Indigenous artist showcases traditional plants in new public garden in Montreal
T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss was invited by arts organization to create a custom installation
A new garden located outside the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec in Montreal is shining a light on traditional plants that hold cultural significance for Indigenous communities.
T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss, an Indigenous artist from Vancouver, was invited to create the garden by MOMENTA Biennale de l'image, a Montreal art organization.
Every two years, MOMENTA puts on contemporary art events, partnering with museums, galleries and public institutions centred around a particular theme.
Maude Johnson, an executive and curatorial assistant at MOMENTA, told CBC that this year's theme is "sensing nature" and that the team decided to reach out to Wyss to commission a custom creation.
"We came across her practice and we were really impressed by that and really interested in that because it made a lot of sense with the theme," said Johnson.
"It's really important for us to actually give space to the people that are the land owners, that are the people that lived here first," she added.
Preserving nature, culture
Wyss has been working as an artist and cultivating gardens for more than 30 years.
She developed an interest in traditional plants and their healing properties when she was a teenager and sought wisdom from elders in her community.
WATCH | T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss gives a tour of her urban garden in Montreal:
After being approached to create a garden in Montreal, Wyss designed one that would highlight local plants that are significant to the Indigenous community.
She called it Teionhenkwen, a Mohawk word that means "Our Sustenance" and designed the layout of the garden boxes in the shape of a wampum, a traditional symbol.
"[The garden] represents everything that we all need to survive: food and medicine and the oxygen from the plants," she said.
To create the garden, Wyss worked with Joce Two Crows Tremblay, an earth worker with the Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle in Toronto.
Tremblay said that connecting with land is extremely important for the preservation of Indigenous culture.
"Our languages are derived from the land, so we need to have relationships with the land to keep our languages. Our ceremonies and our customs are inseparably tied to the land, so we need to be on the land to keep those customs alive," said Tremblay.
"For urban Indigenous people to have access to the land is essential."
"This is but a little garden but it opens hopefully a lot of opportunities to be in relationship, to have nation-to-nation relationship, to be in conversation about what it means to be stewards of the land," Tremblay said.
The MOMENTA Biennale de l'image takes place from Sept. 8 to Oct. 24. It includes exhibitions, performances and installations.
With files from Rowan Kennedy