Our commissioned work for the University of Alberta ETS station is titled ‘The River’. The work is a tribute to many of the animals - four legged, winged or scaled - that are native to Edmonton’s beloved river valley, specifically near the University of Alberta. The artists would like to acknowledge that the work was created in Treaty 6 territory, near a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples, including the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/ Saulteaux/ Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others.
Starting from the top of a seven landing stairwell, the river surrounds viewers and flows with them as they travel towards their destinations. Featured at each landing is an animal that called this place home before Edmonton was founded.
“Water connects all life.”
Water connects all life. ‘The River’ emphasizes the importance of the North Saskatchewan to this land: depictions of water can be found within or around each featured animal. The spark for this idea came from one of our first community consultations - one strong takeaway was the idea of art centering on the stories of the land and the animals. This work was further informed by conversations and a river valley tour with local traditional knowledge keeper and UofA professor Dwayne Donald. His deep knowledge of the history of the area moved us to honour the river and animals - in the end, black bears, sturgeon, beavers, woodpeckers, buffalo, and wolves were chosen to be represented here, linked together by the river as a source of life. Knowledge from Elder Wilson Bearhead also provided key inspiration for the artwork.
The production of the final artwork also involved the community - Matt and Dana were mentored by lead artists Carla and AJA, and parts of the art on the sturgeon and beaver were crafted with help from community members during International Week at the University. U of A Alumni Naomi McIlwraith provided translations into syllabics for the Cree names of the animals that appear at each landing.