The artist channeled the energy of the grandmothers to complete the sculpture of the sturgeon

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Artist Kathryn Corbiere says the energy of her two grandmothers – who both attended residential schools – helped her overcome the challenges to complete the 15ft Grandma’s Sturgeon Carving for the Gitche Name Wikwedong Reconciliation Garden.

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“To be honest, it was quite a moving project,” said First Nation designer and manufacturer of metals M’Chigeeng during an interview in the garden at the south end of Kelso Beach Park.

“This is a truth and reconciliation article and my grandmothers are both residential school survivors. And she’s a sturgeon grandmother, channeling their strong energy into creating this room that wasn’t easy to build.

Her grandmothers both attended the Spanish Indian Residential School in northern Ontario – one between 1942 and 1944 and the other from 1944 to 1955.

Corbiere said she completed the sculpture in honor of her grandmothers and all those who were separated from their families to attend residential schools, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found it was a cultural genocide.

As a finishing touch to the piece, Corbiere added in stainless steel the numbers that his grandmothers were assigned to the schools under the sturgeon fins.

Nookomis Gitche Name’Kwe’s sculpture – Grandmother Sturgeon – was installed on two poles on Friday in a symbolic rocky creek bed that leans toward Georgian Bay.

Corbiere transported the approximately 600-pound piece of steel and stone on a trailer, towed behind his pickup truck, from his One Kwe store on Manitoulin Island to Kelso Beach Park on Thursday. The trip included a free trip, offered by Owen Sound Transportation Company, aboard the MS Chi-Cheemaun.

On Saturday, the Gitche Name Wikwedong Reconciliation Garden committee hosted an event to officially unveil the new public artwork.

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It featured a welcoming ceremony with a holy fire, prayers, and M’Wikwedong singers and drummers. Corbiere also spoke about sculpture and its process of creation.

Committee member Colleen Purdon said the sturgeon sculpture fits perfectly into the garden, a space for contemplation in the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation that aims to recognize, educate and celebrate the local indigenous history and culture.

Committee chair Susan Staves said the sight of the installed sculpture made her cry.

“It exceeded my expectations. It’s so beautiful, ”she said.

In addition to the sculpture, the garden features stone seating walls, a bridge over a dry stream, grandma and grandfather stones, native plantations, and footpaths.

Staves said the committee plans to set up living benches near the ancestral stones, which overlook the garden and bay, but that they must raise funds to cover that cost.

They also plan to install interpretive signs in the garden, with funding from The United Church of Canada.

The garden committee announced in February that Corbiere had been chosen to design and create the sculpture of the sturgeon, whose “sacred and iconic presence”, they say, is intended to “serve as a physical, spiritual and cultural link with the traditional lands and waters of the Anishinaabeg. . “

Corbiere visited the garden in June to view the site and take steps for the sculpture.

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The piece features the scales, fins and barbels of a sturgeon, as well as things Corbiere said were not so literal.

For example, the belly of the gabion-style cage, designed to hold rocks symbolizing sturgeon eggs, is decorated with stainless steel Ojiway floral designs, which Corbiere says adds a certain femininity to the room.

“I wanted it to have all the characteristics of a sturgeon – so they have the bony structures sticking out on top and out the sides – but you also have to meet the safety requirements since it’s a public room, which can be difficult with steel because it’s a sharp material, ”she said.

The aim was to “create something that was visually striking but also delicate, that’s where the flowers come in.”

It took about a month to complete the piece, she said.

Corbiere said the project also had special meaning for her because her great-grandfather fished for sturgeon and because of the spiritual significance of sturgeons in the Anishinaabeg culture.

According to creation accounts, Nookomis Gitche Name’Kwe gave birth to the seven Anishinaabeg clans. Known for her longevity and wisdom, she knows where Great Lakes fish feed and reproduce, and where to find sacred remedies.

Information on donations to the current garden project can be found at unitedwayofbrucegrey.com and by clicking on the project name in the programs drop-down menu.

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