These signs mark the four cardinal directions north, east, south and west. These serve as a form of wayfinding on the campus and refer to the medicine wheel, which has many layers and systems of Indigenous knowledges, cosmologies and epistemologies that are guides to the life cycle and ways of being. The cardinal directions only represent one layer among age, tribes or clans, seasons, aspects of self, colours and the four sacred medicines (sweetgrass, tobacco, sage and cedar).
Ian August, Jaimie Isaac, Niki Little
Left, from top down: sweetgrass, tobacco, sage and cedar
Water is life. It is sacred and vital for survival, health and economy. This sign acknowledges and honours the source of Winnipeg’s water supply: Shoal Lake, which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border. This particular sign is located in an area where an underground water line accesses the main campus, acknowledging the campus’ water source. Unpacking historical connections to the origins of this resource assists in understanding the contemporary circumstances. In 1915, using its powers in the Indian Act, the federal government sold “land, lake bed, and islands” of the Shoal Lake 40 Reserve to the City of Winnipeg’s Greater Winnipeg Water District (from “Drinking Water Denied to Residents” by Peter Ives and Adele Perry, Winnipeg Free Press, July 3, 2015). In 1919, the aqueduct was constructed to extract and flow fresh water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg. While Winnipeg residents enjoy water from our taps to drink and to bathe, for decades the flooded residents of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation have been on “boil water advisory” and are forced to import water by barge and truck at substantial costs. The federal government refused to contribute funds for a water treatment plant; instead, construction of the “Freedom Road” is being built for safe transport of fresh water. As Adele Perry poignantly points out in her book Aqueduct: Colonialism, Resources, and the Histories We Remember, “the city of Winnipeg and its relationships to Shoal Lake 40 tells us about colonialism, and the particular form it has generally taken in twentieth-century Canada, settler colonialism. At its core the story of the Aqueduct is about the exploitation of Indigenous resources in the interest of settler ones.”
To honor our ancestors and the next generations, reconciliation sets the tone for building relationships and instilling respect for the living land. The land and people have experienced fractured connections on Turtle Island. The use of Anishinaabemowin language in this piece is a way of rekindling generational resurgence and self-determination. It is vital to learn why Indigenous languages are not commonly understood by Canadians (non-Indigenous and Indigenous alike) because of the impact of colonization. Indigenous people have endured a legacy of trauma that affected many generations, triggering dysfunction and numerous other scars still felt today. Through sheer survival, generations of Indigenous people have not only inherited genetic imprints of trauma but also a stronger imprint of resiliency. We have a responsibility to pass on teachings to future generations. We must leave our legacy and gifts that were passed on to us, called, Bagigewinan (“that which we leave behind”), to ensure sustainability of life for our people. The design emulates a loop of interconnection, intergenerations, and serves to resemble an embryo within a continuous loop similar to the curvilinear cycles found in the woodland school style of art. This style was revived from the birchbark scrolls as used by members of Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporated, co-founded by Daphne Odjig and Norval Morrisseau. Additionally, the loops articulate the circle of life important to many nations’ epistemologies. The copper colour symbolizes copper metal, which denotes medicine and prosperity. This teaching was conceived by intergenerational familial connection gifted by Elder Dr. Mary Courchene, and Elder Elaine Isaac, (MSW). This sign is gifted by the artists to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, as an artistic interpretation of reconciliation and a contribution to its realization.
Flowers bud, we harvest
Harvest for many generations
Generations of Ikwe
Ikwe growing from the root, our root
A single braid covered by floral scarf wrapped around her head tied under the chin, my kokum Lucy was one of my first teachers. In our community, Kokums teach little ones; they are gentle, strong, and tough. Kokum’s Scarf reflects the role of matriarchs in Oji-Cree communities, touching upon notions of their labour, their caring, their continuing and remembering who our first teachers are. The florals upon this Kokum scarf reflect different plants (sage, clover, and strawberry) in relation to different life stages for Ikwe. The scarf transforms as a storyteller rooted from the land, connecting our past and our futures.
Ghost Signs thinks further through the land as memory, cultural items as storytellers, and Indigenous bodies as futurity always growing from the root (our root).
How does the land, the roots relate to the stone, the institution?
Ghost Signs (Indigenous presence) as “found” or “reconciled” to the colonial encounter.
Do Ghost Signs (Indigenous presence) haunt these places until they find our bodies for our memories, to live, to thrive?
Rather than to be encountered, Ghost Signs seeks notions of animacy through Indigenous presence, memory, and sovereignty, toward active participation and collective responsibility. To engage ideas around developing relationships from Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies of the land, Ghost Signs occupies and shifts relational accountability from the position of the institution to Indigenous presence; from self to community / the collective; and from a personal to inter-racial scope. The sites chosen for these pieces reflect memories of Indigenous gathering and action.
In 1971 a racist and defamatory article in a student paper became the first challenge for the newly formed, student-led Indian Métis Eskimo Student Association (IMESA). They confronted the paper and were given the option of having the students responsible expelled, but instead decided to educate the students.
This initiative started with publishing articles on Indigenous history and culture in The Manitoban, and in the fall of 1971 IMESA members offered a hugely successful community-driven course called “Native Views.” The establishment of this course – along with the constant work of IMESA and its allies – brought about the formation of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Native Studies in 1975.
Dee Barsey and Kenneth Lavallee
The untitled bike kiosk mural was painted by artists and University of Manitoba alumni Dee Barsy and Kenneth Lavallee. The depicted bicycle rider incorporates Barsy and Lavallee’s bold, geometric, and colourful styles alongside elements of Indigenous culture reflective of the artists’ own distinct backgrounds and the input of participating Elders.
The wheels of the bicycle are composed of First Nations medicine wheel symbols. One medicine wheel is painted at a right angle and one is painted at a 45-degree angle to signify the bicycle's momentum. The cyclist's shirt and helmet are decorated with beading as a representation of Métis culture. The bicycle's handlebars employ a braided pattern, recalling the woven Métis sash as well as braided sweetgrass. The mural's background incorporates the colours of water, grass, trees, sky, and the concrete road that the cyclist is riding on.
The image of the Indigenous cyclist is one that promotes active living but it also speaks to the honouring of this land and place on Treaty One territory where the University of Manitoba campus is situated. The Indigenous cyclist points to contemporary identities, ones that are respectful of and informed by customary teachings, histories, and traditions, while at the same time embracing technology, progress, and movement towards the future.
Text by Jenny Western