Artist profile: Keilah Lukenbill-Williams

My name is Keilah Lukenbill-Williams. I come from a culturally diverse family with mixed ancestry of European, Nuu Cha Nulth and Cowichan descent. I was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley as a member of the Somena Tribe. My Nuu Cha Nulth roots stem from my grandmothers family who is a hereditary chief from the community of Kyuquot located on the Northwestern tip of Vancouver Island.Keilah Lukenbill-Williams

It has been an honor and an enriching experience to have the opportunity to work with and learn from such a wonderful team of creative people over the past six months. I am so grateful to have been able to take part in the project and would like to express many huy ch q’u’s to the mentors and Open Space for providing an invaluable space that enabled us to connect with and gain knowledge and insight from a number of inspiring First Nation’s artists, and for creating a safe and encouraging environment for creative expression and the exchange of ideas and knowledge between ourselves and with our community.

When I reflect on our work and the title of our exhibition “Gifts from Our Ancestors” I am reminded of my grandmother who nurtured some of my first experiences of creativity. I remember my time spent learning to bead and knit with her as a child as an important time for story telling and receiving teachings. It was also partially through this time spent with my grandmother that I implicitly learned the power of self-expression through art making and the belief in the ability of the objects we create to embody and tell our story.

I believe that the work and collaboration we did together as part of the Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program created such a valuable opportunity for this type of exchange of knowledge and stories to take place through engaging in art and object making. It also provided a platform to share our stories as individuals from diverse backgrounds, as artists with different skills and knowledge to share, and as Indigenous people and youth from many different Nations.

Perhaps the primary significance of the project lays in its success in bringing together youth, mentors, artists and various community members to participate in an important dialogue about the notion of cultural identity, who we are as members of distinct Nations and who we are and what has the ability to unite us as Indigenous people living in what is know known as Canada.

At the heart of, and embodied in the artwork of, the exhibit are these connections, relationships and the sense of community and understanding that has arisen through the work and discussion undertaken throughout the program. It is my hope that these connections remain strong and that we may we continue to do good work together.

Huy chi qu again to all of those who made this project possible!

All my relations!

– Keilah


Artist profile: Owen Parnell

We are delighted to present this introductory statement from Owen Parnell, whose painting and dreamcatcher installation are featured in the Gifts From Our Ancestors of Owen

I am a 21-year old emerging artist focused on painting and social practice. I am currently completing a Visual Arts Diploma at Camosun College. Aside from select artistic experiments and exercises, my creative process is one which follows impulse.

For this show, I was thinking about the symbolism of shape particularly the ovoid and the rectangle. Considering the rectangle as a shape of colonial relation to land and architecture, and the ovoid a shape of coastal Indigenous art and culture. I have presented two pieces with these forms within one another, exploring how they relate.

Thinking about the theme “gifts from our ancestors”, I find inspiration from festival culture in which sacred art traditions are looked back to and reinterpreted. I’m interested in environments in which art is serving a cultural and spiritual purpose rather than being something to experienced only on a visual and conceptual level.

Inspired by this stream of alternative culture, I immerse myself in it, travelling through BC and the surrounding area to intentional gatherings and festivals, displaying art, live painting, and installing interactive art installations.  The intention behind these projects is to engage people in their own creativity, by encouraging them to interact and experiment.

Most often in my painting, rather than started with a clear concept and intended outcome, I leave it open and allow them to develop throughout the process. I work to balance control and lack of control to create a visually interesting conversation between the two. The result is often psychedelic in its aesthetic, containing flowing transitions between abstract forms and representations of the microcosm, the macrocosm, and the in between.  However, in the context of this show I have altered my approach to suit the ideas I’m working with.

I don’t know much about my heritage, except that I’m Cree Metis on my dad’s side. I’ve been interested in finding out more about my ancestry, but that has been challenging because I’ve lived at a distance from Cree territories.

For several years, I apprenticed with Coast Salish carver Curtis Christie here in Victoria, focusing on learning coastal forms through wall plaques. I also studied native art in High School with Alex Clark in which I mostly focused on painting but also carved a thunderbird walking stick. I relate with coastal native art because that’s what I’ve been exposed to growing up here. I’m very interested in learning more about the formal aspects of that art tradition. Although this interest doesn’t speak directly to the painting I usually do, I like to experiment with different forms and have learned a great deal from studying with Curtis, Alex and other mentors.


