Visual Network

Montreal's Aboriginal Community

The following series of environmental portraits sets out to create a showcase of Montreal’s Aboriginal community through visual art.  The project originates from a desire to change the current negative perception associated with the Aboriginal community, primarily in Cabot Square.  This project does not aim to address the issues within this space; rather it focuses on the positive actions of members of Montreal’s Aboriginal community to contrast the negative stereotype associated with a small percentage of the community.  As a photographer, it can be very easy to capture a scene of an individual from afar who is down on their luck, presenting this as a graphic image without any context, which serves only to perpetuate existing stereotypes.  By photographing and interviewing members of the Aboriginal community who have thrived in Montreal, this folio hopes to provide people with a better insight into the Aboriginal community, while raising awareness of the network of available resources to those who may most benefit from it.  The overarching goal of this project is to display this series of environmental portraits in Cabot Square as a piece celebrating the passion and pride of a community that has long strived to play a positive role in the development of the city they call home.


La série de portraits environnementaux suivante vise à créer une vitrine de la communauté autochtone de Montréal par l’entremise de l'art visuel. Le projet est né d'un désir de changer la perception négative actuelle associée à la communauté autochtone, principalement dans Cabot Square.  Ce projet n’a pas pour but de résoudre les problèmes au sein de cet espace, mais se concentre plutôt sur les actions positives de membres de la communauté autochtone de Montréal pour s’opposer au stéréotype négatif associé à un faible pourcentage de cette communauté.  En tant que photographe, il est très facile de capturer de loin une image d'un individu traversant une mauvaise passe, la présentant comme une image graphique dénuée de tous contexte, qui ne sert qu'à perpétuer des stéréotypes existants.  En photographiant et effectuant de entrevues avec des membres de la communauté autochtone qui ont prospéré à Montréal, ce folio espère donner aux personnes une perspective plus approfondie de cette communauté, tout en portant à l’attention de ceux qui peuvent en bénéficier le plus le réseau de ressources qui leurs est disponible.   L'objectif de ce projet est d’afficher cette série de portraits environnementaux dans Cabot Square en tant que pièce célébrant la passion et la fierté d'une communauté qui s’efforce depuis longtemps à jouer un rôle positif dans le développement de la ville qu'elle a élue comme domicile.

Patricia Eshkibok’s parents were determined to raise a family off the reserve so that their children would have access to higher education. Both her parents lived on reserves in southern Ontario; her mother grew up along the shores of the St. Mary’s river, while her father grew up near Lake Huron. Her father was a veteran of the Second World War and was allotted some land in the town of Sault Ste Marie through a government program. Sadly, her parents met with resistance when they first tried to build a life in the town, but giving up was not an option and they continued on their path and soon built their new family home. Patricia attended elementary and secondary school in Sault Ste Marie and became accustomed to being singled out or discriminated against for being Aboriginal. She admits that life was hard, but her parents made sure that Patricia would not give up. They continually reminded her and her siblings that this land was steeped in the traditions of their ancestors, which was a fact that should fill them with pride.


Upon graduation, Patricia pursued her love of art in fashion design at Sheridan College in Brampton. It did not take long for her to realize that in this new environment she was not viewed as an Aboriginal but simply as young, bright mind pursuing her passion. For the first time, she could sit in a classroom as a student surrounded by colleagues and friends. Looking back, Patricia understood why her parents had pushed their children: it was the only way to face adversity. Eventually a relationship led her to Montreal, where she quickly fell in love with the city and knew instantly that it would be a great place to raise a family. Things got harder for Patricia when she became a single mother of four, but she looked to her past for guidance, persevered and through her volunteer work at the Native Friendship Center she was able to establish financial stability as a Native Court worker. Her first day within the walls of the Palais de Justice was intimidating, but twenty-seven years later, she would not change a thing. Courthouse and intimidating are not synonyms for her anymore; however she understands her clients’ overwhelming concerns when they become a part of a system that does not look kindly upon Aboriginal males. Every day she is reminded that there are still many struggles for Aboriginal people in this city.


Patricia’s hope for Montreal is to see more permanent Aboriginal public art installations sprinkled throughout the city that celebrate her community’s contribution in all aspects of civic life, a sentiment that has been widely expressed by many of the participants in this project. On a final note, Patricia imparts to aboriginal youth migrating to Montreal that good financial standing is critical, along with achieving higher education, all while celebrating, cherishing and sharing your roots.

