Gathering In the Mountains, Reflecting on the Future of Water

Amongst the beautiful landscape of the Rocky Mountains, nine Young Indigenous Artists gathered in person for the first time to share their insights, skills, and passions. From November 20 to 24, the gathering was co-hosted by CIER and One Drop in the breathtaking mountains of Kananaskis at the Biogeoscience Institute – University of Calgary, in Alberta, Treaty 7 territory. 

The objective of the Indigenous Young Ambassadors Water Initiative (IYAWI) is to empower Indigenous youth to express their voice and vision around water-related challenges using social art and community-based approaches. As part of a one-year program, these artists share a common goal of bringing forward their stories of water issues in their communities, sharing experiences and perspectives with other communities, and, ultimately, bringing these water issues to the forefront throughout Canada.  

Elder Violet, from Tsuu t’ina First Nation, provided a greeting to open the gathering, and spoke guiding words. The first day started with an icebreaker, and was followed by an interactive session, where the artists and their organization leads shared their water stories by drawing their stories. Later, there was an active discussion on how art has the power to drive social transformation. Graphic artist Aaron Russell captured the sessions each day, enthusiastically chatting with the artists, and providing a graphic of what was shared throughout the week. 

The second day included sessions on creative system mapping, storytelling from our guests at Wapikoni, and a water walk that doubled as an outdoor photo competition, led by Thomas McKay of CIER, and later judged by Wapikoni. The third day saw the arrival of snow, making the surroundings seem magical. For some guests at the gathering, snow was a new experience. The YIAs were given some time to collaborate while taking in the breathtaking scenery, and even go for a swim in the chilly Barrier Lake.  

On the final day of the gathering, Wapikoni led the artists through a session on how to edit their work, and a guest speaker spoke about navigating water rights and governance. The wonderful week finished off with a sharing circle and a closing prayer by Elder Violet. 

The artists went home having made new connections and friends, realizing that their journey was just beginning, and excited to see where they will go. These artists, supported by grants, will receive funding to create social art to help achieve their goals. They will have a year to produce their work, and will be provided training, support, capacity building and the tools needed to develop their projects. Next year, the artists will meet again to celebrate their journeys and to share their creations with their new colleagues, and with communities throughout Canada.