Linnea Dick

An Artist’s Reflection That Fosters Connection: Linnea Dick of We Matter

Victoria, BC resident Linnea Dick is Kwakwaka'wakw, Nisga'a and Tsimshian from the Northwest coast of BC. Her home community is Alert Bay and she’s been helping youth feel more at home with their mental health through her work at We Matter. It is a not for profit committed to supporting Indigenous youth, reminding them that they are never alone in what they're experiencing, and there's always a way forward. Dick knows herself how hard finding that way can be for youth. 

“As a young person I really struggled, especially because I was sexually abused as a child, and I held that secret for a number of years, and I was much older when I was able to be honest about that.”

She struggled with eating disorders, depression and low self esteem. The challenges she experienced shaped her relationship with her culture and her dad, Beau Dick, a celebrated artist. Her family of artists placed value on healing through art, which led her to participate in art therapy and the creative connection helped her healing journey. A few years later she would become an activist, which brought purpose to her life. 

“As I began to heal, I found that I received more and more strength, and more and more gifts from the Creator and the universe.”

After moving to Vancouver to be closer to her dad, who was an artist in residence at UBC, she became a speaker, exhibit curator and she connected with a range of artists from outside her own community. When her father passed away, she felt a loss of not just her dad but also her sense of purpose and ability to meaningfully connect with the world. She worked in retail until she saw a job posting for We Matter. 

“I didn't realize that before that working with youth specifically is a way that I can use my healing to create more healing that will carry on into future generations. But it's also a way that I can heal the inner child, the person who is still suffering and still in pain, because I haven't always had that support.”

Dick’s educational journey was one of apprenticeship and mentorship. She’s worked as a barber and aspired to be, at different points, a makeup artist or a high profile speaker. While she values the way she has learned, she has felt a twinge of jealousy towards people who have completed post-secondary. Ultimately she realized that both formal and informal learning are important and useful for communities. While Dick faced many challenges, she had supportive parents to cheer her on. She tries to pay that forward to youth in her work. 

“Projects like the We Matter campaign are so important, so youth do get to connect to someone who does support them, and applauds them even when they haven't figured it out yet.”

One of the things that Dick discussed with her father was around connection to community and how disconnected she felt growing up in an urban setting. Her dad talked about how his generation had to learn to step into another world, where hers had to figure out how to exist within two worlds. 

“For youth who are living urban or moving away from their communities, there are ways that you can bring ceremony into your everyday life. There's ways that you can bring culture into your everyday life.” 

Dick is of the opinion that the geographical distance from your community doesn’t have to preclude you from having a connection to spirituality. “I think that the Western concept is that culture happens within our sacred spaces, but ceremony, as I was taught, is all day long. So we share prayers of gratitude every day, we connect to land in some way, whether we're bringing that land into our homes, or we're going out to connect to that land, there's very many different things that we can do. But also connecting to the creative spirit, because our ancestors were so creative,” she explains. 

“Whether you do traditional art, or you're a poet, or writer, a storyteller, a dancer, a makeup artist, those are all really amazing outlets for you to help you cope with being away from your community, but still connect to that creative spirit that our ancestors did.”

Learning to cope with obstacles is something Dick has learned in her life. Faced with sexual abuse, she struggled with alcoholism, escapism, vulnerability and avoidance. After three years of sobriety, the pandemic has made that feel like more of a challenge. 

“Sometimes when we think about challenges, we think about failure, but challenges sometimes are just acknowledging the challenges, and how you can deal with those challenges. And I've definitely been my biggest obstacle and challenge in life.”

Dealing with emotions can be tricky and Dick has observed how each generation is normalizing more and more that it’s okay to feel. Her message for youth is one of hope, “I just want youth to know it's okay that you have challenges, and there is someone out there who's been through something similar, so reach out if you can. But other than that, you are so strong, because we all carry so much strength that we're just unaware of, because of the way society has been built around us, because of oppression. But you can really just get through anything.”

Daily creative practice through writing or makeup are medicine for Dick. While things have been challenging, she has had a support network to encourage her. Creativity is something that works for her, but everyone is different so she says, “Sometimes it really takes deep exploration, and reflection, and time to really get to know yourself.” While she encourages advocacy, she acknowledges it’s not for everyone, saying, “It's okay just to sit at home by yourself and cry, if that's what you need to do to overcome that injustice or that pain.”

After the pain of the loss of her father, Dick has found new inspiration in youth. “They have a certain honesty and truth about them that a lot of people don't have later in life, because we become jaded, because we've learned that people judge us. And I think that youth, when they tap into that freedom of expression, they just really come with their whole selves and their whole hearts. And that's something I so admire in general, and I'm always learning new ways to express myself through facilitation,” she reflects. 

These days, Dick is working to connect with her emotions as she connects with the community of youth she serves.  The creativity that flows through her family is embodied in her artistry not just visually or in her words but in making people feel supported, seen and heard. She has shown that you can be far from home, but still find a sense of home and she shares that journey so beautifully in the work she does with We Matter to help youth feel like they matter.

Thanks to Alison Tedford for authoring this story.

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