Indigenous artists reinvent new statue in Manitoba legislature to replace Queen Victoria

When Métis artist Kenneth Lavallee learned that the statue of Queen Victoria had been overturned on Manitoba legislative grounds, he looked at his desk. It had a shell and sweet grass on it – a gift from her mother.

“The iridescent shell kind of caught my eye. And I was like, ‘This is beautiful. “”

Lavallee got to work, designing a statue inspired by the act of smudging.

“You are burning sweetgrass to cleanse your mind and spirit, the environment and space. I thought this place would need a good cleaning, he said, standing in front of the pedestal where the statue of Queen Victoria was located.

“I’ve been talking about the queen for a long time – this particular sculpture, how out of place it looked here. First row, center. Why does she get the best seat? She’s never been here. She doesn’t really represent what. be it from Manitoba or its people.

Kenneth Lavallee is holding a shell and sweetgrass given to him by his mother. He says looking at the hull inspired his design. (Jaison Empson / CBC)

Lavallee’s design received major support online. (Submitted by Kenneth Lavallee)

The statue, which stood on the lawn of the Manitoba Legislature facing Broadway, was shot down on Canada Day by a small group of participants in the Every Child Matters Walk – held in honor of the children forced to attend residential schools.

Red handprints were painted on the statue and its base, and its head was cut off and thrown into the river, where it was later recovered.

A smaller statue of Queen Elizabeth on the grounds of the Provincial Legislature has also been toppled. Both statues have since been moved.

Now Lavallee and other Indigenous artists are reimagining what might be in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Métis artist Val Vint said an idea came to her in a dream, as she tried to overcome the pain of hearing about the hundreds of anonymous graves found at the sites of former residential schools in Canada.

“Usually I put on tobacco and pray at times like this because you need something to get you through. And all of my best things come in my dreams,” Vint said.

“I woke up in the morning and got to see what I wanted there. I can’t really say everything about it, but I have a piece in mind developed for this legislative site that would represent all of our peoples. . “

Artist Val Vint, who created this bison statue at The Forks in Winnipeg, says she wants a drawing in front of the Legislature that represents all Indigenous Manitobans. (Jaison Empson / CBC)

Came, whose statue Education is the new bison was unveiled at The Forks in Winnipeg in May 2020, says she wants something in front of the legislature that sends a positive message.

The decision of what to do with the damaged statue of Queen Victoria and what to put in its place should be made by Indigenous Manitobans, according to Omeasoo Wahpasw, who studies how public spaces often tell one side of the story. Canadian.

“It’s up to the people of the land to decide what they think is correct,” said Wahpasw, who is Cree and originally from Saskatchewan.

Children in orange shirts climb to the top of a downed statue of Queen Victoria on Canada Day. A small group removed the monument from its pedestal, covering it in red paint. (Marina von Stackelberg / CBC)

Wahpasw, an assistant professor who teaches arts education and Indigenous history at the University of Prince Edward Island, says what remains of the statue is now also art. Keeping him exposed wouldn’t have erased the story, but would have allowed him to tell a story that had never been heard before, she said.

“It’s meant to be a dramatic representation of the pain and suffering our people have endured. And Queen Victoria, as well as the current Queen, are truly symbols of this system that has chosen to do this to our loved ones.” , she said. .

“They might have been sitting in their palaces eating crumpets, but the things they stood for, the people they kept on their payroll, and the policies they ran… created violence.”

The province has not said what it plans to do with the damaged statue of Queen Victoria or what could be used in its place. When asked on Monday, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen said it was too early to make decisions on what should go there.

Acting Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen posted a Facebook comment Monday saying the statue of Queen Victoria would be restored. His spokesperson did not want to confirm whether this was indeed the case.

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