Canada’s first Indigenous Art Park has opened on sacred Indigenous lands in Edmonton, hosting six installations made by Indigenous Canadian artists. ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞, curated by Candice Hopkins, opened this September after six years of planning by the City of Edmonton, Confederacy of Treaty No. 6 First Nations, Métis Nation of Alberta, Edmonton Arts Council, and Indigenous artists.
Though Edmonton has the second largest Indigenous population in Canada, curator Candice Hopkins told Hyperallergic, “There is no representation for Indigenous people aside from the people themselves.” She explained, “There is nothing woven into the fabric of the city. There’s a huge rupture in culture.”
The park’s name, ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) (pronounced EE-NU), is a Cree word meaning “I am of the Earth.”
Hopkins herself is a citizen of the Carcross Tagish First Nation (Gaanax.âdi clan) and a respected scholar, curator, and artist. She says she spent much of her early career in Canada organizing residencies of Indigenous artists and exploring the impact Indigenous knowledge has on disciplines like architectural theory. She has curated for the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, National Gallery of Canada, Walter Philips Gallery, and the Western Front.
“Curating public sculpture is very different than curating an exhibition in a museum,” Hopkins explained. Throughout years of preparation, working closely with the city and Edmonton Arts Council, the organizers consulted members of the Indigenous community, Canadian artists, experts in public art, and engineers to execute the sculpture garden.
She said the process brought the realization that, “A lot of language [regarding public art commissions] wasn’t inclusive. A lot of people from the outside would have thought they weren’t qualified.” With this information, the organizers attended powwows and visited local communities to share ways that Indigenous modes of production, like jewelry making, could be translated into public art for a project like this.
Ultimately, Hopkins’ exhibition included sculptures by six Canadian Indigenous artists: Amy Malbeuf, Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, Duane Linklater, Jerry Whitehead, Mary Anne Barkhouse, and Marianne Nicolson.
“There was a real emphasis on place,” Hopkins said, “The spot along the river has been a place for gathering for thousands of years.” She says throughout the curatorial process, they consulted Indigenous knowledge keepers about the site’s history.
The Indigenous Art Park sits within Queen Elizabeth Park in Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley on a historic river lot originally home to Métis landowner Joseph McDonald. It sits on the ancestral lands of the Indigenous people who entered into a treaty with the British Crown, which resulted in the territory opening for colonial settlement.
“Canada is a nation that’s coming to terms with history,” Hopkins asserts. The park is a step in that direction.
Each of the artists provided insight on their work in a video series created by Edmonton Métis filmmaker Conor McNally, with music by Matthew Cardinal. Watch them here: