Thaila Sarazin with her installation Lost Legacies, New Life at the WKP Kennedy Gallery.

By Kelly Anne Smith

NORTH BAY – Jubilant patrons filled the Capitol Centre’s WKP Kennedy Gallery on opening night of the Indigenous Art Gala Teamwork makes the Dreamwork.

Taking place November 1, Teamwork makes the Dreamwork honours Reconciliation North Bay’s One Year Anniversary. Created to celebrate a successful year of reconciliation, the gala evening was a collaboration with the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre.

Chair of the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre (NBIFC), Katherine Sarazin smudged the entire gallery just before opening. She spent extra time on Thaila Sarazin’s Lost Legacies, New Life. Katherine said she cleansed the gallery for people to enter with a good mind. “She (Thaila) had talked to me about the story behind it so I knew it’s importance. I wanted to be able to have that cleansing for the dress before the people came and felt that energy from it.”

Katherine was pleased with the good turnout from community members. “The Urban Aboriginal Strategy at the Friendship Centre has been working so hard with many community partners involved with the strategy.”

The NBIFC Chair said the evening is personally important to her. “It’s super special for me because my youngest daughter and son-in-law are the curators. A lot of their artwork is here tonight. Thaila has always been very creative. I’ve been blessed because all four of my children are multi-talented.”

Tasheena Sarazin was overheard saying “I’m so proud of my sister.”  Tasheena was emotional while absorbing the significance of Thaila’s installation. Later Tasheena would sing in her beautifully detailed regalia with the High Ridge Singers: Darren Nakogee, Gerry McComb, Tyler Eagle, and  Brennan Govender. Thaila’s brother Lindsay Sarazin of Wolf Eye Productions was filming the Gala.

Lost Legacies, New Life does tap emotions. Thaila created it to honour many aspects of the reconciliation movement. Jamie Black’s REDress, Orange Shirt Day, Indigenous leadership bloodlines, star people, strength through colonist invasion, and hope for new life are embedded in the piece.  Little hands seem to be reaching out from the back of the dress. The hands are plaster casts of her nephews Niibin and Lance Nakogee used in a previous collaboraion. Here the author writes that the child hands represent wrongs committed on First Nations in Canada. “A gentle bed of cedar pays homage to all of the children of the residential schools, but also all of the unborn children that were never allowed into this world due to sterilization, abortion, etc. The dried cedar beds also add to the notion of lost life, or life lost too soon.”

As co-curator with partner Gerry McComb, Teamwork makes the Dreamwork has extra thrill for Sarazin. “It’s my first time to have an opportunity to curate a show, and low and behold it’s the show celebrating the first year of reconciliation. Oh my gosh, I get chills. It’s powerful to have the opportunity to elevate First Nations art, local First Nations art, to the higher levels of fine art. The work to legitimize our art in a gallery space, and at the same time celebrate it and have the power to choose which works go where, and how to represent First Nations art work – it was huge for Gerry and I. Gerry and I just graduated from the Fine Arts Program at Nipissing University and we have this huge opportunity to represent our people in this show.”

Gerry McComb praised his Nipissing University experience for setting the pace to be a curator. “It’s my first time being a curator in a show. I owe a lot of what I gain from this from the formal training I had in university. That plays such a big part giving insight into how art helps us relate to one another.

“There is a great population of Aboriginal people from all different Nations represented here. I think it is good that the artists are local but have backgrounds that come from all over Ontario.” McComb is a member of Moose Cree First Nation.

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod was excited as he passed off CDs of local Indigenous musicians for the show. “It’s a great showcase for young artists. Using art in the efforts of reconciliation is quite appropriate considering a lot of the stereotypes and ideas of what the colonialists think where Native’s art came from. Those early art works painted First Nation People in a certain light. We’re getting to a point now, an era, where we are using art to reverse those stereotypes.”

Chair of Reconciliation North Bay, Dr. Mike DeGagné, was delighted with the gala’s success. “There are so many people involved. I mean, you can never underestimate North Bay for that. We had a significant launch event for Reconciliation and have been doing small things regularly throughout the year, so it’s nice to cap off with this.”

North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre Executive Director Kathy Fortin cited the efforts of Reconciliation North Bay. “There is somebody there making sure it’s happening. There is a good team put together in Dr. DeGagné, Leo DeLoyde and Maurice Switzer, bringing awareness to reconciliation. DeLoyde sits on the community action circle and is Interim Urban Aboriginal Strategy Coordinator.”

The Indigenous art displayed had gallery patrons closely examining the pieces. Some were bent over paintings or discussing the amazing works with others.

Thaila Sarazin says of her installation, “New Life also symbolizes hope for the future, which is why the installation is facing the rest of the gallery that celebrates reconciliation.”

The Indigenous Art Gala Teamwork makes the Dreamwork runs until November 20.