Young cultural innovators from around the world are getting a chance to find out what many in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows already know – Trenton Pierre has chased his dreams and wants everyone else to as well.
The local Katzie First Nation artist – who is also referred to by his ancestral name (Sɬə́məxʷ – which means Rain) – was chosen by the Canada Council for the Arts to be one of the attendees at this year’s Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.
He is taking part in Zoom meetings daily with other young cultural movers-and-shakers from across the globe, and telling his story, while being inspired by others.
Under the name Rain Awakens, Pierre has gained some renown for his wonderful art work that locals might recognize from City of Maple Ridge banners, Maple Ridge 2020 BC Summer Games logo, or a host of colourful murals.
However, it is his penchant for motivational speaking that sets him apart from many other artists.
For the last couple of years Pierre has told audiences at elementary schools, high schools, and universities to chase their passion.
He tells those who listen, the world is structured to pigeon-hole people into careers that do not resonate with their spirit.
“I try to let people know if you truly believe you can do something – you should go for it – your dreams are yours, and only yours,” he said.
“The people that make it, are the people that pass through failures, and realize they’re speed bumps, not brick walls.”
Growing up, Pierre thought he had to get a “respectable” job, so he pursued a career in civil engineering.
He was able to gain a job in the profession, and worked on building bridges and highways across the province, but said he was never happy.
“I was putting in long hours and completely working myself to death, trying to make the statement that [First Nations people] are just as good as everyone else,” he said.
After one particularly long day four years go, Pierre found himself on a couch – still wearing his hard helmet, and reflective safety vest – scrolling through his phone aimlessly, when a video of someone spray painting caught his attention.
“It was the first time my heart fluttered for anything,” he said.
“I had been feeling dead inside, but after watching that video ten times in a row, something changed within me.”
Pierre rushed out to buy some cans of spray paint. He had hoped to get a canvas as well, but it was late at night, so that wasn’t an option.
Wanting to seize the inspiration, he took a painting he had bought off of his bedroom wall and slathered it in white paint, then stayed up all night creating his first painting.
“I immediately burst into tears once I was done,” he said.
“I thought to myself, this is the happiest I’ve been – I can’t believe I created this.”
A couple of days later, Pierre said he gave notice to his employer and started a career as an artist.
Despite many successes professionally, the young artist has been beset by the odd setback, and has been doing his best to address his issues.
Pierre is taking part in the Zoom meetings for the Young Cultural Innovators forum from the Last Door Recovery Centre in New Westminster, where he has been attending a program for drug and alcohol addiction.
He decided to pursue recovery just before his 30th birthday in March of this year.
“I thought drugs were enhancing my creativity,” he said. “But they weren’t.”
Anxiety was controlling his life, and Pierre was self-medicating, but since seeking professional help, he said his life been changed.
“It’s like another part of my awakening,”he said.
“I wanted to see what my untapped potential was, and to see how much further I can take my art.”
While passing along this story to his fellow global cultural innovators, Pierre is also sharing his experience of growing up as a First Nations person in the aftermath of the residential school system.
“The statement that I always hold true is – it was up to our parent’s generation to survive genocide – and it’s up to our generation to show the world why it’s important that they survived,” he said, pointing out he is not the only attendee with a similar story.
“Potential genocide didn’t just occur in Canada. I’m meeting with people of African descent, and from the Philippines, who tell the same tale – this has happened all over the world to indigenous people.”
The group challenges each other to come up with ways to tackle racism, and create ideas to work towards equality.
“That’s where you see the arts sector shine,” Pierre said. “Through music, art, theatre, and poetry – people spread their message through their craft.
“I think that’s why we were selected.”
He noted despite some of the heavy material the forum covers, he is finding the experience very uplifting.
“Now I’m on a global platform and meeting people across the world, it means so much for me that First Nations people have a place here, and a statement to make, and now we get to show the world who we are.”