Donald Chretien: Going back to his roots

Donald Chretien is a Canadian Aboriginal artist whose paintings combine colour and woodland expression that reflect his Ojibwa heritage.

Throughout his 30 year career, he has made the commitment to contribute to his community and create art that reflects the realities and struggles of his roots, aiming to express and teach about the experiences of the First Nation people.

Earth Mother – Muzzu-kummik-quae

Birch Bark Legend – Weegwauss

Sky Woman – Geezhigo-Quae

It hasn’t always been this way for Donald.

Donald is half Aboriginal, and while growing up in North Bay, Ontario, his mother advised him to keep his native background under wraps for fear of being discriminated against. So his love for paint didn’t reflect his cultural heritage until much later, and Donald went on to become a very successful commercial artist.

After graduating from the art school, he went on to do everything from animating for feature films, editorial illustration, to logos for casinos in Las Vegas. It wasn’t until 2005, that he decided to go back to his aboriginal roots, and become a full time painter.

“When my mom, who was Aboriginal, passed away, I wanted to make sure I found out the [aboriginal] culture and I needed all the help I could get. I figured I should be retracing my roots, and going back. That’s how all this came about,” says Chretien. “It’s important to me. I feel truly proud of my work now because it’s a reflection of who I am. I believe that if you work hard enough, eventually someone is going to see that and see the passion that’s involved behind it.”

Donald’s work today is a mosaic of meaning and history.

His paintings use traditional meanings, stories, and reflect the culture and experience of First Nations and other Canadian people. He began his work creating pieces depicting stories about Indian Residential Schools. The series, entitled, Little Butterfly Girl, tells the story of a young girl who gets taken from her First Nation and placed into a Residential School. It depicts the harsh reality of losing one’s sense of self and culture through force; a reality of the history of the Aboriginal people.

“Eventually I got a commission from Vanoc, the committee behind the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, for an 80-foot mural that is now in the Pacific Coliseum permanently,” he recalls. “At this point I took it as a sign this was maybe the right path I should take. I have found out since then that it is definitely the right path I should be taking.”

Donald Chretien standing by his piece Thirteen Moons – Midaaso ashi niswi giizisoog.

Loon – Maang Dodem

To learn more about Donald and his work, please visit his website.

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