Featured Projects

Recent Metis Voyageur Lobstick Pole Projects Funded by The Saskatchewan Arts Board
Article By Leah Marie Dorion

In 2011 while conducting university research related to Métis fur trade history, I discovered information about Métis Lobstick making.  As an interdisciplinary artist with a passion for Native Studies and fur trade history, this discovery changed the direction of my own artistic practice.  Since that time I admired this Métis Lobstick art form for its hybridity, practicality, and land-based cultural expressions.  I began developing and expanding my own personal understanding of this old art form. I proceeded to revive this forgotten traditional Lobstick art form.  I truly admire the creative interpretation and innovation of the Métis artists of the past and decided to replicate their beautiful creations.  In 2011, I made my first experimental Lobstick pole at my home which was dedicated to my grandmother Maria Dorion [1925-1971].  In 2012, I made my second Lobstick pole at Historic Fort Edmonton it was dedicated to Métis Elder Eleanor Garneau [1851-1912] an entrepreneur and respected grandmother leader. ... Read Entire Article Here.

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Lobstick Project

Lobstick Giveaway

Title: Lobstick Giveaway, 2013
By: Artist Leah Marie Dorion
Medium: Acrylic mica flakes, pumice stone, and glass beads on canvas
Size: W 72” by H 48”

This art commission created by Leah Marie Dorion for the Gabriel Dumont Institute at the Prince Albert building location features the historic role of the Métis in the North Saskatchewan River Region.  The city of Prince Albert was a well-known historic trading and gathering site for First Nations and Métis people and was originally referred to as Kistapinanihk (meeting place).   This art works visually represents the Métis Lobstick pole tradition along the major fur trade water routes whereby the Métis artisans erected amazing poles to mark the known water routes of the area, to show trade or meeting areas, and to celebrate prominent people or events.   Many Métis people currently are unaware of this significant cultural tradition expressed by our ancestors.

In this art work the concept of the giveaway celebration and feasting which was a fundamental aspect of the Lobstick pole ceremony is visually represented.  In this art Métis people of all ages, dressed in traditional clothing, make their contributions and offerings to the Lobstick pole celebration.  I use numerous symbols of historic Métis culture such as the sash, the birch bark canoe, birch and willow baskets, circles, and the infinity symbol of which are consciously placed into the art work to honour our resourcefulness, land based culture and worldview. Since Métis people were travellers and navigators along all the major river systems I feature the three flying geese, a species known in the natural world for their amazing travel and navigation processes, the geese nation has much in common with the Métis nation.  The geese always mark the seasons and the cycles for some Métis cultural traditions.  As usual in my work the four elements of life are represented since these forces of nature are highly integrated into traditional Métis worldview and cultural traditions.  The earth is in rock layers, the air molecules and winds are represented, the fire is the sun symbolism, and the water is the river that is highlighted through the use of variant blue shades.  I am proud of our Métis river culture.  We currently live in the central and northern part of Saskatchewan where the waters still define a large part of our Métis identity, spirituality, way of life, and culture.


Country Wives:  Metis Women of this Land-Artist Statement
This art show honours the historic role of Metis women in building their families, communities, and nations in the past.  These paintings include Metis women raising children, preparing, food, collecting fire wood and many other day to day duties that were women’s responsibilities.  Metis women and their special relationship to this land is a prominent feature of this art show. For too long our Metis women were just referred to in the historical record as, “Country Wives.” It is my dream that the names, positions of influence, and the strengths of these “country wives” will become known to others through the stories/representations reflected in this art show.  Our Metis women are still contributing to our Nations development and we have a proud tradition of sharing, caring, and kindness.

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Country Wives Gallery

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.

For the complete interview click here!

Giant Turtle Labyrinth Rock Effigy Project
Through the assistance of the Saskatchewan Arts Board Leah developed a giant turtle rock effigy on her land.  Effigies are rock or bolder alignments placed on the earth’s surface.  For thousands of years First Nation people have been making these rock effigies.  Many turtle rock effigies exist across North America such as the Minton Turtle effigy in Saskatchewan or the turtle effigies at Bannock point in Manitoba.

