Artists draw inspiration from Indigenous teachings and land-based learning to create watercraft at Manitoba workshop

A Winnipeg artist gets her hands dirty this summer for a 10-day workshop in Grand Rapids, Man., which focuses on hand-harvesting clay to create traditional Indigenous water vessels.

Oji-Cree visual artist KC Adams leads the workshop, titled Water Knowledge, where she guides a group of female-identifying, non-binary artists deep into the earth on the northeast shore of Lake Winnipeg, teaching them traditional practice.

The workshop, which began Monday and will run through Aug. 19, is part of the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art’s summer institute, and is about participants listening to the earth and using their hands, Adams says.

“My favorite thing I’ve learned so far is that every time I go into the lake, the water in my body recognizes that water from the lake. That water was going through me,” he said. she told CBC. Up to speed host Faith Fundal in an interview Friday.

“It becomes a true meditative, healing and spiritual experience.”

During the first week of the workshop, participants also learn about water from elders, as well as through texts, walks and land-based learning.

Adams says the workshop honors Anishinaabe teaching that recognizes water as life and women as water carriers. The approach allows participants to understand their connection to land and water on a much deeper level, Adams said, drawing a comparison to gardening.

“You can’t really understand the importance of food and how precious and beautiful it is until you grow your own,” but once you do, “[you] really understand this relationship we have with the land and the waters. That’s what this experience is really about,” she said.

“We are part of the spider web – we are not the spider web – and everything around us is part of it.”

Participants prepare the clay by mixing lake water into the clay powder, combining the two with their feet. (Megan Lindel)

Rachel Bach, traditional midwife and artist, is one of the people present at the workshop. She says she was inspired to participate after attending a small workshop hosted by Adams, where she was given clay to house her child’s placenta before burying it.

Bach says the workshop was “incredible” and she is happy to continue her journey with clay and water on earth with Adams.

“I feel like working with clay before was really meaningful, and being here in this space on earth and having my hands on this earth just elevates this experience and brings deeper meaning.”

Bach says the teachings learned at the workshop will support her work as a midwife and artist, and that the land component breathes life into the water teachings in a way that must be experienced to be understood.

“I will reflect on this experience well beyond these few weeks,” Bach said.

A group of a dozen people - eight standing and four kneeling in front - pose in a wooded area, with small buildings, a picnic table and a fire pit in the background.
Participants from KC Adams and Water Knowledge, pictured above, spend two weeks in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, learning how to create traditional watercraft. (Submitted by KC Adams)

During the second week of the workshop, participants will be encouraged to produce individual work based on their learning from the first week.

The workshop is a chance to step away from Western education practices, says Adams, and the experience is to teach participants about their interconnectedness with the earth and their responsibility to protect all of their relationships.

“It looks at a view of the world in a different way. Instead of being linear, it’s circular,” she said.

“You really feel protected and embraced here.”

About Wesley Williamson

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