Rigolet artist Jason Sikoak is among the first to have his work featured as part of a new series of coins made by the Royal Canadian Mint to celebrate Indigenous stories.
Sikoak says he was shocked to find out that he had been selected to have his artwork featured as part of the series, called Generations.
In fact, when he received the email inviting him to apply to be part of the series, he thought it was junk mail.
"I read the little preview headline 'We contacted Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and they gave us your information so I was like 'OK, that usually doesn't pop up in a spam email, so I opened it."
The series of coins is meant to celebrate how, by passing down Indigenous legends and myths, one generation sets an example for the next.
The first in the series tells the legend of the sea goddess. The sea goddess, known to Sikoak as Sedna, has different names across Inuit Nunangat — the Inuit homeland — and the details of the legend vary across the region.
"She was married to Raven and things didn't go well, so she contacted her father to come take her back home.… Raven became upset and created a storm and the father who went and picked her up knew what was going on. So in order to save himself, he threw Sedna over the side of the boat and the storm abated," said Sikoak, recounting the version of the legend he grew up with.
"But then when she grabbed onto the side of the kayak, Raven made the storm happen again, and at that point, fearing for his own life, her father chops off her fingers and she falls into the ocean, and then her fingers become the mammals of the sea."
The legend goes on to say that when hunting is scarce, it is because Sedna is upset that her hair is unkempt and she has trapped all the sea mammals in her hair. In order for Sedna to release the animals, a ceremony must be performed and an angakkuk — someone with spiritual powers — must comb and braid her hair to appease her.
Once that act has been completed, Sedna will release the animals from her hair and they will be plentiful once again.
Sikoak said that he has always drawn his versions of Sedna as a way to "reconnect with the past and history that was lost to [him] over the years due to colonialism." Despite this, Sikoak said people in Nunatsiavut are trying to reclaim their stories and their identities.
'A long term goal'
Not every artist sets their heart on seeing their artwork displayed on a coin, but for Sikoak it had been a dream since 1999 when Nunavut became an official territory. To mark the occasion, the Royal Canadian Mint released a coin that featured a drum dancer design by Germaine Arnaktauyok.
"I remember seeing that for the first time, way back in the day. And the Nunavut agreement gave me hope for the then Labrador Inuit land claims agreement.… But it also gave me sort of a long term goal to one day possibly have my art depicted by the Royal Canadian Mint," he said.
Sikoak was finally able to achieve that goal through this new Royal Canadian Mint series. The series will have three coins released over three years, including Sikoak's, that will depict an Inuit, Metis and First Nation legend.
The Royal Canadian Mint worked with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to find Inuit artists and will work with the Assembly of First Nations and the Metis National Council to identify Indigenous artists to approach about taking part in the series.