Cathi Charles Wherry

Alumni Panelist: Lives Well Lived

Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 | 1 to 3:30pm
The Alex & Jo Campbell Centre for Health and Wellness
Interurban Campus, Camosun College

Cathi Charles Wherry is Anishinaabekwe from the Mnjikaning First Nation in Ontario on her father’s side and has English and Irish ancestry on her mother’s side. In 1979, she moved to Lekwungen territory and now lives in WSANEC with her husband Andy.

Wherry studied in Camosun’s Visual Arts program, and after graduating from there in 1991, studied at the University of Victoria where she earned a BFA (Honours) in Studio Arts in 1994. She had intended to go onto the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe but life had other plans.

She looks back fondly at her time at Camosun. “We had amazing support from great instructors and there was a generosity to the program, around the facilities, materials and time to be in that space working, it was just like a dream come true,” she says. “I encourage students who want to study visual arts to go to Camosun first, because there is a sense of community. Camosun absolutely changed my life. All of a sudden people were speaking a language I understood and talking about ways of being, practicing and paying attention to the world that reflected my life.”

As an artist, curator and advisor, Cathi brings a wealth of knowledge from decades of deep engagement with Indigenous arts at the local, provincial and national levels. Since 1996 she has served Indigenous communities and especially artists through her work at the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, and from 2010- 2013 she served on the Kakaekwewin Aboriginal Advisory for Canada Council for the Arts. In addition to showing her own work, she has curated exhibitions locally at open space gallery and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

The forum theme of “Lives Well Lived” resonates with Charles Wherry. “I’ve had the good fortune of crossing paths with amazing people throughout my life, and at Camosun,” she explains. “I started focusing on art as a purpose in life, and since then my life has been about art as well as serving my community as an Indigenous woman. It’s this melding of purpose with a place in the world to do that, plus the people who were supportive of me doing that. I really think of my instructors at Camosun not just as teachers, but as mentors, who helped me start to understand and experience that idea of lives well lived.”

Charles Wherry has devoted herself to advocacy, and generating and delivering resources and strategic initiatives to support the vitality of Indigenous arts in B.C. and beyond. From 1996 – 2018 she served as Art Programs Manager for the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC). For 23 years, she envisioned and generated funding to develop a suite of arts grant programs, the original First Peoples Arts Map, various provincial and national gatherings, and other strategic initiatives. Since 2019 she has served as a Special Advisor at FPCC.

“I could say that everything I’ve done in my job has been about reconciliation, not so much about settler-Indigenous relations, but about reconciliation with ourselves, our dreams and our creative imaginations,” she says. “It’s the idea of the territories inside of us that cannot be conquered, our own imaginations. My focus on reconciliation is about reconciling with my full and authentic self, with my culture, with my language, with my creative imagination, ancestors and histories, and working to support other people doing that too.”

Her advice for future generations? “Be brave about learning and don’t confuse information with knowledge.” she says. “I think we have to remember and be mindful of who cleared the path for us. I used to say this to my students, that everything that we do affects the future, whether we do it or don’t do it, it affects the future. In small ways we change the world, all the time, so for me I feel this responsibility to live a good life and make a contribution, so I’d say to young people, be courageous and be thoughtful, respecting the past generations as you build the future.”

Camosun students, employees and the community can share in the learning experience either in person or by watching it live-streamed on Camosun’s YouTube channel.

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