Eagles, roots and identity: Blackfoot wisdom in word and image

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 15, 2016

Blackfoot artist Ryan Jason Allen Willert, from the Siksika Nation, shares his story behind “Native Roots,” one of the images in Colouring It Forward, an adult colouring book by Diana Frost (seated) featuring Blackfoot Nation art and wisdom. Collage by Warren Harbeck

These columns often refer to the beauty of wisdom in word and image. It’s a mandate that has whispered to me from the ancient pages of Holy Writ, flirted with me around Stoney Nakoda campfires, and seduced me over coffee with our readers.

But from a colouring book?

Last Friday evening I attended a book signing at the Cochrane Library. This was not just any book, mind you, but an Aboriginal art colouring book for adults, Colouring It Forward, by Diana Frost. This first in a series features Blackfoot Nation art and wisdom, and those of us gathered around the fireplace were treated to a presentation by one of the artists represented in the book, Ryan Jason Allen Willert.

Ryan, from the Siksika Nation east of Calgary, was raised in a non-native community. Only later in life did he set about reconnecting with his ancestral heritage, a journey well expressed in his art and words. One of his drawings in the book especially caught my attention.

In “Native Roots,” Ryan comes to grips with two values central to his Blackfoot identity: strength and roots. Strength is represented by the eagle at the top of the drawing, rising like a plant from the ground. Roots are represented by the earthward pointing lines at the bottom.

“When the roots are strong, you become strong,” Ryan says – strong, like a deeply rooted tree that can withstand life’s storms.

This rootedness is important in our culturally diverse society, he says. “It’s easy to forget where you’re from. It’s good to know who you are, your family, your heritage.”

I’ll close by quoting from the essay accompanying “Native Roots.” Here is wisdom from a colouring book well worth embracing:

“Reconnecting with your roots allows you to be a strong person, to be brave, honest, and trustworthy. You can walk your talk, take ownership of your words and actions. Your thoughts are grounded and stable, you know where you come from and you know where you’re going.”

Colouring It Forward is available locally at Tea & Other Things.


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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