By Laura Mushumanski
(ANNews) – Around the world when we hear the name MJ we think of Michael Jordan, but in the nehiyawak world where kâkwa (porcupine) quills meet âpiscimôsis (deer) hides the name MJ is in relation to Metis artist Melissa-Jo (MJ) Belcourt-Moses.
In 2019 Belcourt-Moses was given the opportunity to be part of the City of amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton’s) Indigenous Artist-In-Residence (IAiR) program, where, for the past year, she has been showcasing her various forms of naspasinahikewin (art) she creates from implements loaned to her from our natural environment, okâwîmâwaskiy (Mother Earth).
Her one year appointment has come to a close.
“As the Indigenous Artist-in-Residence for the City of amiskwaciwâskahikan , I am thankful for the opportunities, such as this one and many others, that have broadened my horizons in furthering my naspasinahikewin experience. It’s been my pleasure.”
For many of us Indigenous folks, we carry a belief that memories of our ancestors are in our DNA, and for Belcourt-Moses, this is what has drawn her passion and unique artistic skills to the traditional naspasinahikewina of her ancestors. The genetic connection we have to the teachings of our ancestors is often acknowledged through our blood memory.
Since the early 90’s, Belcourt-Moses has been connecting with her ancestral roots, by practicing and preserving traditional ways of naspasinahikewin by utilizing material that okâwîmâwaskiy has provided for us. MJ works with kâkwa quills, môswa (moose) hair, atihk (caribou) hair, kinosew (fish) scales, beads, the occasional niska (goose) and sîsîp (duck) droppings, and natural dyes. She also uses the authentic foundation that holds natural forms of naspasinahikewin together, tanned hides. Belcourt-Moses emphasizes on her gratitude and respect for traditional naspasinahikewin forms, that stem from the teachings that were shared with her during her time spent with her teacher and mentor, the late Elsie Quintal of Square Lake, Alta.
Every part of naspasinahikewin that Belcourt-Moses tends to, she honours the natural laws of the askîy (land), and through teachings of the naspasinahikewin of the nehiyawak that was shared with her, she has embodied the essence of naspasinahikewin– that naspasinahikewin is spirit.
“As we are born in the creators’ image, we too are creators… and as an elder once told me “we are all walking pieces of naspasinahikewin”; an honour indeed.”
The stories being told through nehiyawak naspasinahikewin communicates with knowledge of the askîy, our mother tongue, cultural teachings, and nehiyawak beliefs and ways of being. Belcourt-Moses continues to pass on her knowledge and teachings as being an educator through every naspasinahikewin piece she creates, representing her ancestry as a privilege to learn and teach traditional skills. She emphasizes on mentoring youth to ensure that traditional knowledge and skills will continue to be passed onto future generations.
Belcourt-Moses has made adorn bags, moccasins, dresses, shirts, leggings, earrings and framed artwork as part of the skills and knowledge she preserves through traditional nehiyawak naspasinahikewin making. And during the Feeding My Spirit Exhibit through the IAiR program, MJ used natural dyes to pigment the kâkwa quills she makes into pictorial pieces, atihk hair tufting floral depictions, kinosew scale portraits and rawhide adorn bags.
Belcourt-Moses utilizes her creative outlet as an opportunity to appreciate the calming form of meditation and therapy that comes as she hones in on her passion for naspasinahikewin making. And as an artist that finds humility in creating and loving naspasinahikewin, she encourages every artist to “keep creating, keep telling your stories, keep educating, and keep shining.”
Last month, as part of National Indigenous History Month, the City of amiskwaciwâskahikan celebrated the end of term for MJ Belcourt-Moses, and her artistic works as amiskwaciwâskahikan Indigenous Artist-in-Residence, with a virtual exhibit.
To access the virtual exhibit and to learn more about the Indigenous Artist-in-Residence, visit edmonton.ca/iair.
For more information on National Indigenous History Month in amiskwaciwâskahikan , including a full listing of events and resources, visit edmonton.ca/indigenoushistorymonth
Laura Mushumanski is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter.