Art work by Aaron Paquette | Image source: Aaron Paquette
Aaron Paquette was three years old when he decided on his artistic path in life. Since then the renowned First Nations artist has been trained in goldsmithing, painting and staining glass to produce his unique and incredibly colorful flowing artwork. As well as becoming an accomplished artist, Aaron is also an author, keynote speaker,and political activist.
Now the accomplished artist embarks on a new journey. A career in politics. Paquette recently announced that he is seeking the NDP nomination for the Edmonton-Manning riding for the upcoming federal election.
Erica Commanda with MUSKRAT Magazine spoke with Aaron Paquette, about his decision to enter the political realm.
MM: What nation are you from?
AP: My background is Cree, Cayuse, Métis and Norwegian.
MM: What inspired you to go into mainstream Canadian politics?
AP: My parents were always vocal about politics and getting involved on a community level, so I came by it quite young. They saw that for protests and letters to be effective, there actually had to be someone willing to listen. It feels like the current government would rather criminalize dissenting voices before ever considering their points. That has to change.
MM: What is the relationship between art and politics?
AP: Art is politics. Politics summed up is basically making laws that serve to better the state of a people. Everything else is sideshow. Corruption, lying, undermining one another, abandoning your constituents to tow the party line, theft, self-interest and ideologically driven approaches are simply the unhealthy growths that form around any perceived power structure. As an artist, I have been working on change my entire career. I have been serving my community and trying to find better ways to reveal the truth. I have been blessed to find myself in a position where I have a responsibility to educate, to inspire, to lead and to speak. It is deeply humbling to be able to be involved and effect change in so many unexpected and incredible ways.
Art is politics. Art and Politics both represent the power of the people. The danger is someone always wants to come in and corrupt it, steal it, co-opt it, bend it to propaganda. That’s why we have to pay attention, be educated, vote and get involved. We need to end the sickness. Time to bring humanity back to the art of politics.
MM: What changes would you like to see in Canada?
AP: I would like to see us reverse course from the path we are currently on. The path of fear, of being power hungry, of becoming an aggressor state instead of a peacekeeping country.
I would like to see us become world leaders in alternative energy tech. Oil is still going to be with us for a while, but we have to start the transition yesterday. Oil, managed responsibly, is a good tool for us. It is mostly managed poorly as we can see by its market volatility and the toxic impact it has on our environment.
I’d like to see us bring science back. There are far too many challenges coming for us to muzzle and silence the very men and women we are going to count on to help research and discover cause, effect, and potential solutions.
We need to ensure the rights and freedoms of all people in this land. We need to tackle the laws that take those rights and freedoms away. Bill C-51, Bill C-24 and a long overdue look at revising or replacing the Indian Act. A National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the implementation of the TRC recommendations.
We need to diversify the economy. Just like an ecosystem needs diversity to be strong and resilient, so too does any economic system. That’s just plain sense.
Canada must finally explain to Canadians EXACTLY what the Treaties are, how they have benefitted Canadians and what Canada’s obligations are. It’s time to reverse the damage of generations of intentional misinformation and demonization regarding the Treaties. They are good agreements and should be honoured. So much wealth is wasted in the control and fighting of First Nations over ideology. That has to change. It’s time to become partners for the benefit of all our children. I’d like to say goodbye to self-interest, corruption and fear and to finally see sense, wisdom and leadership come to Ottawa.
MM: Why should Native Peoples vote or get involved in Canadian politics?
AP: The Original Peoples are involved in politics from the moment they first draw breath in this world. As we saw with the Idle No More movement and the government’s refusal to even talk about Bill C-45, we can shout from the sidelines all we want but will not be heard. There are a few ways to get around this. One is the slow and careful process of lawsuits, petitions, protests, appeals, and so on. Another is what we see happen in moments of frustration: roadblocks, sit-ins, sabotage. But it’s the third way that holds the most hope – that we engage in the process. Look, you can get involved in Canadian society, still retain your culture and identity yet have the opportunity to make real, positive, and lasting change. Personally, I like the third way. Get involved. Be the legislator instead of the perpetually legislated against.
My culture teaches me to be hopeful, kind, forgiving, and to live in the spirit of community. Doesn’t that sound like a refreshing difference compared to the way we view politics today? Doesn’t it sound like responsible, thoughtful, human legislation can actually come out of that worldview?
MM: What do you say to those who choose not to recognize the Canadian political system or see themselves as Canadian citizens?
AP: People are free to choose that way of thinking and I wouldn’t try to convince them otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with having diversity of thought. We need multiple viewpoints. The current government wants to squash opposing voices. That tells you everything right there. Dissent is essential in deepening and broadening our understandings.
A lot of Indigenous people seem to believe that by legitimizing the ‘colonial’ government they give up their own right to self-government. Well, the government already took that away with the Indian Act. The only route to true self determination has to be through law, and legislation comes from Parliament. So basically, if you want change, be the change. If you care about people being heard, become the listener.
Myself, I’m not a debater. I prefer conversation over argument. But that’s a personal choice. I feel more gets done when we see each other as potential partners rather than eternal enemies.
MM: Who are some politicians that you look up to and what made them him/her a good leaders?
AP: I look up to Raj Pannu, leader of the Alberta NDP from 2000-04. I worked in his constituency office as a younger man. He taught me that public service could be honest, noble and good. He was a hard worker and cared deeply for the people who entrusted him with that leadership position. Rachel Notley is a good leader. She is down to earth, tells it like it is, and cares for people before special interests. And of course, Elijah Harper’s refusal to accept the Meech Lake Accord. He showed us all what one person could accomplish, what one voice could do. I can still see him, feather in hand, refusing to back down, making sure he protected the people.
Politicians are just people, with the same strengths and weaknesses we see in our friends, family and neighbours. But sometimes, because they have that temporary position where they are asked to make big decisions, they can and do rise to the challenge.That inspires me. Leadership amounts to this: protect the people, prepare the people, and keep the people alive and thriving. There is a contract between leaders and the people they serve: that the leader will look out for the people’s best interest. We are jaded by politicians because they often appear to have turned their back on this relationship.
They betray the people’s trust. They forget that they are NOT their position, they only serve in that position and will one day pass it on. They should honour it and take care of it. Sadly, that is not often the case. We can do better.
We know how the other guys have been running things for the past 150 years. Let’s see what kind of better Kanata we can make now.
Aaron Paquette Bio
Aaron has regular art shows in Galleries across Canada, takes on public art commissions, works as a guest curator for The Art Gallery of Alberta, St. Albert’s public Gallery: Profiles, and the McMullen Gallery at the University of Alberta Hospital. He has had a traveling exhibit with the Art Gallery of Alberta called Halfbreed Mythology. Aaron is also an experienced facilitator, trainer and engaging public speaker. He has worked with the Royal Conservatory’s adjunct program -Learning Through the Arts- as both a Mentor Artist and as the First Nations Representative and Consultant in Alberta. Aaron has collaborated with Ministries, Teachers’ Associations, and various community members and teachers, providing region wide teacher workshops and in school experiences related to the art curriculum that also provide an FNMI perspective. Through this collaboration, he also provides student workshops, professional development sessions and artist-in-residence programs.