Steve Lawton says he’s wanted to carve a stone representation of a photo taken during a 2013 anti-shale gas fracking protest near Rexton, N.B., since he first saw it.
Lawton, a member of Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland now living on Vancouver Island, was serving with the Canadian Air Force in Germany when the Mi’kmaw protests made national and international news in October 2013.
“It was a powerful feeling to see such a thing happening back in Canada while I was working, dealing with things of a military nature,” Lawton said.
“It was a hard feeling to see this happening back home and wishing I was there.”
Alongside non-Indigenous residents of New Brunswick, members of Mi’kmaw communities blocked roads, set up camps and staged rallies in protest of proposals to develop a shale gas industry in New Brunswick and the use of hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking.
The photograph, taken by Inuk journalist Ossie Michelin for APTN News, captured a moment when a line of RCMP officers attempted to force the protesters from the road.
WATCH Mi’kmaw stone carver Steve Lawton on why he’s inspired by this iconic image:
Amanda Polchies, a Mi’kmaw woman from Elispogtog First Nation, is seen kneeling before the officers in prayer, holding up an eagle feather.
“This type of moment in our history really speaks to the major Indigenous issues we have across Canada. It really stuck with me for all these years,” said Lawton.
“When I knew that carving was something I was really being driven to do by my spirit, it was an image I’d always wanted to try to carve.”
A wisp of hope
Lawton said he’s been carving smaller items from stone since 2009, teaching himself, without the use of power tools. Before starting on this carving, he reached out to Polchies to ensure he had her consent. At first she was resistant to the idea.
“Then he told me it was called Wisp of Hope,” said Polchies.
“So to me, his vibe was good.”
Polchies said she’s still surprised by how many people have seen the photo and felt moved to contact her about it. She said she tries to allow people to connect with the image in whatever way feels right, and said she’s grateful that it’s drawn attention to issues important to her community.
When the photo started to get shared widely, Polchies said she learned quickly how those moments can have impact.
“I did it because at the time that’s what I needed to do,” she said. “It’s what I think people needed to see.”
Lawton said he’d heard a media interview Polchies had done about the moment and a reporter had asked her how she’d felt facing the line of officers.
“Her words were that she’d felt a wisp of hope. It was a small moment in a very confrontational, dangerous explosive situation,” he said.
Wisp of Hope is the largest project he’s taken on, Lawton said. Isolation requirements related to the coronavirus pandemic have allowed him to begin and make progress, but he said it may take many months to complete.
He said he hopes it ends up in a cultural centre or museum where many can see it.