Windspeaker: What one quality do you most value in a friend?
Erin Konsmo: Compassion. Those who are understanding, empathetic, and help empower others.
W: What is it that really makes you mad?
E.K.: When I run out of Sharpie markers. It makes it difficult to paint the world around me. Then I am stuck with a stick and the mud. Oh, and ongoing colonization , but that’s more bearable when I can paint (de) beside colonization with a Sharpie.
W: When are you at your happiest?
E.K.: I am happiest when I have a full selection of silver Sharpie markers, spray paint, and cardboard to create on. Nothing is more inspiring than working with community to create artistic responses around social justice in a critical, creative and clever manner (and yes, I made loons political).
W: What one word best describes you when you are at your worst?
W: What one person do you most admire and why?
E.K.: My grandmother Louise Marie. She had the courage and humor to take on adversity. Despite the history of colonialism and the difficulties she had in her life, she maintained a devoted focus to life and her family.
W: What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
Starting the journey to understand, revitalize and take pride in my identity as an Indigenous person.
W: What is your greatest accomplishment?
E.K.: Finding my voice and connecting back with art.
W: What one goal remains out of reach?
Connecting more with my home territory and incorporating my artistic and Indigenous voice within the future there. Hopefully that comes in time.
W: If you couldn’t do what you’re doing today, what would you be doing?
E.K.: Find more ways to use birch bark in art. The more I work with birch bark the more infinite (Metis joke) its uses seem to be. I love the harvesting process, working with the layers, and creating mural art or jewelry out of it.
W: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Adversity builds character. After a storm, things will stand on more solid ground than they did before. And to always send forward compassion in my life.
W: Did you take it?
E.K.: I try and live it every day.
W: How do you hope to be remembered?
E.K.: For empowering those who aren’t. Hopefully a lot of that is through art. I hope to be remembered for adding a little colour to the process of Indigenous communities reclaiming self-determination around their rights to sexual and reproductive justice.
Artist Erin Konsmo was born and raised in Innisfail, Atla. Her mother is Metis and her father Norwegian. Her father was a tradesman and his work took him away from home quite a bit while she was growing up with her three siblings, one an identical twin sister. Their parents decided that someone needed to be a stay at home parent and her mother chose to do so. Erin said of her upbringing, “Both of my parents passed on values of community, sharing and helping out others. Despite even hard times, there was always enough food to take someone in and help them get back on their feet. We grew up as a household that always had other youth and family members around.”
Erin started volunteering young and at the age of 15 began answering phones at the Central Alberta Crisis Line in order to help those in distress. She said she comes by her volunteering mindset from both her parents but especially her mother. Erin continued her volunteering when she joined the Central Alberta AIDS Network and at 18 years old she became a member of the Board of Directors. By the age of 23 she was the chairperson. She continues her involvement with them via long distance while she finishes her Masters degree in Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto.
Erin is currently the Alberta Representative on the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network National Indigenous Youth Council on HIV and AIDS. She is also part of a community-based team located in Red Deer, Alta. called Voices from the Fire: Vision in Truth. This project uses storytelling to provide an Indigenous perspective of HIV/AIDS for information, education, prevention and support strategies in the central Alberta region. She says of her future plans, “I will be continuing to work for the Native Youth Sexual Health Network after I finish my masters.”