Engaging Youth in Creativity Important to Métis Artist

By: Shelley Fayant April, 2021

“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” – Louis Riel

This famous Riel quote resonates deeply with Phyllis Poitras ­Jarrett, a Métis artist from Regina, who is working to create a series of online videos designed to engage school­aged participants in creative projects during the COVID­19 pandemic. As part of her art instruction, she has focused on building cultural understanding. “Louis Riel was a visionary, and he knew that the Métis would eventually begin to reclaim their beautiful culture, and that is exactly what I am doing through my art,” she says.

Poitras­ Jarrett is one of three Saskatchewan artists working with SaskCulture to provide online arts instruction videos designed to develop an ongoing interest in young people, who may have limited exposure to this type of training, particularly with COVID­19 public health restrictions. This project, coordinated as part of the Culture Days movement, is working in partnership with the Dream Brokers program operating in different schools throughout Saskatchewan.

“The past year (with COVID­19) has been devastating for so many, and I can feel their pain, but for me, it’s provided an opportunity to reflect and focus on my art,” explains Poitras­Jarrett “I began painting my Métis Spirit Animals in January 2020 and over a year later, I have nearly completed my series of 25 paintings.”

That body of work is the foundation for her instructional video series. “I was a teacher for 28 years, and art was always one of my students’ favourite activities ­this opportunity gives me a chance to offer some fun and creative ideas for youth to explore during the pandemic, while also sharing some of my Métis culture,” Poitras­Jarrett says. She adds that art provides an avenue of escape for young people from any worries or stressors they may be experiencing during these times, and is excited about the reach that the Internet can provide.

The series is aimed at building participants’ creative skills through each successive video. They begin with basic drawing lessons, which then leads to instruction in illustrated beadwork symmetry, arranging animal and floral collages, and ultimately, the creation of a mobile with the Métis spirit animals. In addition to sharing her creative process, Poitras­Jarrett also shares important aspects, teachings and inspiration from her Métis background.

“As a child, my Kokum’s (grandmother’s) intricate floral beadwork designs drew me in,” says Poitras­Jarrett. She describes how her Kokum would get her grandchildren involved, and credits this with instilling within her a love of art, a joy in teaching, and a deep pride in her culture. Her experiences growing up on a farm is also a well for her creativity. “My art highlights both flora and fauna ­ my way of respecting and celebrating the gifts nature provides for us – while paying tribute to the Flower Beadwork People (a term that references the distinctive beadwork of the Métis).

Poitras­Jarrett looks forward to finding exhibition venues so that people can enjoy her art in­person and learn more about her beloved Métis culture. “In the meantime, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect to youth once again and the online tutorials are a perfect way to reach them right now.”

The other two online projects are led by two more Indigenous women: fibre art instruction by Regina artist Melanie Rose, as well as sewing and beadwork lessons by Saskatoon student and emerging cultural worker Amber Bellegarde. The project is anticipated to be complete and online by the end of March 2021.