Painting with climate change message takes shape at MacEwan University’s Indigenous centre

October 31, 2018
By Phil Heidenreich
Global News

A pair of renowned Indigenous artists are working on a large painting that will grace a wall at MacEwan University’s kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre.

Even though it will live in the heart of oil country, the piece is aimed at sending a blunt message about climate change and the threat to our environment.

“I don’t think there’s a way to soften the message,” Métis​ artist Christi Belcourt — one of the two people working on the painting — said on Tuesday. “The message is that we need water for life, that the tar sands expansion is one of the worst ecological disasters on the planet.

“It is contributing to global warming, it’s contributing to the death of our species and all other species and we need to stop that.”

Belcourt is working on the painting with Anishinaabe artist Isaac Murdoch, and they expect to finish on Thursday.

“Within Indigenous language and within Indigenous knowledge, it contains how to live in perfect balance with this planet,” Beclourt said.

“There are people all over the world saying, ‘Look, we need to look to Indigenous knowledge, to learn how to live in this balance, because otherwise we’re all going to go over the waterfalls together.'”

Murdoch said while the piece is meant to evoke reflection on the threat climate change poses, he also wants to send an uplifting message.

“This isn’t an Indian thing,” he said. “This is not about race. This is really about building bridges with everybody and saying look, we’ve got serious problems.

“Let’s put the cowboy and Indian stuff aside and let’s do something really amazing.”

Belcourt describes the painting as “some soft, muted turquoise colours with two very strong images, in silhouette — kind of black — of Thunderbird Woman and Thunderbird Mom.”

“It’s important for our new space to display art from various Indigenous artists who tell an important story that will create educational learning opportunities for our students,” Terri Suntjens, MacEwan University’s director of Indigenous initiatives, said in a news release.

“This piece will open conversations that speak to the importance of land and water protection and our role and responsibility as we have to ensure we take care of Mother Earth as our ancestors have done before us.” But Belcourt and Murdoch aren’t only raising awareness about the environment. The two are touring across Canada and raising money through their art, which will go to support a language and culture camp for Indigenous youth in northern Ontario.

“The elders live there [and] we have young people that live there so they can, of course, exchange knowledge and it’s an amazing thing,” Murdoch said of the camp near Ompa Lake, Ont. “The people work hard and, you know, the language is really precious to us.”

Belcourt suggested while the two are trying to raise broad awareness about climate change and the threat to our environment in general, pipelines carrying oilsands resources is also a personal issue for her and Murdoch.

“[The oil] pumps through Line 3, turns into Line 5 and runs right by where we live and Isaac’s traditional territory and in my daughter’s traditional territory,” she said, adding that she worries about potential spills and the impact they could have on waterways.

“We need to stop resource extraction and moving towards something that’s sustainable and there is no negotiating or softening that kind of message.”

The two have created pieces of art in other places across Canada, including the one pictured below in Saskatoon.