Visual arts students hung a large Indigenous-inspired collaborative art piece at South Huron District High School (SHDHS) this week.
The eight-foot by eight-foot piece, done in acrylic and steel on wood, is inspired by Anishinaabe culture. It incorporates the Seven Grandfather Teachings, a turtle representing Turtle Island (North America), a Medicine Wheel, and Spirit Horses. Learn more about the symbolism in the piece in the synopsis below.
Five years ago, secondary Visual Arts teacher Gina Harris and Indigenous Education Lead Monique Pregent had an idea to increase Indigenous presence in the hallways of SHDHS through an art piece.
After a COVID delay, Ms. Harris worked with Equity Resource Teacher Jenn Cronsberry to invite Anishinaabe Knowledge Keeper and visual artist Christin Dennis to teach the drawing technique he uses to SHDHS visual arts students. Dennis also shared the teachings behind the Indigenous imagery with Grade 12 visual arts students and any First Nation, Métis, or Inuit student in other grades who chose to participate.
This work is part of the AMDSB Equity Action Plan to "Broadly and equitably communicate with all AMDSB stakeholders by placing images and content related to equity and discrimination in newsletters/websites/entryways in schools.”
The artwork’s synopsis is as follows:
This artwork is inspired by the culture of the Anishinaabe people with whom we share this land. Guided by the teachings from Christin Dennis, a local Anishinaabe artist, we have chosen imagery which reflects the beliefs and values of these people and the hopes of our whole community. Within the tree are the 7 Grandfather Teachings, meant to be founding principles for a good life. Beside the tree is the White Calf Buffalo Woman, who provides the 7 sacred teachings to protect Mother Earth and offers the ceremonial pipe.
At the base of the tree we have a turtle, representing Turtle Island, a symbol, not only of the land base named North America by colonizers, but the seat of life and respect for the land. In the upper right hand corner is a medicine wheel. In this case, it is representative of the connection between the four elements and human's relationship with the world. Below this we have two Spirit Horses, native to this land, and a symbol of hope towards the future.
Finally, along the bottom, we have a herd of buffalo entering the scene, signalling respect and honouring all creation. This work is meant not only to reflect those in our school community who are traditional guardians and residents of this land, but also to show the many shared goals and hopes we have together for our relationships with the land and each other.
In a ceremony that accompanied the hanging of the piece, Dennis reviewed the importance of the Ojibwe Spirit Horses and, together with Ms. Pregent, sang the Asemma'kwe Song (YouTube video opens in new tab) (written by Jodi Contin from Wasauksing First Nation) to honour the horses and the students who drew them.
The artists and Dennis signed the piece, which now hangs in the library hall at SHDHS.
Photo: Indigenous-inspired art piece hanging in hallway at South Huron DHS
Photo: Students signing art piece as it rests on a table
Photo: Monique Pregent and Christin Dennis play Indigenous drums in hallway beside art installation