Beausoleil First Nation artist Clayton King with his painting ‘Openikaaning’.

Beausoleil First Nation artist Clayton King with his painting ‘Openikaaning’.

By Sharon Weatherall

MIDLAND – Earlier this year, Beausoleil First Nation artist Clayton King was commissioned by Georgian College to create three First Nations paintings for the Robbert Hartog Campus in Midland, Ontario. On Tuesday October 28, a celebration was hosted to unveil his colourful work – “Water Beings”, “Sacred Fire” and “Openikaaning”.

“The purpose of these paintings are to help share Indigenous culture at the campus as well as draw more Indigenous students into the Aboriginal Resource Centre,” said King who studied fine art at Fanshawe College and has been painting professionally for four years now. “Having a centre like this is critical for Fist Nation students and learning about our culture will help everyone there. The paintings include what are important to the area and are also a learning tool for non- aboriginal students.”

It took King 14 weeks to complete the paintings which now line the hall entranceway and interior of the centre including two of the largest works he has completed to date. The concept for the paintings combined historical and cultural significance with ideas reflecting not only First Nation ancestors but animals, plants swimmers, crawlers, sun and moon. The work includes the seven major clans of the Anishinaabek people and what King thinks is important to the people.

College Principal Mac Greaves confirms the commission of the paintings was about creating an inclusive Aboriginal Centre at the school.

“The entrance to the centre has always been plain and not welcoming so we wanted somehow to draw people in. It is for the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community. We wanted all students to know about the culture of this area. We are one of four colleges with Aboriginal Centres including Barrie, Owen Sound, Orillia and Midland,” said Greaves, “Here in Midland we draw from a large regional Aboriginal community which includes BFN, Rama, Georgina and Wahta. We have created partnerships here with The Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre, Chigamik and the Métis Nation of Ontario.”

Student advisor Sarah Sandy was involved with the commissioning of King for the paintings with the idea to welcome and draw people into the centre.

The interpretations of the paintings are based on the teachings received by the artist. The painting Openikaaning depicts a father and son preparing their offers to the Great Spirit while coming along the shore is a Métis man. The Métis people emerged as a nation in the Northwest during the 18th and 19th centuries. The historic Métis Nation Homeland includes Ontario and extends westward and into the Northern United States. There is a thriving Métis community in the Southern Georgian Bay.  Animals depicted in the painting include the bear, deer, martin, eagle and wolf.

The painting Water Beings is a story passed down through oral tradition that the Anishinaabek had lived on the east coast of Turtle Island hundreds of years ago. Living was hard at this time. To help them through the hard times the Great Spirit gave the Anishinaabek the Seven Fires Prophecy. A young woman had a dream one night that she had seen herself travelling up river on the back of a giant turtle headed towards an island shaped like a turtle.

The elders interpreted the dream as the first prophecy that the creator had sent to them, so they decided to migrate west along the great river until they reached a turtle shaped island. Once they found it they stayed for a while before moving on. In his painting King interpreted the dream and includes the turtle, crane, otter, beaver, loon, Memegwesi (little people) and Zagima (water serpent).

In his Sacred Fire painting King explains the term Indian has been used to describe Indigenous people in Canada for centuries. There are three recognized groups of Indigenous people in Canada: the Inuit, the Métis and First Nations. The painting depicts all three sitting by the sacred fire in a harmonious way. In the middle ground seven spectral images are depicted which represent the Seven Grandfathers of the Anishinaabek. The Seven Grandfathers bestowed upon their people seven gifts from the Spirit World which are now used in a good way by many people across Turtle Island. They are commandments to live by and learn – Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility and Truth.

Georgian College student Justin West says he finds aboriginal art interesting because it is based on nature.

“These paintings add to the school – all of the colours brighten things up and look beautiful,” said West.

To see more of Clayton King’s work, visit http://whitebearart.com