Lita Fontaine: Bringing Indigenous perspective alive in Seven Oaks

It was an inspiration to bear witness to a celebration of art-making reflecting Indigenous culture of this region in the hallways and classrooms of Victory School. The office of Lita Fontaine, artist in residence for the Seven Oaks School Division is based in this Winnipeg school.

Over the years, Fontaine has fostered rewarding relationships with teachers and students. She describes her work in the division as a collaboration with teachers. The teachers bring their own gifts to the process.

One Victory School teacher bordered the large art panel inspired by Norval Morriseau with her stained glass tile work. Relationship is infused in this piece.

Together with the students, Lita Fontaine and the teacher brought themselves to the art making experience. Fontaine’s inspiration comes first hand through associations with members of the Aboriginal Group of Seven, of which Norval Morriseau was a member.

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Lita Fontaine and Norval Morriseau inspired panel.

Teachers are invested in collaboration with their artist in residence. Together, Fontaine and the teachers integrate Indigenous teachings and incorporate outcomes across many subject areas in the Manitoba Curriculum.

Such outcomes include fostering visual literacy in English Language Arts, in other words the way we communicate through image; comprehension of the vocabulary of the visual arts such as recognizing texture and form; or formulating patterning in math as shown in this Grade Two beaded turtle shell project.

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Beaded Turtles.

A Metis teacher at Victory School volunteered to bring the willow branches to make Dream Catchers. An emotional parent shared with Lita that her son did not have nightmares when he hung his dream catcher above his bed. Fontaine acknowledges the student took the dream catcher teaching to his heart.

Dream Catcher

Dream Catcher.

In Kindergarten, while engaged in the process of painting and collage, students become well versed in the language of art literacy. As seen in this collage of the Seven Teachings, they discovered the forms and textures that arose from finger painting.

Seven Teachings collage.

Seven Teachings collage.

The Anishinaabe Seven Teachings are seen in schools across Winnipeg. Correlating life values with animals, the natural world guides our awareness of interrelationship and living in a good way.

The Seven Teachings children’s book by Elder Dave Courchene from Sakeeng First Nation sits in the school’s glass cabinet. Sakeeng is Lita Fontaine’s father community.

When Fontaine was a girl, her mother told her stories of Sabe. The Sabe, or Sasquatch represents Honesty. Small motor skills were honed as kindergarten students made their own furry Sabe to fill a forested bulletin board.

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Sabe – Honesty.

Lita Fontaine hopes her role will continue to develop into one as a workshop leader for teachers. Teachers at Victory School facilitate their own art based projects, such as one that used Medicine Wheel Teachings and corresponding seasons. As a class project, a Seven Teachings Mandala was interpreted by the Grade Five Teacher and students.

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Seven Teachings Mandala.

Fontaine describes herself as tri-cultural – Lakota, Ojibway and Metis. Her cultural exploration is evident in her art practice.

Well respected as a professional artist, Lita Fontaine has mounted solo exhibitions at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Urban Shaman Gallery. Often her work explores the role of women in traditional and contemporary Indigenous society.

Dedicated to the Sun Dance, Fontaine’s life journey also includes the teachings she has gathered through traditional practices. She will be heading south this summer to participate in the Lakota Sun Dance.

For teachers and students, engaging with Lita Fontaine as Indigenous Artist in Residence is experiential learning on many different levels. Although Fontaine humbly admits she herself is still learning, her journey within her personal art practice and through her work in the education system reflects her growing understanding.

As newcomers to North America, we are just beginning to recognize the Indigenous perspective as culturally distinct and an undeniable and equal part of the treaty relationship. It is a joy to experience this relationship through the engagement of art making.

As we strive to redefine our collective relationship in a post-colonial reality, this learning experience is invaluable. Lita Fontaine feels Truth and Reconciliation may be the next topic she will explore with students. Her mother is a residential school survivor.

Lita Fontaine will be presenting at the 2015 SAGE teachers conference this fall on behalf of CAEM, the Council of Aboriginal Educators of Manitoba. Also featured will be keynote speaker, John Ralston Saul.

All photos and video by Kaoru Ryan Klatt (Skymaker Films)

Joan Suzuki

About

Fourth generation Canadian of Japanese descent, public school educator, advocate for Aboriginal Education and community artist.