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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 this long-term research-based project, The Treaty Suites in which I am investigating the signings of Treaties 1 to 11 in Central Canada. As a non-aboriginal artist also I felt 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 to highlight the urgent need to preserve and promote Indigenous languages in Canada.
The work was energized this year by travel to four places where Treaty 5 was signed in 1875,1876 and 1908. I visited the Cree communities of Opaskwayak, Misipawistik and Ochékwi-Sipi. 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.

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 for their support of this work.

- Tim Schouten, June 2016