The ground-breaking 11 Nations exhibit at Old Montreal’s Bonsecours Market was unveiled December 13 to a packed gallery that included luminaries such as NDP MP Romeo Saganash and Quebec Native affairs minister Geoff Kelley.


With 38 pieces hanging in the historic building in the heart of the old city, many artists saw the event as an opportunity to reach large non-Native audiences with the art and stories of Aboriginal communities across Quebec.


“I was trying to break out of the stereotypical Native art,” said Sandra Picard, an artist from Kahnawake. “It’s more out there. The art is very therapeutic for me. It’s about my life, my community and the culture that surrounds me.”


Picard chose to tackle one of Kahnawake’s political debates with her art: mixed marriages.

“I’m from a mixed marriage, my mother is Mohawk and my dad is Quebecois. This art represents that relationship and how what we are doing today in the community isn’t favourable for the generations to come,” said Picard, gesturing to a dark piece with several feathers.


“Sometimes we need art to understand the impact of our decisions and how the community is dealing with it,” Picard continued.


“What started with my mother is now mine, I’m looking at this situation of mixed marriages and I’m wondering, ‘Now what?’ And the community is wondering the same thing.”


Featuring the work of 22 artists, the 11 Nations exhibit was organized in only six weeks, an impressive feat for a show that brought together artists from isolated communities across the province.


“The effort that was put into assembling the 11 Nations was astounding,” said Romeo Saganash, the MP for Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, who is serving as the exhibit’s ambassador.


“I think we’ve put together an excellent show of our diversity,” said Saganash. “Some of the art is very modern, some is more traditional, but it shows a breath of knowledge and allows the public to see the culture of the 11 Nations.”


Tim Whiskeychan, a Cree artist from Waskaganish, was one of the lucky artists to exhibit at the show. Saying that he was at “the right place at the right time,” Whiskeychan was showing his art at a gallery in Sept-Iles when he was invited to join the show.


“I had to borrow some originals from the grand chief and ship them down,” said Whiskeychan. “Now I just need to get them back safely.”


With two very different pieces, one traditional and one contemporary, Whiskeychan’s acrylics made heavy use of the goose as a symbol of the Cree.


“These say a lot about where I grew up. Nature is attached with it and culture. I was brought up a nomad and hunted geese. I love the birds, it’s a symbol of the Cree,” he said. “We get medicine from the geese, and goose grease is good for the gourmet as well.”


The breadth of Whiskeychan’s style, with bright spots of colour and abstract shapes, is seen as a testament to the resilience of Native culture.


“There is a stupid notion that Native art is stagnant, but that simply isn’t true,” said Saganash. “This show proves that Native culture is as diverse and creative as any found in the world.”


With two pieces in the show, Kanesatake’s Ellen Gabriel was also proud of the great balance of art showcasing Native culture at the show.


“This is a proud moment because this is in a part of Montreal where Aboriginals aren’t really recognized,” said Gabriel. “This is a statement not just about the artists, but about our culture and what it represents.”