Artists reflect on 5-week mentorship project exploring Métis values

Danielle Castle paints on a horse cutout as part of the fifth and final outdoor art installation at the Art Hauser Centre on Aug. 7, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert’s Danielle Castle and Leah Dorion have now completed their five outdoor art installations, but the pair of Métis artists hope the value of the project lingers far longer.

On Friday, Castle and Dorion set up horse cutouts painted with Métis values—such as sharing, balance and love—outside of the Art Hauser Centre. The words are presented in English on one side of the horses and in Michif on the other.

Ribbons tied around the stakes blew in the wind, which was particularly aggressive throughout the installation.

“I feel that we’ve brought a lot of positive visual storytelling into the city this summer and I’m really encouraged. I’ve had so many people comment and connect with me. People from Saskatoon have been following us. I was shocked,” said Dorion.

Leah Dorion ties ribbon around the stake of one of the horses for the last installation of the Intergenerational Métis Artist Mentorship Project on Aug. 7, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

Castle, too, felt the project was uplifting. She and Dorion said they met their goal of sharing Métis values in a way the public can easily connect with.

“The willow walkway was one of my favourites. A lady told me that she was going to come back and do meditation and tai chi the next morning, and so we created that special space for her and I’m getting lots of pictures of the bison being sent to me. They’re just really loving the colours and the whole project,” she said.

“That’s what I mean, I feel fulfilled.”

The mentorship began with a pastel mural on the cement leading into the Mann Art Gallery. The project branched off of Dorion’s mini-residency at the gallery, where she led workshops teaching guests how to make Métis moss bags and Plains-style ribbon skirts. The mentorship was also inspired by her children’s book The Giving Tree: A Retelling of a Traditional Métis Story.

The project continued as the pair decorated a living giving tree, harvested willow trees to create a labyrinth, staked painted bison along the rotary trail and, lastly, installed the horses.

“I think this project is actually acknowledging something the community has already really honoured,” said Dorion, referring to the Métis culture.

She recently helped guide and inform the city for signs along the riverbank providing a brief history of the area’s six Indigenous groups, including the Métis.

“Anybody can benefit from thinking about these values and thinking about how they connect with them in their own lives, so it’s really on a personal and cultural level. There is a universal truth that is embedded in the principles that we have shared.”

One side of the horses read a Métis value in English, and the other side read the same value in Michif. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

In an interview before the project took off, Castle and Dorion said they hoped to gain a following from installation to installation.

The McInnes family, in particular, followed them all of the way through, even gifting each of them tea and haskap jam at the last installation.

“It’s kind of a way to get them more in touch with that culture, which they haven’t had a significant exposure to in the past,” said Amy McInnes about her children.

“I think I heard Elder Liz (Settee) speaking about opening a conversation and that’s what it is for us—it’s a conversation. It shows very clearly what the values are and we can explore it in fun, interesting, different ways.”

The installations are all temporary. Dorion said they’ll be taking them down next week.