Marie-Josée Parent is the older sister of André-Yanne and like her, made the move to Paris with her mother, entering into secondary school. She eventually moved back to Canada in 2001 to pursue a bachelor in philosophy at the University of Montreal, and then a master in Art History at the same institution.  While studying art history, she found herself moving to New York City for research internship opportunities in the field.  NYC ignited her push to pursue art as a voice for community engagement.  Upon her return to Montreal, and after finalizing her thesis, she accepted a position as Director of Galerie Les Territoires within the Quartier des Spectacles.  The combination of her business management skills and her love of art opened the door to the Action Canada Leadership Program.  During her one-year involvement, she worked along side other young Canadian leaders from diverse fields.  The program, rooted in political science and community engagement, refined her leadership skills and exposed her to public policy. 


In the last municipal elections Marie-Josée decided to campaign for Verdun City Councilor.  Her political endeavor along with her professional experience helped demonstrate that civic engagement, art, and public policy go hand in hand despite perceived differences.  For her, Verdun is a great example of a lively and dynamic neighborhood and that promoting more public discourse and community involvement would inevitably strengthen the community fabric.  This ties into her Mi’qmaq roots, as she believes that many young aboriginals who move to Montreal can have an immediate nurturing role in society.  It is important that the next generation find ways to redefine their understanding of their roots and traditions while reflecting upon the written history.  Using that reflection to help fuel the drive towards success is more powerful than succumbing to the victimization of a horrific and inexcusable history.


Marie-Josée Parent, la sœur aînée d'André-Yanne, a également déménagée à Paris avec leur mère au début de sa première année à l’école secondaire. Elle finit par revenir au Canada en 2001 pour poursuivre un baccalauréat en philosophie à l'Université de Montréal, suivi d’une maîtrise en histoire de l'art à la même institution.  Pendant ses études en histoire de l'art, Marie-Josée a déménager à New York pour saisir de meilleures opportunités de stages de recherche dans son domaine, et la ville a vite enflammé sa passion d’utiliser l'art comme moyen d’engager sa communauté. Une fois de retour à Montréal et sa thèse finalisée, Marie-Josée a accepté un poste de directrice de la Galerie Les Territoires au Quartier des spectacles.  La combinaison de ses compétences en gestion des affaires et de son amour de l'art lui a également ouverte la porte du Programme de Leadership d’Action Canada, un programme fédéral ancré dans la science politique et l'engagement communautaire qui lui a fait connaitre la politique publique et lui a donné l'occasion d'affiner ses compétences en leadership.  Lors de son année de participation, elle a travaillé aux côtés d'autres jeunes leaders Canadiens venant de divers domaines et a appris de leurs expériences uniques.


Lors des dernières élections municipales, Marie-Josée a décidé de faire campagne pour le poste de conseillère municipal de Verdun. Son engouement politique et son expérience professionnelle ont permis de démontrer que l'engagement civique, l'art et la politique publique vont mains en mains malgré leurs différences perçues.  Selon Marie-Josée, Verdun est un excellent exemple d'un quartier vivant et dynamique où la promotion accrue de la discussion politique et de la participation de la communauté renforceront inévitablement les liens qui forment le tissu de la communauté. Cette expérience s'inscrit également dans les racines Mi'kmaq de Marie-Josée, qui est d’avis que de nombreux jeunes autochtones qui déménage à Montréal peuvent rapidement jouer un rôle bénéfique et enrichissant pour la société. Elle souligne l'importance pour les générations futures de trouver des moyens pour redéfinir leur compréhension de leurs racines et traditions, tout en réfléchissant à leur histoire écrite. Marie-Josée estime qu'il est impératif que la communauté autochtone de Montréal utilise cette réflexion pour les aider à paver leur route vers le succès, un appel plus puissant que celui de succomber à la victimisation d'une histoire horrible et inexcusable.

Alana-Dawn is originally from Kahnawake but she grew up in the surrounding towns. Her first time in the city of Montreal was to attend Dawson College. At 17, she made the daily commute from Ormstown to pursue her education in Languages and Literature. Even though her home was off-island, she quickly adapted to the city and to her newfound freedom. College also fostered an environment of multiculturalism, where she met different students from diverse backgrounds. After CEGEP, Alana-Dawn earned a degree in Public Relations Management from McGill University. When she entered the workforce as a young professional, Alana-Dawn began her career at the Native Friendship Center of Montreal . While working, her focus shifted towards early childhood education as she enjoyed spending time with children because of their contagious positive energy and spirit that influenced everyone around them. With this clearer understanding of what she wanted to do, Alana-Dawn went back to Concordia University to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Child Studies. Today she has achieved her goal and she is the director of the only Aboriginal childcare centre on the Island of Montreal, which caters to families  and their little ones. She views Montreal as a place where everyone from all walks of life can find a sense of pride and she hopes that the current political climate learns to respect and appreciate the diversity of the island she calls home.

