Northern artists say ‘NAAH’ to hunger pains in the Arctic

Northern artists say ‘NAAH’ to hunger pains in the Arctic
Artists use their talents to protest fracking in the NWT earlier this year. At the end of May, the group will be using their art for activism once again, raising funds for northern communities facing food insecurity.Photo: Casey Koyczan.

Tired of witnessing the effects of food scarcity and poor nutrition on residents living above the 60th parallel, a small group of artists from Yellowknife is hoping to use soundwaves and brushstrokes to prompt pan-territorial change.

Solo artist Casey Koyczan, a.k.a. The Bushman – NT, and visual artist Jillian Mazur have teamed up to kick off Northern Artists Against Hunger (NAAH), an organization they hope will become the nucleus of a movement to fight food security issues in Nunavut, the NWT and the Yukon.

“We’re saying ‘naah’ to hunger in the North,” Koyczan said. “It’s kind of cheeky, but I think it works.”

The duo hopes to connect artists across the territories in a series of concerts and gallery shows to raise funds for soup kitchens and shelters for the communities that need it most.

“In the future, what I’d like to see as my vision, is numerous events going on in the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut and potentially having artists playing in these other cities – not so much artists themselves flying to other cities to play – but those communities hosting their own events and then being able to donate that money towards the foundations they see fit,” he said.

The organization is only just starting up, but Koyczan is optimistic about its future. NAAH is already networking with food banks and artists throughout the territories to organize localized fundraisers. The group is also looking for a researcher on Northern communities, to identify which ones most urgently need assistance.

“This is a basic grassroots effort in order for artists and musicians to take these matters into their own hands so that we don’t have any bureaucratic blockages in the way,” Koyczan said. “The money that we acquire can go straight back to these shelters and food banks within the areas that are in the most need.”

Born in Yellowknife and raised in the North, Koyczan said he felt the impacts of food scarcity from an early age, and found the effects to be more pervasive as he ventured to increasingly remote locations.

“I grew up seeing the minimal efforts that have been made in the North and the effects of food shortages, mostly in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories,” he said. “I saw it first hand when I went up to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk a couple years ago, going to the grocery stores and seeing almost nothing. Even locally when the ice road was out, sort of thing, we had next to no produce.”

This isn’t Koyczan’s first foray into activism through art. In March, he helped organize the initial ‘For the Land: Northern Artists Against Fracking’ event, an evening of artistic protest against hydraulic fracking in the NWT. On May 29, he plans to hold a second anti-fracking event at Northern United Place.

The NAAH launch party and first fundraiser is set to take place at the Top Knight in Yellowknife on May 30. Musical guests have been selected, and visual artists are still welcome to sign up.

Until he can help facilitate local shows throughout the North, Koyczan is encouraging Northern talent to join the cause by coming to Yellowknife for events, if possible, or sending their art his way to be displayed.

“We’re artists and we’re musicians – we don’t make a lot of money ourselves – but we have this ability and these talents in order to help other people, in order to change lives for other people,” Koyczan said. “This is our way of helping.”

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