The Mann Art Gallery Intergenerational Métis Mentorship Project for this year concluded with the important symbolic installation of a Lobstick in front of the Mann Art Gallery on Tuesday.
The Intergenerational Métis Mentorship Project featured local artist Leah Dorion mentoring emerging Métis cultural educator and artist Ashley Smith.
Dorion said the lobstick placement is highly symbolic.
“It’s actually the perfect location,” she explained. “I had talked about making a Lobstick for the community years ago. When it came to prioritizing the three projects that Ashley and I were going to do together, I really wanted to do the lobstick.”
The three part project also featured some work from last year’s mentee Danielle Castle.
Earlier this summer there was the installation of study cardboard bison painted in English and Michif depicting traditional Métis values and images. A second installation last week saw the creation of a Willow Meditation Walkway, which was installed in Scarrow Park by the Provincial Court.
Dorion said both willow and Buffalo are important cultural symbols.
Both artists wanted to try a new technique for their final installation, which is why they chose a Lobstick.
“It had not been done before with this method,” she explained. “I have done live real lobsticks, (and) it’s highly dangerous. My son and Curtis work with a team. I have had other men in the community (help). It is very dangerous and it’s on a living tree, so we adapted it. We did a contemporary interpretation, but we think it turned out beautiful.”
The artists worked with the space available to them in the bed in front of the Mann on 12.th Street West. Dorion said there hasn’t been a lobstick in this location for around 300 years. They used the trunk of a tree blown over during a storm near Smith’s home in MacDowall.
“We had to work within the parameters of the land and space and we felt it was just beautiful. Ashley and I just work so well together, she scouted out this perfect tree,” Dorion said.
Dorion described Prince Albert as a “lobstick community” because it was a gathering place for so many people. She’s happy to see that history recognized with a lobstick displayed in a prominent place.
“There have been multiple lobsticks at every part of this river with different purposes, (and) different stories,” she explained. “It was the history of your land in lobsticks. It’s your history of your occupation of your territory and marking your place and your space and the beautiful gathering in this area.”
Smith and Dorion placed ribbons and cloth in the lobstick before cementing the object in the ground. This included a symbolic Orange ribbon for Every Child Matters.
“In our cultural practices we do a lot of prayer ribbons when we want to really elevate a prayer. We put prayer ribbons up and cloth and ribbon to express our intentions and our intentions are for healing of this community—for reconciliation, and dedication to those beautiful children,” Dorion said.
The goal is to create highly visible, accessible and educational contemporary Indigenous art in public spaces in Prince Albert. The exhibits celebrate Métis culture, and teach youth and emerging artists different values and techniques. The project was a way to temporarily “Indigenize” public spaces surrounding the Mann Art Gallery / E.A. Rawlinson Centre using natural and traditional materials.
Before the project began in June, Smith made it a goal to strengthen her Métis identity. On Tuesday, Smith said the project definitely helped her reach that goal, while also giving her a better understanding of art, plants and storytelling.
“I have definitely strengthened my Metis identity, and I learned more than just art,” she said. “It was so fun working on the land and working with the plants and telling the story with natural things.”
Before the lobstick was placed there were prayers and a smudge with elders including Liz Settee, who had helped every step of the project. When the lobstick was placed, songs were sung to recognize the importance of the lobstick and people had a chance to ask Dorion and Smith questions about the lobstick. Many of the people who attended helped to work on the lobstick during two sessions at the Mann last week. Both Smith and Dorion thought it was amazing how many people came out to witness the installation.
Tuesday’s project was scheduled for two hours, but the cement used to set the lobstick worked quickly, so it went much faster than expected.
Dorion was happy to see the lobstick placed to symbolically end the Métis Mentorship Project.
“It’s so good. I was so nervous this morning, but once the smudge and the Elder’s prayer and (the installation) happened I was calmed right down. I was so nervous that the wind was going to be getting so high and blow us right down,” Dorion said.
This was the second time the Intergenerational Métis Mentorship Project received funding and Dorion hopes to see this continue next summer.
“I would love it. I have more ideas than I do time and Ashley is willing to continue the journey as well, (and) hopefully Danielle Castle can return full time,” Dorion.
“We did bring her in on the first one but she wasn’t able to contribute health-wise throughout,” Dorion said.
“And she has been sharing and promoting each of the installations though she isn’t with us,” Smith said.
Dorion explained that the three are perfectly age separated with Dorion being the eldest, Smith in the middle and Castle the youngest.
“We are the three amigos literally. And it was perfect because she (Ashley) was at the right age and I wanted to teach and she wanted to learn and was the perfect middle glue for knowledge,” Dorion said.