Kanien'kehá:ka artist confronts Catholic upbringing in work on display at new exhibition

·3 min read

A painting hangs in the Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral that depicts a group of Indigenous girls being taught by nuns.

One of the girls is being punished for something - for what, one can only guess.

As a child steeped in the Catholic faith, Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush saw a gesture of inclusivity in this painting - she thought the representation of Onkwehón:we signalled a place in “God’s Kingdom” for Indigenous Catholics like her.

As an adult, she sees it differently. A lot differently.

This is the painting she references in her drawing Obey, originally commissioned by CBC for its “Telling Our Twisted Histories” podcast.

“In one way, it’s me kind of dealing with or processing being raised Catholic and seeing the world in a different way,” said Bush of her drawing.

Obey is now on display as part of Initaw : Kwató:ken tsi ní:ioht tsi ahshe’nikonhraièn: ta’ne, an exhibition at the Centre d’exposition Lethbridge in Montreal that pulls together work from four Onkwehón:we artists.

Bush describes her inclusion with the exhibition’s other artists as a privilege. “All their work is so diverse and important and beautiful,” she said.

Bush’s pieces No Church in the Wild and Desk for the Countless accompany Obey as though the three artworks were conceived as one. Indeed, they are all connected, relating to the artist processing her emotions around the residential school system and the revelations of last year.

“The desk is very much about how I’d imagine a student today would ... process learning about these atrocities,” said Bush. “I imagine students sitting in that desk, marking it up and scrawling away.”

On the wall, on either side of the drawing, two orange children’s dresses depicting a church ablaze constitute No Church in the Wild.

The dresses themselves reference an act of resistance by Indigenous women who covered Canada Day displays at Walmart with pieces of orange clothing.

“I think these bigger subjects - faith in religion and faith in government, faith in your society - making artwork about that is a good way to sort of unpack their complexities,” said Bush.

Bush has always known she wanted to be an artist in one way or another. She went to an arts high school and then took two art programs at Dawson College.

“When I was in CEGEP, I became aware of Indigenous artwork and art practices. I was told there wasn’t anything there, and I think that was wrong,” she said.

She had a strong urge to learn more about it, setting her on the path she’s on now.

When she first got out of CEGEP, Skawennati, renowned Kanien’kehá:ka artist, and husband and Concordia University professor Jason Lewis, became the first people to commission her art.

“That was such a huge influence on my practice - someone from the outside wants to commission me and my art,” said Bush.

She went on to study at Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto.

“Kaia’tanó:ron is an exciting emerging artist with a unique style and a great work ethic,” said Skawennati.

The two now work together at daphne, an Indigenous artist-run centre in Montreal co-founded by Skawennati. The centre’s executive director, Lori Beavis, is the curator of the exhibition on now.

“I think having a place for Indigenous arts in Montreal is really important, and it’s about time,” said Bush of the centre.

Bush does social media for daphne and coordinates its virtual “daphne beads” event each Thursday. She hosts the Zoom, arranges for guests, and recites the Ohèn:ton Karihwatéhkwen.

“That’s been vital for me as a language learner,” said Bush. “To be able to say that and feel confident in front of other Onkwehón:we people is very special and very vital to me.”

Bush’s work will be on display at the free exhibition at the Centre d’exposition Lethbridge until August 28.


Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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