This is the talk that I wrote. On the day that I gave this speech, I tried to follow what I wrote, but instead I roughly spoke from the heart. Ivan Paquette opened my show in a very heartwarming speech that ended in the gift of an eagle feather and a smudge.
This day was an incredibly moving, powerful and spiritual day. When I looked out into the crowd and saw only friends and loved ones, who were there to bear witness to an important part of my life, it choked me up. It was honestly something I'll never forget.
You can watch my speech with the link below. The volume for Ivan is low. Some people have had success listening with headphones or on their TV. But you should be able to hear me well, I was wearing a mic.
Watch my Artist Talk: https://youtu.be/m7gGg1IRv9Y
Tansi kiya wow nitotimak! Tawow pihtiktwi Studio 2880. Erin Stagg nisikason. Niyaa Michif iskwew ekwa Lheidli Keyoh Otutan.
Hello my friends, how are you? Welcome to Studio 2880. My name is Erin. I’m a Metis woman and I am from Prince George. I just spoke to you in Michif, the language that my grandparents spoke. It’s a language that combines Cree and French. It’s an endangered language, around 1000 speakers remain.
Today we’re gathered here on the unceded territory of the Lheidli T’enneh people. As an indigenous person who has grown up far from her ancestral territory, I have a deep appreciation for the land that we stand on now. Mussicho.
Thank you all for joining me. It’s truly an honour to be surrounded by your love and support as I open my first solo show. First I’d like to start by introducing myself. Erin nisikason. My name is Erin. I am a self-taught Metis artist. My family has roots in the Red River settlement, although my mom is from Meadow Lake. My Metis family names include Piche, Tanner and Poitras. I grew up in Fort St. James and this collection of art is kind of like my coming out party, but to celebrate my Metis heritage.
Although I’ve always known that I was Metis, I’ve never really known how to embrace it. I’ve felt a lot like I was appropriating my own culture, like it didn’t belong to me. I didn’t know ‘how Metis I was’ or what that even meant.
And then as 2020 began, I found out that I was pregnant. I began soul searching and looking to understand where I come from.
Growing up, my mom called us halfbreeds. Not in a derogatory sense when she told us that we were halfbreeds she did it in a humorous way. She says that she never grew up being called Metis, they were halfbreeds or sometimes halfassed. My ancestors have been called halfbreeds for generations. If you take a second and read the papers that my paintings are on you’ll see the word halfbreed all over.
The word halfbreed informed my idea of who we are. Half this and half something else. People would ask me ‘How Metis are you’ looking for some numerical answer. It felt like the further you got from purity, the less legitimate you were. It took me a long time to realize that being Metis is not answered in percentages. It is the colonial system that asks for numbers. For Metis people, we want to know where your ancestors came from and who they were.
This is what makes my art show so exciting to me. These are the papers that tell me who my ancestors were, that they were indigenous and where they are from. But these papers don’t exist for the altruistic reason of helping me with my genealogy. They are the papers that were meant to extinguish my people’s indigenous right to the land.
They are called scrip papers. Scrip is called the largest land swindle in North America's history. Scrip was a government imposed system to steal the lands that the Metis people lived on to allow Europeans to own them, legally. Thanks to blatant racism this was not an option available to my ancestors. Scrip was a coupon that could be redeemed for money or land, after a lengthy application process. However, the complex bureaucracy was specifically designed to fail. Much like the treaty system that First Nations people went through, most of the promises were never fulfilled. Today almost none of the scrip lands are in Metis hands.
Grifters would sit outside the scrip offices and offer to buy the land at a fraction of the value. The church would also offer to hold onto the coupons, and with no names present on them, they would simply keep the land. Huge tracts of land were lost in these two ways.
Luckily for me, the paperwork can be extensive. Some of the papers discuss my ancestors coming from a specific reserve. If you look at Sacred Medicines, the painting with the smudge bowl and sweetgrass on, you can read them discussing their heritage. They talk about being from the Gambler Indian Reserve. This provides me a tether to the past, to allow me to learn about my ancestors so that I can revive our oral history.
