Indigenous artist laments loss of land to ring road with art installation

An Indigenous artist who grew up on the Tsuut'ina Reserve and has been affected by the development of the southwest Calgary ring road has created an art installation that laments her loss.

Glenna Cardinal saw a buck wandering in the rubble of land cleared and wondered how it got there

Glenna Cardinal's artwork, mourning home, is on display at the Esker Foundation in Inglewood. It's a tribute to land lost to the construction of the southwest Calgary ring road. (John Dean)

An Indigenous artist who grew up on Tsuut'ina land and has been affected by the development of the southwest Calgary ring road has created an art installation to lament her loss.

Glenna Cardinal's mourning home is on display at the Esker Foundation until the end of April. She shared her goals and hopes for it with The Homestretch.

This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.

Cardinal says she hopes her installation prompts people to ask questions. (John Dean)

Q: Tell is about your installation.

A: I have a blanket down that depicts former Tsuut'ina Nation Chief Bullhead. It has the silhouette of the chief, a river through it and some people on it.

I cut out a piece of it that, for me, it was the piece of the river that the Calgary southwest ring road redirected.

I grew up on Tsuut'ina Nation and I went to that river a lot as a child.

It was meaningful to cut that piece out because they were able to do the construction of the ring road and I thought that was important to symbolize.

Q: What did it feel like to see the ring road constructed on land you grew up on?

A: It's horrible. It's horrible.

It's very painful and very unsettling. A lot of it is seeing places you have gone and touched and places that you went through with your parents, your family, your children.

Q: How does the artwork represent what you have lost?

A: It is very deep and it's very personal.

I am able to share with people a bit of what I felt going through that process. Having to see the land change and progress and economic development.

Q: The buck head is one of the central pieces. What does it represent?

A: It's a part of the wildlife that a lot of people don't realize, that was their home as well.

The land I grew up on is gone. It has been wiped clean of trees. The land is flattened and gone.

I feel the land is for the animals and plants and birds and everything that was a huge part of who I am and what my family lived there with.

Cardinal’s mourning home is on display until the end of April. (John Dean)

Q: You visited the construction and saw an animal and the experience touched you. Please describe that interaction.

A: I drive by there every day to take my kids to school. You can't avoid it.

It is pretty devastating because nobody prepares you for what they are going to do. The trees are going to be cut down.

That one day, I was devastated to see they were tearing down the trees. They were all gone. I stopped on the side of the road, got out of the vehicle and threw up.

When I looked out amongst the brush, rubble and chopped wood, I saw a buck. He was just as devastated as I was.

It was painful to see him looking around, looking at the devastation, and I wondered how he got there and how I got there as well.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this experience?

A: Chief Bullhead was the chief that didn't want to give up the land.

If you look at his quotes and what he said, you will understand he never wanted it sold. He wanted to leave the land whole.

I want people to be curious. See what that chief was about. See what I am about.

I can only be honest in my art and in who I am. I am hoping people will ask questions.

With files from The Homestretch