André-Yanne Parent a vécu entre Ottawa, Paris et Montréal. Ses expériences culturelles diversifiées l’ont aidée à devenir la jeune femme autochtone qu'elle est aujourd'hui. Les parents d'André-Yanne sont du Nouveau-Brunswick, d’héritage mi'gmaq et acadien. À l'âge de neuf ans, elle a fait le voyage transatlantique afin de vivre à Paris, où sa mère faisait des recherches cliniques en psychologie familiale. Quand elle a eu 18 ans, André-Yanne est revenue au Canada pour compléter un baccalauréat et une maîtrise en anthropologie à l'Université de Montréal, agrémentés par des échanges interuniversitaires à La Réunion et à Paris. Aujourd'hui, André-Yanne est chargée de projet au Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec. Elle est également une ardente défenseure des arts et de la culture de la communauté autochtone urbaine de Montréal. Ses études et sa vie professionnelle l’ont aidée à mieux comprendre son éducation culturelle. Le père d'André-Yanne a transmis ses traditions autochtones à ses enfants à un jeune âge et s’est assuré que les valeurs de sa culture faisaient partie intégrante de leur vie et de leur vision du monde.  Le respect de l'environnement et l’importance de protéger le cycle de la nature, en gardant une grande humilité et une certaine déférence comme être humain, simple composante de ce tout, sont des valeurs autochtones essentielles qu'il a enseignées à ses enfants.


Cosmopolite, André-Yanne à l’impression qu’un morceau de chaque ville est resté en elle. Cela l’a conduit à explorer la façon dont les individus expriment leur culture et leurs valeurs dans différents centres urbains.  Si elle a toujours eu connaissance de ses racines autochtones, elle ne les affichait que peu, par souci de légitimité et par crainte de certains stigmates culturels.  Réalisant progressivement que, plutôt que de les combattre, elle reproduisait ces mêmes stigmates et faisait quelque part triompher les politiques assimilationniste en gardant cette part de son identité cachée, elle a ressenti le besoin de se rapprocher de ses origines en s’impliquant au niveau communautaire et en célébrant cet héritage.  Lors de la dernière élection municipale, André-Yanne a secoué l'adversité de l'apathie politique municipale et s'est présentée comme candidate à Verdun. Sans avoir la prétention ni le mandat d’être un porte-parole des Premières Nations de Montréal, il lui semblait toutefois important de participer à la diversification du profil des candidats en politique et de défendre certains enjeux spécifiques aux Autochtones de la métropole. Elle a choisi de mener sa lutte contre les stéréotypes négatifs par la promotion de référents culturels positifs et par la rencontre. L'espoir d'André-Yanne est que la communauté autochtone de Montréal puisse célébrer sa richesse culturelle et artistique contemporaine en marquant la trame urbaine architecturalement par un lieu physique, une sorte de zone organique, de manière analogue à d'autres communautés culturelles de Montréal. La ville, cessant ainsi d’ignorer ses premiers occupants, pourrait devenir une métropole multiculturelle plus durable et équilibrée.


André-Yanne Parent has lived in Ottawa, Paris and Montreal.  Her diverse cultural experience has helped her become the young Aboriginal advocate she is today. Born in Ottawa, André-Yanne’s parents were originally from New Brunswick and were of Mi’gmaq and Acadian heritage. At the age of nine, she made the transatlantic journey to live in Paris where her mother was doing postdoctoral clinical research in family psychology. When she turned 18, André-Yanne returned to Canada to complete a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s in Anthropology at the University of Montreal, complemented by inter-university exchanges in La Reunion and Paris. Today, André-Yanne is a project manager at the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec. She is also an active advocate for the arts and culture scene in the Montreal urban Aboriginal community. Her education and professional life have helped her to better understand her upbringing. André-Yanne’s father passed on Aboriginal traditions to his children at a young age and ensured these values were a way of life.  Respecting the environment and the protection of nature, while remaining humble, are essential Aboriginal values that he instilled in them.


