National Aboriginal Day - The Cultural Significance of Indigenous Art

Mike Cywink headshot

Michael Cywink, an Anishnaabe artist originally from Whitefish River First Nation near Manitoulin Island, has been working with FNMI youth over the majority of his professional career. After high school he attended Canadore College in North Bay, Ont. and is currently a full-time employee at the Centre for School Mental Health as well as a part-time student at the University of Western Ontario.

My spirit name is Nimke Giizis, which translates to Thunder Day, while my English name is Mike Cywink. I am an Anishnaabe artist originally from Whitefish River First Nation near Manitoulin Island. I am currently a full time employee at the Centre for School Mental Health at the University of Western Ontario. As well as being a full time employee at UWO, I am also a part time student working towards a major in First Nation studies and a minor in Art. I feel pretty fortunate in my role as a Student Mentor at UWO in that I get to work with so many great First Nation students who have such a thirst to learn more about their culture and use that culture in their everyday lives.

Painting of blue background, with green, orange, yellow and blue fish

Being a student mentor, is just one of the many hats I wear in my life. But within that role I get to learn more about my own culture, learn about other cultures and share those teachings and gifts. I am currently on that spiritual path myself and trying to find my way using my culture as a navigational tool to walk a good path, not only for myself, but for the students I work with as well as my friends and family. I found out that the more I learn about my culture, the more it has inspired my art. I believe every piece of art created should have a purpose, story or teaching behind it. So once I started getting serious about painting, my culture has been a huge inspiration. So it was another incentive to make me learn more about my teachings.

painting with orange and yellow background and deers, representing grace and beauty

When I think about First Nations and mental health the first thing that came to my mind is our Medicine Wheel teachings. I can only speak from my experiences and my teachings, but the Medicine Wheel encompasses everything we need to walk a good path and create a healthy balance in our lives.  Within my art, you will see the colored theme of the medicine wheel represented throughout my pieces. The 4 colors representing the 4 aspects that make up you. Everybody has their mental, spiritual, physical and emotional pieces that need to be in balance to be truly healthy. Mind (white), body (black), spirit (yellow) and heart (red).

painting with blue background, white wolves, inspired by giving youth a voice, teachings and guiding, and the four colours of the medicine wheel - white, yellow, red, and black

My art feeds all aspects of my own personal medicine wheel. It fuels my mind by laying out a piece, deciding what should go where, the color combinations, striving to get better. It feeds my spirit by learning about my culture, by creating pieces that make people ask questions about First Nation culture, it feeds me emotionally because I love painting and being creative. There is also a sense of accomplishment once a piece is completed. And finally, although not too strenuous, it feeds me physically cause of various techniques I have learned and used, being stable with a brush, not rushing, etc.

Miigwech,
-Nimke Giizis (Mike Cywink)

Mike Cywink standing next to 5 drums he painted with clan animals, representing different teachings and roles and responsibilties