Interview with artist Tonya Isaac

Today we introduce you to Tonya Isaac, an emerging artists from the Namgis Nation of the Kwakwaka’wakw people, and a student at Camosun College. Tonya has been a participant in the Indigenous Youth Artist Showcase and her artwork can be seen at Open Space Gallery as part of the Gifts From Our Ancestors exhibition until April 12th.

Q: Can we begin by sharing some information about your background? What is your ancestry, and what are you currently pursuing in school?

I am Kwakwak’wakw from the Namgis Nation in Alert Bay, BC. However, I was raised in Burns Lake, which is central BC. I call both these communities home. I have a strong connection to people and the land in both places. I used to struggle with my identity, questioning if it was alright to call myself Kwakwak’wakw when I was raised so far away. Today, I’m more comfortable knowing that I am in the process of recapturing and finding out more about my identity, ancestry and family history – and that’s okay.

Currently, I’m an Indigenous Studies student at Camosun College. The program has taught me so much about identity, role in community as well as past, present and future issues pertaining to Indigenous people. I’m passionate about education and holistic health. I believe that the current school curriculum needs to be changed in order to be more inclusive to different ways of learning.

Q: What is your first memory of creating art? Or when did you first become interested in making art?

As far back as I can remember, I have enjoyed creating art. I remember going to visit my Grandma in Alert Bay and she always had a house full of art. The bedroom that my sister, brother and I would stay in must have been my Uncle Terry’s old room. There were sketchbooks hidden all over the room and torn out pages pinned to the wall. The images were simple pencil sketches of traditional forms but I remember falling in love with the idea of becoming an artist because of them.

Q: What teachers, artists, stories or issues inspire you as an artist?

Beau Dick, because there is just something so whimsical about his character and art. I haven’t had the privilege to spend much time with him but when the opportunity presents itself, I take it up. Recently, my sister, husband and friend bumped into him at the ferry and offered him a ride to town. He shared stories and a project that he was working on, it is something I’ll never forget. He is a very memorable, intriguing and inspiring artist.

Trevor Isaac, because he is super awesome and my go to guy! He is so knowledgeable about our family ancestry and history and never hesitates to answer any of my questions. Trevor is the Collections/Educations Assistant at the U’mista Cultural Society/Museum in Alert Bay and the Research Assistant at the University of British Columbia. He is also an amazing artist! He is super creative and mixes traditional with abstract and graphics.

Q: What ideas, teachings or experiences do you hope to pass on through your artwork?

There are not specific ideas, teachings or experiences that I hope to pass on through my artwork. I would rather leave it to the interpretation of my audience. The first time I shared my artwork with the public, it was so neat to hear them interpret it how they wanted to.  I think that the best part of art are the ideas, teachings and experiences that you draw out of them, not necessarily what the artist hopes to pass on.

Q: Do you want to share any comments about your experience at Open Space Gallery during this program, since last October? What has been your favorite part of being in this group exhibition?

My experience at Open Space Gallery has been amazing! It has been great to be encouraged to spend time making and exploring art. My favourite part about being a part of this group exhibition has been spending time with other emerging artists as well as established artists. The Pop-Up Shop was such an awesome experience. Volunteering and spending time at the Victoria Art Gallery was a blast!

Q: The name for the exhibit is “Gifts From Our Ancestors”. What does this phrase mean to you?

To me, the exhibit name, “Gifts From Our Ancestors” is everything that is positive in my life, everything that drives me forward. The gifts are all the amazing opportunities that are a part of my journey.

Q: In acknowledging the “gifts” from our ancestors, we might think about our gratitude for these gifts. What are you thankful for?

I am thankful for open arms, minds and doors. Being part of this journey has been stressful at times and I am thankful for my husband Josh, who has had open arms to wrap me up when I’m having an artistic meltdown. I’m very thankful for the group always ready to meet up and share ideas with open minds. Open Space has had open doors since the beginning and have also been a huge support. I’m super thankful to all who have supported and guided this journey!

