Artists in God’s Lake First Nation are honouring past and present matriarchs of their community with a mural project funded by a grant from the Manitoba Arts Council.
Taking inspiration from the beadwork styles of four women in the Cree community about 550 kilometres north of Winnipeg, artists Natasha James and Heather Mason decorated a boat once used to transport supplies and community members which now sits near the entrance to the community. A second mural is being added to a bridge nearby.
“Here the elders are respected members of the community, and we’d figured it’d be best to honour them this way,” said James, who paints and sketches.
“Two of the women aren’t here anymore, but their designs are. I’m happy that their family could go and look at it and just remember. It’s going to be a nice reminder.”
Mason, the vice-principal at God’s Lake Narrows School, has lived in the community for over a decade. Collaborating with James, her former student, Mason applied for funding through the arts council to help inspire the community’s budding artists.
“We were thinking we could help promote Indigenous culture, identity,” said Mason, who is non-Indigenous.
“Beadwork is a beautiful form of artwork that is practised here, and it seems like a great way to showcase the skills knowledge . . . in a very visual, positive way. Those skills are passed down usually from the grandmothers and the matriarchs.”
The duo requested beadwork submissions from the community, and selected work from community members Adelaide Andrews, Beverly James and the late Jane Tubb.
They also received a piece from Elder Georgina Wood, who was Natasha James’s school guidance counsellor, and who died in 2016.
James said she and Wood spoke often and when she was dealing with difficult losses in her family.
“I didn’t know she was a beader, but once I saw that we had [Wood’s] designs, I was excited to do it. We had a lot of talks and she’d been there for me a lot,” said James.
“I feel honoured that they’re honouring my mother in that way,” said Georgina Wood’s son, Bernard Wood.
He said his mother was a tough-love kind of matriarch who “called a spade a spade,” said Wood. Her social skills and commitment to the children of the community as a guidance counsellor earned her respect, he said.
“She wasn’t just there for a paycheque, you know. She went above and beyond.”
Wood said he was proud to show his grandchildren that his mother’s work had inspired the artwork on the boat.