Canada’s 150th represented a unique opportunity to revisit and reconsider our historical narratives and to respond to The Truth and Reconciliation Commission call for all sectors and all members of Canada’s community to engage in the process of reconciliation; in particular, this project took its lead from Justice Sinclair’s acknowledgment of the role of art and artists in helping us imagine new relations. We need complete acts of imagination and creative people to help us imagine and navigate to a whole new way of being. As a land-based organization, 4elements facilitated a year of conversations about the links between land, environment, and reconciliation, and explored the role of the arts and art-making in this conversation.
The largest and most complex of 4e’s activities, the Billings Connections Trail project and its partnerships took several years to develop. The four partners included: 4elements, The Township of Billings, The Kagawong Recreation Committee, and the Old Mill Heritage Centre (Kagawong). A stewardship committee of community members and partner representatives worked on all aspects of the project, and a community jury selected the commissions. Designed as a legacy project for both the Township and 4elements, the project culminated in the Fall of 2017 during 4e’s 15th anniversary.
The national public call for commissions invited artists to propose designs for permanent public sculpture that responds to the site, and that questions the relationships between colonization and the land, and the links between colonization, environmental issues, Truth and Reconciliation. The six commissioned works were selected by a community jury, with a seventh work designed through a community engaged process, led by Cree designer Jake Chakasim and 4elements. These seven works, together with the three carved granite boulders in the Replenishment installation by Michael Belmore, along with the historical plaques, form a cycling, walking and touring trail along the Kagawong River, through the village and throughout the Township.
Over many months, 4e and their community partners worked to develop and install 32 historical interpretive plaques and six new permanent public sculptures around The Township of Billings to create the new Billings Connections Trail: Nature. Art. Heritage. The trail attempts to integrate the local heritage and history of Anishinaabeg and non-Indigenous residents and represents the Township’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commision (2015) ‘Calls to Action’ for public education that integrates indigenous history into municipal programs.
A key element of the project involved a range of community engagements to build awareness of, and acknowledge the truth of the impact of colonization, as a critical precursor to reconciliation. Included in the public engagement were: screenings of films and discussion through our Movies that Matter series including selections from Wild Canada (BBC/CBC/David Suzuki) documenting indigenous people’s management of the land before colonization, selections from 8th Fire series (CBC), the NFB film Reel Injun, Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch), a screening of Shirley Cheechoo’s film Moose River Crossing and a conversation about residential schools; a Manitoulin Treaty history talk by Alan Corbiere; the community sculpture design process; a pipe ceremony and conversation about the process of acknowledging the truth, led by elder Josh Eshkawkogan; workshops and talks during the Elemental Festival exploring the issues and the role of the arts in re-imagining our relations.
We hope that conversations about/with/in response to the plaques and the sculptures continue, and that community members engage in continual re-interpretation, so that the works act as an entry point into a complex, nuanced, and multi-layered discussion.
CANADA 150 COMMITTEE: Barb Erskine, Kathy McDonald, Todd Gordon, Sharon Alkenbrack, Sabine Huege, Dianne Fraser, Charlene Chambers, Vanessa Glasby, Patricia Mader, Sophie Edwards
COMMUNITY SCULPTURE COMMISSION JURY: Sandi Hurcomb, Louis Couillard, Susan Snelling, Barb Erskine, Kathy McDonald, Charlene Chambers, Anong Beam, Patricia Mader, Sophie Anne Edwards
PUBLIC ART COMMISSIONS: Ted Fullerton, Robert Cram, Matt McNaught (KWEST), Kathryn Corbiere, Quinn Smallboy, Hooman Mehdizadehjafari, Jake Chakasim, Michael Belmore
COMMUNITY DESIGNED SCULPTURE: Lead designer: Jake Chakasim. Fabrication by Jake Chakasim, Rosetta Toulouse, community members.
Advisory Team: Josh Eshkawkogan, Sunny Osawabine, Mira Jones, Anong Beam
Community facilitators: sophie anne edwards and Sarah King-Gold
THE BACKBONE: Leadership and project development, Sophie Edwards, 4e Executive Director. Co-ordination: Patricia Mader (lead), Sophie Edwards, Vanessa Glasby, Lorie Graham
FUNDERS: Canada 150, Ontario 150