Most of the artwork in Jennifer Leason’s book is of wildlife and the natural world near Riding Mountain in Manitoba. (Submitted)

Most of the artwork in Jennifer Leason’s book is of wildlife and the natural world near Riding Mountain in Manitoba. (Submitted)

“We’re still here” – Anishinabemowen artist celebrates culture at Wells gallery

Dr. Jennifer Leason’s Meennunyakaa (Blueberry Patch) is on display at Island Mountain Arts

Jennifer Leason said when she’s painting, she feels her grandmother on her shoulders.

The University of Calgary professor is displaying the paintings from her book, Meennunyakaa (Blueberry Patch) at the Island Mountain Arts Gallery in Wells.

“I was painting the branches of my ancestors,” she said. “They were here with me. It was this reminder to just keep going and to see the beauty in life, and celebrate, despite the history we’re still here. Our language is still here, we’re still here thriving and moving forward and that’s what the show is really about.”

Leason is a member of Pine Creek Indian Band in Manitoba. The book is a recounting of her uncle’s yearly month-long trips to pick blueberries.

Both her grandparents attended Christ the King Indian Residential School in Manitoba.

“My grandparents were told that my parents would be better off not knowing the language, and that if we assimilated into white Canadian society we would be better off,” Leason said.

Children at residential schools across Canada were severely punished for speaking their own languages.

“The Elders say that the language is born from the land, and that language is a reflection of land and place,” Leason said. “Our language is a reflection of culture, but also place.”

The book was written in Anishinabemowen and translated into English. The paintings displayed are the artwork for the book.

“A lot of it [the book] is about using art as transformative healing,” Leason said. “It’s a very dark history, and one that’s impacted myself and my family.”

This is Leason’s first solo exhibition of her work. She delivered an artist’s talk on Aug. 28 to open the exhibit, which is on display until Sept. 28.

“I’m sitting in the middle of the show right now, and when I take a look around the art, I truly felt like my mom was sitting beside me, and my grandmother was sitting beside me, and my great-grandparents were sitting beside me,” she said. “Even though I was paining alone, in my kitchen, I always felt like they were sitting beside me.”

The paintings can also be seen on Leason’s website, www.jenniferleason.com.

“I’d be painting and I’d hear my mom, and she’d say ‘oh I love this colour.’” Leason said. “I’d pick up this bright turquoise blue, and it reminds me of her, and I’d hear my kokum [grandmother], say ‘I love this colour,’ and it was this deep navy blue, and it reminded me of mother earth and land.”

More information on upcoming exhibitions, and programming at the Island Mountain Arts Gallery can be found at www.support-imarts.com.

WATCH: Names of children who died in residential schools released in sombre ceremony

READ MORE: B.C. First Nation calling for Williams Lake councillor to resign over residential school remarks

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: cassidy.dankochik@quesnelobserver.com


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