First Nations visual artist Rebecca Belmore’s latest work sits in contrast to Ottawa’s other monuments

Renowned First Nations visual artist Rebecca Belmore says she wants people to think differently when it comes to Ottawa’s national monuments and symbols.

Her newest work Dawn aims to do just that.

“If you think about during this time, all the toppling of the John A. MacDonald monuments and all that jazz, we have to rethink what a monument is and we have to rethink how we mark our histories,” Belmore said.

The 10-metre-long fallen tree represents the wood taken from First Nations people by colonial settlers, the oversized jingles are a jingle dress symbolizing healing, and an eagle, often present at jingle dances, oversees it all.

The exhibit was unveiled at the National Arts Centre, which sits across from the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the Parliament buildings in behind.

“The point was to contrast what’s going on in this site in terms of – like it’s a national site, it’s the nation’s capital – and of course, as Indigenous people, we have a very difficult relationship still, today, with the government and the Crown so to speak,” said Belmore, a member of the Lac Seul First Nation.

According to the NAC, the piece was commissioned and donated by Reesa Greenberg a Canadian art historian and philanthropist.

“The sculpture is one of the few visual art pieces commissioned by the NAC since its opening in 1969. At that time, the building featured over 20 commissioned murals, sculptures, paintings and tapestries,” according to the NAC website.

Michelle Lavallee, director of the department of Indigenous ways and decolonization at the National Gallery of Canada, spoke at the unveiling.

She said Belmore is well known for creating impactful visual art and her latest work is no different.

“In appreciation and awe of the quiet strength of this monumental anti-monument, I revel in its quietness and evocative solitude,” Lavallee said. “Anticipating the moment that it takes flight and sound.”

Also, at the unveiling, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Elder Verna McGregor spoke about what the piece means to her.

“This area has seen the biggest extraction of timber to build the ships in Europe,” she said. “So, when I look at that, that’s what came to mind.”

Belmore said because of the COVID-19 pandemic Dawn took four years to complete and she notes a lot has changed during this time.

This includes Indigenous people leading the way in the removal of colonial symbols and monuments, she said.

Dawn will be a permanent exhibit at the NAC and is free to the public for viewing.