The Beginning

Our goal is to revitalize Canada's Indigenous languages, starting with those in our home province of Saskatchewan, and ultimately spreading to every nation across this land, from sea to sea to sea.

"The Beginning of Language" 2017 by Gloria Lee

This is a story about how language started at the beginning of time in the Universe. The mother's heartbeat is the beginning of time for each of us and represents our connection to language and all of creation. Language connects us all through stories, songs, dance, and art.

The connection to our mother began with the sound of her heart beat, the sound of our mother's voice and the language she speaks. All her feelings were your feelings too: love, happiness, fear, or abandonment. The beating drum symbolizes the mother's heartbeat and the heartbeat of a nation, its purpose is to bring everyone together and to keep us connected.

At the centre of the heart rests the spirit and is connected to all things in the universe since the beginning of life. The soul flame is the spiritual connection to all things in creation. The soul flame of the mother's heart keeps the family together in the family home. The fire warms the home, just as the woman's heart warms the family and keeps the family connected.

Connections are found everywhere. The connection between child and mother is shown in the ancient universal spiral. It is found in the tipi, the umbilical cord, in nature and throughout the universe. Diversity is shown in the many different flowers. This diversity is seen in the world of plants, animals, nations of people and the many languages.

Language ensures the connection of knowledge gathered over many generations. Language organizes understanding of laws, relationships, and ceremonies. Language has a rhythm and tone lending the sound of voice to singing meaning into life and giving life to story that is lived or experienced. Language allows the sharing of experience, feeling and emotions through story. The story connects knowledge to the listener.

The knowledge represented in the art work through symbols and design includes green for oskyak (young people) and sharing the energy of love and renewal. Purple symbolizes the kitayak (old people) and sharing sacred knowledge, teachings, and transformation. The two spirals represent balance in nature and reflect diversity through colourful flowers and spiritual energy symbolized by hummingbirds. The gold beads connect all elements in the art work and represents the sacredness and gift of language that connects us all to our ancestors knowledge, culture, mother earth, and the spirit that is the great mystery; the creator of all things. This sacred connection of language is maintained from the beginning of time, from the mother' heart at the centre to all elements in creation. The soul flame at the centre of the heart represents the original energy of the universe; The Creator.

(materials used: beads, smoke tanned moose hide, cloth, acrylic paint, canvas)

About the artist: Gloria Lee

Gloria is Nêhiyawak (Cree) from the Treaty 6, Pelican Lake area of Saskatchewan. She possesses a Bachelor of Arts and a Juris Doctor degree, both from the University of Saskatchewan. Her interest in Indigenous perspectives and critical Indigenous thinking can be found in her writing and reflected in her mixed medium art works permanently installed at the University of Saskatchewan -- College of Law ("Wihtaskitowin" or Celebrating Relationship 2001) and the College of Medicine ("Our Medicine Bundle" 2006). Gloria credits her mother and grandmother with sharing their knowledge and skill, allowing her to apply knowledge from a long line of Nêhiyawak (Cree) women ancestors into her art work. The combined styles and techniques in her art is Gloria's way of acknowledging Indigenous women's unspoken contribution to the development and wealth of Canada, and other nations around the world.

Gloria has taught Indigenous studies courses at the University of Saskatchewan, the First Nations University of Canada and more recently in Calgary at Bow Valley College – Justice Studies Program. Indigenous knowledge and teachings obtained through years of listening to and being instructed by elders and knowledge keepers can be found throughout her artworks. She now utilizes her Nêhiyawak (Cree) Indigenous Knowledge and pedagogy in the development and delivery of training programs that include: Indigenous knowledge systems, Indigenous law, justice, and health with an emphasis on the Indigenous perspective and empowerment.

Gloria applies the principle of sharing this knowledge through her artwork, writing, and training, to engage people in dialogue to inspire, reinforce cultural pride, and inform a diverse audience.