a conversation. We've discussed conversations quite a bit and it's here to be a vehicle for it. For people to look at and be like, "I don't understand it. Can you explain it to me?"

That's more of what I wanted my art to be. It's not going to change the world, but it's here to start conversation.

So I would like to briefly talk about myself and of my past so I think that's pretty key in how I got here.

So, hello. I am Megan Benoit. I'm a Métis-Cree student from Vancouver, British Columbia. I attend Simon Fraser University and I am 18 years old.

So, as you can tell from my last name Benoit - it's French - I come from a long line of of Acadians which is another marginalized group in Canada and I am actually eighth generation Acadian. That's on my father's side. On my mother's side, it's Scottish and it's Cree.

So, as you can tell from that, I have strong roots in the Canadian culture which has only been strengthened by my involvement in Indigenous history.

So my brother and I, back in Vancouver, we went to a public school for elementary school. It was a French school so both him and I speak French and we were put in the Metis program and, through that, we got to experience things most kids weren't able to. We went to potlatches. We made drums. We discussed Indigenous history to a certain extent. It was obviously, back then, less open than it is now with the new Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it shaped me into who I am today and I'm very happy with it.

But it didn't really get strong, my blood in me, until I got into high school because we have a fantastic program there for Indigenous students. We have youth leaders there that we can talk to about homework, about things that we struggle with and just becoming more in contact with our Aboriginal past and not be ashamed of it.

And, I would go on like trips to different things like Sechelt which is a reserve off of the coast of Vancouver that has a small museum and that's where I first got interested in Indigenous art, but, before that, I was interested in art ever since I was really really little, but, when I got into high school, I started joining art classes and my art teacher was a lovely woman and one of her best friends at the school just so happened to be the Aboriginal English teacher.

So, they both came to me during class one day, and they're like, "hey Megan. We have an idea. How would you like to enter these two contests and make Aboriginal art?”

Now I was pumped at the chance. I was so excited because of the fact that I love art and I love history. It's something I have always been interested in. Plus, I was just getting into Aboriginal history. So, I thought what a perfect opportunity for me to blend two of my longtime loves with a newfound love for Aboriginal history. So I made my piece of artwork which I will explain in a bit and I entered it into both contests.

A couple weeks later, I got an email saying that my art was up for consideration.

A week later, I found out that me and a few other kids from across the country had won. I was flown here to Ottawa. I got to go to the Governor General's. I got to meet him, shake his hand. I did a bunch of really really cool things that were really humbling and honouring as someone who is just recently getting into Indigenous history, Indigenous issues.

So I got to go and do that and learn about other Indigenous youth, and then I came back home and about a month and a half later, maybe two months, I got an email saying that I had won the second contest and, once again, I was ecstatic. It was a euphoric feeling cause I'm like, wow! From this one painting I get to go in two trips as I'm someone on the West Coast and I've never really traveled anywhere besides Florida.

So, it was very exciting for me to do this and so I got to go to Hamilton. I had my artwork put in an art gallery there and me alongside. There's a few people in the audience here who I was with. Three other Indigenous individuals who had their artwork and stories put up on display at the art gallery as well as other artists that could not come to Hamilton at the time.

And then I came back home, and this is kind of where everything really took off differently for me because, I started getting back home, people start getting interested in my work and my identification as an Indigenous individual.

Especially since, back when I was in Hamilton, I learned about blood memory and blood memories is a very weird concept because it's so abstract and it's difficult to explain to an Indigenous person in the first place. I can't even properly explain it. I'll try to but, it's even harder to explain to someone who is of European descent or otherwise, but the best way I can explain blood memory, is that, bear with me for a moment, bagpipes.

So I know that sounds really really weird but if anyone here is of Scottish descent, it's that feeling that you get when you listen to bagpipes and it's the feeling of your heart starts to pound. You're ready to protect your country. You may not actually have that strong roots in your actual lifetime to Scottish, but, when you listen to bagpipes, you feel that connection.

That's what blood memory is. It's blood percentage without numerical value. It's the blood of your ancestors coursing through your veins and it had been there ever since I was little, but it hadn't really been tapped into until I'd done these contests and experienced this.

So I started getting more confident in my Indigenous identification and I accepted a few things back home. For instance, I was Aboriginal valedictorian for 300 plus individuals in the Lower Mainland Surrey area back home and I got to give out a speech and present them towards hundreds of Indigenous parents and Elders and, it was on traditional ceded territory as well.

And now I'm also taking classes at my university, Simon Fraser University, which is on Coast Salish territory and I'm also finally accepted the chance to be here to discuss my art which brings me to where I am now.

So, my artwork is an abstract interpretation of the Medicine Wheel. Now some people in the audience might not know what the Medicine Wheel is. It is a symbol that's really apparent throughout many Aboriginal cultures, not all, but many, and it's the four main elements of reality which is the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual.

The concept behind mine is: I want you to notice, when you look at it, how they're not distinct lines as the traditional Medicine Wheel is normally seen. It's muddled. It's pushed together. It's distorted, just like our past is distorted through the eyes of the white man, through the eyes of white washing Indigenous history.

That's the idea that I wanted behind it and after I had done this, I tore up my painting. Only to sew it back together because the point of me tearing up my painting is to show the gaping wound that is in Indigenous history of the pain that Indigenous people went through and still go through.

That's the motivation behind my painting, but I did this just to sew it back together, because that is what we are doing with reconciliation. We're using threads, we're using rope to crudely tie it back together. We're doing our best to do it, but it'll never heal completely.

Because, we're not asking to put a bandaid on it, put layers of bandages over top of the wound of the past, because, if we did that then we'd hide it. What we want is to stitch it together so it's no longer bleeding, but we want the scar to stay.

Because the scar, no matter how gnarly, no matter how nasty and shameful it is, is a reminder never to do these horrible nasty things again. So we want it the heal and that's the point of reconciliation. We want to tie it back together and we want it to scar and it will heal and so will we. Thank you.

(Applause)

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