June is Canada’s Aboriginal Awareness month, yet some feel Abbotsford falls short in bringing local First Nations culture to the forefront. Public events that highlight Aboriginal art and worldview are scarce, despite Abbotsford’s presence on unceded Stó:lō territory.

This absence has been long apparent to Tery Kozma, who has been volunteering with the Abbotsford Arts Council for three years.

“I’ve always noticed, being Aboriginal myself, that Abbotsford really doesn’t embrace their local First Nations people. There’s not too many events out there recognizing Aboriginal arts and culture.”

This year, Kozma and the Abbotsford Arts Council are working to provide Aboriginal artists with a platform to share their culture. On June 4, the Kariton Gallery will host its first Aboriginal Arts and Culture Celebration, an event honouring Natio
nal Aboriginal Awareness month.

“It’s my way of keeping our culture going. It’s a spiritual thing with me.”

The day will showcase a wide variety of artists and performers in action, from Métis jiggers to Stó:lō storytellers and everything in between. Artists will not only have their wares for sale but will be demonstrating their craft on site.

“The public will have a chance to be able to interact with the artist while the artist is doing their work,” says Kozma. “Sometimes you’ll go to places where the art is for sale but you don’t have the artist there. In this event the artists will be there and working on something so that the public will be able to really engage with them.”

Gracie Kelly, a member of Stó:lō Nation, is one of these artists. Kelly is used to sharing her craft; through her business Texmewx Teachings (In Halqeméylem “earth, land, and people”), Kelly offers Stó:lō cultural teaching workshops in schools and in the community. She gives credit for her skill to the wisdom of her elders.

“My inspiration is just learning through the years through many teachers, many mentors who had these gifts, and I always had the curiosity to learn how to do them myself.”

Kelly will be working with cedar at her booth, a traditional craft for local First Nations groups.

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For Valerie Davidson, another featured artist, art is a way of connecting with her Ojibway ancestry. Davidson runs Giggy’s Beads, a Facebook page named after her Mother.

“It’s my way of keeping our culture going. It’s a spiritual thing with me. I love beading. I used to watch my aunts bead when I was a kid,” Davidson explains. “Beading is an expression of my culture. Through this expression I stay connected to it. I love sharing this art that has been around for thousands of years. I feel blessed to be able to express my culture through my bead work.”

“Beading teaches me a lot of things too, to just take it easy, be careful with what you are doing and that it’s okay to make mistakes.”

In addition to the artist booths, a centre stage will feature four storytellers: Dr. Naxaxalhts’i, Albert (Sonny) McHalsie, a member of the Shxw’ow’hamel First Nation and cultural advisor/historian at the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre; Eagle Child, a holistic artist and flute player from Saddle Lake First Nation; Jay Havens, artist in residence from the Abbotsford School District; and Darren Charlie (Qwetoselten), a Salish drum-maker from the Sts’ailes band. The Matsqui Youth Drum Group will also grace the stag
e between storytellers.  

The event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., aims to be family friendly, with a children’s tent featuring games, face-painting, and craft stations.  

It will be a full day that will close with a bang, Kozma says.

“At the end we are going to invite everyone who has a drum and drum out the event ‘til close and my goal is that everyone hears us on the other side of the lake.”

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Images provided by Abbotsford Arts Council.

Editor’s note: Due to a miscommunication, this article originally stated that Tery Kozma has volunteered for the Abbotsford Arts Council for 20 years. Kozma has volunteered there for the past three years.