Leah’s acreage is now home to a giant 1600 square foot turtle rock effigy with a labyrinth pathway on its back.  Leah’s rock effigy design combines the First Nations turtle rock effigy with a Celtic Labyrinth path on its back which is a symbolic representation of the bringing together of the First Nations and European cultures on Turtle Island (North America).  The Works Art and Design Festival 2010 in Edmonton commissioned Leah to build the same rock turtle effigy at the Louise McKinnely Park located at downtown Edmonton.  Leah plans to continue to build turtle rock effigies with schools and community organizations who are interested in this holistic form of traditional artistic expression.

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Turtle Labyrinth

Educational Resources and Projects

Featured School Murals

James L. Alexander School Mural Project

On June 3, 2014 two art murals were completed in collaboration with staff and students from James L. Alexander School (JLA) in Saskatoon.  The murals were funded through the Saskatchewan Arts Board Arts Smarts Grant.  Leah worked with the JLA senior students in focus groups to conceptualize the themes and create designs for the two murals.  Leah then refined, developed, and transferred the final sketches to the large murals for student painting.  The first mural (3’ by 8’) was developed under the theme of family circle and it represents how important our family is during our life journey and it has a pictographic family travelling along the Saskatoon river valley. The border is special as it is made up of the thumb prints of mainly primary students so they could take part in the painting process a small way.  The second mural (4’ by 8’) celebrates the community circle theme and how we all make our home here together on Mother Earth.  This mural features Metis style beadwork patterns since they are based on natural floral designs in nature and huskie paw prints which represent the JLA school symbol.  Both murals will be housed in the school for years to come. Nice work JLA kids!

Mural JLA 2

Mural JLA


Muskoday School

Welcome to our home: Sharing the Tepee Teachings with our Neighbours
Fall Mural Project 2012 with Metis Community Artist Leah Marie Dorion

Our vision was to create meaningful knowledge sharing and intercultural exchanges between Muskoday First Nations Students and Birch Hills School students.  We used arts based experiential learning to facilitate the sharing of the tepee teachings between the grade four children from the two different schools.  The two grade four classes co-created two permanent art murals inspired by the tepee teachings that commemorated the new partnership agreement between Muskoday and the regional non-Aboriginal stakeholders in Saskatchewan Rivers School Division. Each school will house one of these murals and possibly exchange them regularly.   The individual students made mini tepee models to take home to remind them of this collaborative project.

The tepee teachings are the inspiration for this project.  Our First Nations People have always believed in welcoming the “newcomers” to our beautiful land which is also known as “Turtle Island.”  The concept of “home” is an important guiding metaphor for this partnership inspired project, as every human being needs a home, it is a basic need for life, we all share a connection to a home and a homeland.  This project focuses on the metaphor of welcoming each other into our homes and learning from each other in a respectful manner.

-Project Concept Developed by Leah Marie Dorion in partnership with STC

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The Giving Tree

L’ecole des petits

Medicine Wheel Mural Art Project

When Madame Jara, the lead instructor for L’ecole des petits preschool, asked me to teach the children ages 3-5 years old about my culture though painting I was nervous  since I never worked with kids that young before in arts programming. With their kind support I was able to plan and implement age appropriate cultural arts activities.  I had to learn to do things differently but I discovered small kids can learn to paint!  I shared the medicine wheel teachings as they were taught to me and we created a large mural for the school.  The children discovered why our medicine wheel is so special and why it is called a symbol.   The kids learned about the four stages of life, four seasons, four elements, and four colours of the wheel of life.  Each child placed their own hand print on the part of the medicine wheel that represented the month of their own birth, or the special season they entered into the circle of life.  We used the guideline as follows:

YELLOW (spring)-March, April, and May
BLACK (summer)-June, July, and August
RED (fall)-September, October, and November
WHITE (winter)-December, January, and February

Through other cultural based art activities the kids also made, turtle paintings to learn about mother earth, Metis singing sticks to learn Metis cultural songs, and the Metis flag painting to learn about the infinity symbol and the cultural purpose of flags.  Through hands on fun the kids learned about First Nations and Metis worldview and discovered the world according to other cultures.  Likewise, I gained experience speaking some basic French words like the colours of the medicine wheel.

