Colleen Gray — Indigenous Artist, Strong Woman, Good Human - theHumm August 2020

Colleen Gray — Indigenous Artist, Strong Woman, Good Human - theHumm August 2020

By Sally Hansen

In June of 2019, Colleen Gray received the Governor General’s Sovereign Medal for Volunteers “for her role in supporting art exploration through access to art supplies and creative art programs in Canadian remote Indigenous schools through the Art for Aid Project”. Gray is the founder and indefatigable driving force of the project that: “…works to support Canadian First Nations, Inuit and Métis art education programs through access to quality art supplies, awareness and fundraising efforts. We work to connect Indigenous youth to art and knowledge of their culture. We seek to accomplish this by ensuring art supplies are in remote schools and communities.”

Gray funds her project through the sales of her own striking contemporary Indigenous art augmented by greatly appreciated donations. She pours every cent of her sales into the operating costs of collecting and distributing donated art supplies to Indigenous communities across Canada. Her story is fascinating; so is her art.

Born in Petawawa, she had an unconventional upbringing, and describes herself as being very good at bridging needs. Her experience includes trapping, grave digging, working for a yard maintenance company, many years of administrative work, and finally being an office manager for a Jewish Family Services non-profit organization in Ottawa. Only after she met her husband, Fred Goodchild, however, did her “ring of insecurity” evaporate. Her lovely tribute to this number-one fan who gave her confidence to become a charity entrepreneur is not original, but it is poetic: “I could not do this without his wind beneath my wings.”

Colleen’s ancestry on her mother’s side comes from the Acadian people in New Brunswick, and from Irish folks across the big pond. She remembers vividly that it used to be shameful to be Native in Canada, but she had heard a rumour that her mother spoke Acadian. The rest of the family denied it, but one day she discovered her ancestry through an uncle talking about filling his freezer with moose meat outside of hunting season. When she questioned him, he pulled out his Indian Status Card and informed her he could hunt whenever he liked. She is fiercely, gratefully, and generously proud of her heritage.

Gray’s artworks are testaments to her passion for sharing Native values and wisdom. Her Indigenously-themed art on display for sale at is beautiful, inspirational and profoundly moving. On her website she notes that she strives to be the “visual voice of an ancient time.” To further achieve that goal, she includes stories gleaned from First Nation wisdom keepers, ceremonial people, Elders, and other resources. For her 40th birthday her husband arranged for her to meet with Algonquin spiritual leader Grandfather William Commanda; he couldn’t have found a better gift. Gray has wholeheartedly embraced the causes for which Commanda’s achievements earned him an appointment to the Order of Canada — promoting intercultural understanding and raising awareness of the traditions and legacies of Canada’s Aboriginal people. Colleen also shares his dedication to the protection of the environment.

It was during the Attawapiskat housing crisis in 2011, as she watched Chief Theresa Spence fasting to bring attention to her band’s deplorable situation. that Colleen’s urge to help coalesced. She noticed that in every news broadcast there were kids watching TV in the background. This is a synopsis of what she told me: “I wondered what they had access to. I had never done any research into how these kids lived in these communities. As an artist what I wondered was, do they have any access to art? What can I do to bring more positive energy to these kids? The arts always get cut first — minimal supplies. Art is so healing and so powerful; it can break boredom and isolation. When you are an artist you always have something to fall back on, but it takes access to tools. I used my social media network to reach out to friends and other artists in Lanark County and Ottawa and told them I would really like to send art supplies to Attawapiskat. In just two weeks I had a basement full of supplies. I believe people really want to help; they just don’t know how.”

Her life is now brimming with purpose — and work. Her Art for Aid Project continues to thrive and creates countless opportunities for Colleen to extend her reach into remote Indigenous communities. She had always enjoyed creating art, but her successes with providing “new and gently used art supplies” to kids who could not otherwise explore their artistic talents have given her a whole new sense of purpose. She discovered ground mineral watercolour paints at an art fair and then bought some Yupo synthetic paper for her pen-and-ink and marker drawings. When she accidentally discovered that the petroleum-based Yupo paper was ideally suited to her new watercolour paints, she conjectures that “The Creator must surely love irony.”

The originals of her works are now available for sale in addition to all her archival prints, art cards, inspired posters, and unique “Influenced Birthday Cards.” Based on traditional Indigenous Medicine Wheel myths (comparable to other cultures’ zodiac signs), the influenced cards offer recipients a new take on their equivalent “spirit animals” or astrological signs.

No Rest for the Dedicated

Despite COVID-19, Colleen is right in the middle of a back-to-school Art Supply Collection Drive running until August 19. With the help of some fabulous volunteers, her home is festooned with tarps to facilitate spreading donations out in the sun and spraying and wiping all materials to guard against transmission. If you are able to contribute “new and/or gently used art supplies”, please email for a drop-off location address. Donations to fund costs of operations are gratefully received at host charity I Love First Peoples and official tax receipts are issued for monetary donations of $20 or more.

Visit to read about Colleen Gray’s remarkable experience in providing “wash your hands” posters in 23 different Indigenous languages as her submission to a United Nations COVID undertaking. I highly recommend you check out to fully appreciate the magnitude of her endeavors on behalf of Indigenous peoples, mother earth and all her inhabitants. I hope she writes a memoir.

Art… and Soul


Colleen Gray — Indigenous Artist, Strong Woman, Good Human - theHumm August 2020

By Sally Hansen

In June of 2019, Colleen Gray received the Governor General’s Sovereign Medal for Volunteers “for her role in supporting art exploration through access to art supplies and creative art programs in Canadian remote Indigenous schools through the Art for Aid Project”. Gray is the founder and indefatigable driving force of the project that: “…works to support Canadian First Nations, Inuit and Métis art education programs through......


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