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Community Arts Council exhibit explores Métis heritage of local artist

Halfbreed Mother is the latest exhibit to grace the walls of the Feature Gallery at Studio 2880.

Halfbreed Mother is the latest exhibit to grace the walls of the Feature Gallery at Studio 2880.

The exhibit features work by Métis artist Erin Stagg who has her ancestors’ history as the literal foundation of her artwork as she showcases motherhood in all its loving glory.

Hosted by the Community Arts Council of Prince George & District the opening reception will take place at Studio 2880, 2880-15th Ave., on Oct. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. with the artist’s talk at 6 p.m. The exhibit will be up until Dec. 1.

Departing from her usual artwork based in nature, Stagg said she was compelled to connect with her family’s history when she got pregnant and spent three weeks in Saskatchewan exploring her family’s strong Métis lineage.

“Métis are one of the three Indigenous peoples of Canada, along with the Inuit and First Nations,” Stagg explained. “The Canadian government wanted to take their land but had no right to it so they had to find a way to swindle them out of it and that was the scrip system.”

In 1870, the Canadian government devised a system of scrip for the west, which was referred to as Métis or “halfbreed” scrip that issued documents redeemable for land or money in exchange for Métis land rights. The system was complex and disorganized and made it almost impossible for Métis people to claim any land.

Stagg said the records of scrip are a gold mine for her geneological research because it is a way to affirm her Métis ancestry.

“But it wasn’t a good thing in the past because it’s known as one of Canada’s largest land swindles,” Stagg said.

With that history anchored in her mind, Stagg decided to take copies of her family’s Métis scrip, entitled NORTH-WEST HALFBREED CLAIMS COMMISSION, and overlay it with more positive images that reflect her current journey as a mother celebrating life.

“It is a way of reclaiming the narrative that we have an Indigenous title to the land that was not extinguished even through the scrip system,” Stagg said. “We have an inherent Indigenous right and that is being expressed through the raising of my daughter as I see and reclaim parts of my culture and it’s an expression of independence, an expression of love and strength.”

To address the title of the exhibit Stagg said she knows that Halfbreed is a word that is highly charged.

“It was very important to me that that be the title,” Stagg explained. “The word halfbreed is very clearly indicated on all the paperwork of the scrip. We were called halfbreeds all the time and I will do a follow-up show using another word for us that I actually think expresses the Métis spirit which is Otipemisiwak, the people who own themselves. My ancestors were very rebellious, strong spirited, independent - really remarkable people.”

The take away from this exhibit is love, Stagg said. Having her daughter transformed her, she added. This exhibit is a departure from her usual work depicting nature and motherhood has informed her art in a very meaningful way.

“The images I’ve created on top of the scrip - which is a very ugly background - and that’s the point - but the images on top are extremely loving,” Stagg said. “They’re very beautiful. They tell a story of my journey through pregnancy and the first year of my daughter’s life. They are done in the Métis style of art which includes florals and it’s an embracing of my culture and I hope that people see a lot of love and a lot of motherhood reflected back at them. I hope the mothers who view it see will the work and think ‘I remember that’.”