Landmark 15: Indigenous, First Nations and Metis

Artists: Sue Perron, Joyce Roberts, Sandra MacDonald

Word: Community

This group is relaxed and conversation is flowing easily. The group understands community and culture and education as interrelated. Culture and community can be the fuel for hopes and dreams, like the young Metis woman who did health sciences here at UNBC and is now in medicine at UBC.

This conversation grounds the workshop. It brings some of the challenges and hardships of being Aboriginal, First Nations, Metis, in Canada. The conversation dips and swirls like the winds of change around being indigenous, a way of being, in Canada. 

They are ready now. The questions about how to do it are few. This is a people used to using art to communicate. The questions are about representation. They know protocol and what is due and the right way to do things. They see that they are not representing any person or any particular nation but rather the spirit of the cultures that enrich society and the universe. They speak of symbols that cross space and place and time and do not belong to any one nation but to all. They are icons that speak all languages. They will not appropriate any one; they will honour all. They will represent the universality of community with respect.

They have detailed sketches. They draw more sketches. The eraser is flying. They know “the circle must be there” because it is so significant, in so many ways. They know Aboriginal peoples as keepers of the earth so they want plants, rocks, water, and land, in the art piece. They want all the elements that say “community.” There is a strong powerful call for “unity in community.“ It is such a hard path to this in the face of fracture and loss. But, the unity will be represented by people, hand in hand, even though as one says “I can’t even draw very good stick people.” They also agree they must leave a space, not as absence or emptiness but as the space for the unexpected guest or the ancestor who visits.  This is a welcoming space.  They decide there shall be 12 people, because Louis Riel had twelve spokes in his wagon wheel. They want to include the Metis sash, draped across, or within the feathers – but that is “too hard to depict.” I smile inside: Depicting culture as community is too hard.

Sandra has left the room and has returned with canned goods of various sizes. The food is intended as art tools, supporting circles of different sizes. It is so symbolic that cans of soup and pasta sauce are sitting in the middle of the table surrounded  by little pots of enamels and painting implements,  Food has been, always will be such a big part of culture and indeed community. They are so focused on the circle as repenting the holistic and integrated nature of community.

There is no hesitation about the art as they are so firm and determined and visionary about what their piece will be that they are negotiating for more time, a second workshop. They want this to be right.

I listen to their gentle voices as words circle the room, as they discuss complex, sometimes painful, ideas and issues and pragmatics and politics. The voices dance and weave a world where community unites, in health and strength and grows to support all, connected.

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