Christi Belcourt - Earth Inspires Art
By Erin Blondeau
The incredible and timeless art of Christi Belcourt will always be a source of inspiration and identity for Indigenous artists, water protectors, and land defenders across Turtle Island. In this episode of the Matriarch Movement Podcast, host Shayla Oulette Stonechild met with renowned artist and Michif activist Christi Belcourt to discuss her art, the difficulties of Métis identity, and the power of Mother Earth.
Belcourt is a Michif (Métis) visual artist from the Manitou Sakhigan (Lac Ste. Anne) community in Alberta. Her work has been recognized by the Ontario Arts Council, the Gabriel Dumont Institute, and Parliament Hill, among countless others––though her art is not created from a desire for money or fame. She creates art when she is called to do so, and tries not to be consumed by the expectations demanded of her from colonial expectations and capitalism.
Some of the beautiful things about Belcourt’s art are her authenticity and her ability to capture identity, place, and passion into one image. She often uses a combination of dotting techniques with acrylic paint in a historical Métis and First Nations style.
Don’t Just Unplug - Replug into Nature
While life as an artist can seem idyllic, there are times when the administrative duties and the pressure to create commercially can be invasive. This is something that aspiring Indigenous artists should be prepared for, so they know how to avoid being led into the trap of capitalism.
“Go ahead and do what your heart moves you to do,” Belcourt called out to all artists, while reminiscing with Stonechild about times in her journey when exhaustion set in, forcing her to take time to recharge.
“Ask yourself, why are you working so hard?” Belcourt said. “Why are you not taking time to enjoy your life?”
When facing burn out, there are some things artists (and all Indigenous people) can do to recharge; one of which is to sign out of all social media accounts and experience the physical world.
“The minute you get outside and step your feet outside on the ground, you’re on Mother Earth,” Belcourt said.
“Social media sucks the creativity out of you.”
Our digital world can be powerful but it can also hinder our creativity. This is why it’s crucial to truly sign off and experience the world around us. Stonechild explained that she also feels the pressure of colonial timelines and expectations.
“I unplug out of [social media], and then plug into Mother Earth!” Belcourt told Stonechild. When we are able to unplug from social media, we can begin to remember the life force that comes to us from the land.
Living in Uncertain Times
“It feels like a very strange time to be alive,” Belcourt told Stonechild. Although Belcourt is very positive by nature, she is also skeptical of the future. As we continually uncover the remains of our beloved missing and murdered Indigenous children, there is constant stress put on us.
“And then there’s the ocean on fire,” Belcourt added. “It’s the worst kind of hell on Earth.”
“...At the same time, young people are kicking ass!” Belcourt has noticed the incredible beaded earrings and ribbon skirts made by Indigenous artists that are rising up on social media. Unfortunately, regardless of growing Indigenous representation and celebrations of our culture, there are still so many challenges for Indigenous peoples across so-called Canada.
According to Belcourt, the Canadian state has failed to educate Canadians on Indigenous peoples through our own lens. As an Elder, she says she now hears and sees the same types of battles being fought every few years: Indigenous people trying to educate, non-Indigenous people refusing to listen. Every generation repeats itself.
Belcourt wants to see us, as a country, move past the basic, surface-level knowledge of Indigenous peoples that Canadians seem to hold. There needs to be more than a base understanding of our history, our presence, and the issues that surround our communities.
“As long as we don’t mix up the words between decolonization and modernization,” Belcourt explained. Oftentimes non-Indigenous people have a belief that decolonization means retreating into a time in history without technology. On the contrary, Indigenous people can exist outside of a colonial and capitalist society, while still existing in modernity.
On Métis Identity
When asked about what it means to be Métis, Belcourt explained the confusing origin of the term. The label of ‘Métis’ was not universal during the era of Louis Riel, and although it is more commonly used today, many Métis people are still missing the full understanding of what it means to be Métis.
Belcourt says to focus on what waters you came from and what kind of kinship you had. Ignore the labels of Métis, non-status, or Registered Indian. Get to know where your family is from, what languages they spoke, and how they interacted with the land.
“We are going to be facing immense challenges with climate change––finding who is and who isn’t Métis is the least of our damn worries,” Belcourt said.
“I just need everyone to work together, and not be so damn cranky!”
Listen to the rest of Belcourt's wise words: