Jessica Miinguuaqtii, the Kasahara Gabriola Trust Artist in Residence, is passionate about creative emotional expression, self awareness, and reclaiming her own Indigenous culture through art and storytelling.
As a self-described queer, ‘white-passing’ Indigenous person of mixed Inuit, Métis, Welsh, Irish and English ancestry, she is also eager to help others through their own personal journeys.
Miinguuaqtii’s residency started early March and will conclude late June.
While on Gabriola Island, she will facilitate two workshops through the Gabriola Arts Council, each taking a different look at perspective.
Earlier this month, Miinguuaqtii led an abstract composition workshop, where she guided members to complete a spontaneous intuitive painting through an individual exercise, then work collaboratively on a single piece.
In ruminating on her penchant for abstract art, Miinguuaqtii said she hadn’t realized the style moved through her as a coping mechanism.
“It’s a way to express and move my emotions when I never felt safe to my whole life,” she said. “Abstract expressionism was experimental – there were no rules that I couldn’t be messy or big and vibrant. And there was so much freedom in that which I never felt before.”
On June 9, she will lead another workshop, this time with a focus on exploring the art of communication.
With co-facilitators Celeste Johnson and Pablo Ochoa, they will discuss how language can shape perception, and how perception shapes interpretation and reality. Their workshop will consider the Inuktitut, French, Spanish and English languages.
“Through my experience managing the language program at the Pacific Association of First Nations Women, I learned a lot about Indigenous languages…” Miinguuaqtii said. “In many Indigenous languages, there’s no word for sacred or ceremony, because it’s a way of life … also, what we call trees are called ‘standing people’ or rocks are called ‘stone people.’ And when all these things are actually embedded in the language as your relations, you treat them as such.”
Since her residency began, Miinguuaqtii also shot a short film based on a poem she wrote years ago.
The film, Back Home, which was funded through Telus’ StoryHive program, tackled the difficult reality of intergenerational trauma and sexual abuse.
“It’s about my grandmother’s and my great-grandmother’s life up north. And me hearing their stories and finally saying ‘oh, I’m going to go up there one day,’” she said.
As stated at the end of Back Home, Miinguuaqtii intends to travel to the childhood home of her maternal grandmother for the first time next summer and create a documentary of the experience.
In furthering her belief of interconnectedness and support for one another, Miinguuaqtii has also recently co-founded an Indigenous arts group of seven B.C. women called Raising Aunties, who teach cultural and art workshops to each other online. They aim to ‘raise each other up,’ and in doing so, raise future generations to be aunties for one another.
“Everyone can be an auntie if you choose to be – regardless of gender,” she said.
In “moving through a settler’s world,” Miinguuaqtii is reclaiming her own cultural knowledge through the help of her great auntie Levinia Brown, an elder in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, who mentors her in Inuit sewing, storytelling and language.
Miinguuaqtii is currently curating an all-Indigenous art exhibit to be held at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre in Vancouver from July 17-26, which will exhibit the work of 25 artists over eight days.
“Before, it was all about me, about my journey, about my art and the value that I have – the recognition that I wanted,” she said. “And now, through working with all these various groups and artist collectives, our sharing and our teachings – art has helped me heal. And still does.”