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The Treaty 5 Suite: Speaking in Tongues
(The Lake Winnipeg Treaty)

… it was essential that the Indian title to all territory in the vicinity of the Lake should be extinguished, so that settlers and travelers might have undisturbed access to its waters, shores, islands, inlets, and tributary streams. [The mouth of the Saskatchewan River especially seems to be of importance as presenting an eligible site for a future town. All these considerations pointed to the necessity of prompt negotiation with the Indians on both sides of Lake Winnipeg for surrender of their territory.]” – Interior Minister Laird from his 1875 Annual Report to the Canadian government

The paintings in this suite continue a long-term research-based project, The Treaty Suites, which investigates the signings of Treaties 1 to 11 in Central Canada. As a non-indigenous settler artist also I feel an imperative to respond to the Calls to Action contained in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as an element of this series. Language is at the heart of the treaty process and its failings in this country. This new body of work reflects on the history of Treaty 5 and on the vitality of indigenous languages. I have incorporated both Cree and English text in the paintings in part to highlight the urgent need to preserve and promote Indigenous languages in Canada.

These works were energized by travel in 2016 to five places where Treaty 5 was signed (in 1875,1876 and 1908). I visited the Cree communities of Opaskwayak (The Pas), Misipawistik (Grand Rapids) and Ochékwi-Sipi (Fisher River). I also travelled to the site of a former Cree reserve at Wa-pang or Dog Head Point on Lake Winnipeg (now abandoned and gone back to bush), whose people migrated to other places with better land many years ago. In 2017 I visited Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation (Norway House) during annual York Boat and Treaty Days celebrations.

While at Opaskwayak I visited the nearby site of the former Guy Hill Indian Residential School where now stands a memorial to Helen Betty Osbourn and others who passed through it’s doors. And I also went back to the site of the former St. Therese Residential School at Sturgeon Landing near Flin Flon which I had visited many years earlier when this project was first initiated.

The encaustic on panel paintings in this series are informed by archival and on site research as well as readings from the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

I am very grateful to the Manitoba Arts Council and to the Winnipeg Arts Council for their support of this work.

- Tim Schouten, June 2016 (revised November 2017)