“My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back” – Louis Riel
Sioux Artist Maxine Noel has generously donated proceeds from her ‘Spirit of the Woodlands’ art collection to Dignitas International’s Indigenous Health Partners Program.
Maxine was first introduced to Dignitas’ work through longtime supporter, Dr. Bob Bennett.
“I’ve known Dr. Bob for many years – he is one of my best friends. We made a pact a long time ago that if we could help make a difference in people’s lives, then that’s what we should do,” says Maxine.
Maxine is a Santee Oglala Sioux and grew up on the Birdtail Reserve in Manitoba. Born in 1946, Maxine is the eldest of 11 children. She spent her early childhood with a loving mother and grandmother on a quiet reserve and it was there that she learned how to draw.
Maxine’s artwork has been characterized as “fluid images, flowing lines and subtle colours.” Her paintings have been commissioned for private and corporate collections. Her inspiration for creating the selected image was the Woodlands artists that started the art movement in Ontario.
According to Maxine, “the image represents the earth as mother. And with the animals, it is an entire circle. The piece illustrates that we are all equal and that we must find harmony with the earth. This image is my tribute to the Woodlands people who I admire.”
Citing Louis Riel’s description of the artist’s role, Maxine believes that art is a way of delivering messages and helping causes. After finishing the painting, which now sits in Dr. Bob’s personal collection, Maxine felt that it should somehow be used to help others.
As a person living with diabetes, Maxine was proud to personally support Dignitas’ work in improving diabetes care for Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario.
“I was horrified when I first learned that I had type 2 diabetes. It was like a death sentence. For the first month, I woke up every morning devastated by my diagnosis,” says Maxine.
But Maxine was determined to make a change. By coupling health care with diet and lifestyle changes, she has been able to successfully manage her condition.
“Managing is the right word. Next summer, I will be 70 and I’m more fit than I’ve been in years. I’m at the gym every other day and I’ve been able to reduce my medications to just one pill,” says Maxine.
Maxine appreciates Dignitas’ engagement of community health workers and the use of a holistic approach to improving diabetes care.
“Today, our diets are filled with sugar. We need to go back to how we used to eat as Aboriginal people. I grew up living off the land with vegetable gardens and hunting fish… that’s what we need,” adds Maxine.
Rural and remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario experience a very high burden of diabetes. These communities face unique barriers to accessing quality health care, including limited or no road access to hospitals and specialists, high turnover of health care providers and a lack of culturally safe care to meet community needs.
In addition to being an artist, Maxine is active in her community and believes that we all have a role to play in helping others.
“I encourage people, young and old, to get out there and make a difference in their communities,” says Maxine.
Oscardo, a Canadian art wholesaler, is handling the sales of the Spirit Woodlands collection. A magnet is currently available for sale here. Additional items including an infinity shawl, mug and coaster will be available in the next couple of months.
Notably, the Rotary Club of Mitchell recently presented the first infinity shawl from the Spirit of the Woodlands collection to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in support of Dignitas’ First Nations health work.
Maxine has received numerous accolades for her work and was one of the first artists to work with the Canada and Africa Village Twinning Programs. She has lectured at the Saskatchewan School of Fine Arts, Western University and the Ontario College of Art & Design. Maxine received the Golden Jubilee Medal for her outstanding service to Canada.
Dignitas International is grateful to Maxine Noel and to Oscardo for supporting our Indigenous Health Partners Program.
Updated from a previous version.