I met Nanook Fareal in a 12-step recovery room about a decade ago and have watched in absolute admiration how Nanook has supported their fellow Indigenous peoples with several initiatives from Feeding Canada, which they founded in 2015 to support Inuit in the north cut off from affordable groceries and diapers, to their work to raise awareness for Every Child Matters. Nanook’s latest project is the creation of the Native Arts Society, a movement and organization that has grown out of their work with Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction (TIHR), which they co-founded with life partner Brianna Olson-Pitawanakwat.
TIHR launched shortly after the pandemic arrived in 2020 and was created in response to the shutdown of frontline services and lack of basic needs for Indigenous houseless folks. Similar to Vaccine Hunters, Nanook and Brianna saw where the government was failing, saw the enormous gaps worsening, and stepped in to provide necessary help.
Over the past fourteen months, they have raised funds and gathered donations to support community members with everything from winter coats and boots to traditional food and medicines, harm reduction supplies, amongst other things that helped vulnerable neighbours stay alive.
Many of the people that Nanook and Brianna connect with on a daily basis are survivors of residential schools, the 60s scoop, and Canada’s foster care system. Both Nanook and Brianna are also intergenerational survivors of Canada’s nightmarish residential schools, and understand firsthand how trauma is passed down, and how it manifests.
Beyond providing survival items, for warmth and nutrition, Nanook and Brianna helped find art materials to support creative expression, and quickly understood how valuable that means of support was too.
“This was an idea that came up over a year ago, when I started doing Art Days with our Indigenous street folks here in Toronto,” says Nanook. “We are proud to have secured a spot in downtown Toronto, right near Moss Park, an area that we know and love.”
“At this time, there are no queer Indigenous-owned galleries in the city of Toronto. The timing is perfect, because it’s Indigenous People’s Month and Pride Month!” says Briana, who also points out that in a city with approximately 60-80,000 Indigenous peoples, a space like this is well overdue.
“We are so excited to be able to provide a platform for Indigenous art that is rarely seen or uplifted, including art from the street community, those who are incarcerated, and more modern forms of Inuit art. Indigenous peoples deserve self-determination in the arts as we do in any other venue.”
Right now, they are on a mission to raise $100,000, and in less than 48 hours since the campaign started, they’ve already received over 10K in donations. Funds raised will help pay for rent, renovations, art supplies, and operation costs.”Art is so therapeutic and so important for our people and I’m really grateful that we are going to start this.”
For any of you wondering how to best support Indigenous peoples right now, this is a very good place to start. To support you can head to their GoFundMe page, but they are also receiving donations via e-transfer ( send to email@example.com with subject: For Arts Studio), which allows them to use the full amount sent (as GoFundMe takes a percentage cut of all donations).