Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Métis artist combines passion for medicine, beadwork in support of Grassy Narrows First Nation

by Olivia Levesque
photo: ho80

A Métis artist from Manitouwadge, Ont., is combining her passions of Indigenous-style beadwork and the medical field in support of a cause that hits close to home.

Jamie Thompson has been creating small, intricate beaded designs resembling anatomical organs and other medical devices while in her first year at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM).

Earlier this week, she launched an auction selling her beadwork in support of the community fund Free Grassy for Grassy Narrows First Nation.
Thompson said writing an essay for a school assignment about the health crisis in the community has inspired her to do more in support of the community.

“I wanted them to kind of go out into the world and do it in a meaningful way. So doing the auction to raise money for Grassy Narrows, and to continue the cause of my essay and bring it into an actual action [to] live up to NOSM’s social accountability mandate was something that I’m super excited to be doing,” she said in an interview with CBC Radio.

Grassy Narrows, about 90 kilometres from Kenora, Ont., was first impacted by mercury poisoning in the late 1960s. A chemical plant at the Reed Paper mill in Dryden, which is upstream from the community, dumped 9,000 kilograms of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River.

Thompson said while she was aware of the longstanding issues faced by members of Grassy Narrows, attending the NOSM has helped open her eyes to the ongoing costs linked to mercury poisoning.

“We’re going to be potentially treating those afflicted by this for the rest of our careers,” she said. “It really gives that longitudinal perspective on how this issue is still present and ongoing. So yeah, it’s amazing that this was part of the curriculum.”

The auction, which launched Monday and wrapped up Friday night, has seen over $2,000 in pledges for the Free Grassy community fund, which helps the community in regaining control of their land and seeking compensation for the impacts of mercury poisoining.

According to Thompson, bids from across the country, including from other medical schools, have trickled in, just one positive outcome of the auction. Wearing beadwork as a health-care practitioner or other professional can also show solidarity and support for Indigenous clients, she said.

“I’ll be sending these pieces out to their new homes. It’s just incredible. And I know that they’re going to good homes and they’re being used for a good cause, so it just means the world to me,” she said.