Native artist’s work on display at Queen’s Park

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Walpole Island artist Garrett Nahdee showcases one of his carvings that adorns an entrance into Queen’s Park in Toronto.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Growing up on Walpole Island, Garrett Nahdee remembers how much he loved watching his father draw.

As an eight-year-old, he used to try and copy his dad, but it wasn’t until he was around 30 that he began to take drawing and painting seriously.

Five years later, he began carving.

Little did Nahdee know that it would become his life’s work.

And now, that work is getting noticed. A carving by Nahdee depicting the Seven Grandfather Teachings was recently chosen to grace an entrance into the Ontario Legislature.

Nahdee said the legislative assembly council put out a call for native carvers and he answered.

“We had to carve a small example of our work and they picked my work as the favourite and gave me the contract,” Nahdee said in a recent interview.

It took Nahdee several months to complete the unique piece. Made of mahogany, it depicts an eagle symbolizing love; a beaver for wisdom; a turtle for truth; a wolf for humility; a buffalo for respect; a bear for courage; and the raven for honesty.

Nadhee, who now lives on the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation with his wife and children, said he keeps the Seven Grandfather Teachings close in his heart.

“Showing gratitude towards God is most important,” he said. “I teach my kids to pray before they eat and pray before they sleep.

“Praying helps us appreciate and give peace of mind.”

Prior to becoming an artist, Nahdee served four years in the U.S. Marines. After he was honourably discharged, he worked as a truck driver criss-crossing North America.

It was in his truck that Nahdee resumed drawing.

A statement from the Ontario Legislature said Nahdee’s art will serve as permanent reminder of the ongoing role played by Indigenous peoples in the creation of Ontario.

The work also symbolizes the continuing renewal of Ontario’s relationship and connections Indigenous people living in the province today.

Although the chamber has many carvings within it, Nahdee’s work is the first piece by a First Nation artist.

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