The Wood Buffalo region is rich in history & tradition, at times masked by a booming oil industry. One community leader and Métis visual artist, Carmen Wells, is advocating for the Métis community, using her artistic ability to maintain the passing of traditions, and traditional land use.
Carmen grew up in the small Okanagan community of Lavington, BC, studied Graphic Design in Abbotsford, and moved from Vancouver Island to Fort McMurray with her husband in 2012. Carmen’s position as Heritage and Traditional Knowledge Administer for Métis local 1935 (McMurray Métis) fuels her current artistic practice of acrylic painting and the print making techniques of linocut and intaglio.
At a young age Carmen was enthralled by stories and putting her imagination to work. She wrote and drew spy novels on coloured paper, created a radio show, and acted out her own skits for her family to watch. Now, as she has been welcomed into the Métis community in the region, engaging in Métis rights, and spending time with local Elders and trappers, Carmen is inspired by wonderful stories she hears. Carmen hopes to share those stories in an artistic way so people may start to learn about the Métis culture and the Indigenous culture around them. “I think it is a great time for Métis artists, a good time for their stories to be heard, with Canada fully supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2016, the Daniels decision, amongst other things.”
Although the community has land users and trappers who are very much still on the land, Carmen also acknowledges the struggles for the Métis in the region. “It is difficult in these times to keep traditions alive, with the limited amount of accessible wildlands and the change from working and living on the land, to working on site or in an office. Traditions get passed on through the land, and on the land. We try our best to maintain the passing on of traditions in our community, and it is a constant struggle.” In saying this, Carmen also believes she is part of an active, strong community who will persevere. “We are Otipemisiwak, The people Who Own Themselves.”
When it comes to the arts in the region Carmen feels she is part of a very open, positive, and supportive community. She holds positions on several boards, including Director – Métis and Treasurer for the Arts Council Wood Buffalo. She believe it’s important to be part of the committees, to contribute, be part of the solution, and to make a difference. Although at times it may be challenging, it has also been exciting and a great learning opportunity.
If you’d like to be connected with the arts community, become a member of the ACWB! If you are interested in making a real impact, join the ACWB Board of Directors. ACWB is looking to fill positions on its voluntary Board of Directors, meeting once per month to set policies and directions for the organization. For a membership, or to apply for a board position, visit the ACWB website at www.artscouncilwb.ca/careers.
(Image above: Carmen Wells and Elder Almer Waniandy)