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Wanuskewin art installation mimics traditional maze used to trap lynx

Dozens of trees, hundreds of branches and other material have been hauled from northern Saskatchewan to Wanuskewin Heritage Park to create artwork that is modelled after traditional Dene hunting practices.

Project brings Dene culture to Saskatoon heritage park

Artist Michele Mackasey and her son Chevez Ezaneh worked with English River First Nation members on an installation at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. They created a multimedia version of the traditional maze used to trap lynx. (Jason Warick)

Part art installation, part historical model, a maze inspired by the traditional trap used to catch lynx and other animals has found a home at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

English River First Nation member Chevez Ezaneh and others literally brought northern Dene culture to the Saskatoon area for the piece. They hauled dozens of trees, hundreds of branches and several pounds of moss to create the maze. It's held together by more than 200 metres of cable.
Elder Jacob Estralshenen was one of the English River First Nation members who worked with a Saskatoon artist to create an installation at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. Estralshenen, who died recently, inspected the branches and trees used to fashion a lynx trap. (Percy Paul)

The project is the brainchild of Ezaneh's mother, Saskatoon artist Michele Mackasey. Originally from Ontario, she has lived there for parts of the past several decades. When she was offered a two-year grant from Common Weal Community Arts to be the artist-in-residence in the English River community of Patuanak, Sask., she accepted immediately.

Mackasey said the guidance of elders such as the late Jacob Estralshenen was key to the two-year project. She said she got more and more excited as the installation took shape this month.

"I felt like a little kid getting ready for Christmas. It's so much work, but it was just so fun," she said.

Ezaneh said it's essential to preserve the memory of traditional Indigenous practices. She said putting the project together "felt like a bridge to the past."

Photos on display at Wanuskewin Heritage Park document the creation of artist Michele Mackasey and members of the English River First Nation. The Wanuskewin installation uses elements of the traditional maze used to trap lynx. (Jason Warick)

The exhibit is bolstered by the photos by English River member Percy Paul, as well as the video and interactive components of Quebec artist Manuel Chantre.

It will be on display at Wanuskewin until October.

Saskatoon artist and English River First Nation members brought dozens of trees, hundreds of branches and even moss from English River to Wakuskewin Heritage Park for unique display 0:38