Part of the heritage mural at the Upper Fort Garry Park in downtown Winnipeg that shows indigenous children being taken away from their parents to residential school.
Just over a decade ago I was teaching grade ten and eleven English at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. For one reading assignment I gave my students some memoirs written by residential school survivors. For most of them this was their first introduction to this shameful part of Canadian history. Many of my students were shocked. “Did this really happen?” they asked me in disbelief.
I led tours for more than a hundred teens during the recent seven months long Insurgence Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It featured indigenous artists from across Canada. The nature of some of the art pieces on display led me to ask the junior and senior high students if they had heard of residential schools. Without exception they all had, and most could tell me about their devastating legacy. The young people on my tours knew far more about indigenous history and culture then I ever would have growing up in Canada in the 1950s and 60s and far more than teens knew even a decade ago.
I realize we have a long way to go to achieve real truth and reconciliation but things are changing.
Bold and Beautiful
Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History
On Saturday I gave my last tour of the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I have toured through the exhibit with hundreds of visitors since last September and have learned so many new things from my tour participants as they pointed out things in the art pieces that I hadn’t seen and shared how the works connected to them personally.
At the end of my tour on Saturday I told the group I would be going to see the movie Indian Horse in the evening. Based on the excellent book of the same name by Richard Wagamese the film tells the troubling story of an indigenous boy’s experience at a residential school. One of the women in my group had seen the movie and she said the Insurgence /Resurgence exhibit provided a hopeful balance to the film. The exhibit celebrated the gifts and talents of indigenous Canadians and placed them front and centre. The boy in the film who has a rare talent for the sport of hockey is prevented from celebrating that gift and retreats into a place of darkness because of the prejudice and abuse he experiences.
One of my favorite pieces in the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit was called Gone But Not Forgotten. Made from wood collected along the banks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers it is a memorial to people who have lost their lives in Winnipeg’s rivers. This week when I go to the art gallery the works that formed the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit will be gone but they won’t easily be forgotten. An article in Saturday’s Free Press makes it clear the exhibit will have a lasting impact on the city of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, its staff and visitors.
Hustle Bustle Downriver House by Bruno Canadien
She is Gripped By Terror
A jingle dress is featured in an artwork by Barry Ace in the current Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. As I’ve been touring groups through the exhibit I have had quite a number of indigenous young women tell me they own a jingle dress. One of them said she and her mother were just in the process of making hers. I asked her where they got the jingles that adorn the dresses. She said shops in Winnipeg sold them. The jingles are metal cones that make a distinctive sound as the dancer moves. A typical jingle dress can have 300-400 of them.
Jingles on a dress at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary
I was keenly interested in a CBC news story last week that featured a 17 year old high school student from the Swan Lake First Nation in southern Manitoba named Émilie McKinney. Émilie is an accomplished hoop and jingle dancer who has toured North America. While making a jingle dress for herself she found out the jingles sold in Winnipeg were very expensive and were manufactured in Taiwan.
Émilie thought the jingles should be more reasonably priced and should be made by indigenous people right here in Canada. So she decided to open a business that did just that. She hand rolls the jingles and stamps them with an emblem she designed herself that features a teepee, a feather, a medicine wheel and an open door. Émilie’s jingles are already being sold in five different stores and online. You can read more about her story here.
Ojibwa in Paris
That Looks Familiar
Gone But Not Forgotten
Hustle & Bustle /Downriver House by Bruno Canadien is one of the pieces currently on display in the Insurgence Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Bruno Canadien lives in Alberta and is a member of a northern Dene First Nation in the Deh Gah Got’ı́é Kǫ́ę́, Deh Cho Region. His artwork contains images of his northern home. There are flowers, forests, caribou, fishermen, oil wells and smoke stacks.
One of the activities we do with gallery visitors after we look at Bruno’s artwork is have them make a similar collage about their home. They choose objects from trays we provide and place them on a colored paper in ways that represent home to them.
Last week I did the activity with group of international students that included a young woman from China. One item she chose for her collage was a picture of a phone. She told us in China she had wanted to be independent from her parents and resented having to still live in the same house with them. But now that she is far away in Canada she starts to cry whenever she talks to her parents on the phone because she misses them so much. As she told us this she started to cry and I had to reach out and give her a comforting hug.
I loved the way a young woman from Beijing was inspired to share her personal feelings, thanks to a painting by a Canadian indigenous artist. Art is truly a universal language.
Mennonite Floor Art
A Very Personal Story
Are You Confused Yet?
“I’ve seen that design before,” I said as I examined the beadwork on the clothing of these two mannequins in the current exhibit Insurgence/Resurgence at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.The fashions were created by Barry Ace an Anishinaabe artist from Ottawa. The beautiful beadwork on the dancers’ clothing…..
Beadwork on a bandolier bag by Barry Ace at the Art Gallery of Ontario
reminded me of beadwork I had seen on a trio of bandolier bags in the Art Gallery of Ontario in July. Sure enough when I looked back at the photos I’d taken at the AGO the beadwork on the bandolier bags was exactly the same as on the dancers’ clothing at the WAG. I discovered both had been created by Barry Ace.
According to the information provided by the AGO the designs on the dresses and bags replicate floral motifs from traditional Great Lakes area beadwork. Barry has made them with recycled electronic capacitors and resistors. The kinds of flowers which Barry has chosen to replicate are medicinal ones that store and release healing power. In much the same way capacitors and resistors store and release energy and power in electrical circuits. Interestingly on one of the bandolier bags on display at the AGO Barry had included an image from a silent film made on Manitoulin Island in 1925 of traditional dancers performing for government officials. Barry says it is ironic that while amendments to the Indian Act of 1876 banned all such dances the people were still allowed to perform them for high-ranking officials. As we look at the dancers in the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit it is good to remember that such cultural practices like dances were banned by the Canadian government from 1884-1951. The woman’s dress has a skirt that is reminiscent of those worn by jingle dancers. Rows of metal cones on her skirt jingle as she dances. According to this article the jingle dress was created by an Ojibwa father whose daughter was very ill. He had a vision of her dancing in a jingle dress and being healed. He instructed his daughter how to make the dress and do the dance. She did and recovered. Later she taught other women how to make the dress and do the jingle dance.
What’s a Bandolier Bag?
Ojibwa in Paris