By: Manjiri Deshpande
Sun Raven Arts, birthed out the the Idle No More Movement, is a rising company that seeks to empower voices through art, specifically the voices from the indigenous community. Since its establishment in Toronto in 2015, the company has created alternative methods of learning and healing through Indigenous art. Alternative to what, one might ask. Tsiktsinensawe Yakonkwe / Rhonda Lucy, the founder and artistic director of Sun Raven Arts, clarifies that the company’s approach to educate are alternative to the eurocentric methods that we’re all so familiar with. Offering an arts-based education for cultural awareness, trauma and harm reductions arts-based programs, and more, Sun Raven Arts challenges the eurocentric or mainstream methods of education and healing. They aim to give the individual the tools and framework to find their idiosyncratic path to wisdom, their own route to healing,and their own mechanisms to integrate into society rather than simply being told what to do and believe. Rhonda elaborates further on her own journey which lead her to found this organization.
I met Rhonda at George’s Diner, a busy spot she recommended. I spotted her in all black, drinking equally dark coffee reminding me of the raven that appears as the nomen of her organization. Curious about the symbology behind this moniker, we dive into this topic first. She explains that the Raven is known for his trickery. Sun Raven Arts derives its name from the myth of the Raven who stole the sun. The essence of this folklore is that the Raven grew tired of the darkness that engulfed the earth and so decided to steal the sun from a man who guarded it within a box. The raven cunningly disguised himself to infiltrate the man’s home, allowing him to steal the sun and place it in the sky. This is the tale of how light was brought into the world, through rather subversive tactics. Rhonda’s subversive approach of bringing light into people’s lives is the cornerstone of Sun Raven Arts.
While on the topic of myths, Rhonda takes the opportunity to debunk a myth or rather a misconception some people have about the amount of funding that indigenous people get from the government. She mentioned the difficulty of applying to grants while dealing with non indigenous funders who decline to fund projects, asking Rhonda to resort to those funds that are meant for the indigenous community. But Rhonda is quick to point out that the funding they do get is rather limited and that non-indigenous people also have access to indigenous funding. The latter of which surprised me and made me question, if indigenous funding is available to non indigenous people why is non-indigenous funding guarded from the indigenous community? In the face of this challenge, Rhonda fights to get into the rooms where she has the right to be. Funding being Sun Raven Arts’ greatest challenge, Rhonda has set up a Go Fund Me page. Her page has accumulated profits slowly but it gives a chance for average people to support the healing between the indigenous community and the mainstream society.
It is evident that Rhonda’s work is not easy. I inquired what could have prepared her to undertake such a significant yet challenging task. She explained that she has a background of social work and began blending this with her own artistic talent and traditional knowledge which eventually created some of the unique programs that Sun Raven Arts offers today. We backtracked to her youth, to one of the first moments where art became synonymous with survival for her. She grew up spending many days on the streets and only at night would the youth homeless shelter open their doors for her and many others. In the mornings they would usher them out, even when winter would set in. Staying warm was always the priority. So, when she learned that if she participated in a local concept art competition she could stay indoors to work on it, she took this chance. The art competition asked for art submissions on what mental health looked like, and the competition motivated her to channel her energy and apply her artistic talents to stay warm for a couple of days. It intrigued the other kids at the shelter and soon she wasn’t the only one at the table drawing representations of their own mental health. The competition had come and gone but they continued to create art.
Playing the role of the teacher is an important part of who Rhonda is. She explains how she shares a connection with the Wolf clan, the medicine that is connected with teaching. She also works with the medicine of the butterfly. Her name, Tsiktsinensawe Yakonkwe, means Butterfly Woman. Perhaps people can appreciate the beauty of the butterfly but often forget the challenge of being a caterpillar, vulnerable and flightless. Butterfly medicine is that of transformation. The metamorphoses can be a painful process, restructuring its anatomy, shedding its entire skin and leaving behind its entire way of being, But it does so to fly one day and to share its colours with the world. As she tells me this, I think how fitting her name is for her. She has lived as the caterpillar. Through her transformation she’s built Sun Raven Arts where she teaches the skills that saved her.
Sun Raven Arts is currently in Northern Canada with their partners to aid in a sexual health conference for young teens and adults. They’ve also branched out to film production. You can catch their upcoming screening at the Toronto Media Arts Centre on December 7th to experience the powerful Indigenous resurgence that Rhonda and her company are creating in local media.
Sun Raven Arts is located at 387 Sherbourne St.
Share or Donate to Rhonda’s GoFundMe for her new upcoming film
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-arts/indigenous-healing-arts-rhonda-lucy/.