The Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (MFCM) has a fantastic youth centre called the Inter-Tribal Youth Centre of Montreal (ITYC) which boasts a stone-carving room and a music room as well as being well equipped to carry out numerous activities and projects. Of course, the need is always great for the First Nations communities to instill healing and promote cultural awareness and positive self-esteem, especially among the youth.

Jeska Slater, a Métis of Cree background, curated the art show, Young Artist Warriors, in which she incorporated the talents of several artists from the Montreal Urban First Nations Youth. Slater’s large-scale paintings figure prominently due to the strong visual impression they leave due their bright colours and size. The paintings are portraits of seven Native artists who took part in the project. These seven pieces were hung alongside the works by other young artists, which included a Dreamcatcher piece by Kneraton:Kwas (Jolene Cowan) and anarchist-style spray-can paintings by Neill Stranger as well as a painting of a Polar Bear by Mingeriak Kolala

(Louisa Neill).

The vernissage, held on July 24, started with a performance by the Drumming Group, another weekly activity that the Friendship Centre hosts for the ITYC participants. Slater introduced all the artists and explained the concept behind the show, which is part of a project, called Young Artist Warriors. She also had the evening’s event filmed for an upcoming documentary about the project.

There were several musical performances that evening, which included Alexander Wesley Cardinal aka Cella Chest, another Métis of Cree heritage. He played original compositions and impressed the enthusiastic audience with his delicate yet evocative and moving songs. Another performer was Inuk rapper John Awa aka Emcee N3MO (pronounced Nemo), who you can see on YouTube.

Here are a few more highlights of the project: Cape Dorset artist Tommy Kingwatsiak showed one of his stone carvings, called Walking Bear. It is chiseled out of beautiful greenish stone that has many veins of intricate colours cutting across it. This provides the illusion of movement as if the bear is actually walking.

“Through creativity and the renewal of traditional teachings, we can stop negative patterns, including drug, alcohol abuse, violence and crime that stem from the transmission of cultural shame. Young Artist Warriors wishes to reveal that our paint-brushes, microphones and chisels are the new weapons against cultural oppression and racism. The First Nations Youth of today are eager to share their stories and traditions with the world through being creative,” explains Slater.

“By facilitating works done by the youth, in a medium of their choosing, the program generates a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth,” she continues.

During a conference she attended with the ITYC, Slater heard a quote that has really affected her. “You can’t have self-esteem without cultural esteem.”

Since high school, Slater has been painting portraits. Born to a mother of Cree descent, and raised in Selkirk, Manitoba, Slater moved to Vancouver area in her late teens. She was always very influenced by the wilderness of B.C.’s coastline and countryside, while at the same time finding appreciation for her Native heritage. This combination led Slater to move to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) in her mid-20s. This move was a defining moment in her art career.

Both the wild nature and being surrounded by the strong tradition of Haida art of the small First Nations community of Masset proved to be the biggest inspiration in her life. It was in Masset that Slater had her first solo art show, Navigations, at the Rising Tide Gallery and it was in Haida Gwaii that she first came up with the idea of Young Artist Warriors, which she has actualized in partnership with the ITYC.

Slater’s paintings will remain on display at the Centre until Sept. 30 and there is already talk of another art show is in the works for September. Please feel free to pay the Centre a visit because it might truly be worth your while.

Other projects that the ITYC hosts are week-long Sweat Lodge outings and the Native Solidarity News on the last Tuesday of every month on the Montreal community radio station CKUT. Our youth are our future!

Finally, two of the rappers highlighted, Emcee N3MO and Amik Napew, a Cree man who goes by Chorus Fly, will be speaking at the Pop Montreal International Music Festival Symposium in October where famous First Nations singer Buffy Sainte Marie will perform.