Sometimes Words are Not Enough: A Lived Experience

February 01, 2018

PART ONE: Pre-Amble

Part One of this article was written by Stephen Gaetz, President & CEO, Canadian Observatory on Homelessnes; Melanie Redman, President & CEO, A Way Home Canada; Alina Turner, Principal, Turner Strategies.

In our efforts to understand the complexities involved in homelessness, we turn to ‘evidence’: data, frameworks, plans, best practices, strategies, etc. While critical inputs into ways of knowing, there are other equally valid modalities of making sense and expressing insights.
In our continued efforts to expand national understanding of Lived Experiences, we are proud to introduce the following arts-based representation of home/homeless by Dene artist Michael Fatt. 
Please have a look and support Michael and his work here.

PART TWO: Michael's Story

Sometimes words are not enough. And when we’re trying to convey our experiences of homelessness, a picture – as they say – is worth a thousand words.

For me, art has been refuge from a young age. It was my calm even in the darkest of times- of which I have had many.

When asked whether I would contribute to the conversation on homelessness by adding my voice to a national chorus of peers calling for authentic Reconciliation, I find my voice comes through better through a paintbrush than a pen.

About the Paintings

I painted these two standalone pieces, which fit together into a larger whole, to represent one the one hand “homel-essness” and on the other, “home-fullness.” Hence, the title of the work is Transformations.

You will see in the first painting that the colours are dark, muted, lost. The person on the street is holding a sign calling for change, not cash. The ravens are observing inactivity and lifelessness; they are still. In the second image, vibrant colours from the sun spill over to evoke light, life, and hope. The drummer belongs, and is free. The lights are on in the home and the raven is in flight. 

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If you’re ever at the Calgary Homeless Foundation’s office, the originals can be found at the main reception as a gift from me to the community of Calgary, where I started my recovery journey and still reside today.

Michael standing in front of his painting
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About Me

In many ways, my story is one you’ve likely encountered at many shelter or street corner. I was born in 1966 in Edmonton, Alberta and am a Chipewyan Dene, Treaty 8, and a member of the Lutselk’e Dene First Nations band. Lutselk’e, a fly-in community near Yellowknife, NWT, located on upper east arm of the Great Slave Lake. I still have strong connections with the community of Yellowknife, where I lived for many years. The North is an embedded influence on my artistic style to this day.

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My path hasn't been an easy one; I am part of the 60s Scoop, and was moved from foster house to foster house throughout my childhood. I experienced first-hand the systemic marginalization Indigenous Peoples continue to struggle against: incarceration, child welfare, street homelessness, addiction though my travails through Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Lutselk’e, Calgary, and Yellowknife. 

From the start, I had a tumultuous upbringing. Negative influences and difficult circumstances left me feeling lost and alone. I was filled with a sense of having no identity, culture or heritage. No friends or family. No direction or hope.

Yet, my story and my art are about healing, resilience, cultural revitalization and the promise of Indigenous-led Reconciliation.  

Despite the many physical, mental and emotional challenges I faced, I continue to find solace in art and a way of bringing imagination to life. My paintings capture the Indigenous spiritual aspects and beauty of the land, sky and people of the North. It’s these aspects of home that I want to share with the world.

If you’d like to know more about me and my art, please visit www.michaelfatt.com

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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.