June is National Indigenous History Month
Winnipeg is located on Treaty No. 1, the original lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininiwak, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation.
This month - and everyday - we are encouraging visitors and citizens alike to honour this by taking part in National Indigenous History Month.
Here are just a few ways you can do so in Winnipeg, both physically and virtually due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) is an important stop for anyone looking to learn more about Indigenous art.
It houses the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world with over 13,000 works, while the WAG relies on a 28-member Indigenous Advisory Circle with representatives from Inuit Nunangat: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut, along First Nations and Métis from Manitoba. The WAG’s curator of Indigenous and contemporary art, Jaimie Isaac, who is an Anishinaabe artist and scholar, is also frequently curating new exhibitions featuring Indigenous artists.
Right now, when you walk into the WAG (which is now open to the public with social distancing protocols in place) you’re met with Norval Morrisseau’s massive painting Androgyny. Morrisseau is considered by many to be the grandfather of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada.
More exhibitions currently on display that have been curated by the aforementioned Isaac and Jocelyn Piirainen, the WAG’s assistant curator of Inuit Art, include ᐃ, which features clay and stone sculptures, and Nuliajuk’s Story, which presents legends from different regions throughout the Arctic in a variety of mediums.
As well, another work that has been curated by Isaac can be found across the street from the WAG at the University of Winnipeg. This is a recreation of Daphne Odjig's Thunderbird Woman, a large 32 x 25 ft. mural by artists Mike Valcourt and Peatr Thomas, which was created as part of the Wall-to-Wall mural festival (more on that below).
Another great gallery that showcases Indigenous works and perspectives is Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art. As its mission statement makes clear, “Urban Shaman is an Aboriginal artist-run centre dedicated to meeting the needs of artists by providing a vehicle for artistic expression in all disciplines and at all levels by taking a leadership role in the cultivation of Indigenous art,” while its vision is to “present contemporary Indigenous Aboriginal art with integrity while remaining rooted in our diverse Aboriginal cultures.”
Urban Shaman has not announced an exact reopening date for their space in the Exchange District yet for this month (for the latest updates on this and social distance protocols that will be in place, click here), but for now, you are able to view the collection via appointment (or drop-in, if your timing is right) by calling 204.942.2674.
The Manitoba Museum will now be open for every weekend in June. Here, you can see exhibits that unveil the history of the region’s Indigenous peoples presented through artifacts, exhibitions, photographs and more.
The Museum operates with an Indigenous Advisory Circle that includes members of Sagkeeng First Nation, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, the Métis Nation, the Manitoba Inuit Association, Northlands Denesuline First Nation, and many more, all of whom are academics or specialists in their field. You can find info on the Indigenous Advisory Circle here on its Indigenous Connections site and its policy for caring for sensitive objects – the Museum houses 2.9 million artifacts, a great deal of which have come from Indigenous peoples in the region – along with its consultation processes, its interpretation of treaties, and its educational programs and academic collaborations.
In regards to Indigenous content within the Manitoba Museum, must-sees include the We Are All Treaty People gallery where Manitoba’s treaty medals are on display. As well, the Museum’s gift shop has plenty of items that have been created by local Indigenous artists and books that were written by the Museum’s curatorial staff. This include’s Kevin Brownlee’s Dibaajimindww Geteyaag: Ogiiyose, Noojigiigoo’iwe gaye Dibinawaag Nibiing Onji (Stories of the Old Ones: Hunter and Fisher from Sheltered Water) – Brownlee is the curator of archeology, and Naamiwan’s Drum: The Story of a Contested Repatriation of Anishinaabe Artefacts by Dr. Maureen Mathews, who is the curator of cultural anthropology.
Explore Indigenous cultures in nature
For more treaty history, you can head north of the city to Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, where Treaty No. 1 was signed in 1871. The grounds themselves are currently not open due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the surrounding trails are.
Within the city, there is also Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park – an important site during the Red River Rebellion – which laid the foundation for Manitoba under Louis Riel. To pay homage to history, this beautiful park, which is located in the middle of the city on Main Street, contains a massive Heritage Wall which depicts the history of the region through art, inscriptions and a sound and light show that plays regularly throughout the day and evening. The park also has an app that enhances the visitor experience, highlighting points of interest and moments in history while you explore the area.
Extensive archeological research and artifacts found at The Forks, the location where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers intersect in the middle of the city, has indicated Indigenous trade dating back 6,000 years.
You can explore this area for yourself, all while learning of its rich Indigenous history, using The Forks’ Self-Guided Audio Tour.
All you have to do is download the audio file and award-winning columnist and University of Manitoba professor of native studies Dr. Niigaan Sinclair will narrate you through the area. You’ll hear about the area’s 6,000 year history, about the meaning behind the designs of all the public art and architecture on display, and learn of artifacts that have been uncovered where you stand.
The 50-minute tour features guest appearances from famed architect Étienne J. Gaboury, Royal Canoe’s Matt Schellenberg, and Elders Barbara and Clarence Nepinak, to name but a few.
When you walk the streets of Winnipeg you’ll also notice an incredible array of murals, many of which have been created by local and national Indigenous artists. Synonym Art Consultation, a Winnipeg-based group that fosters relationships between artists and clients, has been instrumental in the creation of many of these murals as part of their Wall-to-Wall mural festival. In their own words, “Synonym strives to cultivate a grassroots contemporary street-art movement in our city and to participate in hyperlocal and international dialogues around important issues, such as Indigenous rights, social responsibility, and innovative economic development, rooted in the arts.”
Public Indigenous works of art that have been created as part of Wall-to-Wall include the absolutely stunning "EN MASSE" (2017) by artists Jason Botkin, MC Baldassari, Storm Angeconeb, Jade Rennie-Harper, Matea Radic, Jay Cabredo, and Takashi Iwasaki, which covers the New West Hotel at 786 Main Street, along with the mural in the lede photo, "untethered" – poem and words by Jónína Kirton and illustrated and painted by Jan Castillo.
When we first published this article, the poet Jónína Kirton saw her work on Facebook and had this to add, “So amazing to see my words here. The mural artist is Jan Castillo. This is his interpretation of a poem of mine. We talked on the phone and discussed what excerpt to use. My hair looks like a river which is very Métis. The flowers speak to my various connections to my ancestors and their lands which is what the poem is about. There is a flower for Iceland (I am also Icelandic). There is one for BC (I live here and my 3x great grandfather, Jean Baptiste Boucher aka Waccan, brought Simon Fraser to BC plus married a Sekani woman) and one for Manitoba (territory one) where I was born.”
Teecka's is now open seven days a week 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. at 1654 St. Mathews Avenue, with The Forks location opening June 10. Here you'll find handcrafted items including mukluks, moccasins, dream catchers, caribou tufting, soapstone carvings, turquoise jewellery, all made by local and international Indigenous artists. Teecka's is also a Bradford Exchange Agent and carries artworks from local artists like Doris Cyrette, Marcus Houston, Maxine Noel and more.
Cree-Ations reopened on June 1, and here all the designs - including mukluks, moccasins, jewelry and drums - are made right in house by local artists.