How I Made It

Chief Lady Bird, Artist

Chief Lady Bird is a Toronto-based Anishinaabe artist who uses illustration, mixed media painting and street art to bring empowerment to the forefront of discussions about the nuances of being an Indigenous womxn. (She's also the beautiful talent behind this year's #HowIMadeIt artwork.) Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Chief Lady Bird wears glasses, yellow collared shirt and matching earrings

Chief Lady Bird; @chiefladybird

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to school at Toronto’s OCAD University and studied drawing and painting with a minor in Indigenous visual culture.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

Creating a sketch for a monument at Vimy Ridge, commissioned by the Vimy Ridge Foundation. I said yes because I needed the money but the project wasn’t aligned with where I wanted my practice to go. To this day I don’t know if the sketches were used or what stage of the monument they’re at.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

I don’t know, I’m a work in progress! But I will say that one of the most exciting projects I’ve been asked to do was this past summer when I created a Turtle Island emoji for Twitter Canada for #indigenoushistorymonth. The emoji could be unlocked through the use of that hashtag. Ultimately, the emoji opened up many great discussions about how one symbol will never encompass the diversity of Indigenous people, which contributes to the larger movement of Indigenous education here in Canada.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Surround yourself with people who uplift and support you. Create a circle of kin and peers who will nourish you on your journey and vice versa. (And yes, online peers and kin count!)

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

“You won’t be able to make a living as an artist. Get a real job and do your art on the side.”

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always watch to bring yourself back up again?

Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. These films have the ability to reconnect me to my most authentic, creative self. My whole life I’ve used escapism and fantasy to help me navigate the complexities and intersections of my identity in a society where one’s worth is contingent on capitalist ideals, which to be frank, keeps many of us in the margins. For my mental health and my spiritual wellbeing, I need to remain invested in the worlds that remind me that my existence is magic.

Who are your three favourite social media follows from your industry? What do you love about them?

@reclaimyourpower, because they have created a brand that empowers many and have curated a social media presence that establishes meaningful connections by sharing content created by many Indigenous community members across borders.

@monique.aura because she is my sister, best friend and frequent collaborator. Her work exists as a sweet reminder that healing is possible.

@sweetmoonphoto because her #ndnlovepoems are the erotic backdrop for Indigenous love, reminding us to hold each other close, love ourselves and embrace our sexualities.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

I describe my industry as the Indigenous arts sector, and I’d say it is pretty inclusive and rooted in collaborative community engagement. But if I look at my industry as Canadian art as a whole, then I see it as less inclusive because many institutions include Indigenous art to “check the reconciliation box,” which can often be alienating and/or create more emotional labour for Indigenous artists.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

One that I think needs to be addressed is the perception that Indigenous womxn [a term used to include women as well as a broader range of gender identities] can’t or shouldn’t make work about sex and sexuality because it puts us further at risk [for abuse]. I hear this all the time and it makes me really angry because it perpetuates victim shaming (re: the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Womxn and Girls epidemic). One of the most important things we can do as Indigenous womxn in the arts is make work that is honest, truthful, vulnerable, complex and above all else—make work that is BY and FOR US.

  • Click here for more work-life inspo from the awesome people on our #HowIMadeIt List