The old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words has resonated with representatives from the Ktunaxa Nation Council (KNC), the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Interior Health Authority (IHA) for a model of community wellness project.

The Ktunaxa Nation Council and Interior Health have made a request to Indigenous artists for proposals to illustrate what a health community would look like to and for Ktunaxa citizens.

“It was important for the research team to identify a community artist to participate because our Indigenous voice has been absent from many important conversations over the past century,” said Christopher Horsethief, KNC consultant and Ph.D. “These include not only Ktunaxa views on health, but many other perspectives related to a health community, including researchers, writers, educators and artists. While there are many well-known Canadian artists, our concern is that if famous non-Indigenous artists speak for us, then it’s not necessary to speak with us. By including a Ktunaxa artist in the project we are using a part of our voice that is otherwise absent.”

Horsethief noted that through the collaboration with the KNC, the UBC, the University of Victoria (UVic) and the IHA, there would be representatives from a diverse range of backgrounds involved with the project, ultimately setting it up for success.

Through the request for artist proposals, the IHA hopes to explore how best to serve Ktunaxa members by offering health services that honour their traditional culture and language.

“This project is such a critically important step for Interior Health to learn about the Ktunaxa Nation’s understanding of wellness in order to meet our organizations goals and the commitments we made to Aboriginal peoples in the Interior,” said Judy Sturm, Interior Health director of Aboriginal mental wellness. “The first step being to recognize and acknowledge the importance of the unique cultural beliefs and practices of both Ktunaxa Nation citizens and all other Aboriginal peoples we serve. With the information provided through this project we are further on our path to providing more inclusive, respectful and culturally responsive care – which is a right and expectation.”

“The project advisory committee, composed of elders and language speakers, will review any proposals and make a decision on which piece would best represent the community,” said Horsethief. “The call for artists identifies important health themes that should be included in the artwork, so the elders will consider those themes in making their decision.”

While there is no set date for elders to review submissions of artwork at this time, participants are expecting to meet virtually for discussions about the successful candidate’s submission to make a decision so that elders are not put at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Horsethief is extremely supportive about utilizing emerging technologies to facilitate meetings at this time, so that important community conversations can continue without disruption.

Some of the key themes that have been identified by the working group included discussions that could symbolize self-determination, connection and belonging, culture and pride, forgiveness and healing connections, genealogies and familial connections as well as cultural roles and behaviours.

The request for submissions is expected to empower Ktunaxa citizens by encouraging applicants to successfully depict the Ktunaxa culture, language and history in a creative way. The deadline for artist submissions was recently extended for applicants until 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21.

When asked what inspired the working group to seek artist applications from the Ktunaxa Nation to represent a community model of wellness, Elders Advisory committee member Sophie Pierre said, “communicating the concept of community wellness requires many different modes, including visuals that touch people’s understanding of the issue. Visuals can be as important as words on paper and the spoken word in reaching individuals to bring the concept of community wellness right to the individual and allowing the person to own what is described.”

Pierre added, “including Ktunaxa artists in the various conversations throughout our nation is important. Encouraging them to become involved in the conversations beyond their artwork is critical.”

The Elders Advisory Committee encourages all Ktunaxa artists to apply to produce an original piece of artwork.

After a successful applicant has been identified, the Elders Advisory Committee plans to continually support the artist going forward with the project in an effort to encourage inclusion.

“The Elders Advisory Committee will continue to guide and encourage the successful artist from start to finish,” said Pierre. “Our role is to ensure we are clear in our message on how we see culture and language being honoured in the art work, and as usual, we will be discussing this collectively to reach collective decisions.”

To learn more about themes that have been identified in the Many Ways of Working Together Project, please visit the online report at: http://www.ktunaxa.org/xa%C8%BCqana%C7%82-%CA%94itkini%C7%82-many-ways-of-working-together-project-summary-report/?fbclid=IwAR3uv3jKQvdWKyEVYKi0w7IwdEbTEQp1TBYkAwoUnhAf7YlFO5QBgsRwBZY

For questions about eligibility, contract terms, compensation or submission requirements, please contact alexkent@uvic.ca to speak with the team’s research coordinator.