Neechee Studio is a studio led by emerging Indigenous artists that provides free art workshops for young Indigenous people. These workshops are made available for youth aged 14 – 30.
Savanna Boucher is the co-program coordinator alongside Lucille Atlookan, a founding member with Matilda Suganaqueb. When Boucher started in 2015, she was a youth committee member and she noticed a common theme: everyone attending was a young Indigenous student coming from all over Ontario.
“For me,” Boucher said, “Neechee studio stood out because I felt as though I could express myself and as a broke student…it was all free: the food, the art supplies and [the opportunity to] mingle with talented Indigenous artists.”
The workshops and supplies are always free. If students are unable to get transport, Neechee supplies free bus passes.
Neechee studio began as a place for community. Being Indigenous in an unfamiliar town is already an added confusion when discovering yourself as a young person. At Neechee, they’ve created a space free of marginalized stigma.
It’s no secret that Indigenous youth face underlying, racial discrimination throughout Thunder Bay and, as Boucher said, it’s also blunt acts being experienced. Neechee is a space that allows young people to partake in activities free of any worry of preconceived, racial judgement.
By allowing young people to create in a safe space, Neechee challenges the stereotypical, racial setbacks these youth would otherwise face. By potentially dismissing preconceived images of the Indigenous culture, Neechee Studio gives the availability and opportunity to explore traditions and culture through creative expression.
The workshops offered are a plethora of culturally relevant material for Indigenous youth. Mitt making with Marnie Greenwald and Beau Boucher; Sketch book binding with Cynthia Edwards; and Birch Bark Etching with Darren Lentz are just some of the workshops that were offered in 2019 and 2020.
When planning for these workshops, Boucher added they find artists of every level. Whether they are professional or emerging, old or young, it doesn’t matter. They like to promote emerging, Indigenous artists to provide a more personal story giving youth a culturally relevant experience.
Boucher said the workshops have received nothing but support from the Thunder Bay community and, because of this, are always full with youth excited to embark on an artistic adventure they can personally relate to. Having a relationship with Definitely Superior Art Gallery has allowed Neechee to use their space.
Staying beautifully balanced
Like any business doing good for the community, Neechee experiences setbacks when trying to walk in the colonial world as an Indigenous collective.
“There are certain expectations Neechee Studio is expected to meet,” Boucher said. She’s happy that Neechee can balance between these two worlds to create a space for youth to connect to a support system.
With COVID-19 being an underlying setback for everyone, Neechee immediately stopped all planned workshops. It’s detrimental to every community, but especially the Indigenous community and elders.
“We did not want to contribute to any risk of losing a generation of wealth and knowledge,” Boucher said.
Always evolving, never settling
Going forward, the studio is planning the upcoming season for when restrictions are lifted but always being cautious and putting the safety of the community first.
Neechee is a foothold for the artistic and Indigenous community. By supplying youth with the tools and space for creation, they are breaking systemic racism throughout the city and creating a community that revolves around free expression and togetherness.
With classic traditions such as beading, leatherwork and quillwork, the teachings of culture and patience are being taught. As youth come into what is a mysterious and scary time; being away from their land and community and having to navigate a new place, Neechee studio welcomes, embraces and creatively allows them to discover their culture and future.