Spreading Paint and Inspiration: Lisa Alikamik Explores Healing Through Art in the Classroom
“I never identified as an artist. I just incorporated and adapted to what I enjoy doing,” says Lisa Alikamik. Little by little, she added to her personal art practice to fill her own cup until she could share that wisdom and her story with others.
That story has gone down a new path because she and her family recently relocated to Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories from Ulukhaktok. The move was bumpy after being evacuated to Grand Prairie for five weeks on the way. The adjustment in the South was tough and they were glad to get to their new home.
Alikamik was adopted and comes from a large family. When she was 15, she had to leave her hometown to go to high school as her small community didn’t have grades 10-12. Even knowing home was just a flight away, it was still hard. Her advice to youth considering leaving home like she did is, “Prepare yourself before you leave to get homesick. You're going to get homesick. Your home is beautiful, you have to miss it. But being homesick doesn't mean that you have to give up. It means just really embracing where you come from, and carrying it with you wherever you go.”
“You are not alone. Take that leap. Go make your own mistakes…Build yourself up to make your own story… Be prepared to pick yourself up. Surround yourself with good people who are going to support you,” she continues.
Now a mother of three, her children attend elementary, high school and university. She’s always worked in an office setting like in the local hamlet’s town office or with children, having been a preschool practitioner and classroom assistant. Working with the local women’s society to develop a women’s shelter, she helped with policies, and procedures and surveyed the local community to gather data. She needed to create a safe space to discuss hard things so they would work on sewing projects together and discuss their organizational purpose.
“I really find that there's no barriers when it comes to art.”
While some people love to exercise, Alikamik prefers pulling out her paintbrushes. In school, she was always doodling, which would sometimes get her in trouble. “There's so much that can go on in your mind when you're doodling when you're in that safe space,” she explains. Now the classroom leader herself, she loves to share technical art skills and to facilitate healing through art. It took her a while to nail down what her passion is, but she’s found it’s teaching art, even though she has always been shy. Art has helped her come out of her shell, find her voice and connect with others.
When she was 20, she had just graduated from high school and had a young baby. Accepted into Alberta College of Art and Design, her parents were going to watch her child but she decided to put that on hold to mother her child. She found programs in the community that needed instructors for sewing classes and classes she could take. From making prints to waterproof shoes, she built up her knowledge base to find her place in the art world with her son by her side.
“Anyone can create and it's beautiful, even if you don't think so, somebody else's perspective will think so as long as it comes from you with effort, and I think that's what beautifies it to begin with is that leap.”
As she tried to find herself, Alikamik battled with addictions, alcoholism, and negative influences. In finding her artistic talents, she’s gained recognition for her skills, confidence to share who she is and courage to overcome stigma for seeking support in her healing. With supportive, forgiving people in her life, she was able to see beyond this barrier and find a way to be okay. “It was through connecting with our elders, our people, our friends and art expression I really learned the true value and meaning of forgiveness,” she reflects.
“Create your own story. Own it. Be proud of it.”
Even now, she knows she’s a work in progress and she needs to have patience with the speed of her healing. Kindness from friends, family and even strangers on the street encourage her to press on. If she could give a message to her younger self it would be that patience is a virtue and how mistakes are part of personal growth. Alikamik would say to forgive herself and move on.
Having a strong connection with elders and spending time in their presence helps Alikamik maintain her mental health, finding healing in their presence and inspiration in all they have been through. She loves to sing with a gospel choir. Throughout her day, she practices mindfulness, grounding and reminding herself that she is safe.
Making art in the basement, she gets inspired by her traditional upbringing. Growing up on the land with her parents, she engaged in harvesting, sewing, and planting and attended family gatherings. One of the things she loves about teaching art through Connected North is getting to model confidence for the students who are taking her class and being an Inuit role model they can look up to. To her delight, her sessions are getting popular. She loves teaching Inuit art and printmaking and she hopes to inspire a new generation of Inuit artists.
She never identified as an artist; Lisa Alikamik just built what she loved doing into her life. Filling her cup with her own personal art practice, she’s found the strength and confidence to share the joy of creativity with others. Plunging her brush into the paint, she sees the ripples spread like the artistic inspiration she tries to share wherever she goes.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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.