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Eight Indigenous and 8 Non-Indigenous Artists’ Quest for Truth and Reconciliation

In September 2015, sixteen Simcoe County artists were inspired to initiate a {Re}conciliation Art Project. They came together to learn from each other, share stories, gain understanding and collaborate on a linked series of artworks.

The project is titled Call to Action #83 after the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “A strategy for indigenous and non-indigenous artists to undertake collaborative projects and produce works that contribute to the reconciliation process.”

The 16 artists and 4 presiding elders gathered at the homestead of Dazaunggee (lead indigenous artist Paul Shilling). After a two-round sweat lodge ceremony and feast, the artists chose by lot the order in which to make their works, non-indigenous artists alternating with indigenous.

The first artist, who was non-indigenous, set to work in late September and two weeks later handed his woodcut to the first indigenous artist. As he did so, he spoke about his piece and the creative process he went through. The second artist responded to the woodcut and in two weeks brought her painting to the third artist, who was non-indigenous. And so the process unfolded. Each artist inspired the next one in the quest for shared vision. The process culminated in June 2016 at Paul Shilling’s homestead with a two-round sweat and feast, after which the artists revealed their works and told their stories in the order that they made them.

The first piece is a woodcut depicting the Ojibway creation story of the Seven Fires, the White Buffalo and an Eagle emerging from darkness. The next is a deeply felt painting of loss and hope for renewal. In addition to canvases, the series includes lacework, paper cut-outs, a mixed media construction of the medicine wheel, a large sheet of birch plywood painted and carved by a router and with a painting of children from a residential school. A huge collage on a seven-by-seven- foot piece of canvas depicts the wall of a residential school, on which children carved their initials, alongside figures of suicides that emerge from a ground seemingly covered with ash and cinders. The radiant icon of a heart berry (strawberry) inspires a diptych of powerful abstract canvases depicting the strength of Spirit.

Each work is the creation of a unique personality, aesthetic sensibility and skilled hand yet the 16 pieces share many images -- themes that bear witness with honesty and respect to the facts of past experience while envisioning a future toward reconciliation.

Call to Action #83 lays out a roadmap for ‘awi-niigaani-mino-wiiji-inawendiwin’
– ‘going forward together in harmony.’

With thanks for the invaluable guidance from:
Ernestine Baldwin, Nwaatin-Kwe (Calm Water Woman), Elder, The Barrie Area.
Jeff Monague, Myiingan, former Chief of Beausoleil First Nation, Aboriginal Co-Manager of Springwater Provincial Park.
Austin Clarkson, Director, The Milkweed Collective.
Beverly Clarkson, Author.

Mary Louise Meiers: mlmeiers@sympatico.ca
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