Finger Knitting Workshop with Brianna

Brianna Dick has been knitting since she was in elementary school. She started by learning to knit on her fingers – a very portable method of knitting that doesn’t require needles. Now in her twenties, Brianna’s artistic interests have expanded to include painting, drawing and other mediums, but she still returns to fibre arts as her primary passion. She has passed these skills along to her younger siblings and other children, providing mentorship and creative inspiration for young artists in her community.

Join us this Saturday, when Brianna will lead a finger knitting workshop for kids ages 7 and up (and adult kids too). The participants’ knitting will be joined together and added to Brianna’s installation in the gallery, as part of the Gifts From Our Ancestors exhibition.

Date: Saturday March 8

Time: 1 – 4 pm

Location: Open Space Gallery, 510 Fort Street #2

Cost: FREE


Interview with artist Jesse Campbell

In the second interview in this series, we introduce you to Jesse Campbell, whose work will be presented in the Gifts From Our Ancestors exhibition.


Q: The name for the exhibit is “Gifts From Our Ancestors”. What does this phrase mean to you?

J: “Gifts From Our Ancestors” is sort of a nod to our own personal journey. I sort of see our own lives as a reflection of cumulative experiences from our ancestors and their interactions with other people’s ancestors. We’re all in this together, I guess. I wanted to make work which reflected the journey of my ancestors and their friends which also had analogies to my own personal journey.

Q: What is your first memory of creating art? Or when did you first become interested in making art?

J: I remember drawing in daycare when I was little. Mainly colouring and stuff. I liked it because it made the space quiet for a bit. Kids are noisy, and I’ve never really liked that. I expressed an interest to my Mom and she sat down and drew my dad with me. She was never really into art and had a hard time with it but she liked that I liked it so we kept at it. It was just a fun activity I could do for a while. Then around grade 4 or 5, people started to be nice to me just so I would draw them something and I stopped liking it for a while. Everybody thought that I was going to be some famous professional artist, but I wanted to be like Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter. Plus having everybody want you to do something kind of killed it for me. Ever since then my practice has sort of gone through a wave. Some years I will produce lots, others very little, it all depends where I’m at in my life.

Q: What teachers, artists, stories or issues inspire you as an artist?

J: Some of the artists that give me inspiration off the top of my head include old school scientific illustrators like Ernst Haeckel, and graffiti artists like DEFER, RIME, CRYPTIK, Retna, and El Mac. I’m also inspired by the work of Dempsey Bob, Roy Henry Vickers, Alano Edzerza, Robert Davidson, and of course the Charles Edenshaw. A lot of the Muslim calligraphers and the Cambodian carvers from the Khmer empire inspire me a lot too.

Q: Can you share a bit about your ancestry or family history?

J: On my Mom’s side I’m Metis, Cree, Canadian, and English. On my Dad’s, I’m Canadian, English, Scottish, and German.

Q: What ideas, teachings or experiences do you hope to pass on through your artwork?

J: I guess I’m pretty direct when it comes to my work. I like my fish to represent fish and my streams to represent streams and so on. Once in a while I’ll draw something to represent a legend or to depict part of a story but for the most part I like my work to speak for itself in its representation. It’s almost utilitarian I guess. But I like when people make up their own stories or interpretations about my work. It’s a little frustrating when people call my Herring a Salmon or my Bear-Whale a Beaver but then again they’re still enjoying it so that’s alright. I guess I just want my work to look like the things they look like.

Lately I’ve been experimenting a lot more with meaning. For example I’m planning on doing a mural for the Gifts From Our Ancestors exhibition which represents the resilience of Cree, Metis, and really all First Nations people. It’s going to be a creation story translated into Cree syllabics. The style of the lettering is a little abstract from our usual English style of letters, and I’m going to accentuate that with my own hand style. It’ll sort of look like graffiti, or it may be interpreted as such, so I’m going to have sections of it “buffed” to look like it’s been covered up, similar to how the city often covers over graffiti. I’ll keep layering the “buffed” sections on top of each other to give it a particular effect and have certain words stand out from the sections that have been painted over. Different syllabic words will be painted over the buffed sections to keep the creation story alive. The idea is to give the piece a sense of overcoming what some may think must be destroyed.

