A Cree sculptor is representing a Manitoba First Nation during this year’s Festival du Voyageur’s international snow sculpture symposium – a first in the Winnipeg festival’s 51-year history, according to organizers.
Wayne Stranger is carving on behalf of his home community Peguis First Nation during the symposium – a decision that was only made last week.
“It took about two seconds to say, ‘yeah I’ll do it,’ even though I haven’t done it before,” said Stranger.
The artist has been an accomplished bronze sculptor for the past 30 years.
This new endeavour hasn’t been without it’s challenges.
Stranger is used to working with extreme heat but extreme cold has been a “big switch.”
This week temperatures in Winnipeg dropped to -30C. Carvers began working on Wednesday but were limited on what they could do because of the weather.
Stranger’s piece is called “Return from the Mountain” and it’s based off of a Sundance story an Elder told him decades prior.
“The Elder spoke of a time when the buffalo went away into the mountain when Europeans first came and colonialism kind of took hold. [The buffalo] went into the mountain to protect our teachings…the Elder said we’re of that time where the buffalo are coming back from the mountain now and bringing those teachings back to the people,” said Stranger.
These histories and teachings are something festival organizers have committed to promoting this year by hiring more First Nations, Metis and Inuit artists and musicians.
The festival has had a number of Indigenous people participate in the snow sculpture symposium over the years in various teams but their teams have always been under the province they were from, organizers said.
The organization also created the position of Indigenous initiatives coordinator to help create and promote programming.
Being part of the festival has become a family affair for Stranger.
His son, Jordan Stranger, designed this year’s logo.
“Just to have my father be a part of the festival as well and take part as an artist it really shows a lot of value on family that they focus on here,” said the younger Stranger. “That to me is very good.”
The Oji-Cree graphic designer was hired last summer to begin work on the logo. Within a month he had a finalized piece, which intertwines francophone and Indigenous culture with the use of the historic former trading post Fort Gibraltar and Indigenous symbols like the teepee, a four directions cross and fire.
“Fire, it’s just such a spiritual thing,” said Jordan.
“For me to be a part of this process and to have my work be the face of their festival is tremendous. It’s an honour and I’m very humbled.”
A live art installation from Jaime Black, a Métis artist and creator of The REDress Project, and a pop up culinary experience are some of the events taking place along with Festival favourites like the jigging competition.
Festival du Voyageur runs from Feb. 14-23.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Wayne Stranger was the first First Nations man to participate in the snow sculpture symposium. APTN later learned he is the first sculptor to enter on behalf of his First Nation. In past years the Indigenous sculptors entered on behalf on the province they were from.