“Welcome cousin,” he told me. I had never had a teacher welcome me into the classroom as a relative until that first Tuesday in college. “Crees and Chippewas, we’re cousins,” I explained to the other students, who were clearly confused about whether I was actually related to our new professor.
Kimowan Metchewais McLain give me a freedom in the art studio that semester that I, an average artist at best but an eager learner, desperately needed. For the first time, Anishinaabe people, history, and ideas were an active part of an academic space for me.
Kimo taught through stories. As we worked on our assigned art projects during class studio time, he told us about his life and his artwork. He did not shy away from telling us about the brain tumor that would eventually take him from us, and he built a learning community through his honesty and humor. He allowed us to learn hands-on through our own artistic experimentation, guiding us to think through ideas with the highest expectations while never judging us if our projects, as mine often did, turned out not to be artistic masterworks.
Thirteen years later, I still draw on the artists whose work he shared in our class for inspiration and on the pedagogical lessons he imparted to this future-teacher. As I transition from PhD student to Assistant Professor, I hope that all my students get to experience a class where their humanity is as centered and embraced as ours was in Kimo’s class.