Eminent artist George Littlechild draws inspiration from his
ancestors and generously shares his vision and gifts with young
and old alike.
"I imagined it as
going to a little white house at the end of a road to be welcomed
says renowned Canadian artist George Littlechild, describing his
first visit to Ermineskin Indian Reserve at Hobbema. That was in
1977, when Littlechild was just 19. Having been raised by foster
parents in Edmonton, he didn't fully realize that searching for your
roots can have some unexpected outcomes.
First, Littlechild had to accept the harsh reality of his people's
lives. He quickly learned that hope was a scarce commodity on the
reserve, and that many First Nations people face huge social,
economic, and cultural barriers. Second, he had to recognize that,
as he puts it, "I knew nothing about being Cree. I had no
understanding of the culture. For example, I had to learn the
protocol for talking to Elders."
All the same, thanks to Littlechild's perseverance and need to know,
his search has produced exceptional results—his original artistic
vision and successful career are firmly based on his Aboriginal
heritage. "Many of my ancestors were gifted artists, as are many of
my relatives today," he notes.
There is also another connection with the past. Littlechild draws
strength and inspiration from the Cree concept of Wahkomkanak, or
"Through the wisdom of our Elders and the courage of all our
people," he says, "we have survived the past 500 years."
Back in the
late 1970s, Littlechild met several aunts, uncles, and cousins. He
acquired photos of his parents and other family members and learned
that he had an impressive ancestry. His great-grandfather was a
chief (Francis Bull), as was his great-great-grandfather (Louis
Bull). One of his great-great-grandfathers was Louis Natuasis,
headman to Chief Joseph Samson. He is also related to Chiefs
Ermineskin and Bobtail.