Indigenous art in the library
This program acquires, places and activates artwork by Indigenous artists in University Library spaces.
On November 14, 2022, artist and activist Christi Belcourt visited campus for the installation of her newest artwork, entitled Every Dot a Prayer for the Saskatchewan Rivers. Commissioned by the University Library, the artwork was installed in the Law Library, and was the subject of several events focused on exploring the intersections between environmentalism, Indigenous law, and art.
Christi Belcourt in the Law Library
"Traditional laws come from two specific realms, the spiritual and the natural. It is from this interweaving that humans can seek an understanding of where we fit within the larger world and what our responsibilities are. All the while asking how we can work, in relationship and in constant reciprocity, to be a healthy part of this world and the many systems within it. In this way of connecting, laws are storied for us, through oral history or through song or dance as well as through visual arts.
Here, Christi Belcourt takes us within the scope of the water teachings, the function of the rivers and all of the inhabitants of that ecosystem. She teaches about birth and life and death, about endangerment and extinction of the resources we all rely on as they are eroded and destroyed before our very eyes, by our own action. She is demanding of us: Who speaks for nature and more importantly, who listens."Marilyn Poitras LL.B. Usask, LL.M. Harvard Law, student of traditional laws.
Moderated by systems designer and thinker Marilyn Poitras, artist and activist Christi Belcourt and cultural advisor Maria Campbell discuss how storytelling and the visual arts reflect fundamental themes of Indigenous law, and advance perspectives on environmental justice that affect us all.
This event features Christi Belcourt's newest artwork commissioned by the University Library entitled, Every Dot a Prayer for the Saskatchewan Rivers.
Belcourt is the eldest child of Judith Pierce Martin and Tony Belcourt, a Métis and Non-Status Indian rights leader for over 40 years, founding president of the Native Council of Canada (now the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples), the Métis Nation of Ontario and a continued advocate for the rights of Indigenous people. Her family's roots are from Manito Sâhkahigan, the historic Métis community also known as Lac Ste. Anne in Alberta.
The painting focuses on the ecosystems of the Saskatchewan River systems, the Saskatchewan River Basin, the Delta and features some of the species at risk within the river systems and prairie grassland and woodland ecosystems of Saskatchewan.
Most of the plants, birds, fish and other species focus on the particular site of Gabriel’s Crossing near Batoche. The plants and species depicted are ones that are personal favorites of Maria Campbell whose home is on this river at Gabriel’s Crossing. These species are ones with whom she continues to deeply love and formed deep life-long relationships with. Myself and members of our lodge also fasted there and we all developed our own loving relationships to the land and river. Gabriel’s Crossing and the gatherings held there changed lives. Many dreams and spiritual connections were made. In the larger scheme of the grand life of this mighty river, this is only one little tiny spot along its great body, but a site deeply important to us who came to pray, to fast and hold ceremony together. History was not written about the thousands of years of song and ceremony held on the shores of this river – but history was made here, many times over. The river is a life giver and she needs our help now.
The South Saskatchewan River in particular is in crisis with more water being diverted for irrigation than it can handle, combined with dams and climate change, summer flows have declined in some areas by as much as 85% of its natural flow. Alarmingly the Government of Saskatchewan is planning a $4Billion dollar irrigation project that will reduce the flows by a further 10%.
The Saskatchewan River ecosystems are also extremely important to several species listed as endangered or threatened on Canada’s Species at Risk list. Several are depicted on this painting such as the Lake Sturgeon, Burrowing Owl, Barn Swallows, Native grasses, Hairy Prairie Clover, White Lady Slipper, Northern Leopard Frog, etc.
The Saskatchewan River is one of only two rivers that support the Lake Sturgeon species. As Maria said, “One Sturgeon could feed 10 families before. Sturgeon are small now.” Sturgeon must be 25 before they are old enough to spawn and it’s important for us to protect the rivers from further depletion, so that all of these species can thrive.
Other species depicted in this piece are the Blue Heron, Chokecherry, Tiger Lily, Horsetail, Perch, Walleye (Pickerel), Minnows, Saskatoon Berry, River Birch, Wild Rose, Wild Hazelnut, Plantain, Wild Onion. Spiders, and Butterflies.
If you love these rivers as much as I do, speak up for them every chance you get. Stand in the way. Get loud. Water is life.
— Christi Belcourt