Indigenous perspective on Canada's 150th: 7 generations back and ahead

The Next 150 is the latest exhibit by Sâkêwêwak Artists Collective, which looks at the relationship between Indigenous people and Canada over the last 150 years and the next 150 years. Paulete Poitras talked about the significance of 150 years to Indigenous people.

Art at centre of piece depicts Poitras — who is two-spirited — and her partner

Poitras has done beadwork before but the yoke is her first venture into beadwork as an art exhibit. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

The significance of 150 years goes beyond Canada's anniversary, says Paulete Poitras.

Part of the knowledge Poitras has picked up in life is the idea of looking seven generations ahead, or approximately 150 years.

"What are you willing to do here, now, for your people seven generations ahead?" Poitras asked, adding that leaders did the same seven generations ago.

"I have to honour those things that have come before me and then I also have to honour those that are coming after me," she said. 

Poitras' debut piece

The art depicts Poitras and her partner, who is Métis. Poitras depicts herself in the red dress, symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Poitras is an artist from the Muscowpetung First Nation. Her first ever art piece, a traditional women's yoke — which is a type of cape — will be part of an exhibit which opens up Wednesday night at the First Nations University of Canada.

The exhibit is titled The Next 150 and is part of the Storytellers Festival held by Sâkêwêwak Artists' Collective.

The piece is deeply personal for Poitras, as she says it is a depiction of Poitras and her partner. Poitras is depicted as a pregnant woman and wearing a red dress, symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women. Her partner is depicted in traditional Metis regalia. Though she is not pregnant, Poitras said that is something she and her partner want in the future. 

"I made her pregnant so that people remember that our women are life-givers," Poitras said. 

The two are face to face, entering into marriage. Pride colours are depicted on the earrings of one figure and on an arm band of the other.

"Everybody has that ability to love and that's a common ground that everybody can understand."

A story of resiliency

The yoke was also made with .40 calibre bullet casings, which Poitras says protects the work and conveys that the relationship between police and Indigenous people needs to improve. (Kendall Latimer / CBC)

Poitras wants the piece to convey a message of resiliency.

The piece uses colour as symbolism: red to symbolize blood, gold and green to represent the Earth and minerals, and black and white to represent a contrast in society.

"We believe that the contraries in society, they're there to protect us and they're there to correct us," Poitras said of the Dakota teachings she has picked up.

Poitras says there is a message in every detail. Pink symbolizes flesh.

"So many people sacrifice so much in order to gain," she said. 

"I feel like our Indigenous people have sacrificed so much already and we compromise a lot of our culture, and our language ... to accustom ideologies that aren't ours. So, a lot of it wasn't just something we purposely sacrificed, it was forced."​

The exhibit opens at First Nations University of Canada at 6 p.m. CST and runs until Mar. 31.

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition and Kendall Latimer