Christi Belcourt turned an act of discrimination into a work of art

Christi Belcourt's Michif identity often spills out as paint. The award-winning artist and activist recently shared a powerful self-portrait on social media called, Bloodletting: Does This Make You Feel Better About Who I Am?
Michif artist and activist Christi Belcourt in front of one her large scale but intricate beadwork paintings. (Christi Belcourt/Facebook )
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Christi Belcourt's Michif identity often spills out as paint.

The award-winning artist and activist recently shared a powerful self-portrait on social media called, Bloodletting: Does This Make You Feel Better About Who I Am? 

"It's me sitting in a chair holding an eagle feather. In the corner is a beer bottle and cigarettes, which was a past life of mine. Then on one arm, I have it outstretched and there's several cuts on there and it's over top of a bowl with blood coming out, filling up the bowl with blood," she explained. 

Bloodletting: Does This Make You More Comfortable With Who I Am?, 2004, acrylic on canvas. (Christi Belcourt/Facebook)
Belcourt, who is from Lac St. Anne, Alberta said it was inspired by an arts meeting she attended where somebody was uncomfortable that she, a non-status Indian and Michif, was sitting in the room.

"That person made comments that they didn't believe that people who are non-status or Métis are entitled to apply for arts funding," she recalled. "I came out of there feeling hurt for a little while but by the time I got home, I had an idea for a painting."

Much of Belcourt's work focuses on questions around identity, culture, place and divisions within communities.

"The divisions that we've come to identify with are colonial constructs of identity," she said. "They are not who we really are ... [as] nations of people. We are sovereign nations but we haven't been able to practice our sovereignty because of the divisions of provinces, the divisions made by the Indian Act, the divisions that were created and caused, first of all, by the treaties."

Belcourt, whose father is Tony Belcourt, founder of the Métis Nation of Ontario, explained that when treaties were being signed across the prairies, transcripts show some First Nation leaders tried to advocate for their Métis relatives. But their attempts to have them included in the treaties fell on deaf ears.

"It was the treaty commissioners themselves who said, 'Oh no you will not be allowed on the treaty lists, there will be a separate commission coming through for that.'"

As a result, Métis people were banned from living on reserve with their families, forcing them to the outskirts or neighbouring communities. It is a division, Belcourt said, that continues today.

Impact of colonization

"Somewhere along the way we've adopted those identities and have been using them against each other which is an old divide and conquer trick of colonists."

Belcourt said she challenges those constructs and the many injustices Indigenous Peoples face in Canada in both her art and her life. 

"While we're stuck on this wheel of identity and this wheel of discussing who is a Métis and who isn't a Métis and big "M" and a small "m", we are missing out on acting for the future generations."