Artistic Program

As part of the 2013 Conference, we have been  honoured to curate a wide range of artistic experiences that will immerse delegates in a variety of expressions, by extraordinary Canadian Aboriginal artists. We wish to thank Travis Shilling, Bewabon Shilling, Amelia Shilling, Paul Shilling, Sandra Laronde and Red Sky Performance, the Cultural Circle of Rama First Nations, Kathryn Manners and Lakehead University for making this possible.

Arthur Shilling

Bewabon Shilling

Paul Shilling

Travis Shilling

Aaron Paquette

Red Sky Performance & Performers

Magic Canoe


Arthur Shilling (1941-1986)

"When I was born, mother earth was bleeding. That's when I started to see color. That's when the dream began. The dream transforms life. For a bright illuminated instant the shackles of everyday eyes are shattered, and the gracefulness of life is laid bare. All things begin here. Mine would be the Ojibway dream."  — Arthur Shilling


Ojibway artist Arthur Shilling was born into a family of 13 children on the Rama Reserve near Orillia, Ontario, and spent most of his life there. He moved to Toronto in his late teens, and although he received a scholarship to attend art school, he went to few classes, preferring to find his own way. That way meant rejecting traditional Native Indian art forms, the illustration of legends, and the use of animal symbolism, while at the same time exploring the Native experience in the life around him, particularly in the faces of his people. Mainly self-taught, he developed his own distinctive expressionist style to reveal the inner and outer life of the people he painted and the landscapes against which they lived.

From the age of 26, Arthur’s work was in demand by galleries, collections, and institutions worldwide. His success ran in a parallel but opposite direction to the state of his health and, from 1975 when he underwent open heart surgery until his death in 1986, he painted desperately as if to finish as much work as possible in the time left to him. His final masterpiece, referred to by his family simply as The Five Panels, depicts the many faces of the children of Rama as they transition from wakefulness to sleep.

The Shilling family is honoured to present this rare exhibit of one of Arthur Shilling's final masterpieces at the Couchiching Conference.


Travis, Bewabon, and Amelia Shilling


Bewabon Shilling

Born in 1977, Bewabon Shilling is the eldest son of the late Ojibway artist, Arthur Shilling. His own paintings are inspired by his surroundings, and his subject matter consists mainly of his environment and its local inhabitants. Painting on the shores of Lake Couchiching, Bewabon is engrossed by the ever-changing seasons and inspired by the people who come and go in his life. His latest series consists of non-representational paintings based on the Black River that runs near his property in Rama, Ontario. 

Bewabon enrolled in a one-year Graphic Design program before attending the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) to study drawing and painting. In 1999, through OCAD, he was accepted to take part in the Florence (Italy) Off-Campus Studies Program. He graduated from OCAD in 2000 and received both the Norman Jewison Award and the Rose of Cedarvale Scholarship. Since then, he has exhibited locally at Roberts Gallery in Toronto and throughout North America and Europe, including Santa Fe and London, England. In 2011, Bewabon was chosen to exhibit a painting through the Art Dealers Association of Canada at the Armory Show in New York City. His upcoming solo show will be held at Roberts Gallery in the spring of 2013 and will be followed by a fall exhibition at The Collector’s Gallery of Art in Calgary, Alberta. 


Paul Shilling

Born  in 1953 in Rama, Ontario, Paul Shilling studied art at Georgian College in the early 1990’s, but is primarily self-taught, and informed through life experiences

“For me, painting is a medium for healing, for celebrating the spirit, and it is a gift. It is an opportunity to explore and understand myself, and my place and relationship within the circle of creation. ”— Paul Schilling

As an Aboriginal man, Paul feels the need to shed the image that was taught to him as a child, that he was undesirable, shameful, and unworthy. This continual re-definition, the questioning and searching, keeps Paul’s work alive as he seeks to shed the old self and invite the new and ever-changing self. As he expresses himself, he heals himself, the inner voice and the inner eye clear and open for the energy of the image to move through him from “the great house of invention”. This is the manifest vision from the sky world that springs to life in his paintings.

Paul will share his paintings with the Couchiching conference and will also host two circles. The circles will uncover the true self — rediscovering the light, the fire, the child, and the sacredness within, and coming to understand the two warriors — the dual, the conflict, the ego verses the child.

Aaron Paquette

Aaron Paquette, one of Canadaʼs premiere First Nations/Métis artists, will display a piece of his own from his personal collection, a piece that holds a lot of meaning. 

