NatalieKingbySamuel Engelking

The Pleasure and Pride of Indigiqueerness: Paintings from a Queer NDN Baby 

by Natalie King

Aanii, my name is Natalie King, I am an interdisciplinary artist, facilitator, curator, arts administrator, and member of Timiskaming First Nation. I sit with the Bear Clan, and I currently live and make in Toronto, on the traditional territories of Huron-Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, and the Métis. My people are called the Saugeen Anishnabeg, which in Algonquin means “People of the River mouth” with the Blanche and Quinze Rivers feeding into Lake Timiskaming.



By painting fruits, medicines, and empowering regalia with vibrant colours, artist Natalie King honours and celebrates her communities. (Photo: Weightless bountiful glimmer of light across turtle island, Natalie King, 2021)



I am mainly focused on love. 



Strawberries, hearts, embraces, and gentle eyes: through painting, I show you I care. This love carries me through my arts practice and my personal life.



 I hope all the queer natives that see my work feel the vibrating colours like the grand entry at a pow wow. I strive to create an immersion of joy—joyful paintings as a counterbalance to damage-centered narratives that are tied to Indigenous communities and the conspicuous consumption of queer Indigenous trauma. 



Photo: divine union, Natalie King, 2023.



My work depicts people in my community whom I love—my family and my queer family. In my paintings we weave in and out of colonial time. I think of our ancestors with an awareness that we are also future ancestors for those who come next. I use painting to bring attention to the joy of being unapologetically Indigiqueer—Indigenous and queer—in the face of the ongoing colonization of Turtle Island. 


I am interested in the idea of queering the ways in which we present ourselves and the communities we are from: regalia that makes queer Indigenous women and femmes feel seen. I want to share images that I would have loved to see and would have greatly benefitted from as a young queer nish girl—queers unabashedly wearing chunky platforms and big beaded earrings, queers with tattoos and long dark hair. 



Photo: Forever kind of kinship, Natalie King, 2021.



My practice is about the realities of lives lived through frameworks of desire and survivance, mainly highlighting thriving Indigenous bodies on the land to support the resurgence of Indigenous culture and knowledge. The work of Indigenous women and femmes is consistently at the forefront of Indigenous movements driven by sovereignty. These movements, ideas, and thoughts are geared towards a self-determined future that looks to the wisdom and the labour of the past and present. As Anishinaabe, we are always thinking of the generations ahead. 


When I am worried about carrying on knowledge, I try to remember that my grandfather spoke Anishinaabemowin, Algonquin, Oji-Cree, and French. I come from people who have carried these languages with them their whole lives. Even if language has not been passed down to me, I try to harness other forms of embodied knowledge that are deep within me: being in harmony with the land, a spiritual connection to Indigenous foods and practices, relearning my language, and fostering healthy relationships with my family.



Photo: Samuel Engelking.



Queer and Two-Spirit people occupy multiple roles in Indigenous culture, like being great sources of various knowledges. Two-Spirit people were often the medicine people and the visionaries within their communities. They were pillars of culture, integral to the fabric of their respective communities. Sexual variance and Two-Spirit identity has existed since before the English language. Queerness is one with the land, beautiful and sacred as it has always been. 


Two-Spirit people often hold spiritual and ceremonial responsibilities, acting as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual realms. They are regarded as keepers of cultural knowledge, playing significant roles in preserving and passing on traditional customs, rituals, and teachings. Two-Spirit individuals are often respected for their unique perspectives and contributions, promoting harmony and balance within the community. Their presence highlights the diversity and inclusivity valued in Algonquin culture.



Photo: Like a hawk silently soaring over the Don Valley, Natalie King, 2022.


Photo: Ascension of Abundance, Natalie King, 2022.



The physical act of painting, picking up that brush, comes with thousands of years of stories, thousands of years of history, of embodied lived experience, that you can’t put a price tag on. The gesture of painting is deliberate and vital. Sometimes people expect certain myths within “Canadian art.” There is such a desire for colonial perspectives to put tropes around Indigeneity. 



The exoticization or the reductive narratives surrounding Indigenous people and our trauma are placed on us by certain white audiences who are only comfortable with specific ideas of who Indigenous people are. When non-Indigenous people witness Indigenous art, they often want to come out of the experience feeling like a better person, or feeling like they learned something. I am constantly resisting that type of consumption. There’s no need to categorize; the work just needs to exist.



What does it mean to center our lives around pleasure and joy?



What drives my work is the connections and engagement with other Indigenous people. When they walk into a gallery or scroll on Instagram and see my art, how do they feel? With other Indigiqueers, there is an understanding and an exchange; I am sharing something with them. In that exchange, I hope that they feel seen. I want to uplift and think alongside other young Indigenous women, femme, and Two-Spirit people.


What does it mean to center our lives around pleasure and joy? What could that look like? To enact joy as a queer Indigenous person is to create a future that is bound with freedom, and freedom is bound with sovereignty. We are our own and we take care of each other. 



Photo: RED IS LOVE, Natalie King, 2022.



Painting is a portal with which to look into the future. What do our future ancestors do? How are they supporting one another? What do they look like, what are they doing? I try to visualize these musings within my paintings and art practice that are often immersed with plant life and nourishment in order to pay homage to the significant political and spiritual roles of Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit individuals who have traditionally taken the lead in cultural practices related to food, child-rearing, and the protection of Indigenous land rights. 



Painting is a portal with which to look into the future.



As Indigenous artists we are weaving in and out of the present and past while trying to understand Canada’s genocide of Indigenous peoples. We’re looking back and we’re looking forward, trying to find where we are now, and trying to imagine the future. There’s an urgency here; an urgency to dedicate our entire lives to preservation and revitalization, to learning from within queerness, wholeheartedly being who we are and regaining an understanding of who we were, side by side.






Natalie King (she/her) is a queer interdisciplinary Anishinaabe (Algonquin) artist, facilitator, and member of Timiskaming First Nation. King’s arts practice ranges from video, painting, sculpture, and installation, as well as community engagement, curation, and arts administration. She holds a BFA in drawing and painting from OCAD University and is Gallery TPW’s 2023 Curatorial Research Fellow.