Archive for May 8, 2019

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26 September 2012

Ottawa Citizen

Acclaimed Inuit artist comes to terms with her greatest work.

Acclaimed Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook has given birth to a baby girl, a month before she was due, at a Lowertown shelter.The premature child, named Napachie Marie Pootoogook-Watt, was born about 4 a.m. Friday in a washroom of the Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street. Pootoogook says she was in the washroom, experiencing labour pains. Suddenly, her water broke and out came the baby.

Pootoogook’s cries were heard by staff and others staying in the shelter, who rushed to help. They had her lie on blankets on the floor until an ambulance arrived to take the mother and baby to the Montfort Hospital.

William Watt, the baby’s father and Pootoogook’s boyfriend, says Napachie is only 1.64 kilograms (three pounds, 10 ounces) and is in an incubator at the Montfort, where she is expected to remain for a month.

“But) she’s doing fine,” says Watt. “Her motor skills are fine. She’s a perfectly healthy baby. She’s just tiny.”

Pootoogook says she “feels good. I could go dancing.” Watt says his girlfriend doesn’t look any worse for wear. “She was in labour only five minutes.”

Pootoogook says she was released from hospital at 4 p.m. Friday, had dinner at a native drop-in centre on Rideau Street, and then stayed the rest of the weekend with friends, until she was reunited Monday with Watt. He had spent four nights in jail. That’s why Pootoogook went to the shelter late last week, he says, as “she didn’t want to be alone” because of her pregnancy. Coincidentally, Watt was in jail last January for theft when Pootoogook found out she was expecting.

Tuesday afternoon, Pootoogook was back on Rideau Street where the artist has been seen drawing during the past three months. The parents visited Napachie earlier in the day. It was the first time Watt had set eyes on his daughter.

“I’ll be (at the hospital) every day,” says Watt. “I heard on the Oprah show that you have to hold them, nurture them and show you love them.”

Pootoogook, 43, and Watt, 49, have a meeting with her social worker today. They think the possibility of giving up the baby to the Children’s Aid Society for adoption will be raised.

“The CAS is involved,” says Watt, who is optimistic they’ll be able to keep Napachie because “I’m a good fighter.”

CAS involvement was expected after the couple detailed months and months of homelessness as well as drug and alcohol abuse in a Public Citizen story in July. But the couple claimed they were cleaning up their lives for the baby’s arrival, and, at that point, had not had any drugs or alcohol for six weeks. They were also looking for a home.

The couple spent most of the summer sleeping outdoors in Lowertown and eating at shelters. A social agency recently found the couple a one-bedroom apartment near Bank and Walkley streets, where they moved on Sept. 15.

Watt is paying for the unit with income he receives from the Ontario Disability Support Program. Watt says rent and hydro will take most of his monthly cheque, so the couple will have to depend on food banks and shelter kitchens until they can get into a subsidized unit.

“It’s very nice,” Watt says of their new digs. “It’s an upper-class building.”

Pootoogook is considered one of Canada’s most pre-eminent Inuit artists and began her career in Cape Dorset, Baffin Island. She was discovered about 10 years ago by a Toronto art gallery that began buying her work through the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset.

Pootoogook’s work, often depicting disturbing and chilling scenes of Inuit life, has been exhibited in major shows in Europe and the U.S. She was given glowing reviews by various American papers, including The New York Times, and honoured with the $50,000 Sobey Art Award in 2006. Her earlier drawings, done with coloured pencils, sell for as much as $2,600 at Feheley Fine Arts, the art gallery that help her raise her profile as an artist. Limited edition prints go for as much as a $1,000.

But Pootoogook, who has fought demons all her life — beatings, sexual abuse, alcohol and drugs — disappeared from view for the past few years. She has lived in Ottawa since 2007, with a variety of acquaintances and at homeless shelters. She started drawing again this summer, while awaiting the baby.

Passersby on Rideau had been paying her $25 to $30 per drawing when the Citizen caught up to her in July. The money paid for her cigarettes. She says she now receives upward to $300 per piece and was trying to sell a drawing Tuesday for $260. Many people just stop to say hello. Some give them a few dollars to help them by.

