Johnny Aitken: Educator

Johnny has been a driving force for education around Indigenous issues. He organized the first National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration in the Gulf Islands; he initiated book challenges, and he created public art installations for RedDress addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women, and for Clean Water addressing endangered clean water.

He is working on an educational tool video addressing the Truth and Reconciliation movement.

Johnny is a cross-cultural bridge-builder: a lifetime occupation he takes seriously with humour!

Johnny is currently a member of the Vancouver Teaching Team for DAREarts and a member of the The Royal Conservatory’s British Columbia Digital Media Team.

  • As an art educator who is now working with BC's New Curriculum — with its enhanced Indigenous content — I have consulted with Johnny Aitken, Coast Salish artist, on many occasions to ensure that my Indigenous curriculum is relevant and respectful. Johnny is approachable, knowledgeable, kind-hearted, and generous with his spirit and time.  I am especially grateful for the ease and kindness which Johnny embodies as we all navigate through  sensitive and painful topics, acknowledging our connection as humans in our "fumbling" toward greater understanding.

    Susanne Ledingham Head of Visual Arts, Maria Montessori Academy, Victoria, BC

Johnny recently received a CRD Grant in Aid to create a website which will include all projects related to reconciliation that has been or is being created on Mayne Island, Galiano Island and the Pender Islands. Johnny plans to launch this website on National Indigenous People’s Day June 21, 2021. Many thanks to the CRD for this support!

Around seven years ago, Jess Willows and I began a general discussion around the topic of reconciliation and attempting to identify entry points to hopefully, successfully integrate First Nations content into curriculum. We had no agenda.

Jess and I had some rich conversations and one term kept appearing: “walking on cultural eggshells”. The idea that many people walk on eggshells when talking about First Nations issues, specifically, in our circumstance, teachers. This resonated with both of us because we understand that in order for society to move forward in a healing manner; we all need to become comfortable talking about subjects that make us uncomfortable.

About a year ago (or less), I pitched the idea of Jess and I co-writing a children’s book based on our conversations. This book would focus on ages 8-10 and the primary characters would be little Johnny, little Jessie and a Trickster. We are still deciding on a title but the book or books will focus on Johnny and Jessie’s adventures in reconciliation and friendship!

This was the birth of our new venture. We had a clear concept but we quickly discovered that we required an illustrator. We asked multimedia artist, AJ Kutchaw to join our creative team. She thankfully accepted and below are her first drawings of the main characters.

Event: The Gift for DAREarts

I am honoured that Vancouver DAREart’s inspiration for their 2017 program is The Gift. I look forward to seeing what the children come up with after watching our performance.

Photo Credit: Roy Mulder

“Something special’s happening with DAREarts in Vancouver. 25 students from Britannia Elementary met Artist-Activist Johnny Aitken and witnessed him and Lead Teacher Shelley MacDonald perform “The Gift”, an autobiographical play that conveys the challenges Johnny faced growing up as one of the only Aboriginal Families on Mayne Island. Johnny lost both his parents by the time he was 13 and didn’t speak until the age of 18. Now, Johnny does more than speak. As a talented playwright, he’s giving voice to recovery from childhood trauma and inspiring our delegates.”

Inspired by Johnny Aitken’s ‘The Gift’, these kids surely found their own gift to speak through their actions. Now they DARE us to listen.

Royal Conservatory of Music

The Royal Conservatory British Columbia Digital Media Team, led by Shelley MacDonald.

Working with schools to mentor and teach the staff to assist them with integrating media arts in the classroom.

Find out more about the Royal Conservatory’s Learning Through the Arts program at

Event: Mayne Island Honouring Figure

When:  Sunday, April 23 14:00-15:30
Where: Emma and Felix Jack Park

Join Johnny Aitken for a presentation on Emma and Felix Jack; who they were, details about the honouring Figure and the Honouring Cairn. The session will end with a open topic talking circle. All are welcome and come prepared for the weather.

Note: parking is limited, so you are encouraged to walk from Festival Central.

Free Event with purchase of Festival Pass All Access Button.

Event: Together

A discussion on reconciliation and healing with the Indigenous Community.

On Sunday, March 5th, at New Horizons Centre, on Hornby Island, there was a unique opportunity to sit Together to explore in a very personal way the truth and healing involved in moving towards reconciliation with Indigenous Nations.

Many of us were deeply moved by an important milestone in the evolution of our country: the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The report brings up many feelings: pain, guilt, sadness, shame, anger. It also leads to questions about how to move forward: What is reconciliation? How can we be part of making it happen? 

The report offers hope that “reconciliation offers a new way of living together.” But it also advises that “reconciliation cannot occur without listening, contemplation, meditation, and deeper internal deliberation.” Coming to terms with the truth and committing to the healing required can be first steps towards reconciliation.

Community members engaged with each other and Johnny in a moving, respectful, and mindful discussion of the issues surrounding truth, healing, and reconciliation with Indigenous Nations.

Johnny Aitken is a Coast Salish artist, activist, and educator. He lives on Mayne Island and has conducted valued workshops in that community.

  • Johnny Aitken was the perfect person to help our community begin to explore how we can act upon the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He created a safe and respectful place within a large circle for each person to share their thoughts and feelings in way that expanded collective understanding of our relationship to the truth of the experience of First Nations people. Johnny accomplished this through courageous personal sharing, warmth, humour and creativity. On Hornby Island we are grateful to Johnny for providing us with a good sense of first steps that can be taken towards healing.

    Tony Law Hornby Island Trustee

Past Video Projects

Credit: Producer

Credit: Producer

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