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Community Gathering Notes

Date: Thursday, January 27, 2022.

Gathering Start: 11:00 AM.

Gathering End: 2:00 PM.

In the Circle: 10 people in the Zoom room total, including Gathering host, Co-Conveners, and ArtsBuild Ontario (ABO).




The Gathering was opened by Knowledge Keeper David (Sunny) Osawabine, speaking to where Indigenous artists and communities are going, where they have been, how they got there, and what they see in the future of Indigenous creative spaces. 

Highlights from introductions


The Gathering Circle included Arts Animators who work with Debajehmujig Storytellers currently, as well as a community member who has worked with Debajehmujig in the past.

With each introduction, Gathering Circle members emphasized the importance of listening and learning from everyone.

Defining creative space


Following introductions, initial conversations were framed around the following question: What does a vision of creative space look like for Indigenous artists?

Highlights from discussions


The Gathering Circle identified that creative space can be anywhere where an artist wants to create. How a creative space comes into existence is largely based on the mind frame of the artist who is creating, and what they need to access in the space during the creative process. The Gathering Circle offered stories around their own experiences of creating in spaces such as church basements, during festivals, and more.


Indigenous art-making is expressed in ways that artists find honest and comfortable, where creating is understood as an activity of “doing” rather than “making.” For example, when harvesting food and natural resources such as berries, a creative process such as jewelry-making could emerge from that need to “do” something. The space in which this happens must be comfortable to the community member.


A creative space can be better accessed with reliable transportation.


Creative spaces can transform and evolve over time. For example, a home can be a creative space before the ideas are transferred to a public space for community to access.


A creative space must be a safe space for Indigenous community members. Arts can be a healing process, allowing people to work through trauma and express themselves creatively for example.

recording studio in Debajehmujig’s Creation Centre

An image of the recording studio in Debajehmujig’s Creation Centre, supporting artists and communities as a space that can be accessed to record in.

Ensuring the safety of creative spaces


Thoughts around the safety of Indigenous artists and community members in creative spaces emerged from the following question: How do you ensure that, when you walk through the front door of a space, the space is safe? How do you provide input to create a safe space for Indigenous artists?

Highlights from discussions


Some settler spaces do not allow smudging, and this is a problem that must be addressed to ensure that Indigenous artists feel safe. The spaces should have a physical safety feature, such as a lock, so that artists can feel safe when creating art.


Safety can also be ensured through the actions of people activating the space. It is important to check in on the mental and emotional processes of artists during their art-making to ensure that they feel safe and supported in the environment they are activating.

Challenges to access creative spaces 


The Gathering Circle noted a number of challenges to accessing creative spaces in surrounding areas.


Highlights from discussions


It is difficult to arrange for transportation to Debajehmujig’s Creation Centre from reserves and communities. Often, community members arrange for their own transportation as it is very dangerous to travel at night, for example. There is a Manitoulin Island initiative underway to create united transportation, and most recently Wiikwemkoong was included in this route. The Gathering Circle was unsure of the current plans with this initiative. 

More funding should be secured to arrange for transportation. Some grants could be accessed to secure transportation, but the Gathering Circle knew of few initiatives that supported artists specifically for transportation accommodations.


Municipalities may not prioritize the arts as a healing practice that could benefit communities. A question was posed around ways in which the benefit of the arts could be brought to communities in different ways. There is too much focus on infrastructure that only provides social services to Indigenous community members, as opposed to creative spaces which provide opportunities to make art as a healing practice.


Physical housing for artists is difficult to guarantee.


Communities are very isolated. There needs to be a coming together of community members in creative spaces.

How to support the development of creative spaces


The conversation turned to the topic of ways in which creative spaces, in both a mental and physical sense, can be developed.Discussion emerged from the question: How can Indigenous creative spaces be sustained?

Highlights from discussions


A strategy must be developed around how mindsets can be changed to think in a more circular way, rather than a lateral way, when it comes to supporting communities. Communities should think less of ‘how to survive’ in terms of managing crises immediately, and more around different ways in which communities can be strengthened through the arts for example. A holistic model must be developed from this strategy.


In order to create a proper creative space mentally, artists must reach a point where they feel they are comfortable with creating again. The pandemic has affected artists in reaching a creative mindset. The group noted the difficulties of transitioning from creating with a group of artists to creating independently. To help reach this point, the Gathering Circle recommended that artists watch, read, and learn different things from others such as family members, as well as from their own environment to be inspired.


In terms of supporting physical space development, providing housing for artists to live and create art in should be pursued. Debajehmujig currently manages two apartments which they provide to artists who come to the area to create, and these spaces are necessary to support the needs of the artists.


The interconnectedness with the land should be taught in a creative space to sustain the space. This interconnectedness is often removed in urban settings, and this is a problem that must be addressed.


Following traditional governance ways, going back to stories and legends, and how they served a purpose in natural community law, can inspire the development of an Indigenous creative space in how it is run.


Mentoring and training opportunities should also be made available in Indigenous creative spaces for artists.


The Gathering Circle was closed with a reflection of the day’s conversation, looking at how individuals utilize and give to a space as opposed to what a space gives to the individual. Activating creative spaces to provide things such as mentorship and art-making opportunities to work through trauma are important to consider moving forward. The Gathering Circle wondered about how to holistically bring these ideas forward in a public setting, carrying the story forward. A suggestion was put forward for everyone in the group to come together in a few weeks’ time and share a short word piece about what they thought of this gathering. Sunny Osawabine closed the conversation with inspiring words around how ideas, experiences, and teachings can be brought into the physical world creatively. 

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