Two area First Nations artists are finding connection and reconciliation through a Telus art project.
Michaela Gilbert, a member of Williams Lake First Nation, and Barbara Derrick, a member of Xeni Gwet’in, are both artists from the Cariboo who were selected by Telus to help create art for the company.
When Telus sought out First Nations artists, both women were chosen to collaborate and began working together in June of 2022. Telus provided them the theme of “connectivity,” some parameters in terms of the colour scheme and using animals, then let them create.
“Michaela and I were so good together,” said Derrick, of working with her fellow artist.
Derrick, is an art educator and professional artist who lives in Edmonton but is originally from Quesnel. She said her work was inspired by all the wonderful things happening in the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin), as her mother was Xeni Gwet’in. She drew on her clan animal, the bear, and the connection to the land through food, creating a beautiful stylized bear holding a salmon in its mouth. She calls it Walking in Power — Lessons from the Grandmothers.
Gilbert, who is 2o and in her third year at the University of Victoria in the Fine Arts Program, said she drew on the idea of reconnecting to culture through the land and the use of personified animal characters in cultural storytelling. She was inspired by the traditional story of How the Raven Stole the Sun and her final design is titled Qwléwem or To Pick Berries. She painted two ravens picking Saskatoon berries in a birch basket.
While Derrick already had an idea of what she might do, Gilbert said she herself bounced some ideas off of Derrick to help come up with her artwork for the project.
“She was a big support for me,” said Gilbert, of how the elder artist and educator facilitated her in her process.
Derrick said this project is especially exciting because she said it makes it feel like First Nations artists are being recognized for their work.
“Opportunities like that, we would not have ever dreamed of before,” she noted.
Gilbert said she is “thrilled to have my work being shared with the community, as I’m dedicated to my artwork and I’m proud of the completed project.”
As an artist, Gilbert said one of her goals is to “create modern representation of Indigenous people to encourage the embrace of culture in tandem with individuals being in the contemporary world.”
The two artworks come together beautifully in the final piece, combining vibrant animals connected to the land through local food. Look for the mural on the Telus building on Second Avenue in Williams Lake and on the sides of Telus vehicles across the Cariboo-Chilcotin.