Christian Morrisseau: an evening with the artist

The opening of the Christian Morrisseau exhibit at the Kawartha Art Gallery was held on October 27 at the Royal Canadian Legion branch 67. The event began outdoors in the parking lot with a smudging ceremony. The circle was very welcoming, ever widening as guests arrived and listened to the song and prayer performed by Dorothy Taylor with interpretation from her husband Mark Taylor. She sang as twilight faded to darkness, and all was silent but for the beat of her drum. The sweet grass smudging went around the circle with all guests invited to take part. Sweet grass is said to call in the good Spirit. When used in a healing circle, it has a calming effect. The smell was pleasant, while a feeling of kinship moved around the circle.  

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Never before had a First Nations ceremony been performed on the streets of Lindsay. 

At the conclusion of the ceremony, guests went inside the Legion where the work of Christian Morrisseau, his father Norval Morrisseau, and son Kyle Morrisseau were on display alongside other items available for auction. A separate table was set up with copies of Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga available for purchase. 

Christian Morrisseau spoke about his pain at the loss of his son, at the treatment of his people, at his struggle with suicide, but we had no idea how much he had suffered until Tanya Talaga spoke. 

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Tanya Talaga is an investigative journalist. She was a national reporter for the Toronto Star. In 2011 she went to the First Nations community in Thunder Bay to cover a story about why First Nations people weren't voting in the election. She did not get an answer she was expecting: she got asked why she wasn't writing a story about Jordan Wabasse.  

In Northern Ontario, First Nations communities don't have secondary schools, so if a family wants their children to succeed in life, they have to send them to Thunder Bay to be educated. There, they stay with boarder families while they attend school. This seems a drastic and archaic practice at a most difficult time in a child's development, but when the government doesn't pay the same per student to educate a First Nations child as a non-First Nations child, there is no other choice. It's go away to be educated or not be educated at all. 

What Talaga discovered in Thunder Bay was that Jordan was one such First Nations child sent to the northern city to be educated, and he was missing. And had been missing for [number] days. Within days of her arrival, he would be found dead in the McIntyre River. 

I can't even imagine the horror of this. To be forced to send my child away at the most difficult time of his life, to trust his life to strangers in a far away community, only to have him coming home in a body bag. Sounds more like a third world country than the province of Ontario. 

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Jordan was the seventh First Nations child to be missing or dead in Thunder Bay. The number seven happens to be special to the First Nations community. Tanya Talaga could not walk away from this story. She published articles for the Toronto Star, exposing the deaths happening in Thunder Bay, and then she began a book. 

Seven Fallen Feathers covers the lives of the murdered children, all of them special in their own untold ways, including talented young artist, Kyle Morrisseau. He was seventeen.

Seven Fallen Feathers has been nominated for a Hilary Weston Prize for Non-Fiction. 

The painting on the cover is "Seven Fallen Feathers" by Christian Morrisseau, depicting the seven lost children. 

Seven Fallen Feathers can be purchased at Kent Bookstore. It can also be borrowed from the Kawartha Lakes Public Library

Kawartha Art Gallery's evening concluded with a charity auction of Morrisseau works and other items. Thanks to the work of the Kawartha Art Gallery and event sponsor, Kent Place, for quality programming, like this important evening. 

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The story of the Morrisseau family and First Nations youth is bleak, disturbing, and heart-breaking. And yet, Christian Morrisseau's paintings are vibrant, colourful and lively. Full of hope. Full of beauty. Striking in the use of black lines among playful colours.

Christian Morrisseau paints in the woodland art tradition, bringing to life Ojibwa legends with his skilled brushstrokes. His father, Norval Morrisseau, is considered to be the founder of the Woodland School of Art. He was the first Ojibwa to break the tribal rules of setting down native legends in picture form, and was originally criticized for disclosing traditional spiritual knowledge. However, his unique style gained traction in the late 1960s, revitalizing traditional Ahnisnabae icons and inspiring generations of artists to follow. Norval received the Order of Canada in 1978.

Today Christian Morrisseau carries on his father’s legacy incorporating many of the same symbols into his imagery. Visit ChristianMorrisseau.com

The Kawartha Art Gallery exhibit is on display until November 18

As for what's happening in Thunder Bay, in 2016 an inquest concluded with 145 recommendations. They have yet to be fully implemented. More children have gone missing, only to be found in the river. This has to stop. 

Further: 

http://www.cbc.ca/interactives/longform/news/deep-water-indigenous-youth-death

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/aboriginal-legal-services-grades-1.4258735

http://aptnnews.ca/2017/11/02/afn-holds-national-day-of-action-on-parliament-hill-to-push-child-welfare-change/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/norval-morrisseau/

https://www.aci-iac.ca/art-books/norval-morrisseau/biography

More:

A portion of the sale of Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga will go to the Dennis Franklin Cromarty Memorial Fund, set up in 1994 to financially assist Nishnawbe Aski Nation students' studies in Thunder Bay and at post-secondary institutions. 

Further donations can be made to: www.cromartyfund.ca.

Sign the petition at Change.org to add surveillance cameras : https://www.change.org/p/nan-oshkaatisak-youth-council-placing-surveillance-cameras-in-thunder-bay-at-high-risk-areas

https://www.change.org/p/please-remove-police-chief-levesque-from-his-position-pending-the-review-by-the-police-watchdog