Kwaata-nihtaawakihk: A Hard Birth – A Space for Engaging the Future

Kwaata-nihtaawakihk: A Hard Birth is an essential remembering of the unique formation of the province of Manitoba, and a space for engaging the future.

A collaboration between Michif curator Cathy Mattes and Métis/Algonquin/Irish curator Sherry Farrell Racette, Kwaata-nihtaawakihk: A Hard Birth combines an incredible array of archival documents and historic and contemporary art to piece together the story of Manitoba. “These events are living histories in the Métis community,” says Farrell Racette. “We consulted with Métis elder, Verna DeMontigny, asking for the word to describe a difficult birth, thinking of the process as a female being giving birth to the province.”

Delayed for two years due to the onset of the pandemic, the exhibition content hasn’t changed very much from its initial conception as a part of the commemoration of Manitoba 150. “We have brought together some amazing pieces of historic and contemporary art, which are woven throughout,” says Farrell Racette. “We are bringing pieces ‘home’.” The works in the exhibition illuminate the unique story and perspectives behind the province’s formation.

“The creation of Manitoba was a Métis accomplishment, but the Red River Settlement was a diverse community – 80% Métis, but also Saulteaux and Cree villages, retired HBC traders, with a small group of recent arrivals from Ontario,” says Farrell Racette.

We want to centre the tensions and connections. I’m not sure if it’s a theme, but we wanted to give viewers a sense of what was lost in the aftermath of 1870. So—beauty, conflict, resistance, but also resilience and continuity.

“For me personally, the key themes, in addition to what Sherry has shared, is recognizing the importance of kinship ties, and how continuance and continuum is present in ancestral and contemporary art,” adds Mattes. Through Kwaata-nihtaawakihk: A Hard Birth, the curators centre the past firmly within the experiences of the Métis community. “My family, my ancestors remained here, remained in this province, despite what were at times great atrocities that they were experiencing,” says Mattes.

As a part of the exhibition’s commitment to Indigenous ways of being, Kwaata-nihtaawakihk: A Hard Birth centres interactivity and dialogue. “An important component of the exhibition is that the space and art be ignited with opportunities for gatherings, including art workshops, guest speakers, music, poetry, and Mawachihitotaak, a Métis Studies Symposium being held in conjunction with this exhibition,” says Mattes. These opportunities for hard and good conversations surrounding the birth of the province offer participants and visitors the ability to explore what could have been, and what might still be. “We hope to fill the gallery with people—laughter, tears, contemplation, visiting, and music,” says Farrell Racette. “This is a big story that we are still living today.”

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