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Art Napoleon

Art Napoleon smiling
  • Category: Indigenous Community Alumni Award
  • UVic degree: Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Language Revitalization, 2013; Master of Arts in Indigenous Language Revitalization, 2015
  • Current hometown: Victoria, BC
  • Birthplace: Pouce Coupe, BC

About Art

Art Napoleon is an educator and entertainer who’s spent much of his life sharing and bringing awareness to Indigenous languages and culture to audiences around the world. As the co-host and co-producer of the international TV series Moosemeat & Marmalade, he showcases Indigenous foods, traditional knowledge and outdoor cooking techniques with a mix of humour and history.

The former Chief of the Saulteau First Nation in Treaty 8 territory, Art grew up in the boreal forests and mountains of northern BC, where he learned bush skills, traditional plant use and outdoor cooking. Now based in Victoria, BC, he remains connected to his home territory and his Cree and Dane Zaa roots as a language educator and translator. Art is also a singer-songwriter and has released several music albums. 

How did your experiences at UVic shape who you are or contribute to future successes?

The program I was in focused on community-based revitalization efforts. It brought me into a whole new area that I wasn't really looking at before. I was really only looking through an educator's lens and through the Cree language, so this opened it up to other dialects, other languages and what communities can do to revitalize their dying languages.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Surviving. When I was [at UVic], I was a single dad. I was working full-time and I had some personal problems. There was a lot of death in my family and I was going through a divorce, so it was a very trying time. I wasn't sure I could make it. So I'm pretty proud that I was able to dig in and get through that really difficult period in my life.

What skills or traits are needed to be good at what you do?

The ability to think critically is a useful thing no matter what field you're in, but I think it's in short supply. When I look at the state of the world, and I hear the conversations and the narratives out there, I think it’s a skill that's very needed. The ability to communicate and listen to both sides of an argument, the ability to look at things from various points of view. The ability to analyze, read between the lines, recognize propaganda, identify the hidden agenda and know that there's a larger picture out there. I think my time at UVic really enhanced that and just brought it home for me.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I knew since I was a kid I was born to perform. I was actually a shy and quiet kid. But one day somebody gave me a harmonica, no lessons, and I played tunes and then somebody gave me a microphone at a wedding and something came out of me that started making people laugh and pay attention. I didn't want to be a show-off, so I didn't pursue it until someone said: you're actually being selfish. You have a gift that was given to you freely. You have to share that. Since then, I put away the shyness, and I let myself shine a little when I can.

What makes you laugh?

I'm into native humour. It's not everyone's humour. We're a little sarcastic. We're a little mocking. Sitting around the fire with other people where the funny stories come out and we have belly laughs. I don't necessarily have that as much in Victoria, so I get it a lot when I go home to the rez and visit people and the stories come out.

What is something you do for others?

I have two little girls. They're teenagers that are with me half-time, so I like to devote my time to them when I'm not on the road. And I like cooking for them. I bring home meat from my territory. Wild game. I've got two freezers full here, so I like to cook it up, cut it up, butcher it myself, and then treat my friends, and the ones that never have that opportunity to taste wild game who didn't grow up in their territories. I'll post recipes online for them, or I used to have dinner parties where musicians would show up and they'd have a wild game feast every year. Cooking also brings me joy and it's another form of self-care.

Is there a food you can’t resist?

I have a weakness for pastries. Luckily, I also have a weakness for healthy foods. I can’t say no to moose ribs or moose stew or buffalo. Things that are soul foods to me—the flavours from my childhood.

About the Distinguished Alumni Awards

The UVic Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate the remarkable achievements of UVic graduates.

Nominations for the 2024 awards are open now through Oct. 13, 2023.