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Artists Statement - November 2006

The Treaty 3 Suite (Outside Promises) comprises 15 paintings in encaustic on canvas. The suite is one of eleven elements of The Treaty Suites Project. The Treaty Suites Project was conceived in 2003 as a series of eleven suites of paintings, each based on photographs taken at the exact locations of the signings of each of the eleven “numbered treaties” between First Nations and Canada. The project grew to include the locations of adhesions to the Treaties, which were signed in years following the initial signings. This whole series is an extension of the Treaty Lands project that has made up the major part of my practice since 1998.

The work in The Treaty 3 Suite (Outside Promises) is based on photos taken at a number of locations in Manitoba and Ontario within Treaty 3 territory. Treaty 3 was signed between “Her Majesty the Queen and the Saulteaux Tribe of the Ojibbeway Indians” on Harrison Creek at the North West Angle of Lake of the Woods in October of 1873. Once the site of a Métis community called Norwest and a Hudson Bay Company trading post on the Dawson Trail, this location has now almost completely reverted to bush. Traces of Dawson’s Route remain, but little else. The area is home to several Ojibwa First Nations on both sides of the Canada/US. border. Harrison Creek still provides good wild rice harvesting in years when the water levels aren’t too high.

Adhesions to Treaty 3 were signed at Lac Seul and at Fort Francis in 1874 and 1875 respectively. The Fort Francis adhesion is outstanding in that in an isolated incident of treaty activity, specific provisions were included for people of mixed blood in the Rainy River area, who in the wording of the document, “by virtue of their Indian blood, claim a certain interest or title in the lands or territories… the said Half-breeds have elected to join in the treaty… it being further understood that the said Half-breeds shall be entitled to all benefits of the said treaty”.

As part of the work for this project I did research in a number of archives and was fortunate to have the assistance of a number of knowledgeable researchers, historians and academics. Notably, Tim Holzkamm’s guidance was invaluable in leading me to Harrison Creek and David and Rosemary Malaher’s boundless knowledge and encouragement kept me going. Anne Lindsay and Jennifer Brown of the Rupert’s Land Study Centre also offered valuable assistance and support. I also went to each of the signing locations (to the NW Angle four times in three seasons) where I met a number of local people who generously offered me stories about the treaty times passed on from previous generations.

Finding some of these locations, using spotty information gleaned from archival maps and texts was a considerable task. I am grateful to my excellent and savvy guides, Roy Nigwance at Lac Seul and Ken and Leslie Sandy and Joe Powasson at The Lake of the Woods who knew the locales and skillfully negotiated often choppy waters as we sought out these obscure locations. Joe, a great-grandson of Chief Powasson, signatory to Treaty 3 was especially gentle as he patiently provided answers to my many questions during several hours spent photographing at Harrison Creek. Sadly, Joe succumbed to his cancer before the paintings in this show were completed.

The paintings in this body of work attempt to convey a sense of the histories of the places depicted. The beauty of the landscape is taken for granted in these paintings. Most importantly, I hope to evoke a sense of “more going on here than meets the eye” and a questioning of the meanings and politics of place and a rethinking of the Treaty relationship.