Nadine St-Louis provides indigenous artists an opportunity to showcase their works at the Eleven Nations Exhibition in Bonsecours Market

Walk into the Eleven Nations Exhibition at Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal, and your senses are instantly awakened.

Nadine St-Louis starts every day with a tradition ceremony of smudging or purifying the space, by burning a tuft of sage and letting the inviting scent waft through the room. She does it, she says, to make her ancestors proud.

Not easy for some, but Nadine is used to facing challenges head on. “I spent four years of my childhood in braces on my legs,” she says. “I’m hearing impaired. I wear hearing aids in both ears. I have physical challenges on top of all the other challenges that come with life.”

Perseverance and will power got the Métis mother of two where she is today. Her latest challenge is getting indigenous artists in Quebec recognized. “They need a platform. They need access to buyers. They need to develop a creative economy, an economy that other countries have tapped into. New Zealand and even Western Canada have tapped into a creative economy where native art is on the rise. In sales, Quebec is 30 years behind schedule.”

Nadine is working to change that. Last December, she gathered the work of 22 talented Quebec indigenous artists under one roof for the Eleven Nations Exhibition at Bonsecours Market. As curator, Nadine brings aboriginal artists out of the margins and into the mainstream. She connects them with a platform to showcase their work, giving them a voice outside their remote communities, in a big city, where there is access to buyers from around the world.

When she welcomes visitors, mostly tourists, to the exhibition, Nadine likes to pull out a map of Quebec to illustrate the vastness of the province. “One of the first things I do is explain to people that every two inches on the map is twelve hours driving. Most Europeans’ jaws drop.”

An artist herself, Nadine studied film and English literature at Concordia University. But a love for working with her hands led her to the traditional art of making moccasins. While touring Native communities across the province with her own work, she found a wealth of untapped Aboriginal artists, unknown, mostly because of geography.

She began working with the Canada Arts Council, to try to figure out why, beyond geography, there was an absence of aboriginal representation in the art community of Quebec.

“Aboriginal people are not part of the cultural discourse. They are not part of the Quebecois dialogue when it comes to culture.” So, trying to bridge that gap, she went around the communities and started giving.

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