Thursday, May 29, 2008

Canadian History Through the Art of Norval Morrisseau (Part I)

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- Canadian Residential School System
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"Generations of Pain from Residential Schools",
© 1974 Norval Morrisseau /Click on image to Enlarge/
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"One of the most acrimonious issues to result from the Treaty process is the dark legacy of the residential school system. The purpose of the residential schools in Canada was to educate and civilize or westernize the First Nation peoples in order that they adopt a more western - that is European - lifestyle. Separating the children from their parents and forcing religion on them, it was believed, was the only means by which to achieve this 'civilizing' of the First Nations peoples." 1)
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This painting shows an Indian child being taken away to a residential school. Stained glass background inspired by the Catholic Church and evil serpents representing influences of life on Indian children in residential schools. The ancestors are holding a sacred medicine bag that is emanating powers for the child's spiritual protection. The children in the bottom left are sitting in the classroom of a residential school thinking of positive memories that their upbringing within the Indian community gave to them. There is a missing connection with Mother Earth represented with the Sacred Medicine Bear while the yellow colour in the middle represents the Creator's presence and protection.
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* Norval Morrisseau himself spent four years in the St. Joseph's Roman Catholic residential boarding school in Forth William (now Thunder Bay) from 1938 to 1941.
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Spirit Walker
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Note: There is no any specific way to describe the Art of Norval Morrisseau. The description included herein is just one way of experiencing his art. His art can be experienced in so many different ways depending of the subject matter and the knowledge and spiritual inspiration of the viewer.
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Historical facts:
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"The Canadian residential school system consisted of a number of schools for Aboriginal children, operated during the 19th and 20th century by churches of various denominations (about sixty per cent by Roman Catholics, and thirty per cent by the United Church of Canada (and its pre-1925 predecessors, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Methodist churches) and the Anglican Church of Canada) and funded under the Indian Act by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a branch of the federal government. The foundations of the system were the pre-confederation Gradual Civilization Act (1857) and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act (1869). These acts assumed the inherent superiority of British ways, and the need for Indians to become English-speakers, Christians and farmers. At the time, aboriginal leaders wanted these acts to be over-turned.
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Details of mistreatment of students had been published numerous times through the century, but following the closure of the schools in the 1990s, the work of indigenous activists and historians led to the change in the public perception of the residential school system, official government apologies and a (controversial) legal settlement.
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Two major types of problems have been associated with the residential school system. First, there was a clear intent to assimilate Indian people (First Nations) into the non-native culture. Second, there was widespread physical and sexual abuse, and, owing to overcrowding, poor sanitation and a lack of medical care and the resulting high rates of tuberculosis, death rates up to 69 percent."
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Sources:
2) "Canadian residential school system" from Wikipedia
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* The painting in this posting: "Generations of Pain from Residential Schools", 48"x96", © 1974 Norval Morrisseau /Private Collection/

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