CANMORE – A new exhibition at artsPlace endeavours to honour the ancestors of today’s Stoney Nakoda youth.
The Îyârhe Nakoda Youth Exhibition brought together Stoney Nakoda youth and elders to learn the important stories of Mînî Thnî, Treaty 7 land and its place on Turtle Island.
“It is an amazing collaboration between many Stoney Nakoda community members and Bow Valley organizations,” said Nicole Fougere, the programs director and lead curator for the program at artsPlace. “It is about bringing together Stoney Nakoda elders to learn and share together and express what they learned through the arts.”
The exhibition – which was launched on National Indigenous Peoples Day – was created out of the Stoney Nakoda Heroes Project that happened at artsPlace in 2019. With that project proving to be a major success, artsPlace decided it wanted to find the funding to do it again. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
“That changed the direction of the project, but it didn’t stop it,” Fougere said. “This year, we realized the project in a new way. That is why the name was changed to Stoney Nakoda Youth, from heroes to youth.”
Many local organizations and individuals came together to help make this new version of the project a reality.
“Just so many kind-hearted people made this project happen,” Fougere said. “It was always a community effort.”
As part of the project, Grade 5 students at Exshaw School travelled to the Star6 Ranch to have experiences with land-based learning, which included speaking directly with Stoney Nakoda elders and learning oral histories, including why the Loon has red eyes and how Muskrat helped find the Earth after the flood.
“They were having a relationship with this beautiful land that was there,” Fougere said. “The end of each of those days, they sat around a campfire with Stoney Nakoda elders and listened to stories of the land. True stories about its history and stories from their culture. At the end of their journey with that learning, they created a painting to reflect something they learned.”
These experiences were documented by local photographer Kristy Wolfe.
The Grade 8 students at the school spent a day with the Stoney Nakoda elders and talked to them about the signing of Treaty 7. That treaty was signed in 1877 and it ceded most of southern Alberta to the federal government.
“That history has been passed down from person to person and is now being given to them,” Fougere said. “How did it feel to sign that treaty? Was it fair? All these questions came from the lips of the students in discussions with the elders.”
The students then travelled to Wiyethka baha, also known as Blackfoot Crossing, where the treaty was signed. It was there that Wolfe took photographs that represented the relationships between the youth and the elders.
“Kristy Wolfe is an amazing local photographer and part of her role was to photo-document the whole experience,” Fougere said. “She has taken some extraordinary photos of Stoney Nakoda elders with their permission, and pictures of the children, sitting entranced and listening to the elders. That is also part of the exhibition.”
The two projects, involving the two grades of students, would generate 80 artistic works now on display at artsPlace.
For the exhibition, Fougere hopes that the Stoney Nakoda children see themselves represented in it.
“We know how important it is to feel seen and heard in this world,” she said. “I hope that the documenting of these extremely knowledgeable and kind elders serves as a legacy for the community.”
As for the general public, Fougere hopes that the exhibition builds more understanding.
“For the general Bow Valley community, in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, it helps to build more respect and understanding of the Stoney Nakoda culture.”
The exhibition will run until July 25.