Like A Thief: As described by Aaron Paquette:

"This piece talks about the legacies of Residential School, of a fractured community, of a culture that remains despite attempts to destroy it. We see the effects of colonization on our women, our children, but sometimes forget our men. In many cases they are thriving, healing. In many others they are in jail, in a prison of concrete and steel. 

They are also in a prison of the past, of the cycles of violence, abuse and addiction.We hear them blamed for being poor fathers, for not being there. Well, in many cases they are not there, not in spirit. Their spirit is a pained thing, a maimed thing, trying to fly. I spend a lot of time focused on the issues faced by indigenous women and children and sometimes forget that the men can be the most lost of all, while expected to be the strongest of all - and derided when they are not.

The light of the Creator above has been replaced by manufactured light. The white bird of peace sits above, a raven for these times, a symbol of coming change..."


Travis Shilling

Travis Shilling's paintings tell a story. A filmmaker and playwright, his work reflects a rich imagination and exceptional skill. Travis' recent paintings juxtapose civilization and the animal world in a narrative dreamscape. His short film, Bear Tung, featuring First Nations actor Gary Farmer, was a selection for the 2011 National Museum of American Indian in New York City as well as the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival in October. Travis was born in Rama, Ontario, the second of two artist sons of acclaimed Aboriginal artist Arthur Shilling. He has exhibited since the age of 21 in Canada, Europe, and the United States.


Red Sky Performance

Saturday night at 7:30 with panel on Plurality of Indigenous Identities.

Internationally renowned for its artistry and innovation, Red Sky is Canada's leading company of world Indigenous performance in dance, theatre, and music.

This multi-award-winning company was founded by Artistic Director Sandra Laronde in 2000 (see Bio, page 16). Red Sky creates produces, and tours original work for adult and family audiences on stages across Canada and the world.

Red Sky has also garnered an international reputation for collaborating on landmark projects with some of the most prestigious artists and companies from around the globe. Since its inception, Red Sky has captured and ignited the imagination of close to 500,000 people from nine countries on four continents. Red Sky highlights the promise and potential of what is possible within contemporary Indigenous performance.



Thomas Fonua is a dancer with Red Sky Performance. He is of Samoan and Tongan Indigenous descent from New Zealand. He has toured internationally throughout New Zealand, Canada, Europe, South Korea, United States and Hong Kong. He is 20 years old and also an accomplished athlete in discus and rugby. Currently, Thomas is a Merit Dancer as part of The Banff Centre's Indigenous Dance Residency.





Rick Sacks is a long-time collaborator with Red Sky and a gifted award-winning composer/musician. His previous musical compositions for Red Sky includes Caribou Song, Tono, Migration, and inSIGNia. As a composer, Rick created the music and sound for Roseneath Children's Theatre productions of Danny, King of the Basement, Rock and the Queen of Dreams, The Incredible Speed of Jamie Cavanaugh and Wrecked. He founded the PhenomeNONsemble, which he used as a platform for his unique performance works, mixing contemporary music practices with theatre techniques. Currently, Rick is the artistic director of Array New Music in Toronto.



Jerod Tate is a renowned and award-winning composer/musician from Oklahoma City. He brings his Chickasaw roots to his music, and he is dedicated to the development of First Nations classical composition. His deep sense of cultural integrity and commitment to Indigenous values imbues every aspect of his work. He has consistently pushed the boundaries of Indigenous music in his compositions and live performances, fusing Indigenous traditional to classical to produce his own blend of traditional and contemporary styles without compromising either form. Currently, he is working with Red Sky Performance on their Indigenous Music Creators project.



Magic Canoe

The World Indigenous Network Conference held in Darwin, Australia, in May 2013 brought together 55 countries and over 1300 delegates. In the spirit of sharing and building this network with the Couchiching conference members, 10 paddles are being displayed. Kathryn Manners, a member of the Magic Canoe team, will be available for conversations on the network and how to engage.

The powerful story of the Magic Canoe and its crucial role in Indigenous sustainable land and sea management was shared in plenary at the conference, The art installation became a place of sharing and learning and 55 paddles were created in the spirit of Indigenous cultures from all over the world. A narrative mapping project captured on film the Red Thread that connected indigenous people worldwide.

2016 Summer Conference

The Canada Project

Identity, Citizenship, and Nationhood in a Changing World

August 5-7, 2016
The YMCA Geneva Park Conference Centre, Orillia, ON

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Couchiching Connects
April 2017
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YMCA Geneva Park

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