Meet Kevin Wesaquate: Sask Polytech's artist and writer in residence
When Kevin Wesaquate began writing poetry, he started looking for an Aboriginal writers group to join. "I went out into my community and tried to find other Aboriginal poets and groups of possible peers who would like to practise poetry with me, and I couldn't find any." He ended up travelling across Canada in search of such a group, but was surprised to come up empty handed. "There was nothing like that that existed." Undeterred, Wesaquate noticed an opportunity when he returned home.
"I came back to Saskatoon and they were just starting the Ânskohk Aboriginal Literature Festival, so I volunteered every year and I talked to the writers who were coming here. I was saying, ‘We need to do this. We need to create some sort of group for young writers.'" He told himself, "I'm done looking for this and I'm just going to create it myself."
That self-motivation sparked the Saskatoon Indigenous Poetry Society two years ago. Today, the group is 13 members strong. "It's a great feeling," he says.
This desire to share his love of the arts is just one trait that makes him perfectly suited to his role as artist- and writer-in-residence for Sask Polytech's Adult 10 and Adult 12 programs. Another noteworthy characteristic is his curiosity when it comes to trying new art forms. His experience writing poetry evolved into a flair for spoken word. He is also a painter, filmmaker, published author and playwright.
Wesaquate explains that the responsibility of the artist- and writer-in-residence is to act as a role model and mentor to Sask Polytech's Adult 10 and Adult 12 students. The position was created to help increase the program's Aboriginal student enrolment, retention and graduation rates. Wesaquate works with instructors in the classroom and directly with students in his art studio in the E.A. Davies Building.
He says a recent highlight was the creation of a large painting currently displayed in the north entrance of the E.A. Davies Building. "We put together a four-series panel with the students in the art classes here." Other students (not enrolled in art classes) would walk in and see the painting in progress and ask questions. Always keen to collaborate and promote the arts, he'd hand them a paint brush and ask them to contribute.
In keeping with this collective spirit, he created the Wahkohtowin Zine — a magazine published for Adult 10 and 12 learners. Students can submit their own visual art, stories, and poetry for publication. "Wahkohtowin translates to ‘we are all related' in Cree," he says. It's an apt title, considering how Wesaquate has created a strong sense of community among the students he mentors.
Wesaquate has had many high points in his career: he's earned grants for writers' residencies and poetry colloquiums and he's mentored youth in the arts through Saskatoon Community Youth Arts Programming (SCYAP). With all his success, he remains grateful to be able to make a living as an artist. "To work at Sask Polytech and have this opportunity to work as a career artist…it's basically a dream come true. To be able to practise within your art on a daily basis is excellent."