A unique endeavour to transform an undeveloped area of land within Edmonton into an Indigenous art park is the first of its kind in Canada.
Slated to open in the fall of 2018, the Indigenous art park named ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞, pronounced (EE-NU) River Lot 11, is a partnership between the City of Edmonton, Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations, Métis Nation of Alberta, Edmonton Arts Council, and six Indigenous artists whose works will be permanently exhibited there.
Located within Queen Elizabeth Park in Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley, the park will display six unique pieces of art created by Canadian Indigenous artists. Carrying the theme “the stories of This Place,” each piece will showcase different ways Indigenous people connect to the land. For the city, the park is an “opportunity to restore, reimagine, and reclaim a part of Edmonton’s history that is often under-recognized.”
While the original owner of the park’s lot was Métis landowner Joseph McDonald, the park is actually located on ancestral lands of the Indigenous peoples whose descendants entered into treaty with the British Crown, resulting in the territory opening for settlement. And the banks of the river where it’s situated were used by First Nations for travel, trade, ceremony, and sustenance for thousands of years.
“The profound legacy left by our Kôhkominawak (our grandmothers) and Kimosôminawak (our grandfathers) is one of the sacred areas used to cross Kisiskâcêwansîpî (Saskatchewan River), where many ceremonies and rituals took place before crossing this majestic sanctuary,” steering committee member Elder Jerry Saddleback told media.
“Our original peoples of this area held sacred knowledge that gave them a close spiritual relationship with our Mother Earth deity. She is called the sacred river, as with all water of the Earth, Her own breast milk, nurturing all of humanity.”
ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) is a Cree word meaning “I am of the Earth.”
“Indigenous Peoples, since time immemorial, have had a close relationship to the river valley,” said City of Edmonton Indigenous relations director Mike Chow. He says this is why ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ is the convergence of many narratives, and brings together the love of natural park spaces and public art with an opportunity to celebrate and amplify Indigenous cultures.
The chief of the Papaschase band whose traditional territory was once located in south Edmonton before it was pushed out via way of multiple annexations, says the park is a good way for locals to learn about Indigenous history.
“I’ve been saying for years that we need more Aboriginal art in this town,” said Papaschase Chief Calvin Bruneau. “It helps to beautify the local area. And in the process of collaboration, metro Edmonton can learn to work with Indigenous people better to create understanding and acceptance.”
Photos by Ryan Parker. From top to bottom: Untitled by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge; Mikikwan by Duane Linklater; Turtle by Jerry Whitehead; Iskotew by Amy Malbeuf; Preparing to Cross the Sacred River by Marianne Nicholson; and Reign by MaryAnne Barkhouse.