(ANNews) – The strong, serene image on the cover of the March 2020 Alberta Native News is entitled “Nôhawasiw” (she breastfeeds) by Art Actionist Lana Whiskeyjack, a multidisciplinary treaty iskwew artist from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Treaty Six Territory, Alberta. It is part of a provocative exhibition by Whiskeyjack that was on display last month at the Câhcacêp Art & Tea House located at #102, 11050 – 97 Street NW in Edmonton.
According to Whiskeyjack the exhibition is “an iskwew exploration of nêhiyaw thirteen moon calendar and connecting to the spirit of nêhiyawêwin (Cree language).”
In her early years, Lana was guided by her grandmother’s advice, “Go to school, travel, and see as much as you can. Then return home to share what you learned, but do not forget where you came from.” After graduating high school, the young mom moved to Red Deer to attain her Art & Design diploma, then moved to Ottawa with her growing family, attaining B.A. (Honours) and M.A (Canadian Studies) degrees. The story continues with returning to work near her home community and attaining her doctorate degree at University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills (UnBQ) in iyiniw pimâtisiwin kiskeyihtamowin, the first Indigenous owned and operated educational institution in Canada. Prior to 1970, UnBQ operated as Blue Quills Indian Residential School, where two generations of her maternal family attended.
Lana’s research, writing, and art explores the paradoxes of what it means to be nehiyaw (Cree) and iskwew (woman) in a Western culture and society; and, how she and other Indigenous peoples are reclaiming, re-gathering, and remembering their ancestral medicine (sacredness and power). Her art is passionate and expressive, born from the deep roots of her culture, history, and intergenerational relations. Through the examination of sometimes difficult subjects, her art reflects the intrinsic beauty of her interconnections with the earth, Cree language and all living beings.
In an artist’s statement, Lana described the impetus behind her current exhibition. She said, “iskwewak are powerful beings who give life, food, and the vital life source of sahkitowin. They are the home fires, sacred water keepers. Each of us are here because of our mother’s wombs. nêhiyawak are matrilineal people; the root word of nehiyawêwin introductions of naming and placing ourselves is ohtisîy/nitsîy, bellybutton/my bellybutton. Our language locates our identity to our bellybutton connection, the lifeline that began in our grandmothers’ womb.
“Imagine that – our mothers carried our ahcahkiskotew (spirit/soul fire) within her womb that came directly from the kind compassionate Creator. Our wombs are the original heavens, where we are given our firsts: the first taste of life from our mother’s foods; her breathe; her experiences, all of which contributed and define our DNA. I believe our ahcahkiskotew created rivers throughout our evolving bodies, which we call our nervous systems. Her heartbeat is the vibration that animated our soul-body-life creation!”
“Each of our wombs is a cosmos of infinite intelligence that helped to populate the world with diverse beings each bringing gifts and skills meant to help one another,” continued Whiskeyjack. “We used to learn those values from responsible gifted storytellers who had principles given from this land.
“The womb carries a worldview that the patriarchal, capitalistic, and religious systems oppressed us to believe that we – wombsters – are full of sin, dirty, less intelligent, weak, lesser than a man because our life-giving womb holds such great power. Power over the womb is power over our future generations. Patriarchal laws, policies, and discourses have been created to disconnect, disown, and disempower our human place of origins – the wombs that we come from. These centuries of misogynistic patterns impacted our mothers’ mothers’ mothers’ memory and therefore our own identities and blood memory.”
Many of us may have forgotten, explained the artist. “I know it took me a long time to remember. Our mothers may have forgot as with many of our men, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and male relatives have forgot their protecting and providing roles. I continue to keep all our relatives in my prayers to remember. Our world needs it now.
“We can remember our inherent powerful medicines. We can reconnect to our ancestors prayers through sâkîyîtok – to love each other; wâcîyîtok – to help one another; mîyawâtamok – to have joy/happiness, to be positive and look at the world in a good way; sôhkastok – to be strong, to have courage; amongst to many other ways including returning to creativity.”
“Making art helps me to remember,” emphasizes Whiskeyjack. “When I work with spirit I connect, I remember their prayers. I pray with gratitude to the wombs I come from and to the beautiful humans that came from mine.”
Click here for more information about Lana Whiskeyjack.