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Canada's First Indigenized Art Therapy Diploma launches

Updated: May 8, 2020

The image of a budding tree is a perfect metaphor for the announcement of the first fully Indigenized Art Therapy Diploma in Canada: a program formally accredited on this spring's super moon - the May full moon known as the leaf-budding moon in Cree tradition. Now available in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and intended to reach out to potential Indigenous students across Canada, this program provides the training required for Indigenous healers and allies to accredit as professional art therapists. This art therapy diploma program is one-of-a-kind, in that all faculty are Indigenous and the curriculum reflects Indigenous values.

Grounded in Indigenous worldview, the program’s founding principles include the importance of the inter-connectedness of all living beings: plant, animal, flyer, swimmer, rock, and all things animate. Through building and rebuilding respectful relationships with Earth, Animal, Family, Community, Tribal, and Societal Relations, we move towards the restoration of harmony and the possibility of fulfilling our dreams.

Art has been used for centuries to tell the stories of the people. Whether using natural dyes in ancient paintings on rock faces in the Canadian shield, making vibrantly beaded moccasin vamps in teepees on the plains, or designing ceremonial wear for sacred ceremony such as the Sun Dance or the pow wow, art-making has been a way of life for First Nations peoples. Ceremony endures, not only fully influenced by the flora, fauna and inhabitants of any given region, but also by the geography.

This program, online in its inaugural Summer 2020, will train students from several river and lakeside locations, including the kâniyâsihk culture camp in the pristine wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan, Ancient Spirals Retreat Centre on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, and its home base near the banks of the Red River at the Winnipeg Holistic Expressive Arts Therapy Institute (WHEAT). In Indigenous cultures, the land is a teaching tool, and students will have the opportunity to experience the inter-connection between land and art-based learning: feet on the ground, hands in the clay. Even online, opportunity will be given to experience and explore the earth herself as art and earth elements as media for art making.

“Being on the land within language, ceremony, and the relatives whose intention is to connect in a meaningful supportive way is the best medicine for learning and educating. Within sharing circles of reciprocity, led by the kindness and generosity of our grandmothers, my body, mind and spirit are connecting to intergenerational wisdom and power. This is why this work is so important - we are learning how to be human again.” nehiyaw iskwew, artist, academic, and IATD faculty Lana Whiskeyjack

The invitation to participate is open to Indigenous healers and helpers wishing to develop skills in using art therapeutically. Space will be available for non-Indigenous learners in positions to significantly improve the lives of Indigenous peoples. Candidates living in the North and on small reserve communities are encouraged to apply. Communities with 6-8 students wishing to participate in the program from their home community can reach out to us regarding community-based training on location or by zoom.

On a forest walk, upon sharing news of the announcement, I looked up to see two trees, standing tall, strong and completely connected. Join us in laying tobacco by a favorite tree and saying a prayer for the successful evolution of the newly birthed Indigenized Art Therapy Diploma (IATD). Visualize the good that will come over our life cycles and beyond, as we grow together with all our relations. May our trunks be strong, our roots deep, our foliage abundant, and our connection solid.



âyihay mistahi to all you ayisinîwak (beings of this land)

kakiyaw niwâhkôhmâkanak (all my relations)

nehiyawewin language shared by Lana Whiskeyjack

Two trees connected at the base growing separately, tall, strong, and inter-connected
Trees Strong Together image by Darci Adam


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