The death of her grandmother and son and the end of her marriage, all within four months, put Cori Derrickson in a dark place in 2010.
“I went through a really tragic time,” she admits.
Two years later, the small-framed woman has focus in her eyes and strength in her words as she performs on stage at the En’owkin Centre. Derrickson said this is thanks to the National Aboriginal Professional Artist Training Program.
“I wanted to come and express myself through my culture and language with art,” said Derrickson, who performed a dance in honour of the salmon returning home during the students’ year-end presentations last month. “I also wanted to use art to heal some of the wounds.”
Nestled in the cottonwoods across the Okanagan River Channel, sits the En’owkin Centre. On any given day, you may be treated to the learning processes that have been ingrained in the Okanagan culture that passes on such things as indigenous ecological knowledge of managing environmental resources, traditional governmental systems, restorative justice practices, all genres of visual and fine arts and how to market traditional artistic forms in a contemporary format.
“It was a life-saver,” said Derrickson, of the two-year program she graduated from last month. “It kept me focused on the big picture and ingrained the strength in our language, culture, history, ancestors and who we are as Sylix people and how to use that in art. I was able to express that and help to heal what happened in my life. It was very therapeutic for me.”
Not only that, Derrickson said it connected her with her culture, provided her with confidence and the tools to go after what she truly is passionate about in life. She listed her future goals as to continue on at UVIC or to transfer to the Sante Fe Institute of Indigenous Arts.
“It really connected me to the greater picture that the path of our life is not always in our control and there is a plan for all of us. My purpose here is to keep on doing what I am doing. Some of the places where I do art is from deep within, and because I believe our ancestors are in our DNA, it comes from those ancient places that I can draw from,” said Derrickson.
The En’owkin Centre offers all of its programs in affiliation with public post-secondary institutions. such as the University of Victoria, UBC Okanagan and Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. On Wednesdays at the centre, N’sylixcen (Okanagan) language is the only language you will hear in the Gathering Space, as the immersion method of teaching aids in retention and is practised and encouraged.
The centre also is building partnerships to conserve 100 acres of endangered lowland riparian woodland and wetland habitat through the Locatee Lands Project and ECOmmunity Place program. this is to secure locally endangered habitats that hold environmental and cultural significance to the Sylix culture.
The library at the centre is unique, the books and articles are specific to indigenous cultures and do not contain mainstream reading materials. A publishing house called Theytus has run for 30 years here, making available books written and published from an indigenous perspective. It has won many awards.
The partnerships the En’owkin Centre has built provide opportunities for Aboriginal people from across Canada that they would not have received otherwise. En’owkin alumni include Dallas Arcand, a champion hoop dancer and musician.
Nathan Paul had a strong portfolio of music when he heard about NAPAT from friends. Now he has developed and diversified his talents to video production and multimedia art.
“This is such a great way to express myself. If I wasn’t here I am not sure what I would be doing, maybe working a job that I didn’t really like up north or something. This has provided me tools for networking to build my contacts as an artist,” said Paul.
Through the contacts he made at the En’owkin Centre, Paul worked as a production assistant on the feature film Flicka 3 which starred country music singer Clint Black. It was filmed in Kelowna and the Okanagan area in the fall of 2011.
“Being in this program changed my life,” said Paul.