Forgotten works from Indigenous artist Carl Beam to be auctioned off to benefit Yukon friendship centre

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Inside some dog ear boxes in the filing cabinet, the Skokum Jim Friendship Center found such a decade-old work by Carl Beam, an artist at M’Chigeeng First Nations in Ontario.Artwork: Provided by Skokum Jim Friendship Center • Photo: Mike Thomas / The Globe and Mail

When Casey McWatters distributes a bowl of steamed burger soup, it’s wind chill-26C. At lunch, she distributes about 250 bowls to men, women, teens and the elderly from a table outside the Sukukum Gym Friendship Center in Whitehorse.

“Last week there was a woman whose legs were frozen,” says McWatters, a member of the self-governing indigenous Ta’an Kwäch’än. “We didn’t have the boots to give her, so we gave her two wool hats to put on her shoes. It was better than nothing.”

Oversubscribed hot lunch programs, which rely heavily on donations, are underfunded. The Friendship Center, which also offers health, education and training programs, is one of the number of local NGOs and indigenous peoples working on the combined impact of the growing opioid crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the permanent trauma of housing schools. It’s just one.

Casey McWatters runs a batch of soup for lunch distribution.

Yukon currently has the highest opioid mortality rate in the country, at 48.4 per 100,000, more than double the national average. So far this year, 21 Yuconers have died from opioids. This is an astonishing number for such a small population and is questioning many local governments and NGOs what more they can do.

That’s how Bill Griffis, the new executive director of Skookum Jim Friendship Center, started running around in the old box under his desk. He was looking for an item to raise money through an online silent auction. He heard that the art donated in the mid-1990s is underneath. The dusty box he first opened contained 155 original paintings by various artists. Many in the style of Norval Morrisseau, A whimsical and lively creature.

This work by Stephen Snake is one of the items auctioned to benefit the Friendship Center.

Later, Griffith found more dog ear boxes behind the filing cabinet, and a few days later, found more boxes in another cabinet. The 114 pieces in these boxes were very different from the original batch of paintings, with photographic images transferred to colored plexiglass or stamped printing paper. The name given to all these works was Carl Beam.

It wasn’t until the work was shown at the curator Mary’s Blood show At the Yukon Arts Center Gallery, the Friendship Center noticed it was sitting.

“Carl Beam is the grandfather of indigenous contemporary art in Canada,” says Bradshaw. “He’s incredibly important. He’s a risk taker who pushed what the First Nations artists were and created a space for indigenous art to be considered contemporary.”

Mr. Beam was the first indigenous artist to purchase a piece for the permanent collection of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Canada. From M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, he worked in a variety of forms such as plexiglass, stone, ceramic, and photoetching, often blurring the medium to create his own style.

of Columbus bluesA black-and-white thumbnail of Christopher Columbus, one of the works found at the Friendship Center, is printed on a bright red plexiglass above a torn label that says “Poison around us.” Another piece printed on bright green plexiglass shows a fisherman standing on a dead whale on an X-ray image of the human body. Like the transfer of photos of Sitting Bull, Joker’s playing cards, pigs and Canadian stamps, photos of dead whales are a common theme of several works.

The National Gallery held a major retrospective of Beam’s work in 2010, five years after Beam’s death. Karl Beam: A tour show called The Poem of Existence “commemorates an influential individual who has dismantled many of the barriers surrounding modern First Nations art,” long-time art critic Robin Lawrence said in 2011. I am writing in Georgia Straight.

As Beam’s first counsel, cultural counselor, drum maker, and Yukon’s longtime resident Joe Migwans knew, Beam’s job was their filing at the Whitehorse Friendship Center. No one knows how it ended behind the cabinet. Some of the works were donated many years ago. “No one wanted them,” says Migwans. “Pigs and playing cards, really? Are you going to hang it on your wall? Nobody got it.” The prints were 1,200 per piece in 1997, when Mr. Beam was still alive. It was valued above the dollar.

The discovery of the artwork was a very welcome surprise, says Griffith, especially during years of serious hardship. “It will be of great help to us.” The Friendship Center is partnering with a local organic farm, Sundog Veggies, to raise money for an online auction that will run until December 18.