Q: Do you want to share any comments about your experience at Open Space Gallery during this program, since last October? What has been your favorite part of being in this group exhibition?

J: It has been really interesting to see the amount of work which goes into an exhibition and to see how much more is involved in being an artist than just making things. I believe that my experience at Open Space has given me a really unique view of the whole art lifestyle in the promotion and production sense, which is really what I wanted to get out of this experience.

My favorite part of being in the group exhibition thus far has been producing the work and gathering ideas and insight from other artists. It has been a real challenge balancing school, and training with art making but then again that’s exactly how I want to live my life for the next bit. I guess it’s important for me to learn to appreciate what this busyness has to offer and use that information to plan out the future. With that in mind I’m sure the exhibition will be pretty rad and that I’ll be able to use the experience as a stepping stone in future endeavors.

Q: In acknowledging the “gifts” from our ancestors, we might think about our gratitude for these gifts. What are you thankful for?

I’m thankful for everybody being present. I understand that everybody has their own battles and we’re all fighting some kind of war, but I appreciate their willingness be by my side.

Interview with artist Sacha Ouellet

Over the next few weeks, we will be posting interviews with the artists whose work is being exhibited in Gifts From Our Ancestors. To kick off the series, we present an interview with Sacha Ouellet.

headshot of Sacha Ouellet

Q: The name for the exhibit is “Gifts From Our Ancestors”. What does this phrase mean to you?

S: The name ‘gifts from our ancestors’ came from our group sitting together and brainstorming what it meant for us to be Indigenous youth in an urban environment. The name is very striking, and very much like it sounds, we are sharing things that our ancestors shared with us by being resilient in the face of adversity, and passing traditions through the generations. For me that was the beginning of an introspection surrounding that question, a question I’m still asking myself, and answering every day through my art and work. This phrase means to me that I’m able to come together with an amazing group of people to create a safe space to create traditional and non-traditional art work. It’s given us the ability to present these works as almost a ceremonial showcase of the gifts our ancestors have provided to us through being with us in spirit, and creating beautiful traditions so that we may carry those on into the future and create communities wherein we can share our culture, art and experiences in a good way.

Q: What is your first memory of creating art? Or when did you first become interested in making art?

S: I’ve been interested in making art as long as I can I remember, but perhaps my first experiences with Indigenous art was making dream catchers with my aunt when I was about eight. That was a beautiful experience that I’ll always remember. It was one of the first times I can remember feeling excited and proud of my Indigenous heritage, and I will always feel grateful to her for that experience.

Q: What teachers, artists, stories or issues inspire you as an artist?

S: I have so many incredible people supporting, inspiring, and teaching me in my life – especially now. I’ve always had an amazing support network of family, friends and teachers, and access to creative spaces with beautiful people who teach me. Right now I’m especially grateful for the endlessly patient, helpful, and awe inspiring mentors that have guided us all through this process. Their hard work and organization is extremely appreciated, especially when it comes to offering artistic and personal support. I am constantly inspired by the other amazing artists I’ve been working with during this process. I feel so grateful for their honesty, vulnerability, creative talents, and support. I hope to work with them all again very soon.

Q: Do you want to share a bit about your ancestry or family history? What ideas, teachings or experiences do you hope to pass on through your artwork?

S: My family history is a question I get asked out of context and in invasive ways quite often, so I’m happy to explain it when posed to me surrounding work like this, where it is very relevant.

My father is French Canadian, and my mother is Haida/Tsimshian/Scottish/English. In the Haida culture we lead with the maternal foot, thusly my Indigenous culture is much more prevalent and important in my life and work, especially because my mother was my primary parent.

My great great grandfather was Henry Edenshaw, from Haida Gwaii, who was married to Martha Edenshaw from Alaska. My great grandmother was born Victoria Edenshaw to the staastas Eagle clan.  Her husband, Godfrey Kelly was a Tsimshian man taken from his village in Metlakatla at age 9 and brought to Alert Bay with roughly 300 other Tsimshian children. He stayed in Alert Bay at St. Michaels Residential school until he was 16, and then was brought to Haida Gwaii where he and Victoria Edenshaw had an arranged marriage. Later they had ten children – of those ten children five are still alive, including my nonnie (grandmother) Martha Wainwright (nee) Kelly.

