by Annette Sullivan : Didan pichi Masskowishiiw enn fleur
“The Métis Visualization Project” is a new project bringing into focus the ancestors of the Métis of North America, highlighting the communities of the Great Lakes. I am an Aboriginal artist working independently with descendants of Métis voyageur families in order to assemble a public collection of hand-painted portraiture depicting founding families. I have been asked to bring these stories to light and so I began this project drawing ancestors connected to the Muskrat Métis community, also known as “Muskrat French” or “Mushrats.” I am interested in our Métis ancestors and family groupings connected to both sides of the Medicine Line, the International border between Canada and USA, an identification factor that reveals the diversity and resilience of the Métis. Through the aid of ancestors, glimpses into their daily lives are depicted in portraiture.
In the formation of this project, I shall consider painting Métis who resided across this land from coast to coast to coast, from East- Westward, as well those associated with Red River. Historically, Métis were highly migratory folk, beginning their life in one part of Turtle Island, participating in the Voyageur (fur trade) network, which linked individuals to many different communities. Communities were connected by waterways. Trade happened at Rendezvous, in aboriginal villages and at the forts. Quite often Voyageurs settled down with completely new families, choosing European wives for secondary unions, having left behind Aboriginal wives and Métis children. The kinship that arose out of these complicated families was (and still is) a big part of our community structure.
The goal of the Métis Visualization project is to bring our communities together by emphasizing the interconnected network of the voyageur, which resulted in kinship and culture. These ancestors’ lives mattered and resulted in the development of a unique Aboriginal culture, separate from First Nations and Inuit, a new people: The Métis.
An example of the outcome of this work is my painting “Sampler: Sauvagesse. Story of Marie Olivier Sylvestre Manitouabeouich.” The image pays tribute to the Ursuline Nuns (specifically Saint Marie de L’Incarnation) and her relationship to Algonquin Aboriginal ancestor / Métis matriarch, M. Olivier Sylvestre Manitouabeouich. The painting’s title is a play on words, highlighting the Parisian style embroidery skills the nuns taught aboriginal females while also speaking to the experience of the earliest residential schools in which the Church was implicated.
The image displays ancestor Marie’s aboriginal heritage and her connection to her birthright culture, a departure from the way she is frequently depicted by other artists: as a little ‘French’ girl. It is my opinion that ancestor Marie Manitouabeouich was treated to the best of Saint Marie’s ability, but Sister de L’Incarnation would certainly have been limited as to what she knew about Aboriginal education and culture. The time period was the mid 1600’s. This was the Catholics’ first attempt at converting little Indian children, a point that must be stressed and which I explore in my art.
I am seeking applicants and community assistance in the form of funding for the project. Applicants are asked to contribute ancestral photographs (of folks who passed away 100 years or more ago or wedding pictures at least 75 years old.) In order to assist and fund the project’s portraiture and research, all applicants will be asked to contribute by way of a pay-what-you-can sliding scale (from $75-150).
In addition to photographs, I seek family stories from applicants before I undertake the painting of portraits. Applicants’ stories are part of the independent research portion of this project and are necessary to portray ancestors in ways that reflect their legacy and memory that was passed down through the generations.
About the artist
Annette Sullivan is a member of the Muskrat Métis community. She trained in fine art, majoring in painting and textile design at the prestigious Beal Art Program, London, ON, Canada, and graduated in 1980. She studied commercial art at Mohawk College, and sign-making and graphic design at Fanshawe College. Her indigeneity is expressed in her bold, colourful painting, beading and hand-embroidery. Since 2011, she has followed a call of the ancestors and depicted the path of the voyageur. She is excited to announce her latest work, a collection of portraits honouring ancestors from founding families of the Métis People of North America, in a body of work titled, the Métis Visualization Project.
Artist’s Blog: http://maaskowishiiwfleur.tumblr.com/