It’s Belmont Secondary student AJ Boersen was one of four finalists selected to design and create this Nuu Chah Nulth longhouse front, as part of the 10th annual One Wave Gathering. Boersen’s longhouse will be on display on the parliament lawns until Sunday. (Contributed photo)

Belmont student inspiring First Nations youth with art

AJ Boersen’s longhouse will be on display at the legislature lawns

When AJ Boersen puts a pen to paper, it’s hard to get him to stop.

The 16-year-old spends hours drawing traditional First Nations art from his Nuu Chah Nulth heritage. Now, Boersen will get the chance to show off his talent to people around Greater Victoria.

Boersen is one of four finalists from different nations, who were selected by the Pacific Peoples’ Partnership, to design a longhouse front, which will be displayed on the lawns of the legislature, as part of the 10th annual One Wave Gathering Festival this weekend.

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“I think it will look good with the other three longhouses,” said Boersen of his creation.

The Grade 11 Belmont Secondary student’s design, which mixes traditional and contemporary art, is of two whales on a 15 by 25 feet longhouse. The whales, which represent family, are the focus of the piece. There is also a whaler with a traditional Nuu Chah Nulth hat and a star.

“It’s just recognition for aboriginal people, to show that aboriginal people have a say in art,” said Boersen, who drew inspiration for the piece from comic book artist, David Aja. “Most of all, I hope to inspire younger generations to do art and I hope people are interested in the story behind the art, so I can tell the story of the art style of Nuu Chah Nulth.”

Boersen’s passion for art began a few years ago. He initially started drawing cars and then quickly moved on to people. Last year, he won first place at a First Nations youth art competition with the Sooke School District for his series of drawings of aboriginal people, which were featured at the Coast Collective Art Centre.

While he had been creating art for some time, it wasn’t until Boersen’s social worker told him about the longhouse competition that he decided to submit a design.

Several hours and a number of designs later, Boersen handed in his piece in early August, and a few weeks later he got the call saying he’d been selected as a finalist. Over the weeks, Boersen worked with First Nations artist Hjalmer Wenstob, who introduced him to the history and traditions of the Nuu Chah Nulth people, which has given Boersen inspiration for even more pieces of art.

He is currently working on an aboriginal superhero comic book series.

The longhouses will be on display until Sunday, Sept. 17. Boersen hopes he can find a permanent home for the longhouse at his high school in the future.

kendra.wong@goldstream gazette.com