Cultural Canvas: Sarah Cronier on the Power of Indigenous Art

Cultural Canvas: Sarah Cronier on the Power of Indigenous Art
To celebrate National Indigenous History Month, we partnered with our Senior Officer of Indigenous Programs and Partnerships, Sarah Cronier. Drawing on her cultural background, experience with Indigenous traditions, and exceptional artistic talent, Sarah created original artwork that vividly brings the message of “Heal. Grow. Thrive.” to life. Read more about Sarah, her artistic journey, and her creative process in this interview.

A journey through art

How did your artistic journey begin?

Ever since I could hold a pencil, art has been a big part of my life. It’s not something I picked up later in life; it’s been a natural talent and passion that has evolved with me. I excelled in art classes when I was young. Initially, I experimented with various mediums, transitioning from sketching to sculpting, but ultimately found my niche in acrylic painting. My passion for art truly flourished when I attended Trent University in Peterborough, where I majored in Indigenous Environmental Studies. Originally starting in the sciences, I realized I desired a deeper connection with people. This program exposed me to Indigenous cultures across Canada, which became a significant source of inspiration and helped shape my style. My fellow Indigenous friends in the program also played an important role in allowing me to explore and appreciate our differences.

Like many Indigenous People, I’m still learning about our history - from my family, peers, and Elders. This journey has deeply influenced my artistic path and is what led me to explore and celebrate our heritage through my work.

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

a pencil crayon drawing of blurberriesCurve Lake First Nation is very close to Peterborough, and there's a talented artist near and dear to my heart named Freddy Taylor, who is a Residential School Survivor. Being in that area for school allowed me to visit him often. Each time I visit, I make sure to buy a piece of his art. While I never took formal art classes, my studies and experiences at the local cultural centre, which is beautiful, deeply influenced my style.

Although I’ve never lived on reserve, hearing stories, learning traditions, and attending ceremonies of friends who have has been incredibly inspiring. The connection to culture has profoundly shaped my perspective and are elements I strive to reflect in my work.

The main inspiration for me comes from the people around me and my personal experiences, rather than the work of other artists. When working on this campaign, my creative process was focused on what I wanted to achieve. I aimed for tangible results; for example, if I was drawing a medicinal plant, I wanted it to be recognizable and not too abstract, especially for educational purposes. It's important for people to clearly identify what it is if we're trying to educate them about, like medicines, Indigenous teachings, etc.

However, when it comes to my personal paintings and art, I draw inspiration from stories, feelings, or teachings I want to convey. I think about the colours that represent those emotions or experiences and how to evoke the same feelings in others that I experienced. This way, I can share the impact of those moments through my artwork.

What is your creative process?

My approach to art involves immersing myself in the subject matter, whether it's a medicinal plant or a cultural symbol, and drawing from memory and emotion rather than reference photos. This method ensures that my work is a genuine expression of my experiences and knowledge. For example, I've recently started making my own dandelion salve, so I've been learning more about dandelions and their properties. So when it came to creating dandelion art for the campaign, I didn't want to use a reference photo. I was able to do it from memory. I just really try to push myself to learn about something as much as I can, experience something as much as I can, and create what I’ve internalized.

sage and abalone shell drawingsDo you believe art can be healing?

Absolutely. When it comes to healing, I believe everyone faces mental health struggles at times. For me, art is a way to turn it all off. My mind goes blank, and I don’t have to think about all the things happening in my life. It's just me and the canvas or paper, which provides a lot of relief and healing, allowing me to step away from the busyness of life. Each piece I create tells a story, capturing a moment or a feeling that I want to share.

Art has also helped me grow culturally. Through conversations and hearing other people's stories about their cultures and backgrounds, I've gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for my own culture. I've seen my skills improve significantly over the years. If you compare my work from five years ago to now, there's a noticeable difference in my abilities and the experiences I portray. This growth is a journey in itself.

This growth ties into thriving. By healing through my art and continually improving my talents, I’m able to thrive. Learning about different medicines has been a part of this process. I've studied them to accurately depict them in my art, and I've even preserved them in my yard. This knowledge and exposure allow me to thrive artistically and culturally.

Creativity through all aspects of life

Indigenous Canadian style artwork of mountains, a woman dancing, and trees

What was it like to create art for National Indigenous History Month?

It has been very inspiring. What I loved most was integrating my personal journey with using traditional medicines and reconnecting with my roots. Through this project, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Elders and discuss different medicines. This was incredibly inspiring for me.

For the banner image "Generations to Come", I was inspired by the land. We live on Turtle Island, we must connect and remain connected with our cultures, the land, the elements and beings so we may thrive for Generations to Come.

This process beautifully intertwines my personal and professional life. For instance, in my garden, I apply what I'm learning and hope to pass that knowledge to others in their communities. If someone struggles to grow a particular plant or needs specific information, I want to share what I’ve learned to help them.

I strive to integrate my work with my personal life, as my passion for art and traditional knowledge encompasses my entire life. Enjoying my work means that it becomes a seamless part of who I am, both personally and professionally.

Tell us about your role as Senior Officer of Indigenous Programs and Partnerships. What excites you most about your work?

Personally, my goal now is to become more self-sufficient, especially given the current state of the world, which can be quite unsettling. Embracing old ways, like using dandelions or broadleaf plantain, offers valuable lessons. What motivates me is the desire to help communities reconnect culturally, which aligns with my own aspirations. While I can't dictate what that looks like for others, I can share my experiences, like reaching out to an Elder to learn and pass on her knowledge to my children.

I hope to inspire and foster this cultural reconnection with our partners. Ideally, the goal of Indigenous programs, like those at CFTC, is to support communities in becoming self-sufficient, similar to how they were hundreds of years ago. Although life has changed significantly since then, reconnecting with our culture and basics is crucial. It's about fostering overall health—spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical—by returning to self-sufficiency and traditional knowledge.

Evoking emotion

pencil crayon drawing of strawbrryAre your children interested in art? Is this something you do as a family?

One of my children is really interested in art, colouring, and sketching. Another couldn't be bothered, but loves to be out on the land. Loves to get their hands dirty, help out in the garden. It’s special that they’re both taking after my interests in different ways.

I want them to have the same experiences that I did growing up. I was often outside in the bush with my dad, we were fishing and we were getting dirty. And I want them to experience the same thing. So I think it's really important to like to be grounded and to know where you come from.

What message do you want people who see your art to take away with them?

I hope people ask questions and seek to learn more because there's so much depth beyond. LIke just seeing sage in a smudge ceremony, it’s so much more expansive than that. There’s a rich history and meaning behind it. That’s why I made sure my sketches were detailed and recognizable, so people could easily identify them. If I had chosen a more abstract approach, it wouldn’t have been as educational or clear.

I want people to be curious and do their own research, not just take things at face value. This applies to life in general—be open to learning and asking questions. It’s important to delve deeper and understand the full context and significance of what you’re seeing.

Through her art and role, Sarah continually inspires others to reconnect with their heritage and embrace traditional knowledge. Her dedication to cultural growth and self-sufficiency is a powerful reminder of the strength and resilience within Indigenous communities. We thank Sarah for contributing her beautiful artwork to support this campaign. We invite you to explore more of her artwork below, and at our Resource Hub

Indigenous Canadian style artwork of mountains, a woman dancing, and trees
"Generations to Come"
"Dance Between the Rain"
"Mama's Boys"
"Winter Wonderland"