Concerns ignored about Edmonton bison carving: Indigenous consultant
EDMONTON — An Indigenous educator and community advocate says he raised concerns about a now-discontinued public art project that had been planned for Edmonton’s River Valley, but didn’t been listened to.
« If you’re going to have Indigenous consultations, you have to actually listen, » said Lewis Cardinal, who was part of the Wicihitowin Talking Circle, an Indigenous consultation group that advised the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Arts Council on the sculptures that were to be installed near the Walterdale Bridge spanning the North Saskatchewan River.
Edmonton City Council announced earlier this week that it would not install sculptures the city commissioned in 2010 from artist Ken Lum because they « could cause damage and induce painful memories ». They were to be part of the Walterdale Bridge Replacement Project.
A description of the carvings on Lum’s website reads: « The buffalo and the fur trader look warily at each other across the North Saskatchewan River…wisdom offered by First Nations and Aboriginal peoples against the folly of the rapacious capitalist represented by the white man wearing a hat on a pile of buffalo hides.
Cardinal said the use of the bison as a symbol of the romanticized history of Indigenous peoples and what it means to be Indigenous.
He also said it would also be historically inaccurate to highlight the buffalo.
« Beaver pelts were the main source from Fort Edmonton, » he said. « It’s not Edmonton. »
During the fur trade in Edmonton, beaver pelts were the most important commodity that developed the economy for settlers and Indigenous peoples. Buffaloes were already becoming rare at this time and were used as a source of food, not for economic stability.
Talking Circle members also raised concerns about choosing a non-Indigenous person to tell an Indigenous story.
Lum, whose parts cost a total of $375,000, said in an email earlier this week that « the work received tremendous scrutiny and approval from city officials. » .
Jenna Turner, spokesperson for the arts council, and Francis Asuncion, of the City of Edmonton, said in a joint statement that the artists were shortlisted by a committee made up of project team members and government representatives. local artists.
« There was no consensus in the Wicihitowin meetings on the appropriateness of the final concept, » write Turner and Asuncion. « Some members were happy with the artistic direction while others expressed concerns. »
The sculptures have been in a storage container since 2016.
“The process for removing artwork from the collection is aligned with museum best practices and will honor and respect the artwork,” Turner and Asuncion said.
No decision has been made on what to do with the carvings.
Lum said in an email that he did not intend the art to celebrate colonialism, but to launch a discourse on Edmonton’s colonial history.
« Perhaps the city is not ready for a real dialogue about its colonial past and the condition of coloniality that continues to mark the present, » Lum said. « That was my intention with the work, not to celebrate colonialism, as the city suggests. »
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 26, 2022
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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