Essays

IMG_8874Simon Brascoupé, Speaking Notes for the Opening of Abinan Place, June 21, 2016.

Qwey Qwey Greetings

Thanks to the elders, chief, mayor, leaders, community members, friends and family on this beautiful summer day. We recognize the unceded Algonquin territory that we are on and Abinan Place where we stand today.

This artwork was inspired by the voice of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg when they asked for an artwork that interpreted four Algonquin themes; family, women, animals and canoes. This Algonquin birch bark basket connects us in the present with the daily lives of our ancestors thousands of years ago. Imagine women and their families canoeing on the very waters in front of us today. We hear their voices and laugher in the wind as they canoed carrying food back to the camp on the ground we stand on today. The animals depicted on the basket are the bear and the moose. The moose is perfectly adapted to the land; the moose is a skilled swimmer and navigates the forest with ease. The bear is the head of all animals. This image is teaches us that even though the bear is large, it walks gently on the land. The top of this basket is decorated with a design that we find on baskets and canoes which represents water. It recognizes water as a giver of life. On the bottom of the basket we see birch bark basket designs that were used on ancient baskets made at Kitigan Zibi. They honour plants as they unfold in the spring that provides us food and medicine.

On the sides of the basket we honour the beaver that inspires many things in our culture, such as the beaver-tailed canoe paddle. On the other side we see the Grey Jay or Whiskey Jack who is much loved and part of our stories and is the hunter’s friend.

The process of creating the images for this basket is the same way images where created traditionally on birch bark baskets. The images are made into stencil cut outs. Stencils in the past were made from birch bark paper and were passed down from one generation to another. In this way the knowledge and teaching were passed down with the stencils. The images are etched onto the basket by tracing the outline of the stencil. Then red layer of bark was scratched away to reveal the light layer. The same process was used to create this basket. A close look reveals etching marks of the artist and the texture and beauty of birch bark. You are invited to read the history and culture of the Algonquins symbolized in this sculpture.

20160616_201815On the lid of the basket is a turtle which honours our Mother the Earth. It faces east and saw the first summer solstice sunrise this morning. The Creator is happy today to know that the Algonquin people are here at a place where the waters of the four directions come together.

This sculpture challenges us to think about our spiritual connection to the land and water from the beginning of time. My hope is that, when people view this artwork, that they see themselves in it and how they connect to the land, much in the way that our ancestors loved and respected the land. The land is our teacher, our university and we must become good ancestors to the future generations. Our challenge today is to leave the land for future generations in a much better condition than it is today. As we reconcile with each other we must reconcile with the land.

Art has the power to connect the people of Gatineau and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg to the history and culture of the land. It is an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the Ville de Gatineau and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. This sculpture is truly a community art project, as well as public art. The original concepts came from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. In this way it can be said it is community driven. The Ville de Gatineau took these instructions and faithfully implemented this project. So I give thanks to people of Gatineau and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg for the inspiration and implementation of this project. And finally, I give thanks to my family, artists, fabricators and people who gave me advice and support through the implementation of this sculpture.