Jessica Ma'iingan

Creative Native: Jessica Ma’Iingan Creates Community and Career Through the Arts

“I’ve just always really kind of been that creative Native,” explains Jessica Ma’iingan, who is Anishinaabe out of Saskatchewan and grew up between Winnipeg and Calgary. She now lives in Vancouver and works as a full time artist making beaded jewelry, accessories and ribbon wear. She also enjoys illustrating, drawing and painting. Being an artist was an easy choice given she’s always loved making things and doing arts and crafts but imposter syndrome and colonialism made identifying as an artist challenging in some ways. Finding community helped her bridge the gap between her interests and fears. 

Her aunt taught her beading fifteen years ago, starting with easy and fun projects, but it’s a practice she put down for a time. Picking it back up and finding a strong community on Instagram created this opportunity for fun work, healing and a sense of belonging within a circle of talented artists. Outside of beading, she also loves tufting, quilling, sewing, reading and writing. Just like her aunt encouraged her, Ma’iingan is supportive of aspiring artists. “I try to encourage other people to discover their talents within. We all have them somewhere,” she shares. 

Most of her art sales are in person given she’s found keeping up with an online website and social media to drive traffic can be overwhelming. She’s focused on creative and artistic development and sells at markets, powwows, gatherings, and whatever local events are happening. Getting to meet, connect and interact with the people buying her work is meaningful to Ma’iingan and a more personal approach to doing business. Customers expect to see her at events and they get to reconnect over her latest projects.

While she’s thriving in the arts, she was actually studying accounting and finance in school. She thought about going to art school but never did, unable to see herself as an artist as a stable career. Eventually, she started wondering what it could look like to do art full time, something she explored during the pandemic when job loss left her pursuing hobbies while looking for work. When the opportunity presented itself to move to Vancouver she jumped on it, taking a job where she could integrate her teachings with art therapy while working with youth. She’s considering further education in arts therapy, fashion design or garment construction to professionalize more in her career. . 

Thinking about youth who might be thinking about moving out of their community, going to learn abroad, or even just traveling, Ma’iingan recalls how terrifying it was for her to move away at first, as someone who relied on community heavily. She looked at it as a fresh start and a new scene full of opportunities and encourages youth making that shift to seek out supports through friends, family and Indigenous communities. Once connected, maintaining those relationships through reciprocity is important. In the end, she’s created a community for herself as an artist for which she is grateful. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

Even with a strong community, there’s a vulnerability in promoting her art and sensitivity when it’s not received as intended. At those times, she gives herself grace knowing it’s part of the journey. She embraces a beginners mindset knowing in time things (and her skills) will get better.  “If you're really passionate and dedicated about what it is you're doing, just push yourself and remind yourself that these hardships are a part of that, that growth and that process and to just keep the faith.” 

"Stay true to yourself and your goals and your vision."

Consistent prayer and visualization has helped Ma’iingan through hard times. She’s learned to rest and refocus when things don’t go as planned and to reach out to her community as needed. The first quarter of the year always presents challenges as people recover from holiday spending but she always seems to find a way through with commissions and new projects. 

To maintain balance and mental wellness, Ma’iingan spends time outdoors in nature, with friends or on her own. “I'm just always so inspired by the city, the beauty out here, the community, there’s always somewhere that you can go and find the means to be restful, safe, loved and welcomed,” she beams. She’s been leaning into rest in resisting capitalistic guilt, exercising gentleness by giving herself breaks. Cooking nice meals in the kitchen, hosting friends and hanging out, she tries to be social, too. She wants to create more space for reading, to reawaken her passion for literature and writing that was so important to her in her teens. 

Artistic inspiration comes to Ma’iingan in the seasons and her surroundings, with summer sunny travel coming out in bright neons and colourful palettes and earthier tones in seasons of rest and restoration. ,

People in her circle inspire her too, along with the supplies she finds online to create her art. From porcupine quills to caribou hair, she loves getting cozy with new tools and materials and her memories of warmer seasons.  “I find inspiration from a great deal of things. I'm such a daydreamer,” she confides. 

Growing up in an urban setting, she wasn’t able to spend as much time on the land, so it’s something she really appreciates as an adult. She encourages youth to pursue and develop in their passions and talents and to share those gifts with the world.  “I think that it's really important for us as Indigenous people. Now it's our time to come forward and to showcase and to share these talents with one another. They're meant to be shared…. We have endless possibilities there to put your work out there,” she muses. 

"I think that it's really important for us as Indigenous people. Now it's our time to come forward and to showcase and to share these talents with one another. They're meant to be shared."

Ma’iingan recommends seeking out inspiration in nature, in the community, in connection and love for shared identity and experiences. “Just know that community is there to back you up, and you can build it anywhere. You just have to go out there and look for it,” she encourages. She was counting on numbers in accounting until she learned to count on herself and her talents. As a self-described “creative native”, she’s created a community for herself and a career in the arts she never imagined.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    April 2, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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