Kristin Flattery, Indigenous artist at work

The artwork

  • The mural is a visual re-telling of an Indigenous creation story passed down in Ininew (Cree), Anishinaabe (Ojibway) and Oyate (Dakota) cultures through oral traditions. Flattery’s interpretation utilizes vibrant colours and references traditional sports such as lacrosse, re-imagining conflict as regenerative, and placing relationships at the core of creation.

    This innovative piece centres Indigenous traditions and knowledge systems in the ALC building with the hope that more Indigenous students will see themselves reflected in the space and feel welcome. For all UM students, staff, and community members who use the facilities, the mural offers a holistic understanding of health, focusing on spirituality, relationality, and the environment, aspects of wellness that are often overlooked in Western cultures.

    Read the UM Today story

  • Indigenous art picturing lacrosse net

The inspiration

How the flood came and how the world was made again

The story of the great flood is one told by many Indigenous nations on Turtle Island. As an Oyate -Anishinaabe artist, Kristin’s recounting of the great flood blends oral and written stories gifted to her by Indigenous scholars, Elders, and Knowledge keepers. Her version notably draws from a story told by Ininew Elder, Kuskapatchees, which appears in Manitowapow , an anthology of Indigenous literature edited by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Warren Cariou. Blending particularities from Ininew, Oyate, and Anishinaabe traditions, Flattery presents the story as she understands it to be. Ininimowin names and words are used in the story below.

  • Metunne kiyas, meaning a very long time ago, Wesukechak, the great spirit, lived a carefree life in the forest with his brother the black wolf. Every day, they roamed the forest and hunted the animals who lived there, drying the meat, and eating it. The animals who lived in the forest started to get angry, and they decided to plot against the black wolf. They called a meeting, and after much discussion, they decided that the sea lions would try to take the black wolf from Wesukechak. Wesukechak learned of the plan and warned his brother. He implored the black wolf to never go near the water, never jump over a creek, and if he must cross, to always walk a pole across. Most importantly, he told him: never follow a deer into the water. The black wolf agreed.

  • Indigenous art
  • One day, the black wolf was chasing a deer, and the deer ran to a lake, in the middle of which sat an island. When the deer began to swim, the black wolf forgot his brother’s orders and followed it into the water. The sea lions, who lived near the island, saw the black wolf swimming, and made the lake start to boil and toss, submerging and drowning him.

    Wesukechak, meanwhile, could not find his brother. In the forest, he found the deer’s tracks, and followed them to the lake. Wesukechak looked around and saw Okiskemunisu, king fisher, who was sitting in a Tree.

    Wesukechak asked him: “Okiskemunisu, what do you see across the lake near that island?”

  • 1 of 3 pieces of art of the great flood
  • But the bird, who was suffering from a broken beak, replied, untruthfully: “Fish.”

    Wesukechak, who had many powers, fixed Okiskemunisu’s beak, and then asked him again: “Okiskemunisu, what do you see across the lake?”

    “I see the sea lions playing with the black wolf’s tail,” the king fisher replied, flying off to go catch fish.

    Wesukechak was upset—his suspicions were confirmed, he knew his brother was dead. He looked around and saw Amisk, the beaver. He asked Amisk to cut down trees, and Muskwa, the bear, to pull the logs together to make a huge raft, which Wesukechak fastened together with willow bark. Food was gathered and put on the raft. Wesukechak found a deer horn and made a spear, and then boarding the raft, he crossed the lake.

  • 1 of 3 pieces of art of the great flood

Continue reading: 'How the flood came and how the world was made again'

Reaching the island, Wesukechak, a shapeshifter, made himself into a stump. The sea lions saw the stump and were puzzled, and began jumping and flopping about, trying to discover the meaning of the mysterious stump. Wesukechak was still, and then, seeing his chance, pulled out his deer horn spear, and killed them. They flopped, boiled, and hissed, and the waters rolled so high that everything—the island, and even the forest—began to flood. The animals who lived all around were afraid, and seeing Wesukechak’s raft, quickly jumped onto it.

The entire world was flooded with water. The animals remained on the raft for many days and nights. Soon their food ran out, and the grey wolf, one of the animals on the raft, would not stop grumbling, making his unhappiness known and causing the other animals to feel unsettled. Eventually, they decided they would have to act, so they devised a plan to swim down to see if they could find some earth at the bottom of the water.

Wuchusk, the muskrat, went first. The animals tied a rope around him and he swam straight down, but returned with nothing. Next the beaver tried, and he too came back empty handed. Finally, Nehkik, the otter, asked for a turn.

“I’m a very fast swimmer and stronger than the beaver,” he told the others, who started to laugh.

“You’re the smallest of all of us. You’ll never make it,” they said, mocking him. But, since they very much needed to find some earth, they tied him to the rope and he jumped in.

The animals holding the end of the rope waited, and eventually they felt the slack go loose. Frightened, they pulled the rope up, and Nehkik surfaced, no longer alive, but with a small piece of earth clutched in his paw.

Wesukechak took the earth from the otter’s tiny wet claws and rolled it in his hands. Then he blew on it four times and the mud grew into a large ball. The faster and louder he blew, the bigger the earth grew. Placing the earth on the turtle’s back, Wesukechak blew some more, until it became so wide and expansive that they could no longer see over it.

The animals went ashore. Wesukechak sent Kehkawwahkeen, the wolverine, out to run the circumference of the earth, so they could learn how big it had become. Twenty days later, Kehkawwahkeen returned and told them that the earth was still too small. So, Wesukechak kept blowing, and the wolverine ran out again. Forty days later he returned, but the earth was still too small. So Wesukechak blew and blew and blew, and Kehkawwahkeen ran again, but this time the earth was so large that he did not return. That is how the wolverine became a great wanderer.

Wesukechak ordered the snakes to make rivers and he told the grey wolf pushed big piles of mud with his nose to create the mountains. He made the trees and grass appear. Finally, he found Nehkik’s body, and breathed life back into the tiny otter . And that was how the world was made again.

iLearn more about Manitowapow.

iiWithin each cultural group’s version of the story, the animal who finally recovers the piece of earth changes. In Ininew, this animal is the otter, but in Oyate it is the beaver and in Anishinaabe it is the muskrat. In some versions, this animal does not survive its swim down to the bottom, but Flattery prefers ones in which the otter (or muskrat, or beaver) is revived by Wesukechak.

The artist

  • Kristin Flattery | Ozhaawashko Mashkode – Bizhiki (Blue Buffalo Womyn)

    is an Oyate, Anishinaabe, Irish, and Belgian contemporary, multimedia artist, female ogichidaa water protector, and mother from Long Plain First Nation. Kristin believes that healing from trauma and using art as a means for expression and communication are both meaningful and necessary. Through the discourse of Indigenous sovereignty, she utilizes decolonizing art practices by using her body as a vehicle of expression to navigate and reclaim an Indigenous space within Western institutions.


  • Kristin Flattery, Indigenous artist explaining her artistic process