Explore Indigenous Art – Roy Henry Vickers CM OBCJune 21, 2021
Roy Henry Vickers CM OBC
I am my mother, I am my father, they are the earth, the land, I am the land. – RHV
I grew up with a white mother and an Indigenous father and struggled with feelings that I was out of place. Before I came across discrimination, I didn’t know what it was. When I did learn what it was, I learned that it was ignorance and I also learned that I was ignorant of my ancestors from the Northwest Coast. So I began to study, and my studies brought me to a place where not only was I proud to be a descendant of the First Nations of the coast, but I wanted to learn more and more. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with the culture and eventually I became an artist.
Back in the early 70’s, I was one the first students who came through The School of Northwest Coast Indian Art at ‘Ksan, which is located on the Gitanmaax reservation in Old Hazelton. At that time, it was really the loudest voice for the arts and culture of the Pacific Northwest. My two years at ‘Ksan launched me into my career and here I am, forty-odd years later, still going strong and still loving the art. I have the Order of British Columbia, the Order of Canada, and one of the paintings of the mountain in Hazleton was gifted to Queen Elizabeth in 1987 and it hangs somewhere in England.
As a descendant of the colonisers and the oppressors – as a descendant of the Indigenous peoples whose culture survived in my village, Kitkatla on the coast, for 5000 years – it is my responsibility as an artist to continue to tell Canada that we must remember what was done and continues to be done to Indigenous peoples. Oppression still exists, discrimination still exists, and now, after generations of this, we have people living on reservations from coast-to-coast who have an unresolved anger. We must change, we must realise what was done and make a difference for love, strength and beauty to grow in our community.
All my inspiration comes from my relationship to the natural world. Culture is born from the land. Languages are born from the environment. Today, we as modern people think that we are in control. For me, we need to go back to a love of nature, not a dominance of it, but an acceptance of our part in it, because we are the land. In my blood is the physical presence of every ancestor that lived before me. I am my ancestors. So if I am my ancestors and they are the land – ashes to ashes, dust to dust – I am part of them so I am also part of the land. If I translate that to loving and taking care of myself, then I should also love and look after the earth, not rape it and take from it, giving nothing back. And not making the resources about money. The river that flows past my door is priceless. There can be no monetary value put on it, or nature, on your life nor on mine. Harm the land and you harm yourself. Love and nurture the land, and you love and nurture yourself.
As always, I am working on a new book as well as other writing concerning the environment and our responsibility to protect it. I have three totem designs on the go and I’m also working on three new editions of prints to be released this summer.