Anishinaabeg Artist & HIP Team Up to Remove Barriers

A young Indigenous high school artist, Amberlee King, struggled with the loss of her father. When Amberlee was asked to paint a mural for Project Journey Classroom, she immediately accepted. Project Journey Classroom, engages youth while developing leadership skills and building resilience and self respect. 

The program was taken over by the Pikangikum Education Authority and is managed by a First Nations teacher. This is a fabulous program developed by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people and now led by Indigenous people.  The program has had a significant positive impact on many Pikangikum youth.  The Project Journey room is more than just a classroom and provides a place of safety, development and refuge.  Which makes it a very special place for Amberlee’s mural. 

Amberlee attends EBS School in Pikangikum First Nation. Pikangikum is a isolated, fly-in community located approximately 100 km northwest of Red Lake, Ontario, a trip that takes on average fifteen minutes by plane. With 2300 residents, Pikangikum is one of the largest First Nation communities in Northern Ontario with the highest on-reserve population. An estimated 75% of the population is under the age of twenty-five. The large number of youth has had a significant impact on the local school which was constructed thirteen years ago. The school is in need of resources and suffers from a severe shortage of classroom space. Unable to meet youth needs, the community often faces health and social crises.

Artist Joseph Sagaj

Receiving a request from EBS School for art supplies, HIP Director John Lomax, and District Coordinators Jim and Marjorie Dawson, reached out to Anishinaabeg Artist Joseph Sagaj for help. Joseph is from the remote community of Neskantaga, approximately 300 km north of Thunder Bay, Ontario. He graduated in Fine Arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1985. In 1992, The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) selected Joseph’s logo as a winning design, using it in all their publications. Since winning this national competition, Joseph has had numerous private and public commissions. He’s designed logos for various organizations, which include Anishnawbe Health Toronto, Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment & Training Centre, Neskantaga First Nation, and Samson Cree Nation in Alberta, as well as others.

Understanding the challenges of isolated communities first hand, Joseph had acquired a stockpile of art supplies he wanted to gift to a Northern First Nations community in need of materials. Joseph was happy to have the supplies directed to EBS School.

Original plans to deliver the supplies were postponed due to COVID19. However, this fall, Jim and Marjorie drove twenty-four hours to Red Lake to be flown into Pikangikum First Nation.

Artist Amberlee King

The supplies allowed Amberlee to complete the project. Teacher Narcisse Kakegabon explained “Amberlee did a great job painting what I was going to teach for the year. It’s how the elders created a foundation for Pikangikum and how they developed it. Each student will have an opportunity to place their hand on the tree and think about how they will continue to make their community a healthy place to live and learn”.

Amberlee reflects “This is going to be my history too. There were times I wanted to break down thinking about my dad and thinking about telling him I was painting the school’s wall. He’s not here for that”.