Stories from the Îethka, a series of three oil paintings and a pencil drawing by artist Îyârhe Nakoda Gordon Wesley, is the fall installment in a series of rotating art exhibitions lasting a year from the City of Calgary showcasing the work of Indigenous Treaty 7 artists and their connection to the land.
STONEY NAKODA — A golden eagle soars high in the Rocky Mountains against sunny skies in one of four artworks by artist Gordon Wesley on display for the Land is Home project at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary.
Stories from the Îethka, a series of three oil paintings and a pen-and-ink drawing by Îyârhe (Stoney) First Nation artist Nakoda, is the fall installment in a series of year-long rotating art exhibits from the City of Calgary, showcasing the work of Indigenous Treaty 7 artists and their connection to the land.
For Wesley, who hails from and still resides in the remote Big Horn reserve of Îyârhe Nakoda about 160 kilometers north of Mînî Thnî, it was not difficult to be inspired by the project having eagles, grizzly bears and , at one time, bison, as next- door neighbors.
“Most of my artistic vision is based on our homeland, where we live along the mountains,” Wesley said. “Growing up, I fell in love with the landscape and the wildlife.”
Appreciation of the beauty of the natural world is born of tradition. From an early age, he followed his father, Dion Wesley, into the wilderness, learning to trap and hunt, like his father before him.
“My dad was a guide for an outfitter and my brother was too, so I did a lot of hunting trips,” Wesley said. “Trapping and hunting was an integral part of my life and it exposed me to this new way of seeing the world.
Wesley’s paintings depict more than beautiful landscapes, each frame highlights culturally significant wildlife or subtle references to his ancestors.
One of the paintings, a 36-inch by 48-inch piece titled “On Sacred Ground,” depicts a herd of bison grazing in a meadow of grasses and wildflowers in the foreground, with a traditional Sundance pavilion behind them and the sun setting against the mountains in the background.
The Sun Dance is a sacred ceremony practiced by many First Nations in the prairie provinces; its purpose to reaffirm spiritual beliefs about the universe. It was banned by the Indian Act, but generally ignored, then removed from the Act in 1951.
Part of maintaining this tradition is through artistic expression, according to Wesley, who comes from a long line of artists and creatives.
The same man who taught him to trap and hunt also taught him to paint. As well as being a skilled hunter, the late Dion Wesley was a celebrated painter whose work was featured throughout Alberta, with some of his later works exhibited at the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino.
Wesley’s uncle, Îyârhe Nakoda elder Roland Rollinmud, is an acclaimed artist whose list of accomplishments includes a federally commissioned painting at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, features at the Lifeways Gallery in Canmore and at the Citizenship Pavilion atop the Banff Gondola, as well as a published picture book titled My life’s work – 2018. One of his works, titled “The Sundance”, depicts a scene similar to that of “On Sacred Ground”.
Wesley said he hopes his exhibit at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary — a few miles southeast of downtown Calgary — can serve to inspire a rising young generation of Indigenous artists.
“I hope others who are just starting out can see themselves in this art,” he said.
The work of another Îyârhe Nakoda artist, Kelsey Twoyoungmen, was featured in the shrine’s summer exhibition titled Divine Feminine. One of Twoyoungmen’s digital artworks depicts a Sailor Moonresembling a figure transforming into a jingle dress dancer as their superpower. A melody reminiscent of the anime’s theme song plays in the background and switches to Electric powwow drumming by The Halluci Nation as the dancer takes shape.
Her work has been featured alongside Blackfoot artists Zoe Buckskin and Hali Heavy Shield from the Kainai First Nation.
Jessica McMann, Indigenous curator at the City of Calgary, said only 3% of the city’s public art collection is made up of Indigenous artwork.
Of these, neither the Tsuut’ina First Nations nor the Îyârhe Nakoda of Treaty 7 are represented.
“We have Blackfoot pieces, we have Inuit art, and we have pieces by Métis and Cree artists,” McMann said. “But we don’t have any works of art in the collection of artists from these two communities.”
In the spirit of reconciliation and equal representation, the City recently issued a call to Indigenous female and Two-Spirit artists Îyârhe Nakoda to apply for an opportunity that would see their textile art hanging on the walls of council chambers for years to come. .
Similar calls for submissions will be issued in the future for artists from the Blackfoot Confederacy, Tsuut’ina Nation and Métis Nation of Alberta to showcase textile arts such as beading, weaving , felting or spiciness. The winning artists will each receive up to $20,000 to help cover their time and the cost of materials.
Wesley’s work will be on display at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary until January 15, when the Land is Home project’s final exhibition, A Time for Stories, will take its place. The winter exhibit will include a sound installation by Sonny-Ray Day Rider, Kainai First Nation, a foam bag installation by Amy Hill, Siksika First Nation, and a painting by Shirley Hill, also Siksika First Nation.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers the Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and the Kananaskis Country.