This pink moose might change how you think about modern treaties

In "To Talk to Others”, artists interpret the minutes from an August 1977 meeting between then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and five Yukon First Nations leaders.

Lianne Charlie is one of 5 artists taking part in a new exhibit opening next month

Artist Lianne Charlie worked with a team of volunteers at Yukon College to create her moose sculpture. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

At first glance, a bright pink papier mâché moose might seem unrelated to Yukon's Umbrella Final Agreement. But Lianne Charlie's piece in an upcoming art show brings the two together.

Charlie is one of the five artists taking part in "To Talk to Others". Each artist received a copy of minutes from an August 1977 meeting between then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and five Yukon First Nations leaders.

The Mackenzie Pipeline was approved and Trudeau was trying to gauge interest in a second northern pipeline. It was also the initial stages of land claims discussions in Yukon. The artists are interpreting the minutes to create their projects.

Charlie says she was thinking a lot about the complexities of Indigenous politics in the Yukon and wanted to create something that got people thinking about modern treaty politics in a different way.

While the moose structure is built with sculpted styrofoam and bright pink papier mâché, the top layer will be made with the Umbrella Final Agreement — the framework for 14 Yukon First Nations land claims agreements.

Charlie says there are similarities between a moose and the UFA.

Artist Nicole Bauberger created this beaded portrait of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. This is just one piece that will be on display when the exhibit "To Talk to Others" opens next month at the Yukon Arts Centre. (Submitted by Valerie Salez)

"A moose, for my family and a lot of families in the Yukon, is something that has fed us, sustained us, clothed us. It takes a lot of skill to get something like a moose, to know what to do with it once you've got it," she said.

"The modern treaty is also there to protect, clothe, give us opportunities, extend us certain powers. It takes a lot of skill to understand it, to interact with it."

Like a fly on the wall

Valerie Salez is the project coordinator and is also one of the artists taking part in the exhibit. 

Salez says she was working in the Tr'ondek Hwech'in heritage department in Dawson City about nine years ago when she stumbled across the meeting minutes in the archives.

She remembers running into the heritage department and reading over the papers with staff there.

"You were like a fly on the wall in those meetings that many of us don't get to listen in on before they turned into a final report," Salez said.

Five First Nations leaders, Daniel Johnson (now Daniel Tlen), Willie Joe, Bill Webber, Adeline Webber and Dorothy Wabisca, met with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau while he was on holiday in the Yukon. Trudeau was trying to sell the leaders on pipeline development. The leaders said they had questions and wanted more time.

Salez says with today's concept of political correctness, the thing that stuck out to her was Trudeau's tone.

In the minutes, Tlen explains their concerns about losing their culture and values if a pipeline is developed before there are any land claim agreements.

Trudeau responds by saying "then decide you are going to turn your backs on the 20th century and don't ask for television and don't ask for radio because any father will tell you that['s] how the alien culture is brought in and close yourself off. Build yourself a ghetto wall around it and do like Quebec did for fifty years and good luck, brother. As I say, I respect that."

The exhibit opens at the Yukon Arts Centre on December 6.

With files from Dave White