Firstly, those who know me and follow me know that I am very careful to acknowledge who I am and what my responsibility is. I am a Cree/Metis artist. I can only tell you what I know and I can only tell you how I see things and hope that it helps. Late last year, I was recommended to Free Footie through a mutual acquaintance. The founder and organizer, Tim Adams had a plan to try use the ball as away to introduce his players to information about the local Indigenous population in Edmonton. This would serve as an introduction and hopefully inspire them to learn greater truths about the community. It was to start a conversation and a small step that the organization could do to aid in .
I often am asked to supply artwork for many things and I have a tendency to direct the work towards things that will have a benefit for the local Indigenous community. I give to help local fundraising and help out local organizations. I ask what is the benefit for the people in the region that the work is being displayed? Sometimes that means that I will turn down work or opportunities if I don’t see a long term benefit at the ground level. This project was easy to accept. Firstly, there are bound to be some First Nations, Metis and Inuit students in the Inner city. Secondly, inviting newcomers to understand new things about who we are at a young age was exciting to me. Thirdly, it is free soccer for kids; no barriers, no fees. I have long been an advocate for sports as away of engaging and enhancing the education outcomes of at-risk youth. With Lakeland Catholic Schools; the Building Bridges program had a strong sports component. When I was with the Alberta Indigenous Games in 2011; I advocated as hard as I could for finding a way to sponsor kids from low-income homes. I know the value of sport in the lives of kids. To me it was a project that was extremely important. There was a catch though; the timeline for delivery was narrow. We had 3 weeks; one of those weeks was going to be in digital processing. With a timeline like that; I could only hope to do my best. I couldonly share what I know from my perspective as a Cree/Metis woman. I did the best I could with the knowledge that I have
As always, I started with a smudge and prayer for help doing the work. I asked myself; if I was new to Canada what would be something I could learn that might reframe how I see the local communities. My first thought was that I would let them know where they find themselves in this new place. The River Valley has long been a place of ceremony, gathering and trade. So I went on top of one of my favorite hills and I took a panorama of the River Valley overlooking downtown. In the painting; I placed the photo in the middle of a blue background. On each side there are 3 stripes of yellow,red and white. To me; this represents that Edmonton rests in Treaty 6, Cree Territory. You will often see this as a motif when looking at my installation work. These colours are often found in prints,ribbons or other items displayed through the work. I usually have 6 represented with these items. This is what I taught and is how I honor my teachings in my artwork. I also chose to honor it by naming the ball simply. It basically is just saying “you will be learning about the local Indigenous nations of Edmonton which is in Treaty 6 Cree Territory”. There are other ways to do this; it is just how I do it.
Then I asked myself what else I could tell them; I decided to introduce them to their neighbours. I have often encountered people who are surprised to know that there are 8 Nations that are closest to Edmonton. So these Nations are the ones that are most well-known and do business in and around here. I also chose to recognize the other nations that have come here and call it home. In this; I may have missed some because there are over 600 First Nations in Canada; 46 in Alberta alone and with numerous languages and cultures which define them. I went with the nations I knew hoping that conversations about others would be the result. I apologize to any whom I have missed.
I am known for painting horses so I chose to bring the Nations together in the River Valley. One of the areas that I used to specialize in was getting students to learn how to reveal what they know using visual imagery. I called them visual cues. They were little tricks to help students remember what they read or heard but may have trouble writing essays or exams. It is a way of keeping track of information or organizing information. The work on the flanks of the horses are not sacred depictions or imagery. They are visual cues of a Cree Woman trying to keep information straight. The information is not sacred either. Any one of the students could find this information doing a google search. I just brought it together in a way that I hoped they would understand and remember. It is at this point where I had a good idea of what I was going to do that I began talking to friends,colleagues and in some cases language holders or cultural people. It is important to me that as best I can; I do not do anything that might be considered harmful. I often seek the advice and council of others before I finalize any work. I make sure my understanding of Cree words is appropriate. I make sure I don’t cross over the boundaries of the sacred. This particular project it was particularly important because we were working with children. When I explained what I was planning; there were no objections. If there had been one; I would have adjusted. I have to also say that this is my process. Some artists use council; some do not. It is my preference to make sure to do things in a good way especially work like this. I can not be perfect but I can keep my intent pure and loving.
The Nations closest to Edmonton:
Again; I can only speak to what I know. I am still learning. When I identified the community I also tried to show how they self-identify which helps understand the language and culture in the community. If I knew community members from that community; I contacted them to confirm the information. Every community is unique and there are differences in protocol and culture in some occasions.
Maskwacis Cree Nation used to be called “Hobbema”. They changed their name to reclaim the name in 2014. It means Bear Hills. Maskwacis is 4 separate Reserves; Samson, Erminskin, Louis Bull and Montana. I put a bear claw on the flanks of 4 horses to represent this community.
Enoch Cree Nation is our closest neighbour and has a rich history which directly links to much of the history of this region. The Enoch owned; River Cree Resort and Casino is a well known venue in Edmonton. I chose to depict the beautiful tipis that greet you when you drive in.
Paul First Nation identifies as Cree and Nakota Sioux. I chose to use the same 4 colours that I used on the background in dots to represent the Cree. I was told a story by an Elder about when the Nakota Sioux people came here. They were originally from the South in what would be the United States. I used arrows coming up from the leg to show that they came from the South.
Alexander Cree First Nation calls itself “Kipohtakaw”. It is a Cree word that roughly translates to a heavily treed area. I used many green slash lines to show that the trees are close together.
Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation. Again; I showed the people coming up from thesouth by having arrows moving up from the leg.
The Nations that also call Edmonton Home:
The Metis Nations of Alberta. I made a horse using Hudson’s Bay Blanket colours.
The Blackfoot Nations. I used my favorite colour red and made the legs black.
The Inuit. I put an inunnguaq (inukshuk shape that takes human form) on an ice blue horse.
The Dene Nations. All the Dene people I know come from the beautiful boreal forest areas of the north. I used coniferous trees on a grey horse.
The Anishnaabe Nations. I was once told that our Anishnaabe brothers and sisters are very similar to us and they use black. So I used the yellow, red and white on a black horse.
The Nations who were here:
There are two other nations that are no longer have a land base here but they exist and have many descendants in the area. I have depicted them as white horses in the sky.
The Papaschase First Nation and the Michel First Nation.