Vanessa Willow, Native Artist, Barrie, Ontario (Canada)


Boozho! I am Vanessa Willow, Giiniw-ikwe (Golden Eagle Woman), I am an Anishnawbek-ikwe, Ojibway mixed ethnicity, Bear clan, originating from a small remote Northwestern Ontario Reservation, Rocky Bay First Nation “Biinitwaabik Zaagig Anishawbek”. I was raised there from birth to 12 years old. 

At 12, my family moved to Lake Helen First Nation, “Opwaaganising First Nation”, territory 53A with approximately 1,837 Registered Band Members. Lake Helen is approximately 100 km Northeast of the city of Thunder Bay, where I lived on and off in my younger years, when ultimately, I moved to Southern Ontario over 20 years ago with my young family, my children flourished, we loved the area, and is where I remain.  I am a mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, friend, and in my daily life, I am also, a nurse. 

On December 27, 2018, I received a phone call from my then family doctor informing me that I was positive for breast cancer.  On January 8, 2019, I met with my amazing team of oncologist at Royal Victoria Hospital planning the course of surgeries, and treatments.  I completed my last radiation treatment on May 22, 2019.  This was a remarkable day.  It was not only the end of my cancer treatments, but was also the beginning of my new lease of life. 

This day also marks the first time I had ever placed a brush to canvas, these items were gifted to me from my beautiful nurse friend who encouraged me to try express myself.  So, Brenda Teskey, thank you, a million times over, thank you my friend.  I painted for the first time that day, and hadn’t stopped.  Since then, I have been gifted many opportunities to share my art.

I have pieces sitting in Ontario Provincial Police Museum, Ontario Native Women’s Association, a brief exhibit at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, amongst many commissioned pieces.

Currently, I am so fortunate to been taking a part of Toronto’s AGO upcoming exhibit, “The Art of Resilience.,” April 2022; along with, a piece that will be exhibited and auctioned off at the Orillia Museum of Arts & History, “Dying Matters, Hospice Orillia” from April – July 2022.  I have also been a part of a “blind art collaboration”; working on a slow release album cover for Shy-Anne Horvorka album, “And then”, Shy-Anne is a Indigenous Canadian, award-winning songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, humanitarian and performer. 

I also was one of 2 selected artists to feature my artwork on cards commemorating 2021 Indigenous Nurses week, as well as 2021 Orange Shirt Day on the steps of the Parliament building in Ottawa.

I am influenced by the visions I have, in that sacred space between wake and dream world.  I attempt to capture what I see and experience, my art reflects my life experiences, past, present and future.   


Vanessa Willow


Bear Clan

South Western Ontario

Check out Vanessa's Artwork