Artist Statement - July 2004

While attending a "Treaty Implementation Gathering" organized by Manitoba's Southern Chiefs Organization, I grew impatient with the political posturing and lack of substance in most of the speeches from presenters to the small crowd which had showed up for the two day event at Lower Fort Garry. The sparse turnout was itself disheartening and that there might be some serious and useful discussion around the process of reviewing the Treaties with an eye to "implementation" seemed unlikely. I seemed to be the sole non-aboriginal participant at the gathering and I acknowledge that quite possibly, my cultural baggage blinded me to aspects of the proceedings.

No one seemed much interested in the actual document which was signed in 1871. I wondered how many had actually read it and thought about its meaning and implications. Many speakers referred to "our Treaties" - as if they belonged solely to the First Nations signatories. I have tried to think about whether these treaties are also my treaties. Certainly they were signed by my ancestors (Euro-Canadians) as well as by their ancestors (Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, etc.). I truly believe that MY world would be a better place if historical and current inequities can be resolved around the negotiation of the Treaties and their failure to foster just, equal, mutually satisfying relationships between Euro-Canadians and First Nations. Maybe resolution is impossible.

As I have said, I had grown bored by the posturing and wandered off in search of more substantial "meaning". It was here, at Lower Fort Gary (the Stone Fort), a former British post, now a typically bland historic tourist attraction, that the first of Canada's eleven numbered treaties was signed between "Her Majesty the Queen" and the "Chippewa and Cree Indians of Manitoba and Country Adjacent". Inquiring of a docent the exact location where the Treaty had been signed, I was directed to a plaque on the wall outside the west gate of the fort which commemorates the event. Later research led me to documents which outlined the gathering of over a thousand Indians from many tribes for five days of negotiations with representatives of the Crown and the eventual signing of the document.

A gravel parking lot, mowed lawns, a few clumps of trees and a highway now stand where from June 27 to August 3, 1871, a one thousand strong encampment of First Nations talked for long days and into the nights to try to preserve a peaceable future for their children. These paintings, based on video images of the area immediately outside the gate try to find and hold a sense of the spirit of that time.

Using the fast, immediate medium of encaustic the pictures are a minimally embellished  distillation of my sense of being an outsider at this gathering. The paintings attempt to image some of the sounds and sights of an earlier gathering which may or may not still linger in the breezes moving through the trees.

The surface of the pictures is left unrefined, with raw canvas and drawing marks visible to avoid "over-writing" immediate, visceral impressions left by a fast hot brush. Later burnings-in fix the image at this pre-analytic state.