Meghan Benoit

Surrey artist wins top prize in national contest

Megan Benoit of Cloverdale is honoured at the Aboriginal Arts and Stories contest gala, held this week in Ontario

A Cloverdale artist has won first prize in a national art and writing competition for aboriginal youth.

Megan Benoit’s painting, Medicinal Healing, which draws on her Metis/Cree heritage and touches on themes of turmoil, pain and reconciliation, placed first in the junior arts category (ages 14 to 18) at the Aboriginal Arts and Stories contest.

The Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary student, 17, was part of a strong showing by British Columbia at the national awards, held June 15 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where indigenous leaders, youth, authors, artists and others gathered to honour the contest winners.

Surrey’s Justice Jacinto, 18, of Sagkeeng First Nation, won honorable mention for her painting, ‘little yellow house.’

The event, hosted by composer John  Kim Bell, included attendees such as Drew Hayden Taylor, Lee Maracle, Brian Maracle and Maxine Noel. It also featured an exhibition of winning work, along with a performance by Mino Ode Kwewak N’Gamowak, the Good Hearted Women Singers.

“The voices of young indigenous peoples bring us messages that relate to both yesterday and tomorrow,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada. “Those messages are crucial to the process of reconciliation.”

Winners were chosen from among 650 submissions from across the country. As a first place junior winner, Benoit, 17, will be honoured at the Governor General’s History Awards, set for Ottawa in October.

She will also receive a $2,000 cash prize, and the opportunity to have her artwork exhibited.

Benoit, Métis/Cree, says as a student at Lord Tweedsmuir, and resident of Cloverdale, she has been able to explore and honour her aboriginal ancestry through visits to places like Sechelt – where she was inspired by artwork – and Quebec, where she gained a greater understanding of cultural practices.

She says she finds glee in discovering facts about her family’s history and hopes to one day experience more of her distant culture – and see it showcased in a light and respect worthy of its beauty.

Her award winning work, Medicinal Healing [pictured], a painting done in acrylic and ink on canvas, is an abstract interpretation of the Medicine Wheel, which represents four main concepts: physicality, emotionalism, mentality and spirituality.

“While one cannot erase the turmoil and pain that the aboriginal people have experienced and still experience to this day, one can attempt to sew it back together through reconciliation,” her artist’s statement reads. “These core concepts  [of the medicine wheel] have been tarnished, and they will never be the same as before. But one can hope that eventually it will heal, leaving only a scar, instead of the gaping gash left within the culture.”

Aboriginal Arts and Stories is the largest art and creative writing competition in Canada for aboriginal youth.

The contest invites First Nations, Metis, and Inuit artists aged 9 to 29 to interpret an aspect of their culture and heritage through literary and visual arts.

A jury of aboriginal authors, artists, and community leaders selects the winning submissions.

The awards are presented by Enbridge Inc., along with sponsors Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, TD Bank, Canada’s History and Aboriginal LInk.

Historica Canada is a national organization dedicated to enhancing awareness of Canada’s history and citizenship.

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