Jason Sikoak

Holding Fast and Facing Fears: Jason Sikoak Creates an Artful Life

“I created art for as long as I can remember. But I've never really called myself an artist."

“I created art for as long as I can remember. But I've never really called myself an artist,” says Jason Sikoak, an Inuk artist from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, which is in northern Labrador, the southernmost Inuit community in the world. Sikoak is their family’s original name which was changed for the convenience of non-Indigenous people who couldn’t say or spell it. They reclaimed their name legally after a life spent feeling like the Anglicized name they used wasn’t quite right. It was an expensive endeavour but one they feel was well-worth the effort. 

These days, Sikoak lives in Montreal, having graduated with distinction from Concordia University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, double majoring in art and art history. Their university diploma bears the name they reclaimed, a point of pride. After a lifetime of wanting to go to art school, they made it happen five years ago. Health issues forced them out of the regular workforce, creating time and space to focus on creating art, something they otherwise considered a hobby before. Rug tufting is a practice they enjoy now. 

Before art, Sikoak worked as a daycare teacher, recreation director, and even in the oilfield. At first, they worried about their ability to keep up with the coursework and the younger students in the program. Now 50, they feel more like they are in their twenties mentally, but their body doesn’t always agree.  “I think my life experiences leading up to this point have helped me in so many ways in my practice and in my life,” Sikoak muses. 

Now as a late-in-life diagnosed person with ADHD, Sikoak remembers how hard it was to focus in school and learn set curriculum growing up. Drawing in sketchbooks, daydreaming looking out the window and being the class clown, they doubted their ability to succeed at the university level, a fear which proved to be unfounded. Concordia ended up being an institution they readily recommend.

“Once I got here, I found out that I can learn at my own pace and I've taught myself some techniques over the years to help me learn better. University was one of the best experiences of my life,” they recall, reflecting on how different post-secondary was from elementary and high school. In completing assignments, Sikoak had leeway to put their own Inuit perspective because their professors understood they had a different story to tell. 

“I have lived many, many lives and finally, I think I'm settling into a life that I was meant to lead for a long time, if that makes sense,” Sikoak continues. Moving to Montreal was something they thought about for a long time but hesitated to move to a big city with a language barrier. Now it feels like home and where they are meant to be, with lots to do, small community groups and wonderful friendships 

Their advice to students who might be thinking about leaving their community to go learn abroad or travel is to research first to find travel-friendly spots and to connect with the local Indigenous community online. They suggest checking out the Indigenous student center at university, something they found very helpful themselves. “Seeing so many Indigenous people on campus learning and helping each other really made a huge difference. Without them, I don't think I would have done as well,” they reminisce.  

Beyond ADHD, Sikoak has also had to contend with severe depression for most of their life. To those struggling with depression like them, they recommend therapy, speaking to a doctor, finding medication that helps and facing the challenge head-on. Addressing ADHD and depression was a lonely experience but they’ve found a close circle of friends can help a lot, even if connecting from afar with technology. Homelessness was another barrier they faced with the help of friends and family. 

A tattoo on their knuckles remind them of an important lesson, with the words “Hold Fast” inked on their skin. “It's an old sailor’s thing where if the seas are stormy and rough, you hold onto something, you hold fast, you hold tight. So now whenever things are getting rough, I just look down at my knuckles and [remember] this is just a storm, it's not the end of the world. You can get through this. Hold fast,” they explain. 

Those aren’t the only tattoos they have. Sikoak wanted facial markings but in Inuit culture, they are primarily seen on women. As a non-binary person, they were unsure if it would be okay to get them until an elder reassured them it was acceptable given they are Inuk. Another tattoo of ellipses, three dots together, mark that they are continuing their story.  

To maintain their mental health, Sikoak believes in therapy and in “guilty pleasures” in the form of benign little escapes like watching tiktoks. “There's too much stigma right now of people actually doing something for pure enjoyment. We feel guilty about that and that shouldn't be. If we're going to go through this pre-apocalyptic capitalist society that we're in, we need something to take our minds off of it,” they assert. Picking up a new hobby like reading is something they recommend, even doing something small that makes you happy while struggling with depression. 

When they need inspiration, Sikoak looks to the stories of their people, putting them on paper to share their experience and educate people. Looking at photos online while far from home also helps with inspiration and experiences like picking fruit on vacation to make jam or fishing. Daily life inspires Sikoak even in an urban setting.  

To share inspiration with others, Sikoak recommends, “Keep trying your best. If it doesn't work out the first time, that's okay. If you keep going, you will eventually get there. Nothing happens right away for everybody.” Fear of failure was something they had to learn to overcome as someone with ADHD. “I tell myself all the time if I don't get it right away, it's okay. It's a learning process so keep practicing. Keep learning,” they conclude. 

Jason Sikoak created art for as long as they could remember but never really called themselves an artist. Having realized a lifelong dream of going to art school,  a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Concordia University in their reclaimed name hangs on the wall like the art they create.  Overcoming barriers within their own mind and in the world, they have learned to hold fast to their dreams, to their art supplies and to the community that helps them stay strong.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    Inuit
    ,
    ,
  • Province/Territory
    Nunavut
  • Date
    February 14, 2024
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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