Artists in Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal, hope newly installed banners will remind users of the Honoré Mercier Bridge of the territory they commute through, and the vibrant culture of their community.
The bridge spans the St. Lawrence River and seaway, connecting the island of Montreal and the south shore. Lands from Kahnawà:ke were expropriated for its construction in 1932, and again in subsequent decades for renovation and expansion projects including to accommodate the construction of the seaway.
Wakenhiióhstha Montour's work is a painting of the seaway titled Behind the Church. She said many non-Indigenous residents in the surrounding municipalities often don't realize they're crossing through Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory when they use the bridge.
"It's a way that we can remind people that aren't from Kahnawà:ke and are using our land and space that we're here," Montour said of the banner project.
"We're occupying that space that was taken away from us."
The banner project is a collaboration between the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke, the Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center, and the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI) as a way to ensure Kanien'kehá:ka culture, art, and people are represented on the bridge.
The banners feature the work of eight artists from Kahnawà:ke, as well as two artists from Kanesatake and an artist from the Oneida Nation.
The JCCBI, which has managed the federal side of the bridge since 1998, said 8.5 million trips across the bridge were recorded from July to October of last year. Sandra Martel, chief executive officer of JCCBI, said the project is one of the initiatives to strengthen its relationship with the community.
Installation of the banners on the Honoré Mercier Bridge took place earlier this summer. (JCCBI)
Banners were first installed in 2017 to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary. Martel told community members on Wednesday during an event to acknowledge the artists that the JCCBI was eager to repeat the initiative again this year.
"We are pleased to continue showcasing Indigenous art reproduced on banners on the bridge," she said in a statement.
Jasmin Gunn, an artist from Kanesatake, a Kanien'kehá:ka community west of Montreal, is another artist selected to create a banner. Her work, titled Grasp, is a digital image capturing the moment a salmon is caught by a hungry bear.
Tracey Snow (Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke), Scott Berwick (Kanien'keháka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center), Sandra Martel (the Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated), Arnold Boyer (Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke) with the artists selected for the project. (JCCBI)
"I just think that it's really awesome that it's up there," she said.
"I'm not from here, so I don't always pass by the bridge but it's nice to be a part of something very integral to the community here."
For Ronwahawíhtha Delaronde, the opportunity has been a source of motivation and inspiration to continue his art. His piece, tilted Kontítie's – They Fly/They're Flying, features a heron on a bright pink and yellow background surrounded by a variety of wild birds found throughout Kahnawà:ke.
Jasmin Gunn is an artist from Kanesatake. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)
"It really brought a lot of confidence in myself as an artist," said Delaronde about his work being selected.
"If someone sees it, my hope is just that people do see something beautiful…. I just want to brighten up people's day a little bit."
The banners will be displayed until October.