October 31, 2018 8:05 am

Painting with climate change message takes shape at MacEwan University’s Indigenous centre

Artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch working on their painting at MacEwan University's kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre in Edmonton, Alta. October 30, 2018.

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A pair of renowned Indigenous artists are working on a large painting that will grace a wall at MacEwan University’s kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre.

Even though it will live in the heart of oil country, the piece is aimed at sending a blunt message about climate change and the threat to our environment.

READ MORE: Indigenous artists create mural at University of Saskatchewan

“I don’t think there’s a way to soften the message,” Métis​ artist Christi Belcourt — one of the two people working on the painting — said on Tuesday. “The message is that we need water for life, that the tar sands expansion is one of the worst ecological disasters on the planet.

“It is contributing to global warming, it’s contributing to the death of our species and all other species and we need to stop that.”

Artists Christi Belcourt in front of the painting at MacEwan University’s kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre in Edmonton, Alta. October 30, 2018.

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Belcourt is working on the painting with Anishinaabe artist Isaac Murdoch, and they expect to finish on Thursday.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s first Indigenous art park opens in river valley

“Within Indigenous language and within Indigenous knowledge, it contains how to live in perfect balance with this planet,” Beclourt said.

“There are people all over the world saying, ‘Look, we need to look to Indigenous knowledge, to learn how to live in this balance, because otherwise we’re all going to go over the waterfalls together.'”

Artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch in front of their painting at MacEwan University’s kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre in Edmonton, Alta. October 30, 2018.

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Murdoch said while the piece is meant to evoke reflection on the threat climate change poses, he also wants to send an uplifting message.

“This isn’t an Indian thing,” he said. “This is not about race. This is really about building bridges with everybody and saying look, we’ve got serious problems.

“Let’s put the cowboy and Indian stuff aside and let’s do something really amazing.”

Artist Isaac Murdoch in front of the painting at MacEwan University’s kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre in Edmonton, Alta. October 30, 2018.

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Belcourt describes the painting as “some soft, muted turquoise colours with two very strong images, in silhouette — kind of black — of Thunderbird Woman and Thunderbird Mom.”

READ MORE: Indigenous artist finds healing through creativity

“It’s important for our new space to display art from various Indigenous artists who tell an important story that will create educational learning opportunities for our students,” Terri Suntjens, MacEwan University’s director of Indigenous initiatives, said in a news release.


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“This piece will open conversations that speak to the importance of land and water protection and our role and responsibility as we have to ensure we take care of Mother Earth as our ancestors have done before us.”

But Belcourt and Murdoch aren’t only raising awareness about the environment. The two are touring across Canada and raising money through their art, which will go to support a language and culture camp for Indigenous youth in northern Ontario.

READ MORE: Earth’s wildlife population declined by 60 per cent in 44 years

“The elders live there [and] we have young people that live there so they can, of course, exchange knowledge and it’s an amazing thing,” Murdoch said of the camp near Ompa Lake, Ont. “The people work hard and, you know, the language is really precious to us.”

Artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch working on their painting at MacEwan University’s kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre in Edmonton, Alta. October 30, 2018.

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Belcourt suggested while the two are trying to raise broad awareness about climate change and the threat to our environment in general, pipelines carrying oilsands resources is also a personal issue for her and Murdoch.

“[The oil] pumps through Line 3, turns into Line 5 and runs right by where we live and Isaac’s traditional territory and in my daughter’s traditional territory,” she said, adding that she worries about potential spills and the impact they could have on waterways.

“We need to stop resource extraction and moving towards something that’s sustainable and there is no negotiating or softening that kind of message.”

READ MORE: Homeless Edmonton artist who died remembered for ‘vivacious’ personality

The two have created pieces of art in other places across Canada, including the one pictured below in Saskatoon.

Two Indigenous artists have transformed the arts tunnel at the University of Saskatchewan into a mural dedicated to the importance of water security.

Angie Mellen / Global News

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