Collaborative art project steps towards reconciliation
- NC Raine | October 08, 2020
A new art installation featuring Cree language will now be permanently on display at the University of Saskatchewan (Usask).
The 13 carved stone steps, entitled anohc kipasikônaw/we rise/niipawi will be installed at the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery on campus in monthly periods correlating with the phase of the full moon. The project is a collaboration between former Usask artist in residence Lyndon Tootoosis, Dr. Sandy Bonny, and Vanessa Hyggen.
Tootoosis proposed the traditional Cree names of the 13 moons be carved into a set of slate stairs recently removed from the Thorvaldson Building on campus.
“We were talking about how the wear pattern in the stairs represents a hundred years of students coming and going, and the idea that there’s been Indigenous students here from the beginning as well,” said Bonny, who also works as team lead for the Indigenous Student Achievement Pathways program.
“Vanessa (Hyggen) was looking at this wear pattern from student’s feet, and this historic process of western education, which hasn't always highlighted Indigenous people. Lyndon (Tootoosis) said there's a way of measuring time that’s Indigenous to here (in Saskatchewan), which has to do with the lunar cycles,” she said.
The project, which was a true collaboration between artists, students, and faculty, began during Indigenous Achievement Week last February when students were invited to participate in hand-carving the stairs at the Snelgrove Gallery.
“The idea of having an Indigenous artist in residence is not only to support that artist and bring them into a more public space, but also to allow our students access to other ways of working and thinking,” said jake moore (stylized lower case), Usask Director of Art Galleries and Collections, and Assistant Professor of Art and Art History.
“For us to bring this practice and these stories to our students’ consciousness allows a reaffirmation of welcome to Indigenous students on campus. It also could be a reparative act for settlers that have no idea and have never heard of these stories before,” said moore.
Randy Morin, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies, served as language consultant on the project, brought his Cree language students to help translate the words into Cree syllabics.
“I think this is an excellent project, it is an act of reconciliation because our language has been suppressed for many years, especially at institutions like this. So now, for it to be engraved into stone for all time, it’s quite the testament for what the University is trying to do,” said Morin.
Morin, from Big River First Nation, has been speaking Cree his entire life, and hopes that this project is one of many that begins to bring Indigenous language, culture, and knowledge into the mainstream.
“We’re telling the students here; our language isn’t going anywhere. And one day, our languages will flourish again,” said Morin.
“It paves the way for other institutions to follow suit. So, this is a really powerful statement on behalf of the university.”
The remaining 12 steps will be added with each full moon until the last step is installed on September 22, 2021.