Walt and I went to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Grand Hall where there are six Pacific coast aboriginal houses constructed by First Nations artisans and surrounded by full size totem poles. One can only imagine coming across these magnificent homes nestled along the shore and in front of majestic cedar forests. These people lived on these lands for an estimated 10 thousand years and were making these type of homes for the last two thousand. There is such a natural blending of art, life and spirit in every aspect of their culture that it takes my breath away.
I have been reading about the history of different First Nations groups from across Canada and learning more than I have ever known before. There is a need for more Canadians to know how entwined our histories are with First Nations people and how little we can understand without this knowledge of our past.
I feel the reverence for the trees that these pieces are carved from, I feel the artist's love of the living wood that he lovingly works with. There is an interconnectedness between all living beings that permeates the work.
One of the last pieces I viewed was this set of interlocking stone masks, one with the eyes closed and one with the eyes open. It left a deep impression on me.
The Living Present: We crossed the river and set out to find Chief Spence's Teepee. I had seen it when we crossed the river the first time but it wasn't obvious how to reach her camp. We blundered our way to a parking lot under a bridge, followed a snowy path and were given directions by a couple of kids snowboarding down some stair railings in the park.
The camp is humble, surrounded by a wooden fence and fluttering with colorful flags of various First Nations. (This was three weeks ago, Chief Spence is now in her 40th day of fasting). There is much controversy and misunderstanding around her hunger strike, but as Canadian author, Thomas King says, “Do you really think that she wants to sit in a tepee on an island on a hunger strike?” She is doing this because everything else has been taken away. There aren’t any other alternatives.
There was a long line of people waiting patiently to speak with Chief Spence. The air was filled with the sweet scent of burning sage and smoke from the camp fires. There were several groups of people sitting around the camp fires, in silence or quietly talking. People were warm and welcoming. Walt and I just stood there and breathed it all in. There was a calm, peaceful energy everywhere. I left a bag of warm clothes in the small shack where volunteers were cooking and keeping house for each other as they took turns doing the tasks that needed to be done. Everyone was polite and soft spoken. A steady drumming heartbeat and singing came from inside the tent. The air was filled with prayer and the ground felt holy.
Across the river stood the grand buildings of the parliament in stark contrast to the humble camp. As we stood there absorbing the sacred space around us, Chief Theresa Spence was escorted by two large men outside the tent. She came out to meet with her supporters. One by one she moved down the line, speaking and listening quietly and hugging each person. Simple and human, no grandiosity or pomp and circumstance, here is a woman who is ready to die for her people and her beliefs.
I was honored to be able to offer her a small painting as a token of my appreciation for her strength and resolve in bringing awareness to her people, to all people, and our plight on earth. It was a defining moment for me. We can no longer be silent. The time has come. We must speak up for the earth and each other.
The painting that I chose to give her was one of my "Poems from the Roots" series, which seemed appropriate since I feel First Nations people to be the true roots of this country and even continent. I feel that much needs to be discussed and that there are many voices that need to be heard but those of the earth have never been given much credence in our present system of government. It is for this reason that a peaceful uprising of Indigenous cultures around the world at this time in history seems appropriate. I think now, more than ever it is important to stand up for the truth in our hearts. I don't have answers, only a lot of questions but I do know that the way we have chosen to live is completely unsustainable and unconscious of our own deep connection to the life force that pulsates around and within us. There is an earth wisdom in ancient cultures that needs to be heard and woven into our modern day world with respect and deep listening. This is not the usual way for a colonizing culture, we tend to fall into "either/or" dualistic thinking and we need to realize that we are all one people, one planet, one home.
These recent events combined with my drive across the country have opened a new place in myself and in my work. I will speak more about this when I am able to but right now I paint the things that have yet to become clear in a conscious way for me. My paintings are always way ahead of my rational, thinking mind and so I must wait for it to catch up as I paint fiercely from the core of my heart and soul.