Newly opened Aboriginal Trail infuses culture with art

By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor

Elder Alice Martin began the grand opening celebration of the TOTAL Aboriginal Interpretive Trail with a prayer on September 28. Photo by Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Elder Alice Martin began the grand opening celebration of the TOTAL Aboriginal Interpretive Trail with a prayer on September 28. Photo by Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

The Seven Sacred Teachings – Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility, and Truth – anchor the traditional concepts of respect and sharing forming the Aboriginal way of life, and they are in-focus at the newly opened TOTAL Aboriginal Interpretive Trail on MacDonald Island.

The grand opening was attended by members of local First Nations, Métis leaders, Mayor Melissa Blake, and other community leaders on September 28.

Alongside the public art paying homage to the Seven Teachings are 28 foxes of the Miquwahkesis (red fox) public art project adorning C.A. Knight Way and the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers.

“It’s been a long road, long journey. To me, this trail is what we can have in the future. It’s the beginning of establishing relationships that really showcases the Aboriginal people of this region,” said Elder Alice Martin, who opened the event with a prayer.

“Our forefathers have lived here. We want to honour and remember them, and everyone. This is our land and home including everyone here. The Aboriginal people are very important, and how we perceive the world is very important as well,” she said.

“The Sacred Teachings project features sculptures from seven Aboriginal artists, three from the Wood Buffalo region and four from Western Canada…The Miquwahkesis project features fibreglass foxes hand-painted by local artists and school children,” according to the official news release.

This installation is a giant Kitch Sabe, which is a symbol of ‘Honesty’ and was created by Treasure Cooper. It’s one of the several installa- tions on the trail included in the Sacred Teaching project.

This installation is a giant Kitch Sabe, which is a symbol of ‘Honesty’ and was created by Treasure Cooper. It’s one of the several installations on the trail included in the Sacred Teaching project.

Mayor Melissa Blake appreciated everyone coming together for a “joyous occasion after the year we’ve been having.” She appreciated everyone who worked to make the project a reality.

“We are celebrating an incredible part of Wood Buffalo’s culture that supersedes existence of other many cultures in our community. I want to thank Total for their contributions, the artists, and MacDonald Island for being such gracious hosts. To our first people of the land, thank you, and thank you for bringing this joy today,” Mayor Blake enthused.

Rita Marten, Athabasca Tribal Council President dubbed the grand opening a “historic occasion.”

“My father used to call the Athabasca River our summer highway. We used to travel by canoe from Fort Chipewyan to visit relatives in Fort McMurray. We were connected to the region’s five First Nations many of whom came to live in Fort Chipewyan. We are proud to remember them, and collaborate to honour them,” she said.

TOTAL E&P Canada President Artur Nunes DaSilva said the trail speaks to many things held dear locally: “Aboriginal culture, history, nature, and beauty of the place you call home.”

“I’ve recently moved to Canada with my family, and the importance of building and maintaining relationships with our stakeholders is already apparent to me, in particular with our Aboriginal stakeholders, whose traditional territories accommodate our oilsands activities. I look forward to the trail growing and evolving as a regional focal point,” he shared.

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Local visual artist and photographer, Erin Stinson was delighted to participate in the project. She sculpted one of the foxes.

“Having lived in Fort McMurray for 13 years, it’s been a joy to watch the support for the arts grow in our region. And celebrating the grand opening of the Total Aboriginal Interpretive Trail is an important milestone in that growth. After spending over 100 hours in the studio, lovingly painting my fox, it is heartwarming to walk through the trail and see him installed where he was designed to be,” she enthused.

“To be part of the collective of artists consisting of Fort McMurray’s public art history, is nothing short of an honour. I am amazed to see the variety and endless creativity displayed along each path. No idea overlaps, yet they all complement one another. Foxy Loxy, the name I gave my fox, represents this diversity, with the Wood Buffalo landscape tying us together. How beautiful to think of people of every culture and generation represented in Wood Buffalo, having the opportunity to walk these trails and consider the artwork as they enjoy the gorgeous trail along the Athabasca River,” Stinson said.

Liana Wheeldon, local visual artist, agrees.

“I am very honoured to be one of the eight original commissioned artists chosen to paint one of these gorgeous foxes. The fox marks a few firsts: my first public art piece, my first foray into painting with acrylic paint and the first trail in Fort McMurray to integrate art,” Whelldon said.

“After a bit of research, I was inspired to paint my fox in golf attire by a story about a three-legged fox that used to frequent the golf course at MacDonald Island and steal golf balls. Seeing “I Love Lucy,” installed with the other 27 foxes and next to the larger public art pieces reflecting the Aboriginal seven teachings, I am overwhelmed at how beautiful our surroundings are,” she added.

The trail’s full loop is 1,213 metres long. Everyone is invited to explore it at their own leisure.

– Connect Weekly –