Highlight on National Youth Leadership: Cole Forrest

Aimee RochardNews & Events, Spotlight

By Sarah Veber

As an Aboriginal youth living in Northern Ontario, Cole Forrest strives to share his identity through many different art forms. Cole grew up on and off of the Nipissing First Nation reserve near North Bay, Ontario. From early on, music became an integral part of his upbringing and culture thanks to family members who introduced him to different genres. His introduction to the arts stems also from involvement with the Big Medicine Studio on Nipissing First Nation and his involvement with Clayton Windat, Penny Couchie and Sid Bobb.

Cole’s curiosity allowed him to expand musically as he explored technology and picked up a number of different instruments in school. He credits his teachers Mrs. Mcdermott and Mrs. Sunstrum with guiding him musically throughout his education. Cole has remained in Northern Ontario to pursue studies in digital film at Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie. As a multidisciplinary artist, theater, improve and writing are among his interests. For Cole, film seemed like the best way to combine his many talents.

Some people just seem to have a knack for sharing and exploring culture through the arts. Cole is certainly no exception. He has written a collection of poems titled ‘fashion show,’ in which he expresses his high school experiences and how he has become a changed person because of it. This collection is currently in the process of being published. Furthermore, Cole recently created a short film called ‘Braids.’’ The multimedia project was inspired by a book that has been in his family for many years called ‘History of the Ojibwa Indians’ written by Reverend Peter Jones. Throughout the film, he explores from a personal perspective what it means to be an Aboriginal person in Ontario. As a person with no shortage of project ideas, Cole has hinted at new initiatives to be unveiled in the near future.

Cole’s efforts in using arts as a means of expression has not gone unnoticed. He was one of six Aboriginal students to receive this year’s James Bartleman Aboriginal Youth Creative Writing Award in recognition of his spoken word poetry. The submission pieces were selected from his one act theater show called ‘Speaking Minds, Spoken words,’ which was written in preparation for this year’s Sears Ontario Drama Festival in Toronto. One submission piece, ‘Brown Skin,’ expressions frustrations of not knowing what it means exactly to be an Aboriginal person. His other, “Grandmother,’ is a personal account of the emotional passing of a close family member. Cole ultimately received the award for his sincerity and ability to speak from the heart through poetry.

Not only does Cole express his own story through the arts, he also empowers others to do the same. Together with help from the Coalition, Cole has recently launched into a three-year project to celebrate arts among First Nations people. He first connected with the group in North Bay at a roundtable discussion held in 2014. From there, he was invited to present as part of a panel in 2015 at the first annual Youth4Music Symposium in Toronto. Now in this inaugural year of his new project, the goal is to conduct research and collect ideas and stories from Aboriginal youth in order to better meet their needs and plan for an abundant future in the arts. Cole is seeking to engage youth to discuss their culture and the impact that music and dance has in their communities. Cole’s desire is to fulfill a need for arts in the North where there hasn’t necessarily been a budget to do so in the past.

Being an artist who focuses on expressing life through words, Cole encourages youth to document everything that happens in life. ‘You need passion to do arts,’ explains Cole. Write down every idea, even the ones you would label as a bad idea. To Cole, there is no such thing as a bad idea. You never know who is going to come along one day and like your ideas. Life is all about ideas and creativity.