Cosmopolitan, André-Yanne feels as if a piece of each city remains with her.  This has led her to explore how individuals express their culture and values in different urban centers.  Her Aboriginal roots were always something that was kept hidden due to cultural and social stigmas.  Over time she realized that hiding only helped to reinforce the stigmatization and political assimilation, leading her to understand that she must embrace and celebrate her roots.  In the last municipal election, André-Yanne shook off the adversity of political municipal apathy and ran as a candidate in Verdun. Her platform allowed her to explore her hopes for the city along, which included giving the Aboriginal community a voice within the city.   She felt that it was her duty to help diversify the political sphere as well as to help defend certain interests of the Aboriginal community.  She faced negative stereotypes head on via positive cultural references and discourse.  André-Yanne’s hope is for the Aboriginal community of Montreal to lay roots in a physical place within the urban core, a sort of natural area similar to other Montreal cultural communities, and celebrate their rich culture and contemporary art with fellow citizens.  If the city could move past and acknowledge its first occupants, then it could move closer to becoming a more divers, sustainable and balanced metropolis.

Like both of his Mohawk parents, Mike Standup’s Aboriginal roots lie in Kahnawake. Mike was born in Montreal, and at the early age of two months, his parents decided to move the family back to Brooklyn, New York, where his father worked as a steel worker and his mother worked in banking. His early childhood was divided between the city and the reserve. After secondary school, Mike completed a steel course as he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Three generations of the Standup family proudly worked on the Manhattan Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the former Twin Towers. Despite this deep-rooted family history, Mike eventually realized his path in life was to pursue his gift in spiritual healing, a gift he received from his mother. He is sadly all too aware of the stigma often associated with different mental and cognitive capabilities and how many individuals who share his healing potential have been medicated and misunderstood by today’s society. Luckily for Mike, his family nurtured his special gift thanks to which he did not fall prey to neglect and isolation as so many others have. Mike has learned how to use his unique perspective and channels his efforts to helping the community. Today, Mike takes great pride in his work as a spiritual healer at a local women’s shelter. His role is constantly evolving to meet new challenges and opportunities that present themselves, such as working in tandem with Montréal’s health care community. Mike works with citizens from all walks of life, not just the aboriginal community. His only requirement is that the people who come to him are all ready to seek help as, over the years, he has learned that he can only help people when they are open and ready to receive his guidance. Montreal was built on the foundations of the Mohawk society, and as such, Mike feels at home in his downtown neighbourhood, which reminds him of his youth in Brooklyn. As a proud Mohawk man, Mike feels that it is his duty as a citizen and as a professional to welcome all to his beautiful home of Montreal and to help any of those in need.

Marie-Celine hails from the Naskapi Nation of kawawachikamach and grew up in the Cree community of Chisasibi, a part of Quebec that can only be reached by train or airplane. She is passionate about art and fell in love with dance at a young age.  This passion led her to pursue her academic studies in Theater Arts at Algonquin College in Ottawa, while also working in Aboriginal Tourisms – Arts & Culture.  It was not long before Marie-Celine realized that she was searching for something more in her life and she made the move to Montreal to further explore the diverse artistic opportunities that make up the city. Once here, she decided to study psychology at Concordia University, as it allowed her to further understand her sense of self along with her deep-rooted artistic desire and expression. As a young adult looking to start a career, Marie-Celine found it difficult to make the proper connections that would generate the right attention. It is through exploring the multicultural facets of Montreal that she eventually found cultural venues, events and festivals in which she could participate and express herself through her artistic medium.  Today, Marie-Celine works at a Montreal women’s shelter and has several independent projects with Aboriginal organizations, seeking to promote Native art within the urban landscape. Marie-Celine is also an active professional member of Rising Sun Productions Inc., a top talent agency that takes pride in representing some of the best Aboriginal artists in North America.


Her portrait, composed on the edge of Chinatown, reflects her appreciation for the public art subculture, while her practice of hoop dancing, a traditional form of storytelling, blends naturally with the surroundings. This is a perfect example of one of Marie-Celine’s dreams for the city: she wishes to see more public art spaces and hopes that Montreal can continue to grow towards that goal, while also proudly promoting its aboriginal community. In her eyes, this is a natural progression, as Montreal has provided the setting in which she has been able to further discover her identity and her pride for her cultural heritage. Marie-Celine also notes that young professionals coming to Montreal need to take advantage of the improving aboriginal network and to spread the word throughout the community. Marie-Celine’s last thought on the city makes for sound advice: Montreal offers many opportunities along with vices; it is important to stay the course and not to give up. She believes wholeheartedly that youth can strike balance between the negative tendencies of the reserves and the diversity and freedom of a large metropolis.

