Multi-disciplinary artist injects new energy into contemporary Aboriginal issues through art

Metis leader, Louis Riel once said, “My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

Terrance Houle is one of those artists. He is creating change amongst his people, but is perhaps doing it in a way Mr. Riel never thought possible.

Son to a Canadian Armed Forces Sergeant, Houle was a true nomad living all across the prairies of Canada, in such cities as Calgary, Yorkton, Winnipeg and Moose Jaw.

In most of these cities, Houle was the only aboriginal in his public school.

“You tend to grow up with thick skin, but then you’re also a joker cause you want to make friends,” says Houle.

“I see a lot of angry Indians out there and I’m so bored of that. That builds a wall up, if you want someone to understand than you have to allow them to come in and understand.”

–  Terrance Houle

In fact, Houle didn’t excel until he attended a high school that emphasized the arts — photography, videography, printmaking and animation were among the tools Houle dabbled with.

Finding his niche in the arts, he also did well in social studies.

“I was always kind of causing trouble,” he says. “I was always that one Indian putting my hand up saying ‘Uhh, I don’t think it was that way.’” Houle admits it was an odd life, but it led him to where he is today.

Like he did in his social studies class, Houle continues to stir the pot with his art. And not just for the non-natives but for the natives as well. He believes it’s time they’ve had a wake up call themselves.

He questions the decolonization movement that is popular among First Nations — a movement that focuses on making aboriginal people independent and undoing the impacts of colonialism.

“Decolonize your mind? What the [expletive] does that mean? You’re still going to get a Starbucks right? You’re not going to give that up?” says Houle.

Terrance Houle works out of his home studio, where he works intensively to get his next art projects finished.”

Photo by Trevor SolwayHoule says First Nations elders do that through their ceremonies, events and gatherings. But most aboriginal people now live between the “white world” and their own “traditional native ways” rather than weaving between them.

That’s why Houle’s lone goal is to get his art into the education system and to change the mind of who Aboriginals think they are.

He says he wants “native people to question themselves, question their authority and their knowledge and to go seek out the truth and the things that are real.”

An example is Houle’s most recent installation in which he dramatized his Indian name “Iiinniiwahkiimah” which translates to “buffalo herder.”

He wore his loincloth from when he was 10 years old, and ran around yelling at spray painted buffalos in Blackfoot with the metal band Anthrax’s song Indians playing in the background.

While the audience walks around eating cheese and drinking wine, Houle says they didn’t realize they are actually the ones being penned up.

The performance is based around a Blackfoot creation tale about Napi (Old Man) creating man and buffalo, but the man and buffalo get their roles wrong. When Napi returns he finds the buffalo eating the men.

According to Houle, being an activist is, “Educating people on a level where you’re inputting [expletive] into their lives and they’re reacting and wanting more. To me that’s activating, you’re being active as opposed to the typical screaming picket sign activist screaming and shouting with a sign.”

Putting himself out there and making change through art has cemented Houle as an activist.

“I see a lot of angry Indians out there and I’m so bored of that. That builds a wall up, if you want someone to understand then you have to allow them to come in and understand.”

tsolway@cjournal.ca