The couple say they do not expect to hang around downtown as they used to, mostly because they now have their own place and then a baby to look after once she’s released from hospital. But Watt says sleeping outside over the summer didn’t bother them.

“I know it sounds sad, but we slept good. In retrospect, it was nothing because I was with the love of my life.”

Accommodation was offered to the couple by Citizen readers. However, they turned down the offers.

They say their apartment is sparsely furnished. They have been sleeping on a couch left behind by the previous tenant. Watt says they expect to be getting a bed as early as today, and then they can start worrying about furnishings for Napachie.

Says Watt about his daughter’s birth: “It’s a happy ending to the story

This afternoon at the park, I sat with Andre, Shakes and Little Jake.

“Hi, Jake, how is everything at your new apartment.”

“Fine, but I still don’t have any furniture, just an air conditioner still in its box; that’s what I sit on.”

“When will they be getting your furniture?”

“Around the first of November, that’s what my worker said.”

“So, you’ll be without any furniture for over a month?”

“That’s the way the system works. Yesterday, my worker — you’ve met her before — took me to the doctor. I’ve been having raging migraines, ringing in my ear, pain in my sinuses and behind my eyes. When I try to roll a cigarette, I notice that the skin on my fingers is very dry. I think I’m a bit dehydrated. The doctor had me close my eyes, stand with my feet together, with my arms straight out at my sides. I nearly fell over. He’s going to send me for a CAT scan to see what’s going on in my head — I hope it’s not a tumor.”

“Did the doctor suggest to you that it might be a tumor?”

“No, he wants to see some pictures first, before he tells me what’s wrong. Yesterday morning I took a Seroquel. It was a drop. This guy said to me, I’m sorry, I don’t have any money, but here are three Valium and two Seroquel. Joy and I shared the Valium, I took the second Seroquel before lying down for the night. That knocked me right out.”

“I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about having a tumor. There may be a lot of reasons for balance problems. Perhaps, you have an ear infection. It may be something simple that can be treated with antibiotics.

“Shakes,” I asked, “Did you find your bag?”

“No.”

“What did you have in it?”

“My clothes, my bottle, my cigarettes, my weed, my house — everything.”

“How are you doing, Andre?”

“This is kind of an off day for me. I was drinking last night, then at 3:00 am I was wide awake. I drank a couple more bottles and slept until 5:00. I came down here and haven’t moved more than six feet since. See that sweater on the curb? That’s mine. It’s there in case anybody wants to sit down. That’s where I started this morning. I’ve been watching and thinking about people. I try to figure out where they’re coming from, what their motives are.

“Joy said to me yesterday, ‘if you point your finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing back at you. So, you shouldn’t point at people.’ By the way, do you know where Joy is today?”

“She had an appointment with her worker. They were going to take the bus to the Elizabeth Fry Society for Joy’s anger management course.”

A woman walked by. Emile said, “Hi darlin’, blue really works well on you, it brings out the color of your eyes.”

“Andre,” I said, “her eyes were brown.”

“Doesn’t matter. This is what I do all day long. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

A soldier in uniform passed by. Andre said, “Thank you sir, for protecting our country.” The soldier waved.

To me, Andre said, “I really mean that. I have a lot of respect for the military.”

Lucy passed in her motorized wheelchair and waved. We all waved. Andre said, “Hi, sister, take care.”

Shakes reached for Emile’s insulated travel mug. “No you don’t,” said Andre. He threw Shakes an unopened bottle of sherry. A few minutes later he asked, “Did you honor it, before you took a drink?” (Honoring means to fill the cap of the bottle with liquor and to throw it over one’s shoulder.)”

“Yes, I did”

“Good, ” said Andre. “I don’t know where I slept last night, but I have green stuff all over my pants. I’ve been picking it off all morning.”

I asked, “Did you sleep outside?”

“Yes.”

Jake said, “I’m going home now.”

I asked, What are you going to do, Jake, watch your air conditioner?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Andre said, “I’m just sort of floating right now. Everything is mellow. I don’t have a plan. I don’t know what I’m going to do for the rest of the day.

“Shakes, I’m going to take you someplace where we can get something to eat.”

“That sounds good.”

“Eating is good,” I said.

It was time for me to go back to work. I shook hands with Andre and Shakes.

“See you, brother,” they said. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you, brothers.”

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