Sundog Veggies donates half of its produce (more than 11,000 kilograms per year) to local indigenous peoples and friendship centers. At the auction, they want to raise $ 200,000 to strengthen the over-expanded lunch budget of the center, which is in desperate need of more food and additional refrigerators. Meanwhile, Sundog plans to use some of its funding to establish future land programming. “We want to teach people how to grow food and use the land to heal,” says Griffith.

Before auctioning some of Beam’s work online, the Friendship Center had Migwans choose one of them.In soft white gloves, he carefully turned over Through works currently stored in Yukon’s vault Art center.

“I worked on all this with him,” says Migwans, who spent a lot of time with his cousin in Ontario and regarded him as a mentor. “He taught me how to make a photographic emulsion. I flashed the light on the negatives. I did that with the flat limestone I found at the Maniturin quarry.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Mr. Beam was sent to a housing school.

“He was pretty upset when he came out of it,” says Migwans. “He wanted to get rid of the stereotypes of the First Nations people. We have a culture and it’s born from it, but it doesn’t define who we are. We Cannot be put in the box. “

Mr. Beam did not define his work as an indigenous people, despite much of it dealing with the First Nations struggle, his cousin says.

“He entered the National Gallery as a contemporary artist, not because he was a First Nations. He didn’t use being a First Nations as anything to move him forward. He did it his own way. I did things. “

After finishing work in the vault, Migwans chose a piece with the image of a curled foetation in the mother’s belly. Black-and-white photographs were printed on bright orange plexiglass. Below the image written with a vast pen was “Poetry for the Fetal … You couldn’t believe in reason …”.

Migwans trembled when he saw the orange print with those words on the foetation.Similarities with The problem for all children – the Orange Shirt Day logo, which came to commemorate the unmarked graves of indigenous children on the grounds of a former residential school – is amazing, he says. “Think about the rationale for the boarding school. I couldn’t believe the rationale.”

Carl Beams’ first cousin, Joe Migwans, has a print reminiscent of the image of Orange Shirt Day commemorating the survivors of the housing school.

Gary Bailey, Whitehorse-based elder of Kwanlin Dun First Nations, says that the permanent trauma of housing schools affects almost every First Nations family. On October 22, he lost his daughter to fentanyl. She was 27 years old.

“We need to change the way people perceive addiction,” says Bailey. “It needs to be treated as an illness.”

He says more people are dying from opioids in Yukon than COVID-19.

Shortly after her daughter died, two more young women died of overdose. “Many of her friends-beautiful young women and men-have been dying and nothing has been done about it,” says Bailey. “No one chooses to be homeless or addicted. My daughter didn’t want to die. We need to weaken our judgment and be considerate. That’s what we do as a community. You can do it. “

Yukon indigenous people, and indigenous peoples all over the country Dealing with multiple crises and so many sorrows, says Doris Bill, chief of Kwanlin Dün. “First Nations has been disproportionately hit by both the COVID-19 and the opioid crisis,” she says. “We are dealing with one death, and then another death soon.”

Bill We would like to devote as much resources to the opioid crisis as we go to respond to COVID-19. “We need to start acting as if the opioid crisis is an emergency,” she says.

Yukon opened its first safe consumption area at the end of September and started supplying safe medicines, but strict eligibility requirements are still a deterrent. Bill wants easier access to safe medicine.More indigenous support staff At the point of consumption; and non-criminalization of drug possession, people in need of it are not afraid to call 911.

She also wants more mental health support, especially in the rural areas of the Yukon Territory. She says the COVID-19 restrictions restricted services and strengthened quarantine. This means that more people are using it alone.

Even the short connections when people have lunch at the Skookokum Jim Friendship Center can make a difference, Griffith says. “Check-in.”

When she gives out lunch McWatters greets many by name and asks how they are doing. Bags of soups, juices and puddings are starting to diminish as men demand more to bring to their friends to help them get off the couch. McWatters doesn’t hesitate. “It’s never been so terrible,” she says.

She sees more and more people being homeless, hungry and suffering from addiction. “I lost a lot of friends with fentanyl,” she says. “It’s becoming so common that we don’t celebrate much anymore. It’s always just a funeral.”

The man has lunch from Casey McWatters at the Friendship Center.

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