My late grandfather, Alan Wainright, was a commercial fisherman in Haida Gwaii, where he first learned to fish from the Haida people at age 10. My grandmother worked in fishing canneries before retiring. Her status was stripped from her when she married my white grandfather, but reinstated with the passing of Bill C-31. She resides in Prince Rupert, and visits Haida Gwaii whenever possible.

My art up till this point has been much more contemporary and comes from a very white place, as I’ve always struggled with my identity being a white passing Indigenous women, and living within the Indigenous community and on reservation for a large portion of my teenage years. I am happy to say in this exhibit I will be integrating traditional arts taught to me by Lindsey Delaronde, and exploring contemporary Indigenous art with my photography.

Q: Do you want to share any comments about your experience at Open Space Gallery during this program, since last October? What has been your favorite part of being in this group exhibition?

S: I’d like to thank Open Space Gallery for providing us a space to talk, work on our art, work through our thoughts, and creating a safe space for us to be who we are, whoever that may be. I’ve had some of the most inspiring and motivating conversations in this space, and I will always treasure the opportunity that’s been given to me by the people who participated in the Indigenous Youth Artist Showcase.

I think my favourite part of being in the group exhibition has been making the connections that I’ve been blessed to make. I’ve met so many amazing individuals who have blessed me with opportunities I never dreamed possible. At our pop-up shop in December, I met Janet Rogers who recommended I apply for an Indigenous News Director internship at CFUV, which I am exceedingly happy to say I was offered, and have been able to begin working in the media as an Indigenous News Anchor. I might never have ended up here if it weren’t for meeting the group at IYAS, which lead to meeting Janet, which truly has changed my entire world. I’m so grateful for these opportunities, and to the people who believed in me when I was second guessing myself.

Q: In acknowledging the “gifts” from our ancestors, we might think about our gratitude for these gifts. What are you thankful for?

S: I’m thankful for my family, my friends and my teachers. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to work through mental illness and addiction with the help of these people who’ve held my hand every step of the way. I am grateful for my mother, especially, for working on her healing, which taught me to work on mine. I can’t even put enough emphasis on how many people have helped me to this point, even if I thought they weren’t at the time – there is always a lesson to be learned from our past. I’d like to thank all of the people who took time to come to see our work, and who helped us put this together and encouraged us to work hard and be mindful. I thank my beautiful partner, Rob, for always believing in me, for working through my past traumas with me, and being the most loving, supportive, and giving person I’ve encountered.

I would also like to thank my late dear friend Ashlie who valued my art more than anyone I’ve met before or since, and who taught me how to live everyday like it may be my last. This is for her.

Q: This interview is a way to introduce you as both an artist and an individual. Is there anything else you want to share, in telling this story of who you are?

S: I’m currently enamoured with the powerful force that is Indigenous community. I have never felt more happy, supported, or surprised at my own abilities. My goals are many, and not all related to art. In the immediate future I’d like to continue my role in Indigenous broadcasting, and some day work for the CBC. I feel like I’ll look back on that answer and cringe or laugh one day, but for now it’s what excites me and makes me work hard to be the best I can be at my current position. I hope to gain more understanding and experience as an Indigenous artist, and to one day return to my mother’s birth place on Haida Gwaii, to apprentice as a Haida carver. I have many bold wishes for myself and my life, and I’ve found the only way to make these things happen is by working hard, and showing respect where respect is due.

In the future I hope to be able to give back to the community that has given so much to me. My wish is that what people take away from this exhibit will be that Indigenous people are incredibly diverse, multifaceted individuals, with a great sense of pride for our native cultures, and respect for those who fought so that we could be here, sharing this with you.


