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Arts & Culture ᐊᔨᐦᑐᐧᐃᓐ

Ojibway artist celebrates Indigenous History Month with unique paddle art

BY Ben Powless Jul 1, 2021

Ojibway artist Patrick Hunter decided to mark this year’s Indigenous History Month by releasing a collection of four artisan canoe paddles done in the Woodland Art style made famous by renowned painter Norval Morrisseau. 

“I grew up in almost the birthplace of Woodland Art. Norval spent some time there developing this art style he’s accredited with. I grew up seeing his artwork around town, it was really celebrated. Not everyone gets to see their culture represented every single day, in a community that’s not just an Indigenous community but a mining community,” he said of Red Lake, Ontario. 

Hunter said he always had a passion for art, eventually studying graphic design in Sault Ste. Marie, then moving to Toronto to pursue a career as a graphic designer. However, he said that he found it boring, and that he wanted to see more celebration of Indigenous art. 

For Hunter, that means the display of Indigenous art in more public places, a desire that inspired a career that has stretched from traditional paintings to t-shirt and mug designs, up to large murals, and now canoe paddles.

When Canada Canoe Paddles approached Hunter to partner and create the artisanal paddles, Hunter says it was a “no-brainer”. He is an avid canoer and had previously worked with some charities to do wood burning on paddles. 

“It’s really cool that non-Indigenous business are partnering up with Indigenous artists and trying to tell our stories through their platforms,” Hunter observed. “In a lot of places, they’re just realizing that it’s an important thing to do.”

Canada Canoe Paddles founder Mario Zeskoski agreed. “Working with Patrick on an Indigenous paddle series seemed like the perfect way to showcase his work and provide Canadians with a unique artistic expression of the Native lands we all call home,” Zeskoski said in a statement.

The paddles are being sold as part of a limited-edition series, with each paddle numbered 1 to 300. A portion of the proceeds will go to Hunter’s workshop initiative to support new generations in picking up a paintbrush. 

Hunter admits that his mother bought the whole set as she was excited to support him, and he’s excited to see how others react. 

Social media sites such as Instagram have been useful to build up an audience and generate business, he says. For young artists, he recommends starting with designs on mugs. “Everyone loves coffee and tea; they’re perfect gifts and people will pay $15 to $30 for a mug.”

As a two-spirit person, Hunter joined the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which served as a way to network with executives in large businesses. “It’s not always about stuffing your wallet,” he insisted, however, having donating art for door prizes and to support worthwhile initiatives. 

Hunter says it’s important to always be true to yourself. “It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Month and Pride Month. I’m both gay and Indigenous and those have both been huge assets to my success, I didn’t think it would be,” he noted. “People love diversity these days.”

One thing that Hunter says he will never tire of is seeing how others react to his art. After seeing a person wearing an orange shirt sporting one of his designs, he stated, “I said ‘Wow, the impact of the work has totally changed from who I can reach on social media and it’s people I don’t even know.’ Hopefully my good deeds inspire others to carry on with good deeds and positive energy.” 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.