Medicine WheelMetis FlagTurtle Painting

Westview School

Hugh Cairns School (Click for PDF Poster)

Children's Books

The Giving Tree Childrens’ Book
Leah has written and illustrated a beautiful retelling of a traditional Metis story about Metis values and beliefs which was published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute in 2009.  She is very happy to share this story,The Giving Tree: A Retelling of a Traditional Metis Story, with the Metis community since it emphasizes our core values and beliefs such as strength, kindness, courage, tolerance, honesty, respect, love, sharing, caring, balance, patience, and most of all our important connection as Metis people to Mother Earth.  The book is nominated for a Willow Award and Leah is touring and reading the story to schools and working with teachers to develop book extension activities.

Available for sale at shopmetis.ca.

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The Giving Tree

Leah Reading

Relatives With Roots Children’s Book
Relatives With Roots, is a heartfelt story about a Métis grandmother who takes her grand daughter out into the bush to teach her about how to pick traditional medicines.  As the grand daughter learns the traditional beliefs and stories about how the Métis people use the plants for food and medicine she feels happy to be a Métis child with access to such wonderful cultural knowledge. This book is dedicated to Métis Elder, Maria Campbell who has generously shared her knowledge and respect for the land with many women and children and was published by Gabriel Dumont Institute in the 2011.

Available for sale at shopmetis.ca

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Relatives with Roots

Leah in Lilacs

The Diamond Willow Walking Stick Children’s Book
The story, The Diamond Willow Walking Stick: A Traditional Metis Teaching Story About Generosity, is lovely story about the remembrances of a Metis Elder reflecting upon the traditional teachings about generosity that were practiced in his community and family during his lifetime.  The story tells about the important place of grandparents in role modeling to children about how to live with respect the circle of life. The book really explores the place of the value of generosity in the value system of the Metis people. This book was published by the Gabriel Dumont Institute in 2012.

Available for sale at shopmetis.ca

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The Diamond Willow Walking Stick

Leah with Walking Stick

Roogaroo Mickey
Telling stories has been a Métis tradition for generations. Papayrs or Mooshums and Mamayrs or Kookhums share stories with their grandchildren, parents share stories with their children, and friends share stories with one another! Some stories are for fun while other stories teach lessons to young ones, and some do both. The favoured stories of many are those about tricksters like Chi-Jean or about Roogaroos, the Métis werewolf. In Roogaroo Mickey, Mamayr tells Louis and Charlie a Roogaroo story from when she was a little girl. But Roogaroos aren’t real …, right?

Written by Wilfred Burton, this is the first children's book that Leah has illustrated that she did not write.

Available for sale at shopmetis.ca


Roogaroo Mickey

Métis Camp Circle: A Bison Way of Life
During much of the nineteenth century, bison hunting was integral to the Métis’ social, economic, and political life. As “people of the buffalo,” the Métis were bison hunters par excellence. In Métis Camp Circle: A Bison Way of Life, author and artist Leah Marie Dorion transports young readers back in time when bison were the basis of Métis lifeways on the Plains. Vibrantly illustrated and infused with important cultural teachings, this charming book skillfully informs us about this important period of Métis history.

Available for sale at shopmetis.ca

Metis Camp Circle

Other Projects

Traditionally Storytelling Seven Grandfather’s Project

Leah has been travelling to schools in Saskatchewan to share through an experiential model telling her version of this traditional teaching story using her story telling buffalo robe.  The story is about an orphan boy and girl who learn important values of love, wisdom, respect, courage, honest, peace, and patience from the seven grandfathers from the spiritual realm.  If you are interested in inviting her to your event to tell this traditional story please contact her via leahdorionart@gmail.com
Buffalo Robe

Traditional Parenting Research Project

In the fall of 2010, Leah completed this Master of Arts research paper through the Athabasca University which documents thirteen traditional parenting teachings obtained from Cree and Metis Elders from central and northern Saskatchewan.  Using traditional protocol seven knowledge keepers were interviewed to gain insight into traditional teachings and explore cultural practices used for generations to raise healthy balanced children.  The paper contains a literature review to contextualize the teachings and makes fifty four recommendations in relationship to reviving traditional parenting traditions and customs within our present day communities and families.

Baby Brother

Moss Bags