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Inspirational Artists: Duke Redbird

Duke is a Canadian poet, artist, journalist, activist, businessman, actor and administrator, best known as a key figure in the development of First Nations literature in Canada. He is also a proud Ojibwe from the Saugeen First Nation in Southwestern Ontario and had hard childhood after his mother died in a house fire and was raised predominantly by Caucasian foster families.

His poetry has touched millions and include 'I Am Canadian' (1978 and to the left) and a musical theatre project based on his poetry was performed for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977.

Duke is a strong family man and his son Jay is also an fine First Nations artist and i proudly own a painting of Jay's featuring two loons.

I first met Duke some 17 years ago in The Coloured Stone bar on Richmond in Toronto. Annie already knew him well but there sat in front of me was a Shaman Elder who oozed wisdom and had a sparkle in his eyes and a cup of tea in front of him. All the pool tables in the Stone were painted with First Nations Art, the walls were covered with his or his son's or other fellow artists work and the bar and shelves hosted many Iniut carvings. Is it any wonder i got to appreciate the art and become a friend of the artist..

Annie had a Duke painting in her office which meant he never left us and that same painting now hangs in Soller. (Bottom )

One of my first paintings was of Duke (left) which is adapted from a photo i had taken when we went from his place in Bart Lake to Algonquin Park. He had never visited the museum there even though it was very close to Bart Lake, but he wanted to take us and i was so inwardly embarrassed as room after room told the story of how Canada was built and the First Nation people suffered. Duke smiled and ignored it.

The Duke poem i love best is about The Beaver and is about a father who tells his son not to become a beaver. The reason to this is because the beaver causes many problems for the wildlife around him. Focusing all the animals around to leave and find a new home which is the same thing the “white man,” did to the natives. Where the people once lived off the land that was once theirs.

Duke spends a great deal of his time in Toronto engaging with the community educating and lecturing on First Nations and their art and has been an inspiration to artists, poets, writers and the many he touches.

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