Indigenous Youth Artist Showcase: celebrating the vision of emerging artists

On March 7th, the group exhibition Gifts From Our Ancestors will be launched at Open Space, featuring the work of seven Indigenous youth artists alongside that of more established Indigenous artists from the local region. While the opening night marks the beginning of a month-long exhibition, it is more accurately an extension of five months of work that has been unfolding in the gallery space.  Since October, the Indigenous Youth Artist Showcase has brought together emerging Indigenous artists from the local area with a group of mentors, elders and senior artists to share knowledge across generations, cultures and artistic genres. As one of the program mentors, I have been truly honored to witness the development of the works that will be shared in the upcoming exhibition, as the leadership, wisdom and energy of the youth has continually inspired me. In December, we held the very successful Shapeshifters pop-up shop – an event which created a great sense of community and showcased the diverse talents of the artists. Here, I would like to offer a few reflections on the program as we look ahead to the launch of the exhibition.

We don’t need statistics to tell us that Indigenous youth make up a large percentage of native communities[1]. We already know that their voices, talents, cultural knowledge and keen minds make a significant contribution to the vitality of our nations. While we often celebrate Indigenous artists once they are successful, it is important to create spaces in which to support the development of Indigenous youth’s artistic vision and to honor the contributions they already bring to our communities. Too often native youth are labeled as being “at risk” rather than being invited in to community spaces as leaders with important insights to share and nurture. Within the Indigenous Youth Artist Showcase, the youth have been encouraged to bring their own diverse interests, identities, backgrounds and passions to their artwork in order to foster their individual visions. Putting aside prescriptive notions of what “Indigenous art” looks like, or indeed what an “Indigenous artist” should be like, this program has instead celebrated the individual expressions of Indigenous artforms brought forward by the youth.

Over the past five months, the young artists have met bi-weekly in the gallery to have conversations with senior Indigenous artists as well as to utilize the gallery as a studio space. Drawing on Indigenous pedagogies in which knowledge is passed down experientially and relationally, the studio has become a space of doing, making, and engaging in dialogue.  In the Gifts From Our Ancestors exhibit, this experiential learning continues as we invite the community in to the gallery as a space of relational learning. Several of the artworks will be finished over the course of the exhibition, allowing viewers to witness the unfolding of these Indigenous artforms. A series of workshops and artist talks will also provide opportunities to participate in activities led by Indigenous artists, including some led by youth. Within Indigenous community contexts, knowledge is not always passed on in formal mentoring relationships but occurs in our communities and homes around the kitchen table. As such, we invite you to gather around the kitchen table in the center of the gallery to bring this process of dialogue and relationship-building in to the exhibition itself. In these ways, we seek to honor the processes through which the vitality of Indigenous knowledge is maintained in our homes and communities – one relationship at a time.

As a Kwagiulth person growing up in Lekwungen Territories (Victoria BC), I have witnessed the steadily increasing involvement of Indigenous artists in diverse social, cultural and political spaces, which is something truly worth celebrating. Yet walking around downtown Victoria, I am still struck by the visibility of Indigenous youth in the downtown core, yet the absence of their perspectives in galleries and other formal art spaces. While many local youth are engaged in artistic practices at school, at home or on the streets, few spaces exist to showcase, nurture and honor their diverse talents. I believe the voices of Indigenous youth are vital to the artistic legacy of Indigenous communities and society more broadly, as their perspectives are critical indicators of the political and cultural issues facing society today. The Indigenous Youth Artist Showcase has taken a significant step in opening up opportunities to nurture greater collaboration with Indigenous youth, and I am excited to see where else it might lead.

Please join us on March 7th at the opening of Gifts From Our Ancestors, as we celebrate the work of these incredible young artists.

With respect,

Sarah Hunt

[1] The 2011 National Household Survey found that Aboriginal children aged 14 and under made up 28.0% of the total Aboriginal population, while Aboriginal youth aged 15 to 24 represented 18.2% of the total Aboriginal population.

Welcome to the Gifts From Our Ancestors Blog


On March 7th, the Gifts From Our Ancestors group exhibition will launch at Open Space Gallery. This blog will provide a space for discussion and information related to the exhibition. Initially, we will be sharing some background and context for the Indigenous Youth Artist Showcase program through which this exhibition came in to being. This site will also provide profiles of each of the emerging artists, as well as interviews and information about upcoming workshops and artist talks.

Please visit this blog throughout the exhibition to learn more about Gifts From Our Ancestors. We look forward to seeing you at the opening on March 7th, as we gather in Lekwungen Territories to witness and honor the work of these young artists and their mentors.