My previous post was about the Prairie Madonna theme in my Regarding Mary exhibit at Bleeding Heart Art Space.
I will be writing another post about my other two themes in the exhibit, Mary Star of the Sea, and Our Lady of Thrift.
Our Lady of Thrift installation in Regarding Mary exhibit by Marlena Wyman (photo by Bleeding Heart Art Space)
For now, I want to speak about truth and reconciliation.
I acknowledge that we are on Treaty 6 territory that includes nehiyowak (Plains Cree), muskowiyinowak (Swampy Cree), sakaw iyinowak (Woodland Cree) and apîhtaw kosisanak (Metis).
It is not my place to tell the story of indigenous people through my artwork, but because my subject matter lands soundly in the midst of that, I offer my support. This is not an area of expertise for me, but I am trying to learn.
My words are guided by my friend Joseph Naytowhow, an interdisciplinary artist and Nehiyo/Cree knowledge keeper from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation Band in Saskatchewan, and a kind and good man. I thank him for his guidance.
In my exhibit, there are two levels to be addressed regarding truth and reconciliation: religion and settlement. The church and government inflicted terrible harm on indigenous people and their culture, and settlement took over their lands and disregarded treaties. When speaking of women’s rights and treatment, which I did in my last post, it is important to remember that indigenous women have always carried the heaviest burden of oppression and harm.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s open letter to Senator Lynn Beyak regarding residential schools is titled “There was nothing good”. I encourage you read that letter.
My Dad, Barry Wyman, and his sister June on the family farm, Baintree AB ca 1940
Settlement is part of my heritage. My paternal grandparents were part of the government’s prairie settlement plan, coming to farm at Baintree, Alberta in 1916. My parents farmed there after them, and that was the land where I spent my childhood. My grandparents died before I was born and left few photos and almost no written legacy, so I have no idea what their attitude or interaction was with First Nations people, for good or bad. I suspect that, as is the case with many settlers, they did not know that they were a part of the government’s scheme to have the west populated in order to protect it from perceived American threat.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, immigrants were lured to the prairies by government propaganda promising a utopia that sadly did not exist. Their lack of knowledge about living within the harsh prairie environment caused these families poverty, starvation, and for some, death. What is rarely told is that indigenous people often came to their aid, sharing meat and fish, and showing them how to use the plants on the land for food and medicine.
The true story of settlement is very different than the glowing picture that government propaganda conveyed. These settlers fought to tame the soil that was often not suited for cultivation, and the wind then took the soil from them. The percentage of homestead failure among early settlers was 57 percent in Saskatchewan and 45 percent in Alberta.* However for the settlers, theirs was a suffering of neglect, not of intent.
So how do we reconcile the good charitable work that faith organizations do, with the evil that has and continues to be perpetrated? When I asked a Metis friend of mine how any people with indigenous heritage could remain Christian church-goers, she said that it is a fact of the human condition that good and evil always exist together. I suppose that is true, but it is upon us to decide at every moment whether to choose good or evil.
*Gerald Friesen: Saskatchewan historian, author, professor, historical consultant
Posted by Marlena Wyman