Interviewer: Brenda Hrycuik representing the Friends of Batoche organization
Date: Spring 2012
What inspired you to create this art show? Well, the concept was birthed in my mind at least five years ago when I was at the Batoche Historical Park co-facilitating a family history research workshop with Metis Elder Grandma Rose Fleury. At that event we were passionately discussing the historic role of our First Nations grandmother’s in developing the Metis people, and the important role of their daughter’s and granddaughter’s in building the concept of Metis identity. As we all looked at our collective family trees it became evidently clear how important these First Nation women were in creating the Metis Nation. In this conversation, Metis Elder Johanna Potiyandi, said to me, “We need to start recognizing these women in our family histories because our written and visual history has typically been so male centered.” I really must credit the spark of inspiration, or my “ah-ha” moment, to Johanna because she said to me, “Leah, there are no pictures of these women, you should paint them back into existence.” Her words spoke volumes to me because my artistic practice already centered on honouring Aboriginal women and their beautiful gifts as life givers. So, since that time I have been working on this show and I have dedicated specific paintings to historical Metis women.
Why dedicate these paintings to specific Metis women? I wanted our communities and the general public to hear the actual names of some of these documented First Nation and Metis women in history who contributed so much to the social, cultural, political, and economic development of our people. I found myself dedicating many paintings to the Metis women who worked rigourously behind the scenes with our men leaders such as Madeliene Dumont (the wife of Gabriel Dumont), Sarah Riel (Sister of Louis Riel), and Marguerite Riel (the wife of Louis Riel). I have acknowledged specific women in history who are known to have participated in the growth of fur trade society. I also focused on Metis matriarchal leaders such as Nahoway Sinclair and Granny McGillis who were vital Metis family leaders, community sentinels, and traditional knowledge keepers. From my observations the Metis culture, at its heart center, is a matriarchal system and remains matriarchal to a variety of degrees, despite efforts made by the church and state to change our cultural practices into patriarchal models of western culture.
What key themes and teachings are in your art show? Many of the themes in this Country Wives art show and its related imagery focus on the intergenerational transmission of traditional knowledge of the land and resources. I also visually represent Metis women’s work duties such as chopping wood, picking berries, unloading canoes, travelling with Red River carts, riding and working with horses/dogs. The beauty and strength of Metis women is a core philosophy and concept in my work and I have done my best to respectfully demonstrate these values by utilizing my own unique artistic playful style. I believe that art can be a wonderful way to reinterpret the world and if this show helps our children and public see our Metis women in a more culturally appropriate way then I have accomplished my goal for healing and recognition. I have seen the negative effects of racism and stereotyping on our Metis women and I want to use my art form to show another side of us as beautiful contributors to this world.
Why did you approach the Batoche National Historic Park and Friends of Batoche to host this show? I am so grateful that the Country Wives show will have be hosted at the Park because I consider the park land a sacred space, a healing space, an educational space, and a place for telling stories. During the past ten years the park has engaged in several wonderful projects to uncover the women’s stories related to the history of Batoche. I feel my work really compliments the direction taken to reinterpret and tell the whole story of the Metis at Batoche. Of course I want to recognize the scholarship of Diane Payment as she has really influenced my own personal understanding of the vital role of Metis women in the Batoche region. I hope the visitor’s this year enjoy the show as much as I do. Due to limited gallery space I have only elected several works from the larger body of work in this show but I feel the seventeen art works selected for this Batoche show are well representative of my larger collection of Country Wives art work.
What are your future hopes for this art collection? My hope for the future is that the Country Wives art collection stays intact for a large duration of time and that it travels to key institutions, museums, and art galleries, in order to tell our Metis women’s historical story to a broader audience. I want Canadians to know about our role as Metis women in developing this nation. I would also like to see a future publication/exhibition catalogue of the entire Country Wives art collection get published so that teachers could utilize my art work for educational purposes. I am very happy that the Gabriel Dumont Institute, Parks, and Friends, are publishing a scaled down exhibition catalogue version of this show. I think if students learn about the lives and stories of the Metis women I talk about in this art show they will appreciate our resilience as women.
Closing…I’m very excited and honoured to work in partnership with you, Leah in your Art Exhibit. This show will have a strong impact in educating people and create awareness about our history. I agree with your belief, that women are the first teachers to the next generation, and that women play a key role in passing on vital knowledge for all of humanity. I would like to give many thanks and gratitude to you, for your time and knowledge. I would also like to acknowledge Gabriel Dumont Institute and Parks Canada for their support and assistance.
Notes: The Art Exhibit Country Wives: Metis Women of this Land by Metis artist Leah Marie Dorion was supported by SaskCulture/SaskLotteries and was hosted at Batoche National Historic Site of Canada from May to September 2012. The Friends of Batoche in conjunction with the, Gabriel Dumont Institute were major contributors to this art show.
Click for PDF printable version of this interview.
Back to Projects