Art Workshops Connect Youth to Indigenous Traditions

By: Sarah Ferguson January, 2016

Creativity has the power to transform lives, and an educational program in Saskatoon is harnessing the power of the creative spirit to do just that.

Cultural Connections, a workshop program funded by SaskCulture’s Aboriginal Artsand Culture Leadership Fund, was established in 2013 by Saskatoon Youth Community Arts Programming (SYCAP) and uses the creative power of visual art to foster cultural sensitivity in youth ages 10 and up.

According to Project Manager Tammy Krueckl, Cultural Connections teaches young people about Indigenous cultural traditions through art-related activities and projects. “We wanted to put [the traditions] into a contemporary context for [the participants], so that they could build their own connections,” she says. “The workshops are not just about Indigenous] arts, they’re about taking the traditional cultural aspects of those arts and seeing what the kids can do with them right now.”

The workshops have produced projects ranging from totem poles, mini moccasin and dreamcatchers, to drawings of spirit animals and beadwork of corporate logos on canvases. “You get some good results,” says Krueckl. “We get a lot of kids who participate saying they want to do more.”

"Art is a good way to connect with people. "There are things I never would have learned if it wasn't for my interactions with the kids [in these workshop]."

Cultural Connections is primarily a classroom-oriented initiative. “We discovered a need that teachers and organizers were asking for,” says Krueckl. “First Nations and Aboriginal teachings are an important part of the curriculum, and they fit with all grade levels, from elementary to high school.” To help with the teachings, kits were made up that have instructions, background and examples, so anyone can teach the material.

The workshops are facilitated by Aboriginal art and cultural leaders, who are recruited through SYCAP’s nationally recognized urban Canvas Project. They also consulted with Elders to ensure that things were done correctly. Leaders researched their culture, and shared their history and artistic talent with workshop participants. “All of them have Aboriginal ancestry but they aren’t necessarily familiar with their own culture, so through their research they learn a lot too,” says Kruekl.

Gerry Potié is one of three Aboriginal art and cultural leaders currently involved in teaching the workshops and enjoys sharing his artistic gifts with others. “The kids help me learn,” he says. “I learn more from them than I could ever teach them. Art promotes positivity and healthy forms of release.”

Kruekl agrees, “We’re bringing these artistic activities to a whole range of kids, not just Aboriginal kids, but everybody. It brings a lot of positivity to Aboriginal culture.”

Founded in 2001, SYCAP offers community art programming and initiatives to youth as an alternative to unemployment and crime. You find more information by going to their website at

Check out Kevin Power's podcast of Cultural Connections by visiting