Bear Root: Astum Api Niikinaahk

2022, Synonym Art Consultation

About the Mural:

I was honoured to be asked by Synonym Art Consultation and Diana Warren to create a mural for the Astum Api Niikinaahk tiny house project on the Circle of Life Thunderbird House site in Winnipeg. I used to work at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg with the Beaverlodge day program with Oshki-Giizhig and also held numerous events there for Red Rising, and for the reconciliation circles I led with Building Bridges Breaking Barriers. So I hold that space very closely to my heart.

One thing I recognized during my time there is that the land is ready for renewal. Usually a lodge only stands for so long before it needs to be moved so the earth under it can regenerate. That land has not only been the site of the Thunderbird House, but also one of Winnipeg’s oldest hotels before it was demolished. Like many of downtown’s hotels there was a lot of struggle and suffering that happened there, and I think a little of that will always be there. With the sweatlodge burning down the other year it was clear the Thunderbird House was naturally going through a regeneration process so the land could be new again. The Thunderbird itself today looks very similar to an old sweatlodge that’s allowed to give itself back to the earth. Obviously the space will eventually be renovated and not left to degrade, but I think the building of Astum Api Niikinaahk represents the symbolic renewing of that land and the potential it has for healing the community.

Bear Root represents the medicine underneath the soil. We learned that the bear gave us our first medicine teachings by us watching it dig for roots under the soil. Bear root is named in honour of this teaching. We were actually growing bear root on the very site where the new building is built, so I thought it was fitting to include the medicine in the mural. In the image, a bear is digging under the soil so it can remind us of the medicine that the land holds underneath.┬áThe two bear dancers are community members who have connected with those medicines and are able to share them with community, they are protectors. Also included the two major moon phases to represent the bear moon: a time when we do our fall fasting to connect with our animal and spirit helpers. It’s also recognizing the phases of growth and regeneration.

About the project:

Daina Warren, Lead Curator: “Astum Api Niikinaahk is an Indigenous-led community housing project constructed on the grounds of the Circle of Life Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Treaty 1 Territory. The intent of this entire project is to address and end homelessness. The Astum Api Niikinaahk project is also my curatorial work in which we invited five notable, local Indigenous artists, Arlea Ashcroft, Justin Bear, Roger Crait, Louis Vasquez, and Linus Woods to contribute to a public art series at this new housing site.”

“Our knowledge keepers, elders, and cultural workers were all incredibly helpful in defining the scope of the curatorial vision. Committee sessions raised ideas and concepts related to the histories of this location, specifically those of the beings that lived in this locale before the urban landscape grew up around it. I was guided to look at artworks focused on the winged beings, the no legged, bear as a protector, as well as the tipi as it conceptually stands for the feminine and caring of community. I want to thank the partners on the project, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, End Homelessness, and Synonym Art Consultation for inviting me to be part of this incredible project. I am grateful to have worked with the committee to consider how art can positively contribute to the diverse community of the Thunderbird House location and this unique housing initiative.”

Source: Wall to Wall, 2022