West Coast artist Dean Heron is drawing upon a lifelong passion of creating First Nation art to assist the Construction Foundation of BC with the development of Indigenous-focused initiatives across the province.
Using applied skills and trades as a conduit, Dean and the Foundation are developing programs that will assist members of those areas through community-developed and community-driven workshops through a new initiative called All Roads.
Born in Watson Lake, Yukon in 1970, Dean is of Kaska/Tlingit ancestry and a member of the Wolf Clan. Adopted by a Canadian father and Scottish mother, his ancestral heritage was introduced to him through weekly trips to the museum and First Nations galleries in place of a typical trip on the weekend to the beach or park.
Over time, his passion for Indigenous art continued to grow. A grade 10 art class in Kitimat exposed him to Northwest Coast art, but it wasn’t until years down the road and with encouragement from his wife that he began to consider taking art seriously and pursing his passion.
Dean began developing relationships and rubbing shoulders with some of the most renowned First Nation artists in the world. A number of those artists came calling when the process of opening the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art came to fruition.
“They said to me, ‘If you want to learn to carve, come up to the school and we’ll teach you how to do it,’” explained Heron. “I agreed. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it at the time, I was working as an IT guy at the Ministry of Health and I decided to just take a leap of faith. I asked my director if I could take a year off of work and he said declined that request, so I gave my two weeks notice and I haven’t looked back. It was one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my life.”
Dean graduated from the First Nations Art Program with honours. He returned a year later as a teacher and continued to instruct there for the next seven years. Today, you can find his serigraphs, paintings, regalia design and carvings in locations such as the High Commission of Canada in Australia, the University of British Columbia’s Aboriginal Fisheries Centre, the Norwegian Royal Family’s estate, and throughout galleries in Canada, the United States, Germany and China. His work can also be viewed along five longhouse fronts in the community of Kitselas.
“The longhouses led to me securing another commission to do an interior screen print for the community longhouse at the college and that led me into to doing a piece for the Vancouver Olympics. It paved the way to teaching, becoming a visiting artist in Seattle and more and more opportunities.”
Dean joined the Construction Foundation in 2019 and now plays a crucial role with the Foundation as a Catalyst for Indigenous Communities. With his experiences and knowledge, the Foundation is developing workshops in collaboration with a number of First Nations regions to help members of those communities obtain careers that will support both themselves and the communities in which they reside.
“The work I’m doing here with the Foundation is so ideal,” explained Dean. “I can use the connections that I have to assist with workshops and give back to the community. It’s a privilege to be able to pass on the knowledge I’ve gained throughout my career as an artist and also work with other artists.
What began as a part-time opportunity to introduce skilled trades through art has grown into something much larger for Dean and the Foundation, with workshops and showcases becoming a top priority among the Foundation’s current initiatives. The success of early workshops in places such as Bella Coola can be attributed to the collaborative approach that has been applied between the Foundation and interested communities in the province.
“Rather than going to a school and saying ‘Here’s what I’m going to offer you’, our team sits down with the community and we discuss with them what they want to do,” explained Heron. “That was the beginning of it all, and it has just grown from there.”
About the Construction Foundation of BC
The Construction Foundation builds community through engagement in charitable initiatives and a commitment to industry focused education and research initiatives that benefit all British Columbians. For more information, please visit www.constructionfoundation.ca.