The Indian Act Revisited: The Huron-Wendat Museum launches its first visual arts exhibit

First Nation artists are revisiting the 1876 Indian Act at the Musée Huron-Wendat's first visual arts exhibit in Wendake since the museum's opening in March 2008. The traditional, permanent cultural collection is now complimented by a contemporary display by eight up-and-coming artists from across the country.

Each explores the sensitive theme of the Indian Act, the 1876 law which governed and continues to govern most First Nations from coast-to-coast. Each artist used his or her own unique vision and materials to create the Indian Act Revisited.

At the opening ceremony, Grand Chief Konrad Siouï emphasized the importance of expressing and claiming "our identity which comes from inside us." He congratulated the organizers, the museum and its partners, such as Tourisme Wendake for their part in realising the exhibit.

Huwennuwanenhs Louis-Karl Picard-Siouï, a Huron-Wendat writer, poet, artist, historian and anthropologist, oversaw the project and calls himself the superintendent, as a witty recall of the title used for the Indian agents who oversaw the reservations and all that happened therein.

First Nations people in the 19th century became wards of the Crown through the Indian Act legislation "by which they were divided - whether willingly or by force - into small isolated bands, and treated as wards under the authority of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs," explains Picard-Sioui.

"First of all, the Indian Act Revisited is an artistic statement, more than a political one," explains Picard-Sioui. "It's all about giving emerging native artists a say about their world, to give them a way to showcase their talent in a professional setting."

Picard-Sioui contributed a display called Word for Word, a play on the role of the Indian agent.

The artist uses the story of a rock given to him by a child in the community, which he asks the agent for permission to destroy, since he has no room to keep it at his place. A biting letter exchange between himself and the present Minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl ensues.

Picard-Siouï explains that "the Indian Act, combined with other measures such as forced settling and residential schools, was aimed at solving, once and for all, the 'Indian problem.'" More than one hundred sections mark out all spheres of life of the First Nations Peoples, from birth till death, by putting them under the totalitarian control of the Superintendent's discretionary power.

More than one century after its enactment, notwithstanding a few cosmetic amendments, the Act remains in effect, roughly in its original form, and is still applied in an undifferentiated manner to most First Nations, whether Wendat, Atikamekw, Algonquin, Ojibway or Gitxsan."

Picard-Siouï credits a discussion with his friend and fellow artist Taharihulen Michel Savard as the source of inspiration behind the exhibit's focused theme. When Savard showed him what would become the exhibit's poster picture, he "smiled ear to ear: we had our theme!"

The Indian Act Revisited runs until January 10 at the Huron-Wendat Museum in Wendake, about 15 minutes from the city.