Yukon Prize finalist discusses celebrating artists and First Nations indivduality

This door to the gallery features portraits of the six Yukon Prize for Visual Arts. Cole Pauls' stylized portrait is at the bottom left. (Photo; S. Bonell)

NOTE: The news recording incorrectly states that the Yukon Prize finalists' work is currently on display at the Yukon Arts Centre. Their work will not be on display until September 14, and will leave the gallery November 18.

The Yukon Prize for Visual Arts celebration weekend begins this Thursday at several locations in Whitehorse. The biggest event is the Gala at the Yukon Arts Centre on Saturday, where the winner and recipient of the $20 thousand prize will be announced.

One of the six finalists is Cole Pauls, a Tahltan Citizen and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations comic artist and illustrator from Haines Junction. In an interview with CHON-FM, Pauls shared his thoughts on being recognized for his work through the Yukon Prize.

“It feels pretty surreal,” said Pauls. “Mostly because, you know, Yukon art is finally getting a platform where we can really shine and celebrate each other’s accomplishments.”

“You know, my work practice is in comics, and [it’s] not always that Indigenous comics get celebrated in the comics world. So it feels very humbling to get recognized and have some attention towards what I’m doing.”

Pauls has three book collections. His newest, Kwändǖr, is a personal collection of short stories from his life growing up in Haines Junction, and was the majority of his pitch for the prize. His second was a collection of his Pizza Punks comics that were originally published in Lucky’s Comics newspaper, “DUNK.” His first book, however, is best described by the artist himself.

“The first one is Dakwäkãda Warriors, which is a language preservation comic where this evil pioneer and a cyborg sasquatch: they are trying to take over the world.”

“I call them my two Native Power Rangers; Wolf and Crow,” said Paul, describing the titular heroes. “and they protect the world and fight their enemies with their culture.”

First Nations artists face unique challenges as they showcase their work. One challenge that Pauls continues to experience is the incorrect assumption that all First Nations art is the same.

“When I’m at a comic convention and people see my work, you know, if they’re aware of other Indigenous artist, they might say something like, ‘Oh, you work is a lot like Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas,’ who is Haida, or Gord Hill, [who] is Kwakwaka'wakw.”

“In my eyes, I see my comics as Tahltan comics, and as Southern Tutchone comics; and they’re completely different to those other indigenous creators making comics. And it’s because of artistic style, it’s because of our vision, it’s because of the subjects we talk about. But there is a lot of people that kind of assume you can group First Nations all as one person. And, you know, that’s not the case. We’re all individual nations, we’re all individual people with our own accomplishments and skills.”

Challenges aside, Pauls has a message for aspiring artists looking to become professionals: no matter your style, go for it.

“You know, if you’re a painter, and you love painting landscapes, and you can have clients that can do that, then, yeah, keep those landscapes coming.”

“But if you’re like me and you want to make comics about indigenous culture and incorporate history and knowledge and make it kind of more accessible and more  back to the public world, reach out to your community members, reach out to your family, reach out to your elders. Start those collaborations now, because we never know how much time we have left on this Earth, big or small. So, if you see an opportunity, I say you should seize it.”

Cole Pauls is one of the six Yukon Prize for Visual Arts sinalists. His work, along with the works of the other finalists, will be on display at the Yukon Arts Centre from September 14 to November 18.

More from CHON-FM Northern News


On Air Now CHON Overnight Midnight - 7:00am