The government’s policy was to defeat the indigenous peoples of Canada by removing them from the land. Today, I rebel against that effort and I use their attempts to kill our people as a way to relight the sacred fire of our spirit.
I feel that my journey to becoming a mother has been a sacred one. It’s been intense. It’s given me sleepless nights, tears, frustration, pain but also joy, love, laughter and indescribable beauty. In the early weeks of my daughter’s life, I felt like I fell into the deep side of the pool, only to look around and realize I was in the ocean.
As I move forward in my life, I remember that I am sacred and that my connection with the land can never be severed. It isn’t something that can be bought and sold. It’s something inherent, gifted at birth. I am always connected with the land.
This summer, I visited the lands of my ancestors in Saskatchewan. I stood at the graves of my great grandparents and walked in their footsteps. In the sweet prairie wind, sweetgrass called my name, recognizing me even generations later. I walked along the top of the valley where my people hunted for buffalo. I breastfed my daughter where my people fought for independence. I feel like I walked the land and came home with their spirit. All the way, I carried my precious daughter. I named her Aurora, after the spirits of our ancestors.
This brings me to my art. When I came home from Saskatchewan I was gifted a vision of how my show could look. Each painting tells a story of one piece of my journey through pregnancy and the first year of my daughter’s life. (she will be 1 this month)
We start off with me pregnant in the Ancient Forest, connecting to the roots of the forest.
Next, we have my sister and doula represented, caring for me as I grew my daughter.
My sister was with me in my labour and I’ll never forget the way she held my hand and helped me through each contraction.
Next, we have my mom kissing my head, moments after Aurora was born. She may still be connected. Aurora was born in a beautiful home water birth that I was so fortunate to have.
Next, we have a burning sage stick sitting in an abalone shell next to a braid of sweetgrass. I picked the sweetgrass from the church where my second great grandparents were married. I could smell it on the wind, even when no one else could. I found it by tasting grasses until I found it. Sweetgrass's name is wiingashk in Anishinaabe, meaning hair of the earth.
The scrip talks about my ancestor being from the Gambler Indian Reserve, which was an Anishinaabe reserve.
Then, I am featured carrying my precious daughter, with my freshly postpartum body. I didn’t know how much magic was in those early sleepless weeks.
I warmed up to breastfeeding and found it to be a sacred way to feed my daughter. After all, breastfeeding was part of our culture since time immemorial.
In Saskatchewan we collected our sacred medicines. I smelled sweetgrass in the footprints of my second great grandmother, and found sage amongst the graves of our ancestors. Sage and sweetgrass are two of the four sacred medicines of the medicine wheel.
I taught my daughter to walk in the cold glacial waters of the mountains. Those waters would have been treated as sacred and potent with energy.
And then, I painted the family portrait that captures our journey. I am standing with my mother and daughter with the graves of our ancestors. My mom grew up playing in this tree and my fourth great grandfather owned this land. He started the community of Meadow Lake where my mom was born and this graveyard is named after him. Many of my ancestors are buried here.
Finally, I painted ‘From Maiden to Mother’ to encapsulate the journey of motherhood and the transformative power that it has.
I invite you to enjoy my paintings in your own way and to find your own meanings in them. You can read more about the individual paintings if you click through to the product page.
I want to thank my daughter, Aurora. I am so grateful to her for changing my life. I also want to thank my family, my husband Dalan for being the best partner, love of my life and Aurora’s dad. Thank you to my mother for her infinite love and for teaching me how to be a mom. Thank you to my sister, brother for always being there for me. And thank you to Gary and Kelsey who’ve added so much by being part of our family. Thank you to Studio 2880 for hosting us, to Ivan Paquette for opening for me.
Thank you to all of you for being here to support me so that we can celebrate this part of my life. I appreciate all of you. Maarsii! Hiyhiy!