Tealey Normandin was born in Montreal to Mohawk parents but was adopted by a non-aboriginal family at the age of three. From an early age she was well aware of her Native origins but was not familiar with the culture tied to it. As she got older, she learned that it would be up to her to define her identity. In college she studied graphic design, photography as well as culinary arts, and eventually started her own small business while juggling the challenges of being a stay-at-home mother. After some time, Tealey realized that she was not meant for this path and decided that a change in career would help her connect with the community around her. This desire led her to go back to school and study Special Care Counseling at Vanier College and Human Relations and Sociology at Concordia University. Today, Tealey works at a local shelter; a milieu that she believes chose her. Her struggle with alcohol and domestic abuse had once brought her to the shelter and it was there that she received help from the Outreach worker that she now calls boss. Tealey’s path has brought her full circle and she attributes her success to the positive influence of the Montreal urban aboriginal community. She does not hide from her darker days; rather she views them as part of the healing process and uses the lessons she has learned to help teach young aboriginal women that respect and self-worth are vital characteristics to have. Working in the aboriginal community has shown Tealey how many new arrivals from other communities feel lost and intimidated when they first come to Montreal, but she knows from personal experience the available services for people making this transition and the need for these services to be promoted and made more accessible. While she loves the advantages of diversity and accessibility found in the city, Tealey’s sanctuary is along the water in Verdun. Today Tealey is a proud, strong and resilient Mohawk woman infused with Canadian and Quebecois culture and is proud to be part of the fabric of this island that represents joy, safety and family.

Carrie Martin lived in Howick and the surrounding region until the age of 20. Her father worked on the island of Montreal and transplanted the family there once her brother had completed his secondary school education.  Once settled, she enrolled in her final semester at Dawson College and quickly fell in love with the cultural diversity found in Montreal.   School life provided her with the opportunity to learn about other cultures and to share her own, which is a unique blend of Norwegian from her mother’s side and Mi’gmaq from her father’s side.  Her education continued as she went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Human Sciences at Concordia University, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from McGill University and a Graduate Diploma from Concordia University in Community Economic Development.  With her knowledge, skills, culture and love for the city she proudly calls home, Carrie has helped to strengthen the Montreal Aboriginal community.  She is currently working as the Holistic Health Coordinator at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and focuses primarily on prevention and awareness of HIV and hepatitis among the urban Aboriginal community.  She was also instrumental in the creation of a clinic that provides support to Aboriginal women in need of treatment within the provincial medical system.  The main function of this clinic is to ensure that every Aboriginal woman has access to the same medical resources and treatments as any other citizen –a significant concern in the Aboriginal community as access is often not easily achieved.  Carrie’s pride for Montreal is the driving force that moves her on her path of ensuring all Aboriginal women, whether they just made Montreal their home yesterday or have been here for decades, have access to knowledge and opportunities.

Sedalia Fazio’s cultural roots lie across the bridge in Kahnawake, the place where she grew up and lived most of her life submerged in Mohawk traditions.  Montreal was simply another forgettable city, and she has always felt her heart belonged in the country.  In spite of this pull, Sedalia moved to Montreal twelve years ago to be closer to her first-generation family.  Once here, she loved the ease of city life where services and necessities are always within reach, but she quickly realized the physical tie that encourages Aboriginal youth to connect to their heritage was missing. This lack of a connection led Sedalia to begin a ten-year long project that centred around the creation of a sweat lodge focusing on the traditional healing methods of her culture and the bridging of cultural roots.  Sedalia’s passion and dedication led to the establishment of a permanent home for her community project within the Botanical Gardens of Montreal.  Like many other citizens, Sedalia still believes that the city needs work, especially when it comes to strengthening Aboriginal ties, but she proudly maintains that a move to the city, any city, does not mean that you need to set aside your roots.  And her family and children can attest to that fact - they grew up off the reserve and have pursued higher education which has led to opportunities on the Island, all while keeping their culture, traditions, language and food alive and well.  As a country girl from Kahnawake in the metropolis of Montreal, Sedalia strongly believes that her role is to promote people helping people, a message that strongly resonates with her family in their Ville LaSalle neighbourhood.   

Thank You / Merci
This project could not have been possible without:
Ce projet n'aurait pas été possible sans:

Vivien Carli         
Senior Analysts - International Centre for the Prevention of Crime
Analyste Sénior - Le Centre international pour la prévention de la criminalité

Carrie Martin     
Holistic Health Project Coordinator - Native Women's Shelter of Montreal
Coordinatrice de Santé Holistique - Foyer pour femmes autochtones de Montréal

Ashli Kean &  Jérôme-Alexandre Soumastre
Editors and Translators
Rédacteurs et Traducteurs