Indigenous artists unite to create Edmonton, Ottawa murals focused on water protection
Isaac Murdoch and Christi Belcourt leading creation of murals to raise awareness about water issues
By Brandi Morin, CBC News, September 9, 2017
Two well-known Indigenous artists and environmentalists have partnered to create murals in Edmonton and Ottawa that they hope will raise awareness about the protection of precious water resources.
Isaac Murdoch, from Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, travelled to Edmonton last week to visit family and said he was suddenly inspired to paint a mural to raise awareness about protecting water from the threat of things like industrial development and pipelines.
“Water all over the planet is being polluted catastrophically,” said Murdoch. “This is scary stuff. We need to change.”
He said he is mostly motivated by a desire to help leave a better world for future generations.
“I have a four-year-old at home and when I think about her future and the next 40 years, it’s like, ‘What can we do to help so that our ecosystems are not taking such a beating by resource extraction, by the fossil-fuel economy and the nature of mankind?” said Murdoch.
Murdoch said after he put out a call via Facebook earlier this week for volunteers to help paint the murals, enthusiasm grew quickly. He called up his friend, Ottawa Métis artist Christi Belcourt, to share his idea. Belcourt suggested they simultaneously paint murals over the weekend.
The two invited anyone to contribute to the murals and welcomed donations of art supplies or artistry skills.
“Coming together as a community to do art [is good]. I think art inspires people,” said Belcourt.
‘Water is everything’
“Water is as old as life itself on the planet,” she said.
“We ourselves are mostly water, we’re living on a giant ball of water in outer space. It’s the most amazing life we have. Water is everything. It’s in the trees, it’s in our wombs, it’s in our babies and it’s in the birds.”
The waterways of Turtle Island (an Indigenous term often used to describe North America) have been used by Indigenous nations since time immemorial, said Belcourt. Threats to water resources over the last century have been rising at an alarming rate, she said, and governments need to prioritize protecting water.
“What’s happening in Ottawa with the approvals of the tarsands expansions — there hasn’t been a pipeline yet that Mr. Trudeau has not approved,” she said.
“Those decisions that he and his government are making have very detrimental impacts on the people in Alberta on the land, on the animals and on the waters. And they impact people across this country.”
But both Belcourt and Murdoch believe people from all walks of life need to take action and not wait on governments to decide the fate of the environment.
The simple act of painting a mural has the potential to spark conversations amongst community members and is a good avenue to help get the message out, said Murdoch.
“This mural is an opportunity for us to have these discussions and to leave something amazing so that people can see the beauty of something different. It’s a community statement … but it’s through art and symbolism that we’re doing it,” he said.
On Friday, work began on the mural in Edmonton, on the east-facing side of the iHuman Youth Society building near the downtown core.
Keith Callihoo, iHuman’s authenticity director, said that local youth are excited to contribute to the mural.
“The youth tell the story. The youth are loving it. Everyone comes together and a lot of laughter and stories are shared,” said Callihoo.
Murdoch is aiming for the Edmonton mural to be completed on Sunday while Belcourt, along with volunteers, started painting Saturday morning in hopes of completing the Ottawa mural by nightfall.
“I encourage everybody to go out there and do something for the environment. Unite. Try to find the strength and unite for a better world,” said Murdoch.