Kevin Wesaquate has always been motivated to create art. From Piapot First Nation, Wesaquate does spoken word poetry and is a visual artist, and works with community “quite a bit.” His various arts take him to different places, such as visual arts can takes him to places like creating murals or spoken word could take him to national competitions.
Since Wesaquate was a kid, he was always sketching animals, buildings, and anything he could think of with paper and pencil. When he was in university, he had an opportunity to read his poetry on an open mic with other students.
“It was really empowering for me… to share my poetry amongst all my peers and university professors and book publishers and editors,” said Wesaquate.
He received a standing ovation from poetry he had written down for years in his journal, one of the only students to receive one in that reading.
“Someone told me after I was finished that if I was ever in doubt, like whatever I was going to do with my career and my life, that to reflect back on what I had accomplished that evening,” said Wesaquate.
Throughout the years he worked on a different number of jobs, carpentry and welding to name a few, to make ends meet. He was making good money, but eventually got bored and just was feeling like it wasn’t enough.
Wesaquate started painting basketballs and selling them on the side, selling them like wildfire, fast and fierce.
“I painted one for my brother for the first time and then after that happened, I just kind of took advantage of some downtime at one of the companies that I was working at and I volunteered at a local art center.”
It was working there, at SCYAP (Saskatoon Community Youth Art’s Programming), he was connecting with the community “in a whole different way” and says the things he learned in university clicked and he decided that he was going to be an artist.
Wesaquate’s path to where he is now wasn’t an easy or even a traditional one.
He thinks of himself as a self-trained artist, but took advanced studies in poetry and prose, a class, which only took in 11 students out of every four or five hundred applicants.
“That was my education, other than me at home drawing and painting whenever I could, that was part of my education was to learn to express myself in a different medium and that medium was literature,” said Wesaquate.
That’s where he says the creative outlet began and would pour everything into his poetry, and started writing and understanding all the rules and the didactics of poetry.
In his third year of university, he was under a lot of stress to take care of his family so he decided he was going to take a year off to find some work and make money to provide.
“I thought, ‘I’ll be back.’ But that year turned into two years. And then that year turned into another four years. I just never found time to go back to university,” said Wesaquate.
He thought about what he had learned at university while he was there and what he could do with it. So he reverted back to writing, which he says opened the door for a lot of things.
After the journey he’s been on, Wesaquate’s advice to students thinking of leaving their home community is to understand that teachings from your community are just as valued and just as important as anything that you’re going to learn in living in the urban environment.
He also says the teachings given to him from his community are still relevant and strong with him today.
“That important sense of community and belonging to a community is so important because in the urban environment, it’s often difficult to navigate where those communities are and where people sit and stuff like that,” said Wesaquate.
He says it may feel like it’s difficult to maintain Indigenous identity in an urban environment, but it’s not undoable because communities are changing quite a bit, with things such as language groups popping up, beading communities, and so on.
“I think for any young artist that is moving to the city is just to try to stay connected to your own identity because I think that’s most important,” said Wesaquate.
“In owning your art and holding onto that and your self expression, I think the possibilities are limitless. I think if you really believe in what you’re doing as an artist, I think